By: Jerry Finzi, Grand Voyage Italy
When you bite into a Tuscan cookie like Cavallucci Sienese, you’llbe tasting traces of a medieval or Renaissance past. Layered spices, honey, nuts, figs and canditi(mixed dried fruits), but not the typical dried fruit used in modern Italian holiday breads, but luscious candied fruit. Keep in mind, these are not pretty biscotti, they are both rustic and a bit boring looking on the outside, but soft, sweet, fragrant and flavorful inside, where it counts.
A Bite of History
You can find these historic cookies in shops all over Tuscany, but especially in the confection’s hometown of Siena. When you bite into one you will be transported back to 15th century Siena…
The name can be attributed to the fact that they used to be embossed with either an image of a horse (cavallo) or a horse’s hoof. In fact, many today are shaped like a horses hoof. Some claim the cookies can be traced back to the reign of Jonah the Magnificent (1449–1492), when they were called biriquocoli. Others say that cavallucci were served to travelers and couriers on horseback (think “Renaissance Pony Express”) as a source of nourishment for long trips (something like a Medieval power bar). Some Sienese claim that these dolci were the snacks for servants who worked in horse stables of rich Italian aristocrats in the various contradi (neighborhood districts), of obvious fame for the annual Palio horse race each year.
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup Italian style, spreadable Millefiore honey
- 1/2 cup chopped, dried figs
- 1/4 cup raisins, chopped
- 1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup almonds, coarsely chopped
- 2 – 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon crushed anise seeds
- 1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 – 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (for softer cookies, mix 1-1/2 cups all-purpose and
1 cup Italian 00 flour)
- Powdered sugar for dusting
- Preheat your oven to 350 F.
- Line two half sheet pans with parchment paper.
- To make a simple syrup, bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan and add the brown and granulated sugar, stirring until dissolved. Keep stirring for another two minutes.
- Remove the syrup from the heat and quickly stir in all the remaining ingredients except the flour.
- Mix the baking soda into the flour.
- Next, slowly add the flour into the other ingredients and mix in the flour to avoid clumping, then let the dough cool, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes. After cooling, place the dough into a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place into your refrigerator for a minimum of two hours to chill.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and cut four equal pieces.
- In turn, roll each piece into a 15-18″ rope, cutting 2-3″ pieces with a knife. Shape each into hoof shapes, then make a thumb print in each piece. Alternately, you can press the tip of an angled teaspoon into each cookie to make an impression looking like a horse’s hoof print.
- Place the cookies 3/4″ inch apart on the sheet pans and bake for 20 minutes or until their bottoms are lightly browned.
- Set the pan aside to cool, then after they are cool enough to handle, place them on a cooling rack for further cooling (they will soften as they cool).
- Dust with powdered sugar.
Note: Serve with a sweet Italian wine, Amaretto or Sambuca.