What unlikely categorisation of comestible unites the “father of modern Italy” with the city of Florence and the Tuscan town of Prato? Here’s a clue – they go well with a nice cup of tea.
The answer – biscuits – obviously. The proclaimed father of Italy was Garibaldi who aside from his military exploits was a renown baker, inventing the eponymous Garibaldi not to mention wagon wheels. Florence lays claim to the chocolate covered Florentine biscuit while natives of Prato dunk “nooks” or “cantuccini” in their espresso, commonly marketed to Brits under the general term of Biscotti.
Here’s another question. Why do the biscuit obsessed British enjoy so many Italian confections while the rest of Europe steadfastly ignores our tea time treasures? You can’t get custard creams in Catalonia. The Turkish wouldn’t recognise a Tunnocks Teacake. The Italians have never heard of the chocolate bourbon, moorish brainchild of Field Marshall Sir John Peak-Frean who ironically introduced the Garibaldi to Britain – a spoil of war originating from his military service in Italy that ranks alongside the Elgin Marbles.
I can’t answer these questions – I’ll leave them to the biscuit historians and theologians. All I know is that Cantuccini makes a nice festively appropriate Christmas gift, and so for the third year running I decided to bake some for my family…
175g whole blanched almonds
125g unsalted butter
200g granulated sugar
1 tbsp orange liqueur (Grand Marnier, Cointrea, etc)
1.5 tsp baking powder
0.5 tsp salt
300g plain white flour
1 tbsp coriander seeds
See if you can spot the mistake below…
Luckily I noticed just in time that I had got cornflour out rather than baking powder. It would have been an embarrassing mistake because this substitution would have resulted in a perfect Clam Chowder – nice if that’s what you had in mind.
1) A little preparation first. Beat the eggs, crush the coriander seeds lightly with a pestle and mortar or perhaps a harsh remark. Also zest the orange – we aren’t bothered with the orange itself but the insides can be eaten raw or squeezed for a healthy drink.
2) Next lightly toast the almonds in a 160C fan oven for 5 to 10 mins. I set a timer because otherwise I know I will forget about them and they will burn. When the nuts have taken on a David Dickinson pallor remove them from the heat and once they are cool enough to touch roughly chop one third of them
I’ve made the same recipe for the last 2 years and previously made the mistake of buying marginally cheaper skin-on almonds and blanching them myself. HUGE mistake – it took me an hour and I got RSI.
3) Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl until smoothish and then add the eggs, orange zest, booze, baking powder and salt. Give it a good old stir.
4) Add the flour, polenta, almonds and coriander and mix well. If the mixture is sticky add more flour until it forms a dough. You have to use your hands for all of this. It’s just more fun that way.
5) Divide the dough into 4 and roll each portion out into 5cm by 2cm strips on a floured board. Place the strips onto a greased baking sheet leaving a little distance between them for expansion. Note: I made double quantity which is why there are 8 strips in my photo.
6) Bake for 35 minutes until it looks like this…
7) Leave to cool for a few minutes – but wait, we haven’t finished yet – Cantuccini is baked twice. Cut each strip diagonally into 1cm slices
8 ) Return the slices to the baking sheet and return to the oven for another 10 minutes before cooling again on a wire rack.
What we have is a sophisticated, nutty, orangey biscuit that goes remarkably well with coffee or ice cream and lasts for a good week, if you don’t scoff it in the meantime.
Merry Xmas as they say in Perugia!