Almond biscotti

Almond biscotti

Cantuccini

By
From
Florentine
Makes
36 biscotti
Photographer
Lauren Bamford

Tuscan dinners most often end with a plate of almond-studded cantuccini accompanied by the local dessert wine, vin santo (perhaps homemade), poured into small tumblers, with much dunking, drinking, eating and lingering. It’s the quintessential element that rounds off any meal, whether it is shared among new or old friends at home or offered by friendly and generous trattoria hosts.

In Tuscany they are known as cantuccini – often named after Florence’s neighbour and the city of their invention, Prato – but they are better known as biscotti (the general Italian word for ‘biscuits’) in the English-speaking world. The word biscotti comes from the fact that these biscuits are twice (‘bis’) cooked (‘cotto’), a technique that Pliny the Elder once said would make baked goods keep for centuries. They are first shaped into a sort of flat log, baked, then cut into slices and baked again. The double baking makes them durable, crunchy and perfect for dipping into vin santo or coffee.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
125g whole almonds, chopped roughly in half
350g plain flour
200g sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
A pinch salt
2 eggs
1 egg yolk, for glazing
30ml vin santo
1 tablespoon honey

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  2. Place the almonds on a baking tray and toast for 10 minutes in the oven, then let them cool.
  3. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and crack the eggs in (reserve the extra yolk for glazing later). Add the vin santo and honey (warmed, if not runny enough) and beat the wet ingredients with a fork, slowly incorporating the dry ingredients around them until it becomes a dough. Add the almonds and continue mixing with your hands until the dough is well combined.
  4. Shape the dough into thin logs, about 2 cm high, 4 cm wide, and slightly flattened. Place on baking trays lined with baking paper, at least 5–8 cm apart.
  5. Beat the extra egg yolk and brush the tops and sides of the logs with the beaten egg. Bake in the oven at 180°C until golden, about 20–25 minutes. Turn the oven down to 130°C.
  6. When just cool enough to handle, slice the logs at a 45 degree angle into 1.5 cm slices (use a sharp, heavy kitchen knife that can easily chop through nuts).
  7. Place the cantuccini on their sides back onto the baking tray, and bake for a further 20 minutes or until crisp and dry to the touch (but not coloured).
  8. These biscuits keep well when stored in an airtight container – if they are not eaten all at once.

Variations

  • The recipe for cantuccini has thousands of variations. While the one I use is adapted from my mother-in- law’s recipe, it is quite different from the very first nineteenth-century recipe for biscotti di Prato, which included pine nuts and did not have any raising agents or butter.

    If you do not have vin santo on hand, you could substitute another dessert wine or even rum. Otherwise, simply leave it out.

    You can replace the almonds with an equal amount of large chunks of dark chocolate. Leave the logs to cool completely before slicing and only do the second baking just before serving so you can serve the biscotti warm, with the chocolate just melting.
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