I’m writing about these biscotti di Prato because I love the people who read my blog, and I want you to know the perfect cookie.
My friend, Irene Pickering, makes these – which I’ve learned are usually called “cantuccini” in Italy. In the 19th century, Prato resident Antonio Mattei discovered an ancient recipe for these spears of nut and dough. Biscottificio Antonia Mattei has been the leading name in cantuccini ever since. Until Irene.
Irene is a sparkling redhead with a singing voice like a nightingale, but she gets invited to parties for her cantuccini. For years, a group of women I know have arranged Ladies Dinners on the pretense that we miss each other, and want share some good wine together, but it’s secretly only about getting to Irene’s cantuccini.
A few glasses of wine and a light dinner later, you should see this usually super-composed bunch of women eat cookies. Crumbs sprayed, the floor plastered with almonds crushed beneath our feet, not to mention the spilled vin santo, the next morning it looks like a fight broke out in the Biscottificio.
These cantuccini have a perfect ratio of breakable crust to gooey center, studded with a more-than-casual crunch of almonds. They’re made with olive oil and brown sugar, a combination that simply adds up to deep, sweet mystery. I’ve actually tried to bake these cookies, and they’re much more complicated than they appear, another sign of their genius. A masterpiece always looks so simple, right?
The culinary virtues are hard to photograph. These may look like lots of other biscotti, yet every person who tastes them says, “wow, this is not what I expected. These are amazing.” Then they settle down to chew and savor. They pour themselves more coffee. They decide to blow-off the next meeting, sit back in their chair, and wonder if anyone in Prato is eating like this.
Because I love you, I want you to know that Irene is now producing these almond-stacked wands of perfection commercially. Willowrest in Gloucester and Joppa Flats fine foods in Newburyport now have Irene’s cantuccini, packaged as “House on the Hill,” a name her kids liked.
You can book a ticket to Milan, or you can find Irene’s cantuccuni.