The best biscotti in Prato.
The bakery Antonio Mattei in Prato, a textile city northwest of Florence, is worth a voyage for their simple almond and egg enriched cookies and cakes - the best I've found in all of Italy. Though it's been in the Pandolfini family for four generations now, locals still call it "Mattonella," the nickname of the original owner, Antonio Mattei, who opened his biscottificio in 1858.
With crusts of golden brown and studded with almonds, Mattei's biscotti di Prato are made bright yellow by egg yolks. No artificial color or flavoring stand in the way of the simple, yet intoxicating, taste and texture. Today, modern ovens continuously turn out biscotti di Prato all morning, but in the past wood-burning ovens were used. All cookies were baked and removed from these ovens at the same time, and the last of the flattened logs to be diagonally sliced were brittle. This produced lots of crumbled cookies, or briccioli. Still sold, these crispy-brown ends are a culinary bargain and have a cult-like following with locals.
Mattei's uses the egg whites left over from the yolks in the biscotti to produce another unique cookie, brutti buoni. They are different from those called brutti e buoni or brutti ma buoni because Mattei's egg whites are unwhipped, and hold together the crushed almond mixture like glue. The brutti buoni are lightly baked on papery cornstarch wafers to make them moist and chewy.
Italians eat these cookies as either a snack or after-dinner dessert. For the latter, the biscotti are often dipped in dessert wine.
Mattei ships biscotti di Prato, but the shelf life for the brutti buoni is shorter, so they are only available locally.
Biscottificio Mattei, via Ricasoli 20/22, Prato 50047, tel. 39-0574-25756, fax 39-0574-36650.
January 9, 1997