“I love the berries
full and sweet
of the scrub bushes,
…and I love the people,
the people from Tuscany
rough like its wine,
as good and sure is the fruit
in the womb of my land.”
This is the end of a poem about Tuscany written by Benedetta Cano. She is the owner and chef of Poggio al Sole in Montepulciano, Tuscany. I attended a cooking lesson taught by Benedetta and was moved to tears by her passion. For the rest of the above poem, you’re going to have to travel to Italy and book at least one night and class at Poggio al Sole.
Benedetta is passionate about her heritage, her land, food and cooking. She is passionate about life and that passion is inspiring. Contagious. I am convinced that much of her passion comes from where she lives. Look at that view! Rolling hills, alive with the greenest grass, juiciest grapes, and the freshest wild fennel. A land that not only feeds your body, but also your soul with its natural beauty. If that doesn’t drive passion in a person? I wouldn’t want to live in that brain.
Francesco, one of our tour guides, explained to us how olive oil used to be made and how everything is so industrial these days that its all done by machine. Benedetta interrupted him to remind him that she still presses her olive oil with an old stone mill and does the rest by hand. This launched them into a very loud and fast debate with thick Italian accents and Italian arms flying through the air while motioning to drive their points home. The best part of this 45 minute debate, a debate that caused the chef to stop cooking, which inevitably delayed our dinner by 45 minutes, was that it wasn’t even an argument. Or really a true debate. They were on the same side. Benedetta and Francesco were just so passionately speaking about olive oil production that it consumed them completely. It was amazing. Benedetta’s knowledge and passion made this my favorite cooking lesson in Italy.
We made cantucci for dessert that night. Cantucci is the regional name for biscotti. I’ve researched it briefly and can’t find any real difference between cantucci and biscotti, but cantucci is what Benedetta taught us to make, so that is what I’ll teach you to make. Traditionally this would be made with 00 (double zero, or doppio zero) flour, the same type of flour that Italians use to make pasta and pizza, whole, blanched, unpeeled almonds and served with brandy. To make these s’mores cantucci I swapped the flour for graham flour (in case you didn’t guess by the name, this is the flour used to make graham crackers). You can also use white whole wheat flour or all purpose flour. Instead of a cup of almonds I used a cup of chocolate morsels, but I replaced half the vanilla extract with almond extract to preserve some of that almond cantucci flavor. Marshmallows don’t hold up so well when being baked twice, so the toasted marshmallows for this recipe will be your hot cocoa topper. This is the really fun part of the recipe. Take your creme brûlée torch and toast those mini marshmallows! If you have very sturdy mugs, you could also put your hot cocoa under the broiler for a minute to get those ‘mallows toasted.
This post is part of my 12 Days of Cocoa, which has apparently become the 12 Sporadic Days of Cocoa instead of all in a row. So what?
- 2 cups white whole wheat flour or graham flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 large eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 cup chocolate morsels or chopped chocolate
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.
- Add the eggs, vanilla extract and almond extract. Stir well to combine then knead the dough, adding more flour if necessary, until it is no longer sticky.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a large, flat disc. Place the chocolate morsels on top of the disc, fold the dough over onto itself and knead to thoroughly incorporate the chocolate.
- Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a log about the length of a baking sheet and 2 inches in diameter. Place the logs of dough on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and use the palm of your hand to flatten the log slightly so it is oval instead of round.
- Brush each log with an egg wash and bake until set but still a bit soft, about 20-30 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and lower the temperature to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the cookies are cool enough to handle, slice the logs on a diagonal into 1/2 to 1-inch thick pieces.
- Place the cookies bake on the baking sheet and bake until golden brown and hard, about 15 minutes.
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