Sunday, April 9, 2017

Tuscan Month: Cantucci and Vin Santo?

In her Tuscan Sun Cookbook, Frances Mayes describes fresh cantucci, the most ubiquitous cookie in Tuscany, as "nutty, crunchy but yielding, and with a faint tang of lemon." Apparently this cookie may be eaten only one way in Tuscany, and that is dipped in Vin Santo, or "holy wine," a sweet wine made of dried grapes, once popular as the wine given for communion. It is, as far as I can tell, wine made from raisins. But don't quote me on that. I would love to tell you how it tastes, but the only bottle I found locally was quite pricey. Call me uncultured, call me American, but I think it's hard to beat cold milk with cookies to dip. But I'm on a Tuscan quest, so I at least decided to give Fiorenti Elderflower liqueur a chance.

I rounded up some cookies from the Italian import shop, and dipped away. I can be big about this and admit that Italian cookies dipped in a sweet liqueur are pretty amazing. Perhaps because Italian cookies (or at least the kind you buy in a package) are not overly sweet or snazzy in flavor. They're just waiting for a little flavor boost. The Elderflower liqueur is too sweet to drink straight, but with a little glass of it and a plate of cookies to dip in, I could while away an hour or two on the piazza, people watching...both of which had to be supplied by imagination on my back porch.

Ghiottini's  Cantucci alle Mandarle
Satisfying crunch, sweet honey, real ingredients, and nice chunks of almond. I could eat these all day. Dipped in wine? Even better!

Balocco's Amaretti
Light as air, sweet and almondy with a little bitter after-taste. Honestly I think most Americans use amaretti primarily as something to blitz in the food processor and use as part of a dessert crust. But these cute-as-buttons little kisses of air and almonds gulp down anything you dip them in and are fairly addictive. Try at your peril!

Bonomi's Savoiardi Lady Fingers
Slightly sweet, light, and completely without flavor. There is no reason for this cookie to exist...except to soak it with coffee liquor and turn it into tiramisu! I'm sure there are version of Lady Fingers that are quite lovely as stand-alone edibles, but if you buy something like this in a package, I wouldn't recommend expecting a flavor sensation.

Barilla Mulino Bianco Pan di Stelle
Tell me how I can resist a package that says "11 magic stars" on it!? Thin, dark rounds of chocolate cookie topped with white sugared stars. My heart sang. Magic Stars! I can't claim the taste itself was all that much different that something a  Keebler elf might make...and it's true that the "magic stars" didn't look exactly like stars once they got out of the bag...I'm declaring this the best cookie ever! Make a wish with each bite!

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