Sunday, December 03, 2006


Fueled by reminiscence, perhaps,
or a swallow of that spiked egg nog? The reason doesn't really matter. Let's get straight to the heart of the matter: holiday cookie madness has taken hold!

It comes in fits and starts. A platter of cookies mysteriously shows up in the office lunch room. A neighbor pops by with a plate full of warm delights, fresh from the oven. Even the mail carrier seems in on the gig, dropping off cookie-laden packages from far-flung relatives. At this time of year, thoughts of sweets and sugar-dusted treats tempt even non-bakers into donning aprons and firing up ovens. Hooray, holiday cookie madness is here!

Of course, you know the usual suspects-- frosted cut-outs, chocolate chips, snickerdoodles. Why not liven up the cookie tray a bit with that coffee shop favorite biscotti? They may look fussy and chic, but don't let that elegant exterior fool you. These twice-baked cookies are outrageously easy to make.

Like many people, I believed that biscotti were the quintessential Tuscan treat. Indeed, that's where the definitive, almond-laced biscotti di Prato originated, but they've been around since ancient times. Sailors, soldiers and other travelers carried the hardy, long-lasting biscuits on journeys; they were a staple in the diet of Roman legions.

That's enough history for today, its time to get down to basics! Biscotti can be lumped into two categories. The classic biscotti don't contain butter or oil, relying on eggs to bind the ingredients together. This produces a very crisp, hard cookie that is best enjoyed dunked into coffee or Vin Santo. The second type contain some kind of fat, resulting in a softer, more cookie-like texture. They also have a much shorter shelf-life, and are best eaten within a few days of baking.

Whichever type you choose to make, the process is quite easy. The sticky dough is divided in half, formed into two 'logs' and baked for almost half an hour. Pull and cool for a few minutes, then grab your serrated knife.
Cut the logs crosswise, with just the hint of a slant, into 1/2-3/4 inch thick slices. Keep in mind that thinner slices will produce the crispest biscotti.

Now for the twice-baked bit.
Lower the oven temperature and cook for a little longer. Some recipes call for the slices to be placed cut-side down, baked for ten minutes, then flipped for ten more. I say, keep it simple! Set them standing up, leaving just enough room for air to circulate, and cook until golden and crisp.

You should have just enough time left to brew up a nice cuppa to enjoy with your new favorite holiday tradition.

s'kat's notes: The variety of biscotti are endless as the imagination. Classical examples tend to include anise, almonds and hazelnuts; current versions range from chocolate-orange to chai, and everywhere in between.

While perfect plain for dunking, they take well to gussying up– drizzle or dip in chocolate for some added panache. And when the recipients exclaim over a ribbon-wrapped cluster of biscotti, don't be afraid to say, "Really, it was no trouble at all."

biscotti (bee-SKAWT-tee) – In Italian, biscotti means, "twice cooked." The word biscotto is derived from bis (twice) and cotto (cooked). Biscotti is also the generic term for cookies in Italian. The dough is formed into logs and baked until golden brown. The logs are then sliced, and the individual biscotti are baked again to give them their characteristic dryness. The shelf life of biscotti are three to four months without preservatives or additives. Other countries have their version of this cookie - Dutch rusk, French biscotte, and the German zwieback

Additionally: to ask for a single biscotti, while widely accepted, is incorrect. The singular is 'biscotto'.

Chocolate -Hazelnut Biscotti

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon amaretto
3/4 cup hazelnuts, skin on
½ cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350F.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa, sugar and baking powder. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, yolks and Amaretto. Add the wet ingredients to dry and stir just until the dough comes together, about 1 minute. Add the hazelnuts and chocolate chips and mix just until incorporated.
Roll the dough into 3 logs about 10x2 inches and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, until light golden brown, and remove from the oven.
As soon as they are cool enough to handle, cut the logs on a slight diagonal into pieces 1/3-inch thick and arrange cut side down on the sheets. Lower the heat to 275F., return the pieces to the oven, and bake 20 minutes longer, until crisp and dry. Allow to cool.

makes 30
from Simple Italian Food, by Mario Batali

Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti

1/4 cup light olive oil
3/4 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup dried cranberries
1 1/2 cups pistachio nuts

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
In a large bowl, mix together oil and sugar until well blended. Mix in the vanilla and almond extracts, then beat in the eggs. Combine flour, salt, and baking powder; gradually stir into egg mixture. Mix in cranberries and nuts by hand.
Divide dough in half. Form two logs (12x2 inches) on a cookie sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. Dough may be sticky; wet hands with cool water to handle dough more easily. Bake for 35 minutes in the preheated oven, or until logs are light brown. Remove from oven, and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 275 degrees F.
Cut logs on diagonal into 3/4 inch thick slices. Lay on sides on parchment covered cookie sheet. Bake approximately 8 to 10 minutes, or until dry; cool.

from Meyer

Enjoy a couple more biscotti recipes:
Christmas-Flavoured Biscotti (Chocolate-Coconut Biscotti)Susan Betz's Triple-Orange Pecan Biscotti


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