Canestrelli are delicate, buttery, delicious, melt-in-your-mouth traditional Italian cookies with a history as rich as their flavor. We will explore the origins of this classic Italian treat and discover the secrets of its unique flavor. Eventually, we will share with you the authentic recipe for making canestrelli cookies at home.
Canestrelli are from Northern Italy, specifically the picturesque regions of Liguria and Piedmont. These delicate, shortbread-like lemon-flavored cookies have long been synonymous with warmth, hospitality and the comforts of home.
Their distinctive flower shape, with a hole in the center, adds a touch of elegance and extravagance. They are very similar to the classic daisy shortbread cookies and like them, they are an ideal accompaniment to a steaming cup of espresso or a glass of sweet dessert wine.
Canestrelli’s distinctive flavor and texture come from the careful blending of a few simple, high-quality ingredients. Flour, sugar and rich, velvety butter form the base of the dough. Hard boiled egg yolks add a surprising and delicious tenderness.
Finally the addition of vanilla and lemon zest adds a subtle, aromatic quality. Bake them to perfection and sprinkle with a light dusting of icing sugar. Canestrelli become an irresistible example of the magic of Italian pastry!
Now we are going to show you the authentic Italian Canestrelli recipe. More precisely, we give you the Ligurian one, which is definitely lighter than the Piedmontese one, which also employs hazelnut flour and the cookies have a different shape.
We will take you step-by-step through the process of creating a recipe for canestrelli cookies, sharing tips and tricks for achieving the perfect, melt-in-your-mouth texture.
So get your ingredients, preheat your oven, and get ready for a delicious journey through the traditional world of Canestrelli cookies!
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How to Make Traditional Italian Canestrelli Cookies
- Prep time: 15 Min+ chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least 30 Min
- Cook Time: 12 Min
- Servings: Doses for about 25 Canestrelli Cookies
- 100 g (4/5 cup) of “00” flour
- 100 g (2/3 cup) of potato starch
- 2 medium eggs
- 120 g (1 stick) of unsalted butter softened at room temperature
- 60 g (1/2 cup) of icing sugar + more for decoration
- lemon zest of 1 medium organic lemon
- 1/2 teaspoon of the pulp and seeds of 1 vanilla pod
- 1/6 teaspoon of salt
Step 1) – First make the hard boiled eggs. Place the eggs in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook for about 10 minutes.
Remove from the heat, drain, and cool the eggs by soaking them in cold water for a few minutes. Discard the shells and whites. Set aside the hard-boiled yolks.
Step 2) – While the eggs are cooking, put the flour, potato starch, icing sugar and salt in a bowl and mix.
Now add the vanilla and grated lemon zest.
So cut the vanilla pod lengthwise and use a teaspoon to scoop out the pulp and seeds, according to the amounts indicated.
If the lemon is very large, use only half. Be careful to grate only the yellow part of the lemon. In fact, the white part is quite bitter. Use an organic, untreated lemon.
Step 3) – Mix well. Then make a hole in the flour and put in the softened butter at room temperature and the crumbled hard egg yolks.
We used a sieve to crumble the yolks, using the back of a spoon or a spatula.
Step 4) – Mix the butter with the egg yolks, incorporating the powders little by little, first with a spoon and then with your hands.
When the dough is almost formed, transfer it to the pastry board and continue kneading with your hands for a few minutes. Just long enough to get a smooth and homogeneous dough ball.
At this point, carefully wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it firm up in the refrigerator for at least half an hour.
Step 5) – When the shortcrust pastry has hardened enough, take it out of the refrigerator. The dough should be cold and very firm.
Roll it out with a rolling pin on a lightly floured work surface to a thickness of 1/2 to 1 cm (1/5 inch to about 1/2 inch).
Cut out the canestrelli with a daisy-shaped cookie cutter (read the paragraph below for some raccomandations)..
Place them well-spaced on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.
How to Bake Canestrelli to Perfection
Step 6) – Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 10 to 12 minutes. The Canestrelli should not be too brown.
Remove from the oven and let them cool completely.
Serve canestrelli cookies sprinkled with plenty of icing sugar.
How to Store Canestrelli
You can keep the canestrelli cookies up to 15 days in an airtight jar.
If you want to keep them longer, we recommend that you dust them with icing sugar only when you serve them. Both for aesthetics and for the final texture of the cookie.
If you wish, you can prepare the shortbread in advance and freeze it. The shortbread will keep in the freezer for about two months.
When you are ready to make the canestrelli, defrost the shortbread in the refrigerator. Then follow the recipe from step 5.
What you May Need to Make Italian Canestrelli
To make canestrelli, you need a daisy-shaped cutter with a hole in the center. While it’s very easy to find this type of cutter in Italy, it’s difficult to find abroad.
So our recommendation is to get a classic daisy shaped cookie cutter and then make the center hole by hand. For example, you can make the hole with the nozzle of a 1 cm (2/5 inch) diameter pastry bag. Or you can use a funnel, again with the same diameter.
Canestrelli Recipe: Tips and Tricks
Hard-boiled Egg Yolks
The peculiarity of the Canestrelli dough, besides the presence of potato starch, is the use of hard-boiled egg yolks, which are then sieved and mixed evenly with the rest of the dough.
As already mentioned, let the eggs cook for about 10 minutes from the moment the water starts boiling.
If the eggs are large, leave them a few minutes longer. If they are not hard boiled, you will not get the same result.
It’s precisely this ingredient that makes the canestrelli much more crumbly than traditional shortbread cookies.
Make sure that the mesh of the sieve is not too fine, otherwise you will not be able to sift the hard-boiled yolk easily. You would waste a lot of it!
