Weekend Baking - Biscotti

I suppose it’s fortuitous for me as a writer that food holds many happy reminiscences for me. The Banana Splits of my childhood, my husband converting me to the taste of freshly ground coffee, my Mums impecunious Spaghetti Bolognese and my Grandmother’s Coffee Cake. Since meeting Paul, I also have a whole world of foodie firsts: his Mom’s thanksgiving meals and apple cake, richly covered with Kool-Whip, thick fluffy pancakes and hash browns. This is without making note of Cheetoes, Nila Wafers and Saltines. These road trip essentials are available over here in exclusive delicatessens, along with Krispy Kreem Donuts, priced up to the point where they are no longer a cheap road snack but an unnecessary luxury instead.
Of all the great culinary discoveries made by myself in the US, the Coffee Shop with its endless shiny counters stacked high with glass jars filled with cookies, plates gleaming with fruit tarts and, my most favourite coffee house treat of all, the Biscotti, was awe-inspiring.
In Italian, Biscotti translates as “biscuit twice cooked” (bis-cotto) and no word could sum up the Biscotti more succinctly than that. A stiff sort-of cookie dough is made, flavoured with almost any conceivable (and some inconceivable, no doubt) ingredients, then formed into a Ciabatta loaf shape, baked for about 30 minutes, then it is cut into slices – the familiar Biscotti shape – and baked once again for another 10 minutes on each side. What this double bake produces is a hard, crisp biscuit, perfect for dipping into your morning coffee. The Italians don’t call these hard biscuits Biscotti though. In Italy, Biscotti is a generic term that refers to any biscuit, from Amaretti to Pignoli Cookies. Instead, the twice-baked biscuit, a speciality of the Florence region, is called Cantuccini and supermarkets often carry these imported Italian cookies, often studded with almonds or half dipped in chocolate, which melts as you stir your coffee with them. They are also served as an after-meal treat, to be dipped in Vin Santo or a sweet dessert wine or liquor.
Biscotti or Cantuccini are simple to make, although a little more labour intensive than the usual drop cookies. However, the dough is easy to work with and they are so adaptable, that you will probably find yourself baking them often (in her book, Great Cookies, Carole Walter even has a Passover recipe, using Matzo meal instead of flour). And, despite the initial reservation of tasting a dried out biscuit, they are incredibly moreish, particularly those half dipped in chocolate. They also have the added bonus of lasting quite some time in the biscuit tin.
Such is the popularity and adaptability of this nibbly biscuit that there are at least twenty cookbooks devoted to just the Biscotti, thousands of jars stuffed full of them in cafes throughout the world and most supermarkets even produce their own versions. Not bad going for a dried out hard biscuit.
Perhaps we are in love with the romantic Italian notion of turning something boring into something magical, merely by dipping it into a cup of hot coffee or chilled wine.
Whatever the reason, this alchemical biscuit is a worthy addition to your baking rota and will accommodate whatever ingredients you have available. You can dress them up or down, and they will always make a welcome gift at any time of the year.
Here is a basic ‘starter’ recipe using chocolate shavings, nuts and citrus zest. Using this recipe, you can switch any of the flavourings around, using dried fruits instead of chocolate, brown sugar instead of white, add a dash of vanilla or almond extract, dip them in chocolate or icing. You could use a little cornmeal in the mixture or make a highly spiced Cantuccini with ground cloves, cinnamon, cardamom or ginger. I recently saw Giada de Laurentiis dip her Biscotti in chocolate and then red and green sugar sprinkles for Christmas. You could utilise a similar theme with white and pastel sprinkles for wedding favours or a baby shower.
adapted from Carole Walters' Great Cookies
1 ½ Sticks Unsalted Butter (170g), room temperature
Zest of 1-2 Lemons and 1-2 Oranges (depending on how citrussy you want it)
1 Cup Sugar
2 ½ Cups Plain Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
¼ Teaspoon Bicarbonate of Soda
2 Large Organic Free Range Eggs
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Bar (about 120g) Good Quality Dark Chocolate (70% is ideal), shaved, rather than chopped. The chocolate could be replaced with half a cup of dried fruit, raisins, cranberries, cherrys, figs etc.
1 Cup Chopped Nuts of your Choice. I used Pecans, but Almonds, Hazelnuts, Pistachios, Walnuts would be great
Using either a hands free mixer or an electric hand whisk (the mixture does get quite stiff later on), blend together the butter and zests.
Add the sugar and beat for another couple of minutes until pale and fluffy.
Add the vanilla and one egg at a time, beating for about 30 seconds between additions. Take care to scrape down the sides of your mixing bowl regularly.
Sieve the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Then introduce this, in three turns, to the batter, mixing well before the next addition.
Finally, fold in the nuts and chocolate.
Cover and chill the bowl in the fridge for at least an hour.
After an hour, line or grease two large baking sheets and preheat the oven to 175c.
Divide the dough into two halves and, using one half at a time, place on a lightly floured board.
Gently mould into the shape of a Ciabatta Loaf (which is to say, a slightly flattened log, about 10” long by 4” wide) and place each log on the baking sheet. Leave about 3 or 4 inches between the logs. They will spread out slightly but not much.
Bake for 25 minutes on the top shelf, or until lightly golden brown.
Remove from the oven, turn the heat to 150c, and leave to cool for five minutes.
Using a dough scraper or meat cleaver, cut the logs into ½” biscotti, placing them cut side up on the second baking sheet.
Bake for another 15 minutes until they feel dry on one side. Turn them over and bake for another 7-10 minutes.
Remove from the oven. They will still feel a little soft at this point. Leave for a couple of minutes until you are able to handle them. Then remove to a cooling rack.
You can then dip them in melted chocolate if you want or just serve them with freshly brewed coffee.
Store in a large jar or biscuit tin.


