I always take a hiatus from baking sweets over the summer. I don’t shun the oven entirely, since many of our favorite meals are cooked in the oven: roast chicken, flank steak, and these tomatoes. But except for the occasional crostata, baked sweets take a back seat during the summer months in favor of bottomless bowls of fresh fruit or ice cream for dessert. A couple of weeks ago, I started to miss my regular cookie-baking routine, so I pulled out my baking sheets and cooling racks and baked a batch of Emiko Davie’s almond cantuccini.
Even though the word biscotti is the correct word for referring to these twice-baked cookies, it also is the word Italians use to refer to any type of cookie, so it can be slightly confusing. Throughout Italy and especially in Toscana, Italians call these delightfully crunchy cookies cantuccini. In Florence, they are also known as cantuccini di Prato, named for the Tuscan city where the most famous version of this cookie was created at the historic Biscottificio Antonio Mattei, founded in 1858 by Antonio Mattei. Like most Italian recipes, there are as many variations for this cookie as there are bakers. There are versions of this cookie that include pine nuts in addition to the almonds, and others that use only hazelnuts. In her cookbook Gastronomy of Italy, Anna Del Conte uses saffron and fennel seeds to spice her version of almond cantuccini. Although not entirely traditional, chocolate chips, dried fruit, and other types of nuts can also flavor cantuccini dough with delicious results.
What drew me to Emiko’s recipe for these cookies was her use of a splash of vin santo in the dough. I’ve had a bottle of it in my pantry for a while, brought back from our last trip to Italy, and these cookies were the perfect excuse to finally uncork the bottle. Vin santo (literally, “holy wine”) is a sweet dessert wine made predominantly in Toscana although it is also made in Veneto, Trentino, Umbria, and Le Marche. It is made from a blend of white grapes, usually Malvasia and Trebbiano. Depending on the region where the vin santo is made, other varieties of grapes are also used based on what is grown in that region. The grapes are hung to dry or left on mats for several weeks before they are pressed and transferred to barrels to ferment for up to four years. The resulting wine is sweet and slightly syrupy with a nutty aroma, honeyed flavor, and a golden amber color. A small glass is always served with almond cantuccini and the cookies are customarily dunked into the wine to soften the crumb slightly and add even more flavor to an already delicious dessert.Print
Adapted from Florentine: The True Cuisine of Florence by Emiko Davies
If you cannot find vin santo or cannot consume alcoholic beverages, use the same quantity of 2% or whole milk with 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.
- 125 grams/4½ oz. (¾ cup) whole, unsalted almonds
- 350 grams/12½ oz. (2¾ cup) all-purpose flour
- 200 grams/7 oz. (1 cup) granulated sugar
- Pinch salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 eggs + 1 egg yolk (for egg wash)
- 30 ml/1 fluid oz (1/8 cup) vin santo (or milk) *see headnote
- 1 Tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (if using milk in place of vin santo) *see headnote
- Preheat the oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.
- Place the almonds on one of the baking sheets and toast them for 5-7 minutes until lightly fragrant. Let them cool completely and then roughly chop them so they are halved. Set aside.
- In a mixing bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add in the 2 eggs. Add in the vin santo (or milk and vanilla extract) and the honey, and mix the ingredients using a fork, gradually incorporating the dry ingredients around the wet ingredients until a dough forms. Add in the chopped almonds and continue mixing using your hands so the almonds are evenly distributed throughout the dough (it will be sticky).
- Shape the dough into 2 thin logs about ¾ inches high and 1½ inches wide and flatten them slightly–do this directly on the parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Keep the logs of dough about 3 inches apart since they will spread slightly. Beat the egg yolk with 1 Tablespoon of water and brush each log lightly with the egg wash.
- Bake the dough logs until golden, about 20-25 minutes. Remove the dough logs from the oven and place the baking sheet on a cooling rack. Let the dough logs cool on the baking sheet until they are barely warm. Once they have cooled off, transfer the dough logs to a cutting board and using a sharp, serrated knife, slice the dough logs into ¾-inch slices.
- Place the cantuccini on their sides on the baking sheets and bake them an additional 20-25 minutes until light golden, dry, and crisp. Remove the cookies from the oven and let them cool slightly on the baking sheets before transferring them to a cooling rack to finish cooling completely.
- Storage: Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature. The cookies can last up to 2 weeks, or a bit longer, but are best eaten within a few days.