Easter is approaching and with it the traditions of Easter sweet and savoury recipes with which we celebrate it. This year I thought I would share with you the recipe for a biscuit that I love and that was the star of the course dedicated to Italian Biscuits: I am talking about the gluten-free and traditional Canestrelli recipe that you can give to your loved ones with the certainty of making them happy, a perfect gift also for Father’s Day.
The Canestrelli recipe between legends and truths
Canestrelli biscruits are so famous and popular that they need no introduction, yet not many people know their history and preparation techniques.
Their origin dates back to the Middle Ages and even then they were so popular to be depicted on Genovini, i.e. the coins minted from 1252 onwards by the Genoese Republic. The value of this biscuit was linked not only to its taste, but also to the ingredients used, namely white flour and butter, which in the hinterland of Genoa, in the Val di Trebbia, were true rarities, so much so that Canestrelli were used for centuries as currency.
And the name Canestrello is also linked to notoriety as it first appeared in an official document in 1576 that reported on a hapless muleteer stabbed and robbed of a ‘basket’ of biscuits (basket being ‘canestro’ in Italian, hence the name of the biscuits), confirming the value that was attributed to this product.
Precious ingredients and… magical mistakes
While it was considered scandalous to ‘waste’ white flour and butter on a biscuit, there is no shortage of legends to explain why hard-boiled egg yolks are used in the Canestrelli dough instead of fresh eggs (in fact, shortcrust pastry made with hard-boiled egg yolks is a specific type of dough that results in cakes with a crumbly, silky texture).
One such story tells of a woman baker who, on the very day she had a large order of biscuits to prepare, did not wake up as usual. Her husband, in an attempt to help her, had hard-boiled all the eggs to have them ready for breakfast the following days. Having no time to buy more eggs, the baker decided to use the hard-boiled yolks to prepare the biscuit dough: these biscuits were so successful that they became famous throughout the region.
As is often the case in Italy, typical recipes have countless local and even family variants, and Canestrelli are no exception, so although they are recognised as Traditional Food Products (PAT) of Liguria, ingredients and preparation may vary slightly from area to area.
But what are their main characteristics?
Definitely the daisy shape that goes from a diameter of about 10cm with scalloped edges to smaller diameters to be eaten in one bite. The central hole is proportionate to the diameter, while the thickness is always quite high, at least 7 millimetres. The colour is barely golden, made even lighter by the icing sugar with which the surface is dusted.
So, are you now feeling like turning on the oven and baking some biscuits? Do you have some paper bags ready to wrap them for daddy or as a gift for Easter? Have fun with my gluten free Canestrelli!
Gluten free and traditional Canestrelli
carbohydrates 64.31g per 100g canestrelli without icing sugar on the surface
Ingredients for 23 biscuits
- 120g butter
- 100g gluten free flour mix for bread, brand BiAglut** (wheat flour for a version with gluten)
- 100g potato starch or corn starch*
- 50g icing sugar*
- 2 yolks of hard-boiled eggs
- grated rind of 1/2 lemon
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1 egg white for brushing
- icing sugar* to complete
**Ingredients specific for celiacs
*Ingredients whose labels must read “gluten-free” (or, in Italy, present on Prontuario AIC)
- Put the eggs in boiling water and boil them for 8 minutes; shell them and extract the hard-boiled yolks.
- Place the flour, icing sugar, soft butter, starch and sifted egg yolks in a bowl or planetary mixer and start mixing, add the pinch of salt and grated lemon zest, then knead until smooth and firm. Initially the dough will seem dry, but once the butter is mixed in, it will be soft and smooth. Cover the mixture with cling film and put in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
- Roll out the shortcrust pastry to a thickness of approx. 7mm-1cm, then cut the biscuits using the flower-shaped cookie mould with the hole in the centre. Brush them with egg white.
- Put Canestrelli on a baking tin covered with parchment paper and bake them in a static oven preheated to 170°C for about 15-20 minutes without allowing them to get brow: it is important not to bake them too much!
- Let them cool down, then dust with icing sugar.
Version with gluten of Canestrelli
Replace the gluten-free flour with an equal amount of wheat flour.