In Italy the 8th of December is a holiday dedicated to Saint Mary, when usually we trim the tree and we start making Christmas cookies… as every year, the house is full of cinnamon, aniseed and vanilla smells! Tuscan cookies are not nice to see nor colourful cool or chic… they’re round, a bit flat on the edge and dusted with flour. When I was young, mum used to bring home a white paper bag from San Gimignano, full of cavallucci, a gift from my Grandad.
Each time I eat those cookies, they remind me of Grandad. They are very similar: rustic and bashful on the outside, but sweet and flavourful inside, full of delicious ingredients and spices.
You can find tons of cavallucci recipes, but if you want to make really good cavallucci, there is just one way to have them: choose your favourite traditional shop, one of those that sell sweets, coffee and candies, go next to the counter with a suspicious look and whisper to the seller: can you give me the ingredients for half a kilo of cantuccini? The man will turn his back and fill small paper bags with candied fruits and spices, then he will put all the ingredients together in a bigger bag, he will seal it and he will undoubtedly say: this is the one and only recipe, the right one, you’ll see what a masterpiece they will be, I’m sure we will see again before Christmas because you’ll be searching again for those ingredients, I bet!
And I’ll be back to this shop, my cavallucci have let my aunt without words, they’re super, amazing!
My recipe for cavallucci
Siena’s most traditional Christmas cookies, cavallucci are not terribly elegant or photogenic, lacking the bright colours, icing, and sugar sprinkling we expect from a Christmas cookie. Nor do they come in Christmas shapes, but are round and rustic, rather, and pressed in at the ends. And yet, despite their humble appearance—floury, and a bit lumpy—with that first bite of warm spices, rich nuttiness, and sweet candied fruit you’ll forget all about presentation.
Cavallucci, typical Tuscan Christmas cookies
- 650 grams all-purpose flour
- 350 grams sugar
- 200 grams shelled walnuts
- 170 ml water
- 90 grams candied citrus peels, diced
- 30 grams icing sugar
- 15 grams baking ammonia
- 15 grams cavallucci spices, a mix of cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, anise in equal part
- Preheat oven to 175°/350°F.
- Roughly chop the walnuts and collect them into a bowl. Add the flour, the diced candied peels, the icing sugar, the spices and the baking ammonia. Mix thoroughly.
- In a small saucepan, add the sugar and the water and bring to a simmer to melt the sugar. As soon as the sugar has melted into a clear syrup, remove it from the heat.
- Pour the sugar syrup into the bowl with the other ingredients and mix thoroughly with the help of a wooden spoon. The dough will be dense and thick.
- On a floured surface, shape the dough into 5 cm thick logs, then cut them into pieces. You should get 25 equal pieces.
- Roll each piece into a ball, then gently flatten them pressing each ball with your thumb.
- Arrange all the cavallucci in a baking tray lined with parchment paper and bake them for about 15 minutes. They will be still slightly soft to the touch. Remove them from the oven and let them cool down completely.
- You can keep the cavallucci for several days closed in a tin or an airtight container.