01 January, 2009

Cantucci di Prato

I made these to add to hampers and give away at Christmas. They are often called Cantuccini in Italian delis but my recipe in Anna del Conte's The Gastronomy of Italy calls them Cantucci. They are those very hard almond biscuits that you dip into your espresso and are surprisingly easy to make and delicious. Which means I really ought to make them more often and keep them, instead of giving them away!

Cantucci di Prato (Almond biscuits)

a pinch of saffron strands
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
100g / 3 1/2 oz almonds in their skins
40g / 1 1/2 oz pine nuts
250g / 9 oz plain flour preferably Italian 00
225g / 8 oz caster sugar
a generous 1/4 tsp baking powder
2 large (extra-large) free-range eggs
unsalted butter for the tray

Heat the oven to 200 C / 400 F / Gas Mark 6. Reduce the saffron strands to a powder by crushing them between 2 metal spoons, pour on 1 teaspoon boiling water and leave to infuse. Bruise the fennel seeds. Put the almonds and pine nuts on a baking tray and lightly toast in the preheated oven for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven (leaving the oven on at the same temperature), then chop each almond in half if large.

Sift the flour, sugar and baking powder onto the work surface. Stir to mix and make a well in the middle. Beat the eggs lightly with the fennel and saffron. Pour the mixture into the well and work it gradually into the dry ingredients, adding the nuts at the end. When everything is well mixed, divide in half and pat and roll each piece with well floured hands to a 30 cm/ 12 in long sausage. Lay them, well apart, on a greased and floured baking tray and bake in the oven for 15-18 minutes.

Take the tray out of the oven and reduce the temperature to 150 C / 300 F / Gas Mark 2 or a little less. Cool the cantucci for 10 minutes, then cut them diagonally into 1 cm / 1/2 in slices side by side on the tray and return to the oven for the second baking - for 45 minutes or so, until well dried out.

Cool completely before storing in an airtight tin. They will keep for up to 2-3 months.


Joanna said...

I am very pleased to have this recipe which I've been looking for (feebly) for a while ...

thanks for sharing

fritz the cat said...

You Brits always overdo the sugar - it's way too much. It ends up caramelizing and affecting the texture of the biscuits.
Half of what you suggested is more than enough - more traditional recipes suggest 400g of sugar per kilo of flour.

Eliane said...

Well Fritz, the recipe is by Anna del Conte - I didn't change it - and, well, she's Italian. If you care to add your own recipe, I'd be happy to try it.

fritz the cat said...

Well she may be, but she's been living in Britain for fifty odd years, and she obviously adapted her cooking to the locals. She's also a unknown in her motherland. I'd call her Britalian, but that's by the bye.

Anyway - here's a version from an Italian slow food book. Not too dissimilar, except for the amount of sugar and the lack of baking powder.

Make a dough with 1kg flour (00 if available), 4 eggs, 400g sugar, one cup sunflower oil, diluting with half a cup of vin santo (or other liquorous wine, or sherry)
Mix in 400g almonds in their skins

Shape into ciabatta bread shapes, 8cm wide, 2cm tall at the center and as long as convenient to move them around.

Bake for 35 min in an oven preheated to 170°C. Take them out, and when cooled enough to handle slice into 2cm thick biscuits. Leave to cool.

Variations include mixing in aniseed, grated lemon zest, various local liquors like Rosolio (a schnapp type of thing) or Strega (an horrible concotion they drink in the south). In my grandma's village they make cantucci with honey instead of sugar, which makes them softer.

Eliane said...

Thanks Fritz! I shall try it - perhaps next week. The other difference is that Anna del Conte's recipe cooks it twice, once quickly and then again to dry out slowly. It'll be interesting to see how yours turn out.