This biscuit wasn’t meant to turn out like that. It was meant to be a cantuccini from the new River Cafe book, Classic Italian – the little, brittle crunchy biscuits that you sometimes get on the side of a glass of sweet wine as pudding in Italian restaurants. I love that. I applaud the person who decided that booze plus biscuit equals dessert.
This, on the other hand, was a giant, altogether more biscotti-like affair, crisp at the edges but still a little soft in the centre – definitely firm to the bite, but with a solidly yielding rather than a shattery crumb. So, in respect of the fact that what I ended up with was definitely not what I set out to, this was a recipe disaster. Except it wasn’t, because these biscuits were lovely: well packed with roasted almonds and hazelnuts, softly lemony, they filled the house with the most comforting scent of baking that I oddly felt a bit christmassy all of a sudden. Unassuming but a little bit sophisticated, I think these can do double duty as an afternoon coffee biscuit and an after-dinner treat.
We had a friend round for dinner and these were dessert with a couple of scoops of Green & Black’s vanilla ice-cream and some raisins that had been macerating for a few hours in a small glass of pineau des charentes blanc. We also had pork roasted in balsamic vinegar with roast potatoes and green beans with parmesan, which was also delicious, but I forgot to take any photos and Tom made most of it.
So, the recipe, and my issues with it. Ruth and Rose claim that, once you’ve mixed all your ingredients together, you’ll have a thick dough which you will be able to separate into three and form into sausages. This just didn’t happen with me – I double checked I’d put everything in, in the right quantities, but what I had was more like a batter than a dough. There was no way it was being shaped into anything, so I just dolloped it into the tray and hoped for the best. For the second baking stage I sliced down the length of the tray to make long biscuits, rather than the one-third sized ones I was meant to have. They took much longer to cook than stated, which was understandable, but neither did they ever achieve the dark brown colour of the photo in the book. When I went to see Ruth Rogers speak recently she claimed that Penguin, who published this book, had been especially rigorous in making them test the recipes – which begs the question, was I just being an idiot in some way? And also, were the recipes never tested in any of the previous books?! Well, there is a happy ending to this story.
Cantuccini Makes 30 biscuits, or by my method, 12.
250g whole blanched almonds
100g softened butter
150g caster sugar
3 large free-range eggs
200g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
50g blanched almonds, ground to a flour (I used ground almonds)
zest of 2 lemons
150g peeled hazelnuts (I didn’t peel mine – the rebellion!)
Preheat the oven to 150c. Spread the whole almonds on a baking tray and roast them in the oven until light brown and toasty. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Put the softened butter in a mixing bowl with the sugar and eggs and mix together. Then sieve in the flour and baking powder. I still had some buttery lumps, but it didn’t seem to matter. This is the point at which the book claims you will have a ‘thick dough’. Fold in the ground almonds and lemon zest and stir through the roasted almonds and hazelnuts.
Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper – you’ll probably want to lightly grease it to be on the safe side. Supposedly you now divide the dough into three and form each piece into a flattened sausage. Otherwise, just stick the dough onto the tray. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the dough is springy, firm and very lightly golden. Leave to cool.
When cooled, cut the dough into biscuits about 1.5cm in width. Peel them off the paper and lay them back on the tray cut side up. Put them back in the oven to bake until they are a deeper brown and appear crisp and dry, turning when one side is done. The book says up to 15 mins per side. I got distracted and have no idea how long mine took in the end, but probably about 20-25 minutes each side. I’m also not sure the turning is strictly necessary; if you have big biscuits like mine you risk them falling apart and I think it’s acceptable to bake them on one side. When they’re done the surface should be dry and hard and they should have become easier to move.
Adapted from Rose Gray and Rose Rogers’ ‘The River Cafe Classic Italian Cook Book’.