I always find that the need to bake arrives without warning. During the holidays, that sudden calling comes ten fold and I find myself elbow-deep in flour, chocolate, and other wonderful sweet-forming treats. The kitchen hums with the sound of mixers and warming ovens while the laundry pile is stacked high with apron after apron.
In one recent moment of “Oh my word; I must bake something immediately,” I tried my hand at cantucci. Growing up in a very Italian family, these little guys were a staple of the table, always paired with a hot cup of coffee for dunking. After fidgeting with the recipe to mirror the cantucci of my youth, I landed on my own take of the traditional Tuscan treat.
Fun fact: Cantucci refers to the oblong, hard, crunchy cookies which are widely known as “biscotti” in the USA. Today, in Italian, the word biscotti refers to cookies of all kinds. It comes from the latin words “bis coctum” meaning “twice baked”.
8 Tbs. (1 stick/125 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (6 oz./185 g) granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 3/4 cups (9 oz./280 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup almonds, coarsely chopped and toasted
1 cup milk chocolate, coarsely chopped from a baking bar
Coarse sugar for sprinkling
Preheat an oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Set them aside.
Using a large bowl and an electric mixer, beat the butter on high speed until pale and fluffy. Add the sugar and continue beating until the mixture is no longer gritty when rubbed between your finger and thumb, about three minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla until blended.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Gradually add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and beat on low speed or stir with a wooden spoon just until incorporated. Mix in the toasted almonds and chocolate until evenly distributed. The batter should be very soft.
Turn the batter out onto a generously floured work surface and divide in half. With wellfloured hands, transfer one-half onto one side of a baking sheet and shape into a long log about 12 inches (30 cm) long and 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) wide. Repeat with the remaining batter, leaving at least 4 inches (10 cm) between the logs because they will spread in the oven.
Bake the logs until the edges are golden, about 25. Place the hot pan on a wire rack and let the logs cool for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with sanding sugar, if desired. With a serrated knife, cut the logs, still on the pan, on a slight diagonal into 1/2 inch (12 mm) slices. Carefully turn the slices on their sides and return them to the oven. When you run out of room on one baking sheet, start transferring slices to the other sheet.
Bake until the edges are golden, about 10 minutes more. Let the cantucci cool completely on the pans on wire racks. Store in an airtight container. Yields 4 dozen cookies.