Tuscany is famous all over the world for its production of excellent wine and extra-virgin olive oil, and for its breath-taking landscape with medieval villages dotted across the hilltops. An element that distinguishes the villages are their traditional recipes, unique in every region. As a matter of fact, Tuscany is known for the variety of desserts produced. What is the first thing that pops in everyone’s mind when thinking of a typical Tuscan dessert? The answer is easy: Cantucci, the biscotti that tend to be soaked in sweet wine, the Vin Santo (Holy Wine). The Cantucci are the traditional dessert of the northern part of Tuscany, more precisely of the town of Prato. The first document referring to cantucci dates back to the XVIII century in the civil archives of Prato. The name has Latin origins, ‘cantellus’, the word used to describe the crust of bread, therefore it was indicator of the consistency of the dessert. Cantucci are biscuits very crunchy and dry. The classic dough recipe wants unpeeled almonds in it, but there are also other versions with different ingredients. The crispy consistency of the biscotti is obtained thanks to its special double-baking. During the fist bake, the dough has the shape of a loaf, like a normal piece of bread. Once this first phase is completed, the loaf comes out of the oven. Whilst it is still warm, the loaf is cut into many pieces, which are placed in the oven for a second, but shorter baking.
In Tuscany, it is very common to dip the Cantucci in the Holy Wine, a fortified wine produced by artisans in small barrels, obtained from sun-dried raisins. There are many theories about the actual origin of the adjective ‘holy’, but the general consensus is that this specific type of wine was used by the members of the Church during Mass and Baptisms. Legend has it that a Franciscan friar used the vinsanto to cure people infected by the plague. For this reason the wine gained a miraculous connotation (holy wine) and even if there is no definitive proof of this miraculous wine, it is sure, however, that cantucci and Vin Santo are the perfect combination to end a typical Tuscan dinner.
A typical of the town of Lamporecchio is the brigidini because it was here that they were invented. The brigidino is a crumbly round wafer with jagged edges. The dessert is golden yellow and it has an unmistakable taste of anise. Typically, in the middle of the wafer, there is the image of a stylised flower.
There are many legends about the origins of this very popular dessert, some say that it was Saint Brigid who invented it, hence the name brigidino (Saint Brigid – brigidino). The reason of the creation of this dessert was a visit by the Pope. Brigid was expecting the visit from the Pope to the monastery where she resided, so she decided to commemorate the event by creating something new, something special. The Saint used the same recipe of the host and she added two ingredients: aniseed and egg, which gave the dessert the typical yellow colour. By mixing all the ingredients she invented this special wafer, which soon became part of the culinary tradition of the village, and later of Tuscany. Nowadays, brigidini can be found, packed into bags, in every ice-cream shop of Tuscany, and every Tuscan festival.
The third dessert is deeply connected to an important Tuscan city: the Buccellato, the most important dessert of Lucca, birth-town of Giacomo Puccini. This particular name has Latin origins, ‘buccella‘ which means bite. During the ancient Roman times, the buccellato was a sweet bread with a circular shape. The circle was obtained by combining smaller pieces of bread (the bites), which then resembled a laurel crown. Nowadays, the sweet bread is still round, but its shape has been simplified (the buccellato looks like a big donut), there are also other versions, like the straight loaf, easier to carry. Originally, the buccellato was created to be a ‘festival’ sweet and it was consumed only on Sundays, after Mass. It seems that it was created because people wanted to ennoble the bread. The buccellato is a simple dough, like the one used in making bread, with the addition of sugar, raisins and aniseed. Typically the loaf is dark brown, with a shiny surface, thanks to a mirror glace obtained with sugar and egg white. The buccellato is so deeply connected to the city of Lucca that there is also a saying about it: “whoever comes to Lucca and does not eat buccellato has not actually been there”. So we recommend to taste it, otherwise you won’t be able to say that you entirely visited Lucca!