I'll admit.. I have a weakness for exotic sounding recipes, or should I paraphrase that as recipes that sound exotic to my Indian sensibilities. The more unusual sounding the recipe name, the more likely it is that I'll have a go at it. From rugelach to Finnish Pulla to cucidati, the book, 'Baking with Julia' has a fair share of them. One of the reasons, I guess that I keep coming back to the group despite my long absences.
So, this Tuesday, I am having a go at the exotic sounding cantuccini! But, turns out that I have already made something similar. Cantuccini are Italian biscotti by another name. If anyone knows why the different names, do let me know. I suspect it has something to do with regional variations.
A while back, from the same book, I had made some dark chocolate and roasted almond biscotti. Crunchy, dry, crackly and not too sweet, I have been a fan of these Italian cookies ever since and not much convincing was needed to make them again.
While this recipe calls for almonds, having already used them earlier, I turned to the Middle East for inspiration. I went with the classic combination of pistachios and orange zest to flavour these cookies.
Because there is no butter or fat used in these cookies, they bake, as the recipe states, into 'a formidable state of crunchiness'. This makes them perfect for some dipping action. That's why their traditional accompaniment is vin santo but a cup of espresso or tea would do too.
But, since we are in the mood for something new today, I decided to serve them with affogato. Affogato is one of the simplest desserts ever created. In Italian, affogato means drowned. So, you take a scoop or two of vanilla ice-cream and drown it in a shot of hot espresso. And, me being me, I added a shot of coffee liqueur for good measure.
Where do I start? The cantuccini were superlative with a winning flavour profile. The orange zest was refreshing and the pistachios provided a much welcome nutty texture and flavour. The affogato, for all its simplicity, is one remarkable dessert. The hot espresso melts into the vanilla ice cream and then with a dash of the coffee liqueur, you are looking at a one-shot coffee ice-cream without all the work that goes into it.
Mix these two Italian components, the cantuccini and the affogato, and its a delightful marriage of flavours. The orange complements the coffee and the dry, crackly texture is perfect for dipping into the melted ice-cream.
Next time you call your friends over, ditch the coffee and serve them affogato with some cantuccini instead. Although, I must warn you that you mix gossip and cantuccini at your own peril. You won't notice how many you've had as you make your way through that bowl of ice-cream and the latest round of 'who would've thought..' gossip. Trust me.. I speak from experience!
Affogato With Pistachio, Orange and Vanilla Cantuccini
Recipe adapted from the book, 'Baking with Julia'
Makes 12-15 cookies
For the Pistachio, Orange and Vanilla Cantuccini:
- 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 50 gms pistachios, shelled
- zest of 1 orange
- 1 vanilla bean, scrapped or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C. Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.
- In a bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and orange zest; stir well to mix. Stir in the pistachios.
- In another bowl, whisk the eggs with the vanilla then use a rubber spatula to stir into the dry ingredients. Continue to stir until a stiff dough forms. The dough may seem dry at this point but it will come together as it is kneaded.
- Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Roll the dough under the palms of your hands into a 10-inch cylinder. Press down gently with the palm of your hand to flatten the log until it is about 2 inches wide and I inch high. Transfer them to the prepared pan.
- First Baking: Bake the log for 30 minutes, or until they are slightly risen and firm to the touch. Slide the logs, parchment paper and all, off the baking sheet and onto a cooling rack. The logs must be completely cool before you can continue with the recipe. Since they will take about 30 minutes to cool, you can either turn the oven off or leave it on for the next step.
- Second Baking: When the log has completely cooled, preheat the oven to 175 deg C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Working with a sharp serrated knife, cut the cooled log diagonally into 1/4-inch thick slices. Place the sliced cookies cut side down on the pans and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the cookies are crisp and golden. Cool on the pans.
- Store in an airtight tin or plastic container.
For the Affogato:
- Vanilla ice-cream (I used store bought)
- Hot espresso coffee
- Coffee liqueur (I used vodka-based homemade coffee liqueur)
- Place generous scoops of ice-cream into individual serving glasses. Serve together with individual shot glasses of coffee and coffee liqueur. When ready to eat, guests pour coffee and liqueur over ice-cream. Serve with cantuccini.