Monday, February 4, 2013

To be or not to be? Chocolate and hazelnut biscotti (or cantuccini)

The other day I finally got around to making biscotti, although I feel the need to clarify I am calling them biscotti for your sake, because that is not what we call these in Italy.
Or rather, they are biscotti, because in Italy all cookies - biscuits for non-Americans - are called biscotti (and mind you, it is the plural for biscotto, so if you are eating one, do not call it a biscotti because Italians cringe at the mere sound - the same applies to panini, but that is material for a new post), but more specifically they are commonly known as cantuccini although their original name was biscotti di Prato, the city in Tuscany where Mattei invented them in the 19th century.

If you want to be even more accurate, as Italians tend to be about their culinary traditions, real cantuccini are never chocolate flavored and are not made with hazelnuts. Sure, variations exist now to satisfy tourists market demand but the true cantuccino is made with almonds and is usually enjoyed at the end of a meal accompanied with vin santo, a Tuscan fortified wine to dunk the dry cookies in.
So, come to think of it, if you call them biscotti you actually have a point. The word biscotto (bis-cotto) literally means baked twice in Italian, so calling cantuccini biscotti is really more accurate than calling a bacio di dama or any other typical Italian breakfast cookie a biscotto, as it is baked twice and most of the others are not.

This is a good recipe to keep because biscotti are great to have in the house for a variety of reasons: they are quick to make, you can use pretty much any ingredient on hand in your pantry (any kind of nut, chopped chocolate or dried fruit, seeds etc.), the dough contains no fat (no butter or oil) and very little sugar (but you can play around with quantities, these were definitely not sweet). They are great for breakfast (dipped in coffee, warm milk or cappucino), for tea or after dinner for impromptu guests with a glass of sweet wine. Best of all, they last a long time (although probably not for centuries as Pliny the Elder insisted), so you can always keep some stashed away for just those occasions.
I based my recipe on Lauren's many biscotti recipes. Her enthusiasm finally caught on.


1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup whole-wheat flour (but traditionally they are made with just all purpose flour)
1/2 cup sifted, unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup sugar (but you might want to use more if you like them on the sweet side, these were pretty bitter, perfect to dunk into a warm, sweetened drink)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
2 (or 3 if on the small side) eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup chopped hazelnuts

Preheat oven to 300°F/150°C and line a baking tray. Mix all your dry ingredients (flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda and salt). Add eggs and vanilla extract and mix until just combined. Add the chopped nuts. The dough is very dense and sticky, so you may end up giving it a final kneed by hand like I did. Roll it into a log shape and flatten it with your hands.
Bake in the middle rack of the oven for 30 minutes. Take out, let cool and then slice. Arrange the slices on the tray and bake for another 30 minutes, flipping them over once so they dry out nicely. 




  1. I hate it when people say they're eating 'a biscotti'. Or 'a panini'. Or 'brushetta'. Stupid simple things that really get my goat :-)
    These little biscuits look delicious - I love cantuccini and can't see how adding chocolate could be anything but a good thing!

    1. Don't even get me started on bruschetta... although, hey, I bet I have made a few people from other countries cringe with my pronunciation.

  2. I'm confused and so scared of going to Italy only to make a fool of myself. If I do ever get there I'll be sure to pack this post to make sure I say the right thing. What you have cooked looks really delicious xx

    1. Travelling goes hand in hand with making a fool of ourselves... even with my mothertongue English I had to look up a few words in your last two posts so I would probably make a fool of myself even travelling in Australia ;o)

  3. Traditional or not, these look very nice!

    And thanks for setting the linguistic record straight. It makes me cringe whenever I hear people say 'panini' for a single sandwich. And while we're on the subject, other expression I love to hate is 'penne pasta' … If you say penne when you're talking about food, what the heck else would it be?

  4. Things I love about this post:

    1) It drives me crazy when people say "panini" or "biscotti" or "cannoli" when they are only talking about one, but I will admit to not being able to say "espressi" or "baristi" when I'm talking about the plural of those in America. I know, I'm a hypocrite. I can't help it.

    2) These cookies—call them what you will—look amazing. I've never attempted Italian breakfast biscuits, but I'm tempted.

    3) I love your blog. Just an FYI.

    1. 1) I am too. If I order a hamburger here, I say it the Italian way, with an Italian accent. And hey, people here say pancakes even if they are talking of just one and I have heard chocolate chips cookies a lot too.
      2) So easy, promise you will try baking them.
      3) Thank you. You made my day!

  5. Whatever you call them...I'll eat them all up! These look just delicious. I love the melding of chocolate and hazelnut. Thank you for another delicious post. And thank you for your sweet words on my blog! I hope you have a wonderful end to your week.

  6. Have you ever frozen them? I'm just defrosting some peanut butter cookies to have with my tea. Lately I'm a fan of freezing half the batch of whatever so I don't eat them all at once! I love chocolate hazelnut - these look divine.

    1. Actually I haven't, these were my first. I think that is a great idea! So you freeze them when they are already baked or in batches before you bake them?


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