You should not throw away the egg whites that are not used in the cookies! In fact use them in your salads or stuff them however you like to make great appetizers!
Temperature of the Dough
Another very important aspect for the success of canestrelli recipe is the temperature of the dough.
Knead quickly to avoid overheating the dough.
If during kneading or cutting the cookies you notice that the dough is no longer hard and cold, put it back in the refrigerator for a while.
Make sure the cookies are not too close to each other on the baking sheet.
Follow the baking times. If you notice that your cookies appear pale after baking, this is normal. In fact, it’s typical for Canestrelli to be very pale.
If overbaked, the canestrelli will have a different flavor, too toasted or a bit bitter.
Also, the texture should not be crispy, but tender.
What we have shown you is the authentic canestrelli recipe, the Ligurian one that is the most popular in Italy.
For the past few years, Genoese canestrelli have received the attribute of Traditional Italian Food Product.
In Italy, May 15 is the National Day of Canestrelli, the typical daisy shaped shortbread cookies.
There are some variants of the classic recipe. Let’s see some of them.
The first variation we are going to mention is not in the recipe, but in the size of the cookie.
Classic canestrelli have a diameter of 5 to 10 cm (2 to 4 inches) and a thickness of 1/2 cm (1/5 inch).
Then there are the “canestrellini”, the most famous of which are those from Sassello, which are smaller and thicker. About 3 cm (1 1/5 inches) in diameter and about 1 cm (2/5 inches) thick.
Add 20 g of 70% dark chocolate to the dough. Or use 85 g of potato starch and 15 g unsweetened cocoa powder.
Although traditionally Canestrelli are sprinkled with plenty of icing sugar, there is a glossy variation without icing sugar.
Brush the surface of the cookies with lightly beaten egg white and then bake.
The canestrelli will turn out golden and glossy. In Liguria it’s common to enjoy the canestrelli prepared in this way with a little honey.
Canestrelli with Jam Filling
You can also fill two overlapping canestrelli with the jam of your choice. In this case, of course, we recommend making the canestrelli even thinner.
Similarly, if you make fairly thin daisy-shaped shortbread cookies , you can spread one with Nutella and then overlap another cookie. In this way you will have made Canestrelli alla Nutella!
You can turn these traditional Italian sweets into a tasty appetizer by adding Parmigiano or Grana Padano cheese to the dough. The result is a savory canestrelli.
The process is the same, but replace half the amount of potato starch with half the amount of grated Parmigiano cheese and add a little pepper. After baking, sprinkle with Parmigiano and poppy seeds.
Other Types of Canestrelli
However, there are also other pastry or savory products that share the name ” Canestrelli” but are very different.
Foe example Canestrelli from Brugnato, a town in Val di Vara in the province of La Spezia, are like doughnuts made from flour, water, sugar, eggs, honey, oil and aniseed.
Canestrelli from Taggia are savory cookies that come in either a doughnut or horseshoe shape. The dough of flour, water, salt and yeast is enriched by the intense flavor of Taggiasca extra virgin olive oil, typical of this area. This type of savory canestrello is very similar to the Apulian Tarallo.
Piedmontese Canestrelli consist of wafers round or rectangular. They make this type of canestrelli with a dough of flour, hazelnuts, sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla flavor.
Their distinguishing feature is the design they have on the surface, obtained by crushing the balls of dough between jaw molds. This design represents the interweaving of a basket in which they were stored.
Noteworthy among Piedmontese canestrelli are the canestrelli from Biella. They are wafers made with almonds, hazelnuts and cocoa.
Origins, History and Trivia about Canestrelli
The origins of canestrelli are very ancient and go back as far as the Middle Ages.
Around the 12th century, at the time of the Republic of Genoa, some wafer makers began making these cookies using white flour, a luxury ingredient at the time.
In ancient times, canestrelli were sold in markets and in churchyards. Given the preciousness of the ingredients used, they soon became a symbol of wealth and abundance. Sometimes canestrelli were also used as an expensive bargaining chip.
At that time Ligurian canestrelli were considered so valuable that they were depicted on a gold coin, the Genovino. This is a gold coin from the 13th century. On this coin was the image of seven six-pointed canestrelli as a symbol of abundance and wealth.
The name “canestrelli” first appears in an official document from 1576 concerning a crime story that occurred on the Trebbia public road.
A muleteer had been stabbed and robbed of a “canestrelli cavagno.” Considering the value of those cookies, it was as if the murderer had taken possession of a bag of real coins.
It was in 1829, in the famous Bar Caffè in Torriglia, a town in the metropolitan area of Genoa, that the commercialization of Canestrelli officially began.
Today, for many, Torriglia is the home of Canestrelli. And every year, at the beginning of June, this Ligurian town organizes the “Torriglia Canestrelli Festival.”
Ovis Mollis Shortcrust Pastry
Canestrelli shortcrust pastry, rich in butter (don’t ask if it can be substituted) and with hard boiled egg yolks in the dough, delicate and melting, is also called “pasta ovis mollis.”
This is also the name of other Piedmontese pastries with a heart of jam.
The origin of “ovis mollis” has a double meaning from Latin. “Soft eggs,” meaning that the softness of the cookies depends on the presence of hard-boiled eggs, or from Ovis which means sheep suggesting perhaps the meaning of soft treat like wool.
The idea of using hard-boiled yolks in the dough comes from a baker to make up for a mistake.
The woman had received a large order of cookies. But that morning she fell asleep for too long.
When she woke up, her husband had already baked all the eggs they had. There was no time to buy more, so the woman tried using the cooked yolks for her shortbread and the result was amazing!