A Variation on Biscotti, and a Story behind Their Name

Today’s harvest: Almonds, Hazelnuts

If you ever go to Florence, you might notice, on a specific road I can’t precisely remember, statues with quite a livid expression on their faces, all looking at the same direction. Those statues look towards Siena, as rivalry between the cities (well, amongst all Tuscan cities, really) was fierce and people wanted this to be a clear statement.

That is the kind of look my mom gave me when I told her I was going to make Cantucci – which are known abroad as Biscotti, but with a twist.

As an inexperienced baker, I immediatly understood that the foolproof way to make sure people were honest with their feedback was to check how fast my baked product would go. A very tasty cookie, or focaccia, or bread, is one that doesn’t sit on the counter for more than a day, possibly not for more than a few hours if you have people over for a meal.
These cookies are the story of how my morning started with my mom saying “what do you think you’re doing, twisting a Cantucci recipe like that? That’ll turn out to be a disaster”, and ended up with half the tray gone in the risible timespan of five mere minutes.

Now, I am not sure how many non-italians know about it, but the word ‘Biscotti’, in Italian, refers to all cookies in general. My mom called their original name: Cantucci.
Cantucci is one of those recipes that can turn the average Italian – especially Tuscans, into an unbearable nuisance who will brag about keeping the authenticity of their recipe, but it is also one of those preparations people love to customize, and that is why, after all, the American version of Biscotti is not so far from our Italian truth.

Cantucci are very ancient cookies which date back to medieval times, and they were originally very similar to an anise-scented breadstick. With time the recipe evolved, and now Cantucci are these very crunchy cookies that are first cooked then dried, and they are meant to be enjoyed dipped into something, preferably in Vin Santo, sweet tuscan dessert wine. In fact, the word ‘biscotti’ probably derives from the process of making Cantucci, as the word itself means ‘cooked twice’, and that is what happens with these guys.
The key difference here is just one: american biscotti contain fat, Italian cantucci usually don’t.
Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that these are healthy, but they definitely make for a nice treat one needn’t feel too guilty about. I loaded up my version with ‘better’ ingredients, so to speak, and what menaced to turn into a disaster actually turned out to be one of the best versions of cantucci ever made in my house.

Traditionally, Cantucci contain almonds or hazelnuts, anise flavored liquor, and not much else. the secret to make them easy to munch on without any fat is to add baking powder. It might sound strange, but trust me, it works. Here I’ll provide both the original recipe and my own version. The process is the same, so I am only writing it once.
So these are as easy to make as put-everything-in-a-blender-and-blitz, not to mention very customizable: replace the nuts, use other dried fruit, omit both and add chocolate, drizzle chocolate on top – do whatever you feel like with these cookies. I used dried fruit along with nuts, soaked in a boozy concoction of anise and rum (Italians love their booze), and a medley of flours. I replaced some of the sugar with honey – vegans can use Agave syrup instead, or Maple syrup, which would make them very un-Italian.

But, after all, do you have people staring at you with a pissed face in your kitchen?

I don’t mind if I do.

Cantucci - Italian Biscotti

Classic Cantucci
(Makes, well…quite a lot of cookies)

500g ’00’ Flour (AP or Pastry flour will do)
4 eggs, 3 whole and one separated
15g Baking powder
300g Sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 tbsp Honey
A tablespoon or two of Anise liquor (like Anisette, Varnelli or Sambuca)
A teaspoon or two vanilla extract
About 200 grams Almonds

Brown Berry Pistachio Biscotti
(See above)

200g Spelt flour
200g Whole wheat flour
50g Oat flour
50g Chestnut Flour
4 eggs, 3 whole and one separated
15g baking powder
200g Brown sugar, plus more for sprinkling
3 loaded tablespoons of Honey
A tablespoon Anise liquor (see above)
A tablespoon of Rum, or your favorite booze
About 100g mixed nuts (Pistachios and Hazelnuts)
1/2 teaspoon (or 1) cookie spice mix (optional, but it’s a good addition)
A splash of Vanilla

Boozy dried fruit
100g mixed dried cranberries, raisins, goji berries
1/2 cup warm water
1 tbsp anise liquor
1 tbsp Rum, or the liquor you used for the dough.

Preheat the oven to 190 C˚ (375 F˚)

Soak the fruit at least an hour before you start baking, so that they have time to absorb the flavor of the liquor.

Separate one egg and reserve the yolk. Add everything but the nuts and fruit to a food processor and roughly mix until combined. You should end up with a very sticky dough, difficult o manage but not liquid or overly loose. Should it be too hard, add a splash more liquor. Add the nuts and fruit, which should be squeezed of eccess liquid, and mix well again.

Line a baking tray with paper, and divide the dough into 5 parts, which you’ll shape into long and narrow strips (about 1″ to 1.5″) with very well floured hands. Consider that these strips will spread out, so make sure there is some space in between.
Brush them well with the yolk, and sprinkle granulated sugar on top.

cantucci4Prepping cantucci - Italian Biscotti

Turn the oven temperature down to 180 C˚ (355 F˚) and bake your little logs until brown. It could take 20 or 25 minutes – start keeping an eye on them around the 15 minutes mark. When ou take them out of the oven they will be nice and colored, but softer than you’d expect them to be and will have probably cracked slightly on top.

This step is crucial: slice them straight away!
Using a serrated knife, slice them diagonally into half inch slices. Put them back onto the tray, turn off the oven and leave them in until completely cool. After 10 minutes or so, you can leave the door of the oven slightly ajar.
Make sure they are completely cooled before serving.

These little guys keep for a long while, but keep them tightly sealed, possibly in a cookie tin box, or they might lose crispness. Enjoy, dipped in dessert wine, coffee or whatever you like best!


It’s cookie and christmas time, so, needless to say, these make for a super cute jarred gift! Just get a cute jar, fill it wih cookies and decorate it.

Christmas-y Biscotti Idea: Red and white, of course! Try Hazelnut Cranberry biscotti, and dip half of them in white chocolate.

Cantucci - Italian Biscotti

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