Cavallucci di Siena

December 24, 2013
by Jack McNulty
Cavallucci di Siena

Cavallucci are traditional, rustic biscotti (cookies) that date back to 16th century Tuscany. They are now frequently given as gifts during special occasions or holidays.  They are especially beloved during the Christmas holiday season.

According to some really old Tuscan cookbooks, their name seems to stem from the cavalli (horses) used for delivering the mail. It is believed that the postal workers who substituted the tired horses with new horses ate the cookies on a regular basis…presumably as a snack.  At one time, the shape of a horse was stamped on the surface of the cookies, but that is rarely seen these days.

The cookies are traditionally round and fairly large with an irregular shape. Original versions were made using only flour, a little sugar, anise seeds and a couple of walnuts.  Modern day versions are now made with acacia honey and sugar slowly melted over low heat, then mixed with flour, chopped walnuts and hazelnuts, minced candied citron and orange, some spices (anise seeds, nutmeg, coriander powder) and a pinch of baking soda to lighten the dough. Once cooled, the dough is rolled into long logs and divided into pieces before being baked for about twenty minutes.

There is another version coming from the seaside village Grosseto, which tend to be a bit larger and softer than most other Cavallucci. They tend to have almonds, coriander seeds, nutmeg and cinnamon…which do seem perfect for Christmas.

Cavallucci are simple to make…and are always completely dairy-free! A bonus to me and a real treat for my sweet tooth!

cavallucci di siena


Cavallucci di Siena
makes about 24 cookies

200 gr. sugar
100 gr. honey
500 gr. flour
7 gr. baking soda
2 tsp. anise seeds, crushed
100 gr. candied orange, diced into small bits
8-10 walnuts, lightly toasted and chopped
a pinch of sea salt
powdered sugar

Begin by mixing together the sugar and honey in a heavy pot. Cook over low heat until everything is melted nicely and a thick syrup is created. Meanwhile, mix together flour and baking soda and sift into a large bowl. Add the crushed seeds, candied orange, chopped nuts and a pinch of salt and mix well to combine everything. Pour the hot syrup into the bowl and mix into the flour well with a spoon. The dough should be a bit on the dry side. Go ahead and add a bit of water if you think it is too dry to work with (I sometimes add a non-dairy milk to loosen up the dough). Let everything sit for about five minutes, then lightly roll out the dough into a log shape on a lightly floured or oiled surface. Slice into 2-cm pieces and place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes in a pre-heated 180° C oven. Don’t allow the cookies to brown too much…just check the bottom to see if it is hard and lightly golden. Immediately roll the cookies in powdered sugar and allow to cool. They will keep for about one week in an airtight container…but they rarely make it more than a day or two in our house.