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Crunchy and granular at the first bite, only to become soft in the mouth, with a pleasant lingering aroma of almond: the biscuit we have just described is the Cantuccio Toscano. A great part of the Tuscan economy depends on this sweet product whose sales turnover exceeds 30 million Euros. 37% of its consumption takes place outside of Italy, in countries of the European Union, the United States, Japan and Russia. In fact, Tuscan Cantucci biscuits are considered to be the third most popular biscuits in the world.
History of Cantuccio Toscano
The origin of Cantucci biscuits can be traced back at least as far as the XVI century. Their name would appear to derive from “cantellus”, meaning “piece or slice of bread” in Latin, a sort of savoury galette Roman soldiers used to eat during their military campaigns. Others claim the word derives from “canto”, meaning "corner, or small part". Starting from the second half of the 1500s, these biscuits were already in vogue at the Medici Court, even though apparently they did not yet contain almonds.
In the late 1600s the Accademia della Crusca, the most important research Society on Italian language, provided the first definition of Cantuccio: “a sliced biscuit, made of fine flour, with sugar and egg white”. An early symbol of Italian excellence, Cantucci biscuits were displayed at the Universal Exposition of Paris in 1867 and were a huge success. Starting from the 1900s, cantucci containing almonds were produced throughout the region and on an increasingly large scale. In 2011 a producers’ association was set up in order to obtain PGI status (Italian Protected Geographical Indication), which was granted in 2016 and comprises the entire region of Tuscany.
How Cantucci are produced?
An oblong biscuit about ten centimetres long, its shape derives from the diagonal cut made in the piece of dough when it has been baked for the first time. The mixture contains the following ingredients: plain flour, a small amount of baking powder, honey, sugar, eggs and butter. The dough must be kneaded at length until it takes on a soft, elastic consistency. Only at the end of this process are the hulled almonds added, which must be sweet but strictly unpeeled. After lengthy kneading, the dough is then divided into long loaf-like shapes and baked in the oven for about 20 minutes.
Now comes the most important step: after being left to rest for about ten minutes, the pieces of dough are hand cut into the famous oblique shape. At this point, they are popped back into the oven at a lower temperature to complete the baking process. This step is what gives the cookie its biscuit-like consistency. To comply with regulations, each biscuit must not weigh less than 15 g, it must be no thicker than 2.8 cm and its almond content no less than 20% per kilogram. An authentic flavour of the Tuscan tradition, cantucci biscuits must be packed within the restricted geographical area to prevent any moisture from spoiling their crunchiness.
Tips to enjoy Cantucci at their Best
United in a longstanding and gratifying marriage with Vin Santo del Chianti, Cantuccio Toscano is not adverse to flirting with an aged Marsala or a Passito from Pantelleria. Experts of etiquette know that a cantuccio should never be dipped into wine, but you will never convince a Tuscan to do anything different. Of course, a cantuccio biscuit can be enjoyed on its own, but after years of experience exporting them to Japan and the United States, we have learnt that they also go down well with a cup of tea or coffee.
Crushed cantucci biscuits can be sprinkled on any dessert of a creamy consistency. This works marvellously with whipped cream, confectioner’s custard or as a base for tiramisu. It is not difficult to make them at home and they will keep for several weeks in a tin lined with greaseproof paper.