Biscotti di Prato

Prato Biscuits

These crisp, dry almond biscuits named in honor of Prato, near Florence, are also known as cantucci and cantuccini. They are usually served with a glass of sweet Tuscan wine called vinsanto (holy wine), so that they may be dipped in the wine to soften. The dry texture comes from the leavener used — bicarbonate of ammonia. It works in a way similar to baking powder but has a side effect of promoting the complete desiccation of the dough during baking. Sometimes referred to as hartshorn cubes or Hirschhornsalz, the ammonia is available at some drugstores. Consult Sources of Equipment and Ingredients for information on ordering it. Or substitute ½ teaspoon each of baking powder and baking soda for the ½ teaspoon of bicarbonate of ammonia.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • cup sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of ammonia
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup whole, unblanched almonds

    Egg Wash

  • 1 large egg
  • Pinch salt

Method

Combine the dry ingredients and stir well to mix. If the bicarbonate of ammonia seems lumpy, crush it with the back of a spoon or a mortar and pestle before combining and sifting.

Place the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and make a well in the center. Beat the eggs and vanilla in a bowl and pour into the well. Using either your hand or a rubber spatula, draw the dry ingredients gradually into the eggs, turning the bowl and working from the outside toward the center, to form a soft dough. When the dough is evenly mixed, let it rest for a minute so that the eggs are absorbed; then scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface and flatten it into a rectangle.

Scatter the almonds over the dough and fold the dough over on itself 4 or 5 times to distribute the almonds evenly. Dust the dough and the surface very lightly with flour to prevent the dough from sticking. Divide the dough into 3 pieces and roll each into a 12-inch cylinder, using the palms of your hands. Flour your hands, not the dough or the surface, or the dough will slide rather than form a cylinder. Slide both hands under each cylinder of dough and transfer to a cookie sheet lined with parchment or dusted with flour.

For the egg wash, beat together the egg and salt until very liquid. Paint the dough evenly with the egg wash, using a flexible pastry brush. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, until the cylinders of dough are well risen and an even, deep golden color. They should feel firm when pressed with a fingertip.

Remove the baked cylinders from the pan and place on a cutting board. Slice through them at a 45-degree angle at ½-inch intervals. Return them to the cookie sheet and stand them up with a ¼-inch space between each of the biscotti. (Arranging them this way for the second baking keeps them light in color; placing them cut side down for the second baking will color them deeply.) Return to the oven for another 15 minutes, until they are very dry. Cool on the pan. Store in a tin.

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