These cookies are mostly known as cantucci or cantuccini, but officially they are called biscotti di Prato. The combination of cantuccini with vin santo is one of the most famous and most delicious desserts from Tuscany.
Biscotto means twice (bis) cooked (cotto), same as biscuits (cuit = French for “cooked”). Biscotti di Prato are named after the city of Prato (near Florence) because the oldest records of cantuccini are kept there, and a pastry baker of Prato won prizes with them in the 19th century. The word “cantuccini” refers to the shape of the biscotti and means “little angles”.
Vin Santo is a dessert wine from dried malvasia and trebbiano grapes from Tuscany that is aged for three years or longer in wooden barrels. Since the barrels are not topped up when wine evaporates (the “angel share”), the wines have an oxidized style. Vin Santo is sweet, but not very sweet. Cantuccini and Vin Santo are served as a dessert together: one dips the cantuccini in the vin santo. They do not only taste great together, but this also helps to make the cantuccini easier to eat. One of the great advantages of making your own cantuccini is that they won’t be as tooth-breakingly hard as most store-bought cantuccini.
Cantuccini are a great dessert for the host of a dinner party, since you can make them well in advance (even weeks if you keep them in an airtight container) and the only thing you have to do when it is time for dessert is open up a bottle of vin santo and serve with the cantuccini.
There is one thing I don’t like about baking and that is working with sticky dough. It has gotten even worse now that I want to take photos of every important step for this blog — try taking a photo when your fingers are completely covered in sticky dough that won’t come off! Luckily I have developed a trick for limiting the amount of handling the sticky dough by hand to a minimum for this recipe, ending up with smooth cantuccini anyway.
The recipe is for 500 grams (3 cups) flour. That makes over 50 cantuccini, more than can fit on a single baking sheet in my oven for the second bake. So I do the second bake in two batches, but you could also reduce the recipe to 300 grams if your oven has the same size (approximately 40 x 35 cm, 16 x 14 inch). You’ll probably regret making less as soon as you taste the cantuccini though…
Traditional cantuccini are made with flour, almonds, sugar, butter, and eggs. For variations you can replace part of the almonds with pistacchios or pine nuts, and you can add ground spices like aniseed or grated lemon zest.
500 grams (3 cups) flour (preferably 00)
300 grams (2/3 pound) almonds with the brown skins still on
300 grams (1 1/2 cups) sugar (preferably vanilla-scented, by keeping vanilla beans in the sugar jar)
100 grams (7 Tbsp) butter
pinch of salt
1 tsp (4 grams) baking powder
optional: grated lemon zest, ground aniseed, ground coriander, seeds from a vanilla bean
Brush the logs with the egg white. While you are brushing, you can also brush the logs into shape. The logs tend to spread out too much which will lead to cantuccini that are too long. So brush firmly along the edges to make them narrower.