I’m sure that many of you heard about these famous Tuscan biscuits 🙂 and probably most of you heard about the word “Cantuccini” more often than “biscotti di Prato”.
**Actually the title it’s not completely right because they are not exactly the same, and here I would like to talk a bit about their history 🙂
It’s a product whose origins date back to the House of Medici time, in the XVI century (at that time they didn’t include yet the almonds). In a document dated 1691 by the Accademia della Crusca the “cantucci” were defined as “a biscuit in slices, made with flour, sugar and egg white”. Instead the first complete documented recipe it’s on a manuscript written in the XVIII century by Amadio Baldanzi, an intellectual from Prato. But the recipe that we consider nowadays as traditional was created in the XIX century by Antonio Mattei, nicknamed “il Mattonella”. With his recipe he received many awards in Italy and abroad at various expos, as in the world’s fair in Paris in the 1867. And his patisserie still exists nowadays and still produces the Biscotti di Prato following the same recipe, shipping them worldwide.
But as I said there are some differences between the 2 products. Let’s start to say that the Biscotto di Prato is the more basic recipe between the two (so it’s considered the original and from it then developed the recipes of Cantuccini): it has no extra fats but just the dried fruits, no other aromas as natural vanilla or orange, no honey but it contains also pine nuts and not just almonds.
The Cantuccini instead they often contain those extra aromas, they contain some butter and they use baking powder/baker’s ammonia too.
But they both have one thing in common: both they are traditionally served next to a Vin Santo 🙂 and you have to dip them in it to make them softer.
One more thing about the word Biscotto: in Italian this word comes from Bis-cotto, which literally means cooked twice. Indeed these biscuits are first baked, then cut in slices and then baked a second time. In the past it was a common thing to many biscuits, nowadays only few still have this procedure and fully deserve the name Biscotti 🙂
Pine nuts: I prefer to choose the European pine nuts if possible (and why to buy something from another continent when I have a similar product much closer?). As I explained already in this post the Chinese and Pakistani pine nuts, largely available on the market, are a bit different. But you can also use just almonds (as the Cantuccini), it will be great too 🙂 Moreover, some recipes suggest to toast the almonds before adding them in the dough but it’s not needed because they will toast in any case in the oven when you’ll cut the slices and put back to bake. And one last thing: traditionally the almonds used are not peeled, so buy those ones.
INGREDIENTS (for about 60 pieces):
- 500 g flour
- 450 g sugar
- 300 g almonds (not peeled)
- 70 g pine nuts
- 3 whole eggs + 2 yolks
- Take a bowl and add all the eggs and yolks, then add the sugar and start mixing (I used the machine, just a couple of minutes). Then add half of the sifted flour and keep mixing. Add the other half and immediately add also the almonds and the pine nuts (do it before the dough gets in shape).
- Let the machine work for some minutes. You must obtain a dough which is not too hard. If it’s too hard you can add one egg white.
- Now put the dough on the working table and divide it in 3 or 4 pieces and roll them.
- Take an oven tray, place a baking foil on it with some little flour and then place the 3 rolls on it. Shape it with your hands as in the photo below, they should be about 3-5 cm large. Leave enough space between each other.
- Now take another yolk and with a brush spread it on the surface of the dough.
- Bake at 210-220 °C, static mode, for 18-20 minutes, until golden.
- Then take out the tray from the oven and let the 3 dough cool down for some minutes: if you cut them when they are too hot you risk to squeeze them, and if they cool down too much they will break to much. To reproduce what happens in the patisserie of Mattei in Prato you could place a ventilator on them, just for a couple of minutes 🙂 I did it. Then place them on your working table and with a big knife and a fast movement cut slices of about 1-1,5 cm large and make diagonal cuts of about 20-30 degrees, as their tradition requires.
- Place now the biscuits on one of the cut sides and put back in the oven at 170 °C, fan-assisted mode, for 5 minutes. Then take them out and turn them on the other side, and bake for other 5 minutes.
- When they are ready let them cool down and then store them in some metallic boxes or in some glass jars: they can last quite long, easily 3-4 weeks 🙂
- As I said the best way to enjoy them is dipped in a good Vin Santo 🙂 but also other sweet wines fits perfectly! Vin Santo, Passito, Moscato, Marsala, Sciacchetrà, Tokaj Aszù, Tokaj Szamorodni, Sauternes, Madeira, Trockenbeerenauslese, etc. they all fit perfectly 🙂 this is definitely one of the best ways to finish a good Sunday lunch 🙂