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.