Lydia said...

I baked my first-ever biscotti just last year, with lemon and currants to flavor them. The one thing I learned is not to slice the log with a serrated knife; it crumbled the biscotti instead of giving them a clean edge. Mine didn't look lovely, but they were delicious.

Cookie baker Lynn said...

Lovely biscotti and wonderful background information. I love that you gave a "starter" recipe and permission to play around.

Patricia Scarpin said...

I have never made/tasted biscotti, Freya, but I can tell these are wonderful!

Shaun said...

Freya, love - The first time I made biscotti, I had to make it twice. Actually, I was at a friend's house, and we decided to make them together. The first batch was resistant, making it tough to bring together, and it was strangely sticky - just didn't seem right. We tossed it out, started again, and ended up in the same place. We persevered, feeling it was all wrong, and it wasn't. Did you find your mixture was like this before shaping? Actually, I don't recall in my recipe that I had to put the mixture in the fridge before shaping on baking sheets, which might have made it less sticky. The twice-made biscotti turned out well, and reading your post makes me want to give it another go.

Kelly-Jane said...

Oh biscotti, I'm the only one of my lot who likes biscotti, but I make up for the rest! Yours look so good, any left for me please ?! :)

The TriniGourmet said...

i love making (and eating) biscotti, hehehe :) this recipe sounds awesome, i'll probably swap walnuts for the pecans tho cos pecans scare me :)))

valentinA said...

Love biscottis!!!
And oh, you've added lemon!! they must taste divine with the chocolate Freya:)

Paola said...

Those look fabulous! We love biscotti here so might give yours a try sometime!


Anonymous said...

Gazpacho always reminds me of "Mujeras al borde..." by Almodovar. It's been ages since I thought of the film or the soup, so thank you!

Ari (Baking and Books)

Cheryl said...

I have not tried biscotti yet. I love the combination of the pecans and chocolate in this. Oh my cup of coffee would love this right now.

Kristen said...

I have yet to make biscotti and I don't know why as I love it. This looks really good!

kellypea said...

Freya, I haven't made biscotti in a while. These sound really delicious!

rv said...

Hi Freya and Paul,

Thats a nice biscotti, we recently had a packet of almond biscotti and I loved it a lot, we in india call it by another name called "Rusk" which is a bit thinner than this.