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Photo by paPisc/Flickr CC

The most famous cookies in Tuscany are called cantucci or cantuccini: golden, crisp, studded with whole almonds, most often served with a glass of Vin Santo dessert wine for sipping or dipping. In the Florence area they're known as biscotti di Prato, probably since the greatest version of this cookie comes from the historic bakery Mattei in Prato, founded in 1858. Founder Antonio Mattei was a friend of Pellegrino Artusi, who includes some of his friend's recipes in The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well. The shop, still in its original location on via Ricasoli, has been run by the Pandolfini family for three generations and is worth a gastronomic pilgrimage for cookie lovers. Mattei's biscotti di Prato are rich with eggs, almonds and pine nuts, no artificial flavors, almost impossible to duplicate at home--I've tried and failed, the dough is very wet, as you can observe on Mattei's website. Their biscotti di Prato are sold world-wide, in a bright blue bag tied with green twine, or in gift presentations--tin box, old-fashioned hat box tied with string. To celebrate their biscotti's 150th birthday they closed the street in front of the shop and handed out free biscotti--over 300 kilos.

Mattei's brutti-buoni are also world-class, less egg white and more almonds than the usual versions, but they're only sold in the shop, mixed with "biscotti di Prato", in a blue bag tied with red twine. Visitors to the shop can also purchase filone candito, brioche dough packed with candied cherries, torta mantovana, lemon-flavored yellow cake topped with chopped almonds and powdered sugar, ladyfingers perfect for tiramisu. I'm in love with Mattei's "biscotti della salute", crispy sweet toast, brioche dough rich with eggs and butter, subjected to lengthy rising, baked, sliced and toasted until crisp. Fette biscottate, tasteless brittle rectangles served for breakfast in Italy, to be spread with preserves, honey or butter, are the industrial rendition. Mattei's are simply in another world.

To buy the Mattei biscotti di Prato, click here.