Cantuccini, also known as biscottini di Prato, are the hard almond cookies from the Tuscan city of Prato that everybody seems to love so much. Well, no wonder, they're so amazingly tasty and incredibly easy to make that you've got to love them!
The name biscotti simply means "cookies" in Italian, so every cookie is a biscotto in my language, not only the big, long ones that you buy in the US. So, cantuccini are biscotti too. Actually, since they're quite small, the name biscottini suits them even better.
Literally, the word biscotto means "baked twice". This name is thus perfect for cantuccini since they have to be baked in two different phases: first you half-bake the long dough rolls, then you get them out of the oven, cut them in the desired cantuccini shape - slanted and a bit elongated - and finish baking the cut cookies until they're hard and golden brown.
If you make cantuccini, make lots of them. They can easily be kept for quite a long time in a metal cookie box and they're the perfect Christmas gift, beautifully wrapped in combination with some other self-made goodies like jams, chutneys and so forth.
With these quantities you'll make about 60 small cookies (35-40 if you prefer them quite big).
400 grams of almonds is quite a lot, I know, but you won't regret using so many since the cookies get incredibly rich and tasty.
Usually cantuccini are dipped in liqueur wine (preferably a small glass of Tuscan vinsanto) or coffee and tea. Not only because they taste even better this way but most of all because they're very hard!
650 gr plain white flour
400 gr sugar
2 tablespoons honey
400 gr brown, unbleached almonds
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/356°F.
Toast the almonds lightly on a low fire in a dry non-stick pan and let them cool off a bit before further use.
In a bowl combine sugar, flour, baking powder, salt and the grated lemon zest. Add the eggs and the honey and mix well. You'll obtain a rather compact, sticky dough.
Add the almonds and incorporate them well in the dough.
Sprinkle the working surface with some flour and roll 3 or 4 parts of dough to make little cylinders that have to be a little shorter than your baking sheet. Place the rolls on the sheet that you've previously covered with baking parchment and make sure they're a bit distant from each other since the dough is going to rise quite a lot. Press the rolls gently with your hands to flatten them a bit.
Bake the dough rolls for 15 minutes.
Remove the baking sheet from the oven, place the dough rolls on a cutting board and cut them diagonally in the classic cantuccini shape. Put the cookies back on the baking sheet making sure they're not too close to each other. Bake them some 15 more minutes and then leave them to cool - preferably on a rack - before storing them to let all the steam escape. This way they'll stay fresh for at least a couple of weeks.