Canestrelli are Italian butter cookies that are crispy, delicate and deliciously buttery. They're flavored with vanilla and lemon zest and are delectably melt in your mouth. These cookies have a surprise ingredient that helps keep them especially tender - hard boiled egg yolks! Once you try these, you'll be convinced. They're easy to make and so good!
Biscotti canestrelli are a delicate shortbread style cookie that are typical in the northern Piedmont and Liguria regions of Italy. Traditionally, they are flower shaped cookies with a hole in the middle. They're flavored with vanilla and lemon zest, and have a wonderfully light and tender consistency.
Canestrelli are made with a unique ingredient - hard boiled egg yolks. Once hard boiled and pushed through a fine sieve into the dry ingredients, the small bits of egg yolk serve as a barrier to gluten formation. The development of gluten adds structure and chewiness to baked goods, which is great for pizza crust and hearty breads, but not for delicate cookies. You can read more about this old fashioned technique in Bon Appetit.
If you like the delicate, crumbly texture of these Italian canestrelli, you might also like these dulce de leche sandwich cookies, Argentine alfajores. For more cookie recipes using only egg yolks (though not hard boiled), check out my biscoff blondies and raspberry white chocolate blondies.
You can also explore my entire collection of cookie recipes here!
- Hard boiled egg yolks - For richness and fat, and moisture to bring the dough together. Perhaps most importantly, the cooked egg yolks inhibit the formation of gluten that occurs when flour is mixed with wet ingredients.
- All purpose flour - Flour binds the dough together. I highly recommend you use a digital scale to weigh your flour (and other ingredients!) When testing this recipe, just 15 grams (2 Tablespoons) too much flour was the difference between these cookies turning out dense and floury versus light and buttery.
- Corn starch - A generous amount of corn starch replaces flour, which helps reduce gluten development and adds a light and tender texture.
- Powdered sugar - Powdered sugar is much finer than granulated sugar and dissolves into the butter more easily. It creates a more tender, melt-in-your-mouth consistency in the cookies.
- Lemon zest - Finely grated lemon zest adds bright citrus flavor. If you're making the dough in a mixer or by hand, mince the zest after grating so it's extra fine.
- Kosher salt - for added flavor.
- Unsalted butter - Make sure your butter is in small cubes and is well chilled. Using unsalted butter allows you to control the total amount of salt in the recipe. With salted butter, brands use different amounts of salt, so you're never sure where you're starting with salt quantity.
- Vanilla extract - for additional flavor.
See recipe card for quantities.
Learn how to make Italian canestrelli! These photos are to provide visual cues. Detailed instructions are included in the recipe card.
To the bowl of a food processor, add the flour, corn starch, powdered sugar, lemon zest and salt.
Pulse briefly until dry ingredients are combined and zest is finely chopped.
Add butter and vanilla.
Pulse a few times until dough resembles coarse sand.
Using a spoon, push the egg yolks through a fine mesh sieve into the dough.
Once finished, be sure to scrape the bottom of the sieve to loosen any yolk that remains stuck.
Pulse briefly just until ingredients come together and begin to form clumps of dough.
Gather dough into a ball and turn out onto a rectangle of parchment paper. Briefly knead in any loose bits of flour.
Place an additional piece of parchment paper on top, and roll dough to a thickness of ⅜ inch / 1 centimeter.
Place rolled out, parchment covered dough on baking sheet in refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.
Cut out cookies flower shaped cookie cutter. Use one of the recommended tools to cut out the center circle. Chill cookies on pan in freezer for 5 minutes prior to baking.
Bake up to 20 cookies at a time on a parchment lined baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven for 16-17 minutes at 325 degrees Fahrenheit (165 degrees Celsius, Gas Mark 3.) Fully cool on baking sheet and dust generously with powdered sugar.
Hints: When cutting out the flower shapes, press the cookie out of the cutter from the base so that you don't leave fingerprints or indentations on the top of the cookie. Flip onto parchment lined baking sheet and gently press flat to remove any curve from the cookie.
If you plan to stack the cookies in a container prior to serving (for transport, or if making in advance), don't add the powdered sugar yet. Sprinkle the cookies with powdered sugar just prior to placing them out on a platter.
Corn starch - If needed, you can replace the corn starch with an equal amount of unmodified potato starch. Make sure it's potato starch, not potato flour. Potato starch is made from the liquid of crushed potatoes. Potato flour is made from the whole potato and has a notable potato flavor and much more rustic consistency.
While lemon zest is the traditional flavoring for canestrelli, feel free to give one of these variations a try!
- Citrus zest - Instead of lemon, add the zest of a whole orange.
- Almond - Add ¼ teaspoon almond extract to the dough along with the vanilla extract.
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Canestrelli cookie cutter - This stainless steel flower cookie cutter set in 5 assorted sizes is the traditional 6 petal shape perfect for biscotti canestrelli. For this recipe, I used the second smallest cookie cutter (2 inches / 5 centimeters).
Extra large round pastry tip - To make the center hole in the flower cookies, I used the smaller end (the tip) of a Wilton 1A Round Decorating Tip. It measures ½ inch (1.25 centimeters) in diameter. See the FAQ section for other suggestions if you don't have this decorating tip.
