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There are many articles written about the health benefits of almonds. Low in saturated fat and containing calcium and magnesium, vitamin E and compounds called phytochemicals, which may help protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer. Jordan almonds are considered the best and are sweet almonds coming from Malaga. Bitter almonds are grown in the south of France, Sicily and North Africa. See the web sites at the end of this article for more information on the benefits of almonds and their origins.
Almond oil is extracted from both bitter and sweet almonds but the seed of the bitter almonds are used to make almond oil and almond flavoring are used in confections. Pure almond extract can be purchased at any market, but the intense flavor of almond oil makes a very big difference in baked goods. When using oil vs. extracts, you use just a few drops. Most Italian markets sell these oils and a little goes a long way.
In Italy desserts are often flavored with honey, chestnuts, pine nuts, hazelnuts and almonds. The biscotti originated in the Tuscany and it is thought that they were flavored with almonds from Prato. The cookies are known as “cantucci” and they can be found in every pasticceria in the Tuscany. Cantucci are mostly eaten with a glass of “Vin Santo” a sweet wine. Many restaurants serve small almond biscotti with coffee and some will have a bowl of them on the table at all times. It is probably the most well-known and popular biscotti. Almonds are used in many different varieties of biscotti and also mixed with fruits and chocolate.
Other desserts made with almonds in Italy are a rich bread or flat cake known as “panforte”. A cookie called “Cartellate” is made in Apuglia. It is fried dough in the shape of a cartwheel (cartellate means cartwheel in Italian) and filled with toasted almonds, honey, chocolate and spices. Amaretto is a liqueur with an almond flavor. The base of the liqueur is primarily made from apricot pits. Apricot and peach pits have similar oils and taste like almonds. The original version of Amaretto was made in Saronno, Italy and is also used to flavor many Italian desserts and coffee. Marzipan, which is a mixture of sugar and almonds is used in confections. One of my favorites is a candy called “Brocante con mandorle”, (Italian almond brittle). It is very hard and you must to be careful of your teeth when you eat it. Unlike most brittle, this is thick and hard made with toasted almonds, sugar, honey, corn syrup and almond oil or almond flavoring. Colorful sugar candied almonds known as “confetti” are arranged in exquisite decorations for wedding cakes and mixed with trays of biscotti.
Cantucci are use in all of our biscotti trays, they are one of our most asked for biscotti. Cantucci are hard so they make a good base for our “Torta Festiva” or “Torta di Biscotto di Nozze”.
Make a full recipe and stored in a metal container, they will last a few weeks. They can be frozen up to two months – they defrost very quickly. You will always have biscotti to serve with coffee when friends drop by.
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes @ 350ºF
Yield: 2 1/2 Dozen
3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 cups roasted almonds, cut in half
1/4 cup warm water
1/3 cup oil
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons water
ROASTING THE NUTS
Place the almonds on a cookie sheet and place in a 400ºF oven for 15 minutes. Shake the pan several times to turn the nuts so they cook evenly. Let the almonds cool. Cut the almonds in half.
In large mixing bowl, place the dry ingredients and toasted almonds. Make a well in the center and combine the remaining wet ingredients (water, oil and eggs). Oil your hands to mix the dough. Place the dough onto a floured board and work until completely combined. The dough will be sticky to work with. Refrigerate for one hour.
Make loaves about 14” long and 2” wide, and place them on a lightly greased or parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Brush the loaves with the egg wash and place them in a 350ºF oven for 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool and slice on a diagonal 1” apart.
To freeze, do not slice but wrap the whole logs tightly in plastic wrap. Slice the logs when you are ready to serve them. They can be frozen for up to 2 months.
Note: Cantucci can be double backed a few minutes on each side for a drier harder result.