Canestrelli, Italian Shortbread Cookies are deliciously crumbly and traditional of the Liguria Region. They have a characteristic flower shape with a hole in the center and a surprise ingredient in the dough. Canestrelli are generously dusted with powdered sugar and they are perfect with your morning coffee or afternoon tea.
Song of the day: Head Over Heels by Tears For Fears.
All of my food is related to memories, and some of the sweetest memories I have are related to these Canestrelli cookies.
The rectangular plastic box with the Canestrelli in rows of two and their unmistakable thick layer of icing sugar would randomly appear in my parents' pantry and I always felt them like a treat. So buttery and dusted with sugar they were not exactly my mother's favorite cookies to have around in the house. But she knew my love for them, and every now and then they would accompany our afternoon tea with guests or would be savored with coffee at our weekend lunch table.
Every time, until later in life, and to this day, I would open that box, smell the intense vanilla and sugar aroma, grab one cookie with my thumb and first finger and inevitably end up with icing sugar all over my face, fingers, and clothes. Their unique crumbliness, delicateness, would make me cherish every bite without any haste.
What are Canestrelli cookies?
Canestrelli, which might be translated as “little baskets”, referring to the baskets where they were left to cool down after baking, it is the king of the Ligurian cookies, said to have been created more than five hundred years ago in Torriglia, a small village near Genova and has been much appreciated ever since.
There is a surprise ingredient in the pastry dough
The short pastry of the Canestrelli has a special ingredient that makes it soft and crumbly and you would never guess it: the hard-boiled egg yolk. Yes, you read that right! After cooling, the egg yolks are sifted through a fine mesh, then worked together with the flour, potato starch, butter, icing sugar, making the shortcrust pastry particularly delicate and friable. The rest is similar to a traditional shortbread recipe, with the lemon zest and vanilla giving a lovely fragrance. The cookies are rolled quite thick, cut in flower shapes, and baked until pale golden, another of their characteristics.
Canestrelli cookies (biscotti Canestrelli, as we call them in Italy, as any type of cookies is called biscotti) have a characteristic flower shape with a hole in the center. The flower shape for the ones on the market have 12 petals and the hole in the center is a little bigger. They sell online a cookie cutter that is closer to the original but I am not a fan of buying online (call me "ancient") and moreover it is still not the right one (8 petals instead of 12), so I stuck with the one I already had, a flower-shaped cookie cutter with 6 petals, and I used a medium piping nozzle for the hole in the center. Our tastes buds didn't complain.
They look so pretty before baking and also after, waiting to be covered in icing sugar. I kept some without, perfect for our breakfast. They are crumbly but not so much to disintegrate before arriving at our mouths after a dive in the cappuccino.
Canestrelli, Italian Shortbread Cookies, are at their best paired with coffee or for a sophisticated tea time with friends. They would look gorgeous on a cookie tray and their unique shape and texture will bring rave reviews. They are buttery, melt-in-your-mouth delicious, and not too sweet despite being topped with a blanket of powdered sugar.
If you bake them for Christmas and wrap them up nicely, they make a thoughtful and delightful homemade present.
Have fun baking these Canestrelli, Italian Shortbread Cookies, and enjoy another taste of Italy!
Song of the day: Head Over Heels by Tears For Fears (the 80's were the years I was most enjoying eating Canestrelli and listening to some great bands, including Tears For Fears).Print
- 130 g flour 00 (or all-purpose)
- 70 g potato starch (or potato flour)
- 70 g icing (powdered) sugar, plus extra for dusting
- a pinch of salt
- ½ tsp bourbon vanilla powder (or the seeds of 1 vanilla bean)
- 1 organic lemon, the zest
- 100 g unsalted butter, cold
- 3 yolks from hardboiled eggs
- Place eggs in a small pot and cover with cold water. Bring it to a boil and cook for 8-9 minutes. Place them under cold water, remove the shell, let them cool completely then take out the yolks and mash with a fork. (I used the hard-boiled whites in a salad).
- Sift flour, potato starch, and icing sugar into a bowl. Add salt and vanilla (bean seeds, paste, or powder), mixing well with a whisk.
- Cut the butter into small pieces and mix with the flour using a pastry cutter or your fingertips, until you obtain a crumbly mixture.
- With a fine grater add the lemon zest (try not to grate the white part that would give a bitter aftertaste).
- Using a spoon, press the hard-boiled egg yolks through a sieve directly into the bowl.
- Work the dough with your hands until smooth. In the beginning, it seems like it's dry and it won't come together, but it will. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour (I let it rest for 3 hours).
- Pre-heat oven to 335° (170° C). Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.
- Remove the dough from the fridge, and let it come to room temperature so it's easier to roll out without crumbling. I divided the dough in two and worked a piece at a time.
- Roll out the dough to a 5-mm thickness and cut the Canestrelli with the flower-shaped cookie cutter (with at least 6 petals). Make a hole in the center of each cookie using a medium piping nozzle. Knead again the leftover dough and repeat the operation to make more cookies.
- Transfer the Canestrelli onto the prepared baking sheets and bake for about 16/18 minutes or until cooked but still very pale. I baked one baking sheet at a time.
- Remove and leave to cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet on a wire rack. When completely cool, dust the tops generously with icing sugar.
The cooking time does not include the boiling of the eggs.
You can make the dough in a food processor or stand mixer.
The prep time includes the resting of the dough in the fridge for 3 hours.
They keep for up to two weeks in an airtight container (I put them in a tin box with the lid), although I don't think they will last that long.
- Prep Time: 3 hours 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 18 minutes
- Category: Cookies
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: Italian
Keywords: cookies, butter, canestrelli, Italian, hardboiled eggs, vanilla, lemon zest, tea time, traditional
I love baking and kneading dough because it takes me to a happy place in my soul.