Today is the great Julia Child’s birthday! To be honest, I probably would not have known that had it not been for Lisa of Champaign Taste who sent me an e-mail several weeks ago, inviting me to participate in an event to mark this occasion.
Like countless others, I am a fan of Julia’s and greatly respect the impact that she’s had on the world of food. I doubt there are many cooks or chefs who are as universally recognizable as Julia Child.
To be very honest, my history with Julia does not go back very far. As a child, my only awareness of her relates to some vague memories of a blooper show that showed her bungling a chicken all over the place. I seem to recall an uncle trying to imitate her distinctive voice, but beyond that, there wasn’t much Julia Child in my life while I was growing up.
The seeds of my respect for Julia were planted about five years ago, when my mother presented me with a copy of Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home. At the time, the Overburdened Bookshelf didn’t even exist and my cookbook collection consisted of a handful of cherished items. The first time I looked through the book, I was smitten.
Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home was quickly followed by Baking with Julia, a book that to this day is a constant source of inspiration and even comfort (nothing makes you feel better on a rainy day than looking through this book). And shortly after, I had the good fortune to see a few episodes of Julia’s wonderful "Cooking with Master Chefs" series on PBS. How could you not love that delightful woman in her charming little kitchen, proving time and time again that the act of preparing food fulfills some of our most basic human needs?! Joy, desire, satisfaction, warmth, fun … it can all be had in the kitchen.
I have not tried a significant number of Julia’s recipes, but at this time of year, and for this occasion, I decided to try the recipe for Cantuccini from Baking with Julia. While we are only a little more than halfway through summer, the fact is that the start of school is only a few weeks away. While my school days are long behind me, it’s hard not to experience that familiar feeling in the pit of your stomach as the first day of school approaches.
As a child, school day mornings all began the same way: with a mug of warm milk coloured with a few drops of espresso and Italian cookies. Italian children everywhere are introduced early to milk and coffee (latte e cafÃ¨ in Italian). The union of milk and coffee, blessed with cookies for dunking, is a tradition in Italian homes both in and out of Italy. I chose cantuccini because they are exactly the type of cookie we’d have in the morning. Drier than biscotti, cantuccini are not very sweet and are perfect for dunking.
In fact, I’m going to make myself a mug of milk and espresso, grab a handful of cantuccini and leaf through Baking with Julia. And as always, I will be amazed.
Adapted from Baking with Julia by Julia Child.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tsps. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1-1/2 cups whole, blanched almonds
- 3 large eggs
- 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and stir. Add the almonds and mix well.
- In another bowl, whisk together the eggs and vanilla extract.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. The dough will be dry.
- Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and begin gathering it together. Knead it for a few minutes and you will see that it will slowly come together into a firm dough. Keep some flour handy in case it sticks.
- Divide the dough in half and shape it into two 12-inch logs. Transfer the logs to a baking sheet lined with parchment.
- Bake for 30 minutes. The logs will rise a bit and will be golden and lightly brown on the bottom.
- Transfer the logs to a wire rack and let cool completely.
- Once cool, slice the logs, on the diagonal, into quarter-inch slices. Lay the slices, cut side down, on a baking sheet lined with parchment.
- Bake for an additional 10 or 15 minutes, or until the cantuccini are dry and lightly golden.
- Let cool completely. Cantuccini can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week.