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.