Baking pans - I bake my cookies on half sheet baking pans which measure 18 x 13 inches.
Parchment paper is great for lining baking pans. The cookies won't stick at all if you use parchment underneath. One roll of this 15 inch x 164 foot (38 centimeter x 50 meter) non-stick paper lasts a LONG time! If you have access to a Costco store, the price is often a bit better.
Microplane - A microplane grater is the perfect tool for grating lemon zest. It's also excellent for grating fresh ginger and spices such as nutmeg.
Store: Store these cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.
Freeze: Place cookies in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Defrost at room temperature prior to serving.
Make ahead: Discs of unbaked cookie dough can be wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in an airtight bag in the freezer for up to 1 month. Thaw dough overnight in the refrigerator, then bring to room temperature and follow instructions for rolling dough (start at step 5.)
If your flower cookie cutter does not come with a center hole built in (mine did not), you can use various kitchen items to cut out the small circle in the center. The circles I cut were about ½ inch (1.25 centimeters) in diameter. Here is a list of my suggestions (affiliate links):
The small end of a Wilton 1A Extra Large Round decorating tip (what I used, as I already have one. You can see it in the instruction photos.)
The large end of a small metal decorating tip
Extra small stainless steel round circle cutters (for baking, decorating and clay crafts)
A sturdy, extra wide metal straw, such as a boba straw
The narrow end of a funnel
Get creative! Other ideas include the caps of marking pens or the lid of a chapstick container. If you use non-kitchen items, be sure to wash them well before use.
Yes! I also tested the recipe using a stand mixer. My biggest tip is to mix minimally to avoid activating the gluten. Less gluten = a more tender cookie.
You can also make this recipe by hand. When adding the butter, use a pastry blender or two knives to cut in the butter until it is extremely fine, like sand. After adding the egg yolk, use your hands to knead the dough until it gathers together and has a smooth consistency.
For both of the above methods, mince (very finely chop) the grated lemon zest with a chef's knife in order to have much smaller pieces. (With the food processor method, the blade chops the zest finely.)
Canestrelli (Italian Egg Yolk Cookies)Print Recipe Pin Recipe
- 3 large egg yolks, hard boiled (cooking instructions included)
- 135 grams (1 cup + 2 Tablespoons) all purpose flour
- 96 grams (¾ cup) corn starch, sifted
- 75 grams (½ cup + 2 Tablespoons) powdered sugar, sifted
- zest of 1 lemon
- 2 grams (½ teaspoon) kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal)
- 156 grams (⅔ cup; 11 Tablespoons) unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Place 3 large eggs in a medium sized sauce pot. Fill with water to 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) above eggs. Cover pot and bring to a boil. As soon as water boils, turn off burner and remove pot from heat (leave covered.) Set timer for 12 minutes. When timer goes off, drain eggs and place in cold water (or an ice bath) to stop cooking. Once cooled, peel eggs, separate white from yolks, and reserve yolks.
- To the bowl of a food processor, add the flour, corn starch, powdered sugar, lemon zest and salt. Pulse briefly until dry ingredients are combined.135 grams (1 cup + 2 Tablespoons) all purpose flour, 96 grams (¾ cup) corn starch, sifted, 75 grams (½ cup + 2 Tablespoons) powdered sugar, sifted, zest of 1 lemon, 2 grams (½ teaspoon) kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal)
- Add butter and vanilla and pulse a few times until dough resembles coarse sand. Using a spoon, push the egg yolks through a fine mesh sieve into the dough. Once finished, be sure to scrape the bottom of the sieve to loosen any yolk that remains stuck.156 grams (⅔ cup; 11 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, zest of 1 lemon, 3 large egg yolks, hard boiled
- Pulse briefly just until ingredients come together and begin to form clumps of dough.
- Gather dough into a ball and turn out onto a rectangle of parchment paper. Briefly knead in any loose bits of flour. Place an additional piece of parchment paper on top, and roll the dough to a thickness of a bit less than ½ inch (to be annoyingly precise, it's ⅜ inch / 1 centimeter).
- Place rolled out, parchment covered dough on a baking sheet in refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177° Celsius, Gas mark 4). Place rack in center of oven.
- Peel back top sheet of parchment paper. Place back onto dough and flip dough over. Remove the (now) top sheet. Cut out cookies using 2 inch (5 centimeter) flower shaped cookie cutter. Use a wide straw (I used the small end of a Wilton 1A piping tip) to cut out the center circle. It measures ½ inch (1.5 centimeters) in diameter.)
- Place cookies ½ inch apart on a parchment lined cookie sheet (I placed 20 cookies on a sheet in 4 rows of 5. They don't spread much). Roll scraps and cut out additional cookies as needed to make use of all dough. Chill cookies in freezer for 5 minutes (or refrigerator for 30 minutes) prior to baking.
- Bake for 16-18 minutes, until cookies are set and barely turning golden on the foot. Don't touch them when they come out - they're very fragile when warm. They will firm up as they cool. Once fully cool, dust tops with a generous amount of powdered sugar.
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