The Italian History of Biscotti

Who doesn’t love a crisp, crunchy biscotti? Commonly enjoyed with coffee or another hot beverage by those all over the world, biscotti is widely available in a variety of tasty flavors. Here at Italian Bakery of Virginia, we like to stick to the classics. Using old family recipes and only the finest ingredients, our experienced bakers handmake each batch of biscotti to perfection.

But where did the idea of biscotti come from? A tasty treat that’s signature dry, crunchy texture comes from a twice-baked cooking process—who was the first to attempt this and why?

The history of biscotti and the Roman Legions

Italian Biscotti

Much like the origins of fruitcake, biscotti was first created to be a long-shelf-life food for Roman Legions to carry during lengthy battles. Because biscotti was intentionally rock-hard in texture, there was no risk of it becoming stale or inedible, and the original almond flavoring gave much needed nutrients to the soldiers. While almond is still a popular flavor option for today’s variation, we think it’s safe to say biscotti has come a long way since the Roman age. Over time, the rock-hard treat has evolved into less of a means to an end and more to an after-dinner indulgence.

Biscotti After the Fall of Roman Empire

After the fall of Rome and the country’s repeated invasions, Italians endured what is commonly referred to as “the Dark Ages,” throughout which they did their best to simply survive. As such, there wasn’t much culinary growth until the Italian Renaissance. It was then that Tuscan bakers took the age-old biscotti and transformed it into something that could be enjoyed rather than tolerated. This was much like the biscotti we enjoy today, though Tuscans preferred to dunk their biscotti in a local sweet wine known as Vin Santo rather than a cup of cappuccino.

Biscotti vs. Cantucci di Prato

What’s the difference between biscotti and cantucci? Ultimately, nothing but a name. As the birthplace of biscotti (as we have come to know and enjoy it), Tuscany and the small city of Prato within it (where almond groves are abundant—hence the traditional almond flavor) refer to this twice-baked cookie as cantucci. To Italians, the word biscotti is just a generic term for any type of crunchy cookie. At the end of the day however, if a Prato native strolled into the Italian Bakery of Virginia, they would point to our display of biscotti and ask for a cantucci. No difference.

No matter what you call it, what your flavor preference may be, or whether you enjoy it with a cup of coffee or a glass of Vin Santo, one thing is for certain. Biscotti is a delicious treat that has withstood the test of time. Stop into the Italian Bakery of Virginia and pick up one in every flavor today!

Fruit Cake: Where Did it Come from and Why is it a Holiday Tradition?

There’s no doubt about it—fruit cake is a staple of the holiday season. While it has spent centuries being the butt of countless jokes and often gets a bad rap, we here at Italian Bakery of Virginia still love it – and so do millions of people around the world. No matter which side of the spectrum you fall on, chances are you’re likely to find fruit cake adorning the dessert table of at least one holiday party this year.

So, what’s the history behind this love-it-or-hate it dessert and how did it become a holiday staple? Let’s take a closer look.

The origins of fruit cake

Christmas Fruit Cake

Let’s start from the beginning. Fruit cake dates all the way back to ancient Rome, when mashed barley, pomegranate seeds, raisins, and pine nuts were combined to make a dessert called satura. Valued for its long shelf life, Roman soldiers often brought the treat with them to battle. Later in the Middle Ages, spices, honey, and dried fruit were added, aiding in its growing popularity amongst crusaders. Over time, ingredients from European colonies were added, including sugar, candied fruit from the Middle East, various spices, and liquor, giving us a version of the treat that is most similar to the fruit cake we see today.

A brief ban

Because of the introduction of candied fruit, and of course, the abundant use of sugar for preservation, fruit cake became such a “sinfully rich” treat that it was briefly banned in Europe in the early 1700s. Fortunately, the ban was later lifted and fruit cake became a popular treat during celebrations throughout Europe and a must-have addition to a proper Victorian tea spread.

Synonymous with the holiday season

It is believed that one of the main reasons why fruit cake became associated with the holidays was that during the 18th and 19th century the cost of the ingredients was too expensive for most households to afford. Considered an indulgence, fruit cake was thus reserved for special occasions and holidays. As time went on, others began to credit Truman Capote’s 1956 short story, “A Christmas Memory,” which became most interesting when the older woman in the narrative looked out her window and exclaimed that it was “fruit cake weather.”

Ordering Fruit Cake from Italian Bakery of Virginia

Regardless of whether fruit cake is a must-have addition to your own annual holiday spread or you’re simply curious about this seasonal commodity, Italian Bakery of Virginia ships fruit cake all over the world. Our delicious Italian fruit cake blends candied fruits, crunchy nuts, and a hint of liquor to create a homemade holiday treat the whole family will enjoy. Order online today to have one delivered straight to your home!