Cantucci (pronounced “can-too-chee”) or cantuccini (“can-too-chee-nee”) are biscuits that originally hail from Prato, near Florence, and were industrially produced for the first time by Antonio Mattei in 1858 in his pasta factory. The Pandolfi family who took over are still selling these wonderful-end-to-a-meal biscuits that were so loved by Italy’s famed cookbook writer Pellegrino Artusi and by a visiting Hermann Hesse. Cantuccini dipped into a glass of Vinsanto are a love match that we can all enjoy … but why exclusively after dinner?
Why not for breakfast?, say I — dunked in a cappuccino … or tea or cocoa or even milk? It is said that they used to be sold, at first, only as a Sunday treat … but what is to stop us eating them every day? The best thing about cantucci is that they are not overwhelming and so provide just the right amount of sugary satisfaction without provoking those dig-in-the-ribs guilty feelings about overdoing it.
The main ingredients, except for the almonds, couldn’t be more basic: flour, eggs, sugar, yeast and salt and either lemon zest or orange zest and a little bit of liqueur. We have been making ‘batches’ of cantucci regularly for some time now (at least twice a month) and keep them in a glass jar within easy reach of any peckish person. The effort is worth it: they last quite a while and so are never wasted. You can even break them up and eat with ice-cream. And, of course, there are no nasty preservatives and colorants and yukky ingredients — all good stuff.
Making cantucci is not difficult (if I, with my poor record for baking and my aversion to all things fiddly, can make them, anyone can!) but there are certain step-1 and then step-2 requirements that will take up some time. So reckon on about one hour’s preparation time. The recipe we use makes rather a lot of cantucci … you can halve it if you want to make less.
6 eggs, 250g melted or softened butter, 450g sugar, 800g flour, 300g unskinned almonds, 2 good pinches of salt, 2 sachets of dry yeast, and 1 eggcup of your favourite liqueur (Amaretto would be good, though in this photo I used Grand Marnier).
Step 1 for me would be to measure all of the above (check).
Step 2 is to (a) grease your baking tins in preparation for the cantucci dough and (b) to turn the oven on at 180°C.
And now for Step 3 – MIXING AWAY!
Read the photos below from left to right … I think it is all very self explanatory … you sift the flour first, add salt, add yeast, mix well, add the sugar, add the cut-up or halved almonds, the grated lemon zest, the eggs, the liqueur. Use a wooden spoon to help you mix all of this.
Step 4 – SHAPING THE CANTUCCI
You will need a surface with some flour on it for this. The cantucci dough is quite sticky. The idea is to divide the dough into two equal parts, and then divide each part equally again, until you end up with 8 small doughs. You give shape to each dough by rolling it gently into a long ‘sausage’ and put it in the baking tin, making sure there is enough space (6 cm say) between each ‘sausage’, so that when they cook and grow in size, they won’t get in each other’s way.
Step 5 -Baking the cantucci for the first time.
Bake the cantucci for the first round in the oven for about 35-40 minutes. Then remove from the oven. Cut them into cantucci, either straight or diagonally.
Step 6 – Baking the cantucci for the second time.
Return to the oven and bake again for another 20-25 minutes.
Step 7 – Remove from the oven and from the baking tray and allow to cool completely before putting them in a nice glass jar or … wherever!
Home-made cantucci can make a lovely gift — just put them in a paper bag and wrap with a ribbon.