April 2, 2020

Cookies With a Taste of Tuscany

Photo by John Schell

In Italian, biscotti means cookies — any type of cookies, not only the oblong, crunchy ones that we consider “biscotti” in America. If you walk into a supermarket or a bakery in Italy and ask for a biscotti, you’ll be asking for “one cookies” because biscotti is plural, and you’ll be shown an array ranging from butter cookies to chocolate chip. 

If you’re in Tuscany and want the biscotti-type cookie that’s for dipping into dessert wine or coffee, ask for cantucci, or the sweet diminutive, cantuccini. If you’re in Rome, ask for tozzetti. 

That said, the literal translation of “biscotto” means twice-cooked, and these cookies are exactly that. You will bake them, slice them, then bake them again. This will give them the proper crunch. 

Cantucci are traditionally dipped into vin santo, a Tuscan dessert wine. I highly recommend you get some so you can have the true taste of Tuscany right at your fingertips. 

Italian Mandelbrot: Cantucci Toscani
With Vin Santo, Anise and Orange
(excerpted from “Meal and a Spiel: How to Be a Badass in the Kitchen”)

1 3⁄4 cup raw almonds
3 cups all-purpose flour
1⁄2 cup almond flour or almond meal
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon anise seeds
3 eggs
3 egg yolks, divided
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons vin santo, rum, cognac, brandy or whiskey

Preheat the oven to 350°F. 

Place almonds in a dish towel or a Ziplock bag, and smash them with a meat mallet or a hammer until lightly crushed. Place them on a baking sheet, and bake for 8 minutes. Let cool and set aside.

Place the flour, almond flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, zest, vanilla extract, anise seeds, 3 eggs, 2 egg yolks, butter and vin santo into a large mixing bowl. Use your hands to squish all the ingredients into a dough. It should be just wet enough to stick together in a ball. If not, add a touch more vin santo. Now fold in almonds until they are well distributed.

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper, and dust with flour.

Divide dough into 3 pieces and mold each one into a flattened log, which should measure about 2 1⁄2-inches wide, 1⁄2-inch tall, and 1-foot long. You want the flattened logs to be uniform so the cantucci will bake evenly.

Brush the remaining egg yolk on the top and sides. This will give the cantucci a nice golden color.

Bake for 25 minutes or until the logs are just firm on top. Remove from the oven.

Let cool for 5 minutes. Slice each log crosswise at a diagonal about 1⁄2- to 3⁄4-inch wide. Continue to let cool for another 25 minutes.

Roll the cantucci on their sides and bake again for 25 minutes, flipping them over halfway through baking.

Let them cool completely. The cooling process will make them crunchy.

Serve with vin santo, a dessert wine of your choice, tea or coffee. Store leftovers in the freezer.

Makes 4 dozen cantucci.

Elana Horwich is the author of “Meal and a Spiel: How to Be a Badass in the Kitchen” and the founder of the Meal and a Spiel cooking school.