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Plate of finished biscottiThese are a petite variation on traditional Biscotti di Prato (otherwise known as Cantucci or even Cantuccini). But what they lack in size they certainly make up for in flavour, with toasted almonds enchanced by Amaretto and a subtle undertone of aniseed.

The first time I made Cantucci, using an “authentic” Tuscan recipe, they turned out like shards of paving slab, and no amount of the traditional dunking in dessert wine would soften them up. These here are crisp, without being teeth-shatteringly so. They do have a less dramatic appearance than many versions, as the toasted almonds are similar in colour to the golden biscuit surrounding them.

Ingredients

Makes 50 or so small biscuits

  • 125g blanched almonds
  • 175g plain white flour
  • 20g fine polenta / cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon whole aniseed (aka anise seeds)
  • 60g unsalted butter
  • 140g granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons Amaretto
  • 1 or 2 baking trays, at least 30cm long, lined with baking parchment

Method

Preheat oven to 170C / 325F / Gas Mark 3 (adjust for fan oven).

Toasted almondsSpread the almonds evenly on a baking tray and toast in the oven for 10 minutes or so, until light brown in colour. Allow to cool, then chop coarsely.

Mix the flour, polenta, baking powder, salt and aniseed in a bowl.

In another bowl, cream the butter and sugar together, then beat in the egg, followed by the liqueur.

Add the flour mixture and stir in thoroughly, followed by the almonds.

Dough formed into a sausageDivide the dough into two. Dust the work surface lightly with polenta, and shape each piece of dough into a sausage about 2.5cm in diameter and 30cm long. Put on the baking tray(s), spacing them at least 7.5cm apart, and bake for 15-20 minutes. Baked "sausage"The sausages will flatten out and develop a cracked golden brown surface.

Leave to cool, then transfer to a chopping board and cut into roughly 1cm slices. A serrated knife is best for this, and I find it helps to steady the sausage with one hand while sawing the end off with the other.

Sausage sliced up and ready for second bakeLay the slices flat on the lined baking tray(s) and bake for 6-10 minutes until golden brown and crisp.

Notes

It’s up to you how much you chop the almonds, although the larger you leave them the more challenging the slicing will be. I like to make sure each nut is at least cut in half, and by the time I’ve done this some of the nuts will have been quite finely chopped.

You could use another liqueur. The original recipe in Biscotti, which I have adapted here, specified an anise liqueur, but I did not have this the first time I made these, and I’ve never felt inclined to try anything other than the Amaretto I used then. I suspect Cointreau, Limoncello or Brandy might be nice. You could even use vanilla extract.

Depending on the warmth of your kitchen, you might find the dough is a little bit soft to form the initial sausages. If so wrap it and chill it in the refrigerator for 15 minutes or so.

Do not rush to slice up the sausages. They are much easier to slice once they have cooled.

You could omit the initial toasting of the almonds, but you would lose some of the flavour. I have sometimes used ready toasted Marcona almonds, and they work beautifully.Plate of finished biscotti