Cantuccini is the specific Italian name for what we call “biscotti” in North America. Biscotti is actually just the general word for “cookies” in Italian. The word biscotti is derived from the Latin term biscoctus, meaning “twice-cooked/baked”.
Biscotti has origins that trace back to Ancient Rome; the baked goods were consumed as a convenient food for travelers. Because the tasty treats were twice baked, they were crispy in texture and had a very long shelf-life, convenient for traveling on long journeys.
Although biscotti were not originally a sweet food, sugar was added following the “sugar boom” in the 14th century, and this Italian staple evolved into something much different than the Romans ate on their long journeys.
During the Renaissance, biscotti re-emerged in Tuscany and were served alongside a sweet dessert wine called Vin Santo. This specific type of biscotti was coined “cantuccini” in the Tuscan region, making its first appearance in the late 16th century in the Medici court. At this time, cantuccini did not typically contain almonds and were similar to other dried biscuits common in Genova.
It wasn’t until the 20th century that bakers started to make cantuccini with almonds. During the 20th century, bakers and businesses had the capability to mass produce the typical Tuscan cookie and to advertise and distribute around the world.
Today, cantuccini is an incredibly popular Tuscan dessert, typically served after dinner. Its crispy texture makes it perfect for dipping. Although it is moderately acceptable to order a coffee with cantuccini, Tuscans believe it should only be served and dipped in Vin Santo dessert wine. However, I say enjoy these simple and tasty cookies with whatever floats your boat!
Servings: approximately 25 biscotti
250 grams all-purpose flour, sifted
165 grams granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs plus more as needed, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon grated orange or lemon zest
1 teaspoon amaretto or 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
125 grams raw, unpeeled almonds
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a large bowl, combine the dry sugar, flour, and baking powder.
In a small bowl, mix together the eggs, honey, orange zest, and amaretto.
Combine the egg mixture with the dry ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon.
Once the mixture becomes crumbly and soft, add the almonds and continue to mix until combined.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and shape into three logs (approximately 6-7 inches long and 2 inches wide). If the dough is too dry and crumbly and will not form a dough, add more egg, a little bit at a time, until you can form a dough that is crumbly but will also stick together.
Place the logs on a parchment-lined cooking sheet. Ensure there are a couple inches between each log, as the dough will expand.
Bake in the oven for 25 minutes. Take out the biscotti and quickly move the logs from the cooking sheet to a work area (they may be brittle at this point). Allow five minutes to cool, then cut the logs diagonally to form biscotti (cookies).
At this point, the cookies will be crispy on the outside and chewy in the inside. Although biscotti are supposed to be crispy all the way through, I actually prefer them at this stage.
That being said, for traditional twice-baked biscotti, pop the cookie pieces back in the oven for approximately 12 minutes, flipping half-way through.
Cool the biscotti on a wire rack. They can be stored in an air tight container for several weeks.