Based in Toronto and New York City

, Nancy Matsumoto is a writer and editor who covers sustainable agriculture, food, sake, arts and culture.

Archival posts from my former blog, Walking and Talking

Il Cantuccio: a new standard for biscotti

So far, from what I can tell Il Cantuccio, the new Italian bakery at 91 Christopher Street near Bleecker, puts a very high premium on chewiness. You have to like mastication in order to take pleasure in its products. Its signature cantucci are super chewy biscotti, which come in chocolate, almond, fig, prune and apricot flavors, and are a welcome change from those over-sized, crown-busting rocks that sit in a glass jar next to your local barista.

The schiacciata flatbread at Il Cantuccio are similar to focaccia, but flatter, with a muscular, elastic texture that puts the wimpy, fluffy texture of Genovese focaccia to shame. These flatbreads are as challenging to the jaws as the cantucci, and come plain or topped with tomato or large cubes of bacon. It is the combination of their austere flavor and their amazing texture that make the schiacciata so weirdly addictive. The brutti-boni (the name means “ugly but good”), are pale lumps of almond paste, egg whites, sugar, flour and salt that are baked at a low temperature to make them crisp on the outside, and –you guessed it—chewy on the inside.

Il Cantuccio also offers pizza on a Tuscan-style flat bread similar to its schiacciata, sandwiches, and various other round, sweet and softer breads baked with raisins, rosemary and chocolate. They are brought to us courtesy of Tuscan bakers and co-owners, Camilla Bottari, Simone Bertini, and Lorenzo Palombo, who came with their recipes from Prato, north of Florence. The bakery traces its roots back to its founder and patron saint of chewiness, Leonardo Santi, who began making his cookies in 1920 in the Besenzio valley’s Migliana.

Bottari notes that all Il Cantuccio’s ingredients are imported from Italy, which perhaps accounts for the intense flavorfulness of the dried fruit. The schiacciata is made from nothing more than flour, yeast, olive oil and salt. The most popular items, she says, are the chocolate and the apricot cantucci. New Yorkers may also be mesmerized by the fact that, in addition to packing a lot of flavor and texture, these cookies are made without butter or oil, consisting of only sugar, flour, eggs and their various fruit or chocolate components.

How do they manage this? Bottari gives away nothing, saying, “It’s been a secret recipe for 50 years.”

Periodical Heaven: Casa Magazines

Interview with Daniel Shaviro