Cantucci: the little biscuits that love you back

Cantucci are the ultimate foodie friend: traditionally to be eaten as an accompaniment to a glass of Vin Santo , a delicious Italian desert wine from Tuscany, these biscotti-like almond cookies, though petite, are also big enough to serve well with a cup of tea or coffee, biscotti style. They are very easy to make...even if you do not have any electrical kitchen equipment at all you can mix them up by hand with a spoon or fork without difficulty, and their flavour is spectacular. I sometimes add a touch of orange flower water for a more exotic, fragrant element that goes very well with tea. And one more bonus: no added fat!

This recipe is one I adapted from an Italian site when I was making these as thank you gifts for people who helped at our wedding. Vin Santo and cantucci have a particular story attached to them in our love story, so it kind of made sense. In the end we had so many left that my husband ended up taking them with him to Italy as a sweetener for his colleagues in the Milan office. I must admit, I was a bit nervous about giving Italian cookies I had made to Italians, but these more than passed the test. In fact the boss there made him an honorary Italian! If that's not a recommendation, I don't know what is!

500g bread flour
300g sugar
250g unpeeled almonds, crushed. (I suggest pounding the whole almonds in a mortar and pestle to give a variety of sizes, some whole, some broken some totally crushed...it adds to the texture and flavour of the cantucci. Alternatively you can use a food processor but be careful to only break them up, not pulverise them! If you wish you can swap out 50g of the almonds for pistachios or hazelnuts but I wouldn't recommend swapping out more as you will lose that cantucci flavour)
50g Pine nuts
5 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
grated peel of one lemon
cookie sheet
baking parchment

1. Preheat the oven to 180 C (360 F)
2. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl.
3. Add the nuts and blend through.
4. Add the grated lemon zest and eggs and mix until you achieve a ball of golden dough. I recommend using your hands to knead everything together in the last stage.
5. On a clean, flour dusted surface, turn out the dough and shape into a 3cm wide roll as long as your baking sheet. You may need to make two rolls of 3cm each in order to fit everything on the sheet.
6. cover cookie sheet with parchment and put the roll(s) on the sheet. Flatten the rolls lightly with your hand.
7. Bake for 30 mins, then remove from oven.
8. slice the roll into 1cm slices, cutting diagonally.
9. Spread the slices out on their sides on the cookie sheet. You are unlikely to have much space between them but try to separate them a little if you can. Bake in oven at 150 C (300 F) for a further 15 mins, then turn the slices over and bake for another 15 minutes.

Store in an air-tight jar to keep them moisture-free and ready for dunking.

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