16 May 2009

not a question to ask a lady

I replenished our stock of cantuccini this weekend.

Once again, this is a recipe that has come a long way. I got this one from a colleague of mine, who's about as picky as myself when it comes to food, so this was an endorsement indeed.

She, in turn, had the recipe from a lady working at the municipality we currently have a contract with. I am not sure, but we think that woman got the recipe from some kind of 'Weight Watchers' program which she participated in at that time (and very succesfully so, I must add).

But definitely this is not a question to ask a lady, is it?

Anyway, these cookies are 'classic' italian fare. I have no clue whatsoever if they are 'authentic' - they're lovely, and they taste way better than any of the industrial bricks sold unter the same name.

These cantuccini are a stock item in our household, for several reasons. Not only does close to everybody I know really like them - no, they go with every hot drink, they keep perfectly for months, they are great to nibble along while working just to refill some sugar and they are relatively healthy with the tiny amounts of sugar and butter used. Also, to top it off, put them in a cute jar with a ribbon around and you'll have a great little present that surely won't gather any dust.

They're real multi-purpose cookies, or, as I say: Never make a home without them!

Cantuccini (almond biscotti)
(makes about 60, the pictures show a double batch)

I never knew my mixer could go THAT fast...200g almonds (unroasted, with their brown skin)

250g flour
100g sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 sachets vanilla sugar
1/2 flask bitter almond essence
1/2 teaspoon salt
25g butter, softened
2 eggs

The evening before baking, boil about half a liter of water and pour over the almonds. Leave to soak for a few minutes, then pour away the water. Cover the wet almonds and leave until you need them the next day.
This is not to peel the almonds, but to get them moister and a little softer. If your almonds were too dry after the first bake, it'd be close to impossible to cut through them and you'd end up with a whole lot of crumbs and almonds instead of nice slices.

For the dough, mix all of the remaining dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the butter and the eggs, then mix until just combined. Add the almonds and mix until they are (roughly) incorporated, then cover and chill for at least half an hour.
Adding more butter improves the handling significantly, but then the cantuccini don't keep as well.
If you knead the dough until it's fully developed, the final cookies will be smoother and have a more uniform crumb. It's good for handling, but feels quite industrial - see mine in the first picure for a bad example.
At this point the dough can be chilled up to a day or two before baking.

Preheat the ove to about 150°C. Quarter the chilled dough, shaping each piece into a long roll about as thick as a walnut or a small egg. Put them onto a baking tray lined with non-stick paper and bake until they start browning on top, about 15 to 20 minutes.
The loaves will flatten a little while baking, but not much. If you prefer your cantuccini more elongated, you should flatten them a little before baking.

Leave the loaves to cool. Once they are cool enough to handle, take a really sharp knife and cut them into slices about as thick as your thumb. (That's where 'a rule of thumb' comes from.)
It's a bit tricky to get smooth cuts at first. For me, slightly serrated blades like those for tomatoes work best.

Put the slices back onto the tray and bake at 150°C for another 15 minutes, until they are nicely golden all over. Put on a rack to cool, or into a colander if you make multiple batches, and leave to cool completely. Once cooled, store in an airtight container.

The cantuccini are not very sweet, but go very well with any unsweetened hot drink. I really cannot share the fondness of having them with wine, but that shouldn't keep you off anything.
They also make excellent 'brainfood', something to nibble on while working with your mind, as they are a good combination of carbohydrates releasing their sugars at different times.
Best of all, they keep close to indefinitely and can be made well in advance in large batches, so you'll always have some around.

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