In order to change things a little and not to fall into a routine, I made some "Cantuccini" for Christmas. I had eaten them a few times before, but had never baked such cookies for the end of year celebrations. Since I love those biscotti an awful lot, it was a good occasion for me to get active in the kitchen in order to make a few for me as well as for my gift baket...
"Cantuccini" ("Cantucci" or "Biscotti Di Prato") are traditional Italian almond biscotti from Firenze, the capital city of Tuscany. They are twice-baked cookies which are meant to keep long, therefore they are of a harder nature.
At the origin, they were flavored with aniseeds, but now, many variants are to be found (with chocolate, candied orange or lemon, raisins/currants, dried cranberries, nuts of all kinds, different types of flour, etc...), whether sweet or savory. It is a very popular bakery item all over Italy and is also widely spread in Europe or in the US where many different recipes can be found.
Those "Cantuccini" were are real success both for the baker (me) and the gourmet eaters that were the happy recipient of my parcel! They were crunchy to the perfection, not overly sweet, beautifully nutty and had a delicious amaretto flavor (although the extract used doesnt originate from the same almond). Because of their hard texture, "Cantuccini" are ideal for biscuit dunkers, because they can be dipped in coffee, milk, alcohol or any other beverage in order to soften them. Those wonderful cookies will delight all foodies in search of a delicate treat to end the afternoon or dinner in beauty...
This recipe comes from a dainty little book that I'm proud of possessing and that I recommend to anyone interested in cookies, brownies, bars, scones and more: "Afternoon Delights" by James McNair & Andrew Moore.
Makes about 1 dozen large biscotti.
2 Cups Plain white flour
1 Cup Castor sugar
2 Tsp Baking powder
1/4 Tsp Salt
3 Eggs (~50g), lightly beaten
1 Tsp Almond extract
1 Cup Almonds, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped
1. Preheat the oven to 150° C (300° F).
2 Line a baking tray with kitchen parchment.
3. In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Whisk to mix well.
4. Mix together the beaten eggs with the almond extract.
5. Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients in the bowl and mix well with a spoon.
6. Stir in the toasted nuts.
7. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Dust your hands with flour and gently knead it until it comes together, about 1 minute.
8. Transfer the dough to the lined baking tray and shape (with floured hands) into an even, flat rectangle about 15x23 centimeters (6 by 9 inches).
9. Transfer the baking tray to the oven (middle rack) and bake until the dough is lightly golden and feels firm when lightly touched in the center with your fingertip, about 50 minutes.
10. Remove the baking tray to a wire rack to cool for about 15 minutes.
11. Peel the dough rectangle from the parchment and transfer it to a cutting board.
12. Return the parchment to the baking tray and set aside.
13. Using a serrated knife, slice the rectangle into slices 2 centimeters wide (3/4 inches).
14. Lay the slices (with one of their cut side down), about 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) apart on the lined baking tray.
15. Return the baking tray to the oven and bake until the exposed cut sides of the slices are golden, about 20 minutes.
16. Then, turn the biscotti over, return the baking tray to the oven, and continue baking until the other exposed sides of the biscotti are golden, about 20 minutes.
17. Remove the baking tray to a wire rack to cool for a few minutes.
18. When the biscotti are cool enough to handle, transfer them directly to the rack to cool completely.
Instead of almonds, you can use hazelnuts, pistachios, pine nuts or any other nuts as long as you toast them first and replace the almond extract by 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract.
To toast the nuts: place them on a baking tray and transfer to an oven that has been preheated to 190° C (350° F) and toast the nuts, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and fragrant, about 10 minutes.
Once you've added the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and started mixing, the dough will be crumbly.
The kneaded dough should be sticky.
As the dough bakes, it will spread into a large, rounded rectangle.
The biscotti may be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.
Eat accompanied by Vin Santo, a tight expresso, ristretto or coffee.
(Florence -Pic by Spiros Vagelakis www.trekearth.com)