Prepare to be blown away by these biscotti recipes

Published 02 Jul, 2021 10:24am

If your only acquaintance with these Italian cookies is from a commercial bakery or large coffee chain, prepare to be surprised.

Photo by Stephan Andrew
Photo by Stephan Andrew

My introduction to biscotti — the classic Italian twice-baked cookies — was not an entirely pleasant one. Those biscotti, made in a bakery in Karachi, were hard as a rock and stomach-churningly sweet, and put me off the biscuits for a while.

However, over time I’ve come to realise that all biscotti are not created equal. So if your only acquaintance with these Italian cookies is from a commercial bakery or from that large global coffee chain that sells it at its cash counters, prepare to be surprised by how truly wonderful well-made biscotti can be.

But first a little history. Although biscotti are now famed for being an Italian delicacy, they started out as a humble necessity. These cookies, which are baked twice, first to cook them and a second time to dry them, originated in ancient Rome — where they were used as long shelf-life food for wars and long journeys, because they would not rot. Biscotti were the standard diet of the Roman legions, and the Roman philosopher Pliny once boasted that biscotti would be edible for centuries!

After the fall of the Roman Empire, there was little culinary development, and biscotti were all but forgotten until the Renaissance, when they re-emerged in Prato, Tuscany, as an end-of-meal snack, usually had with a glass of sweet Italian dessert wine called Vin Santo. From there, it was only a short time until people were dunking them into endless cups of espresso and cappuccino for the perfect coffee break.

As almonds were abundant in Prato, it was only natural to include them in biscotti and plain almond biscotti are still considered the classic flavour. However, as the cookies have grown in popularity, so have the varieties. From cappuccino-flavoured to cashew-sesame, cherry-almond, maple-praline, macadamia nut, toffee-currant, triple chocolate and even miso and sesame variations, the sky is the limit when it comes to biscotti flavours.

Making biscotti is not complicated, but it is important to follow the recipe correctly. The classic biscotti recipe calls for eggs and, in my opinion, it is best to make them this way. There are recipes with butter or oil but these will not produce the right texture. Speaking of texture, the perfect biscotti are dry and crunchy but not so hard that you could break a tooth on them.

Delicately flavoured Italian biscotti, dunked in a steaming cup of espresso or cappuccino, are perfect at any time of the day, and they couldn’t be easier to make

Here, I’ve given recipes to two of my favourite flavour combinations which, over the years, have become staples in my kitchen. Remember to follow the baking times and temperatures correctly to get the perfect result.

Cranberry-Pistachio Biscotti

135g caster sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
230g flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
60g unsalted pistachios (coarsely chopped)
75g dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 175 degrees C and line a baking tray with wax paper. With an electric mixer, beat together the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy — about 3-5 minutes. Add in the vanilla essence and mix well.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the egg mixture and beat until combined. Fold in the pistachios and cranberries with a spatula. At this point, the dough will be quite sticky to handle but keep persisting for the right result. With well-floured hands, transfer the dough on to a floured counter top and shape it into a log 12 inches long and 3 inches wide.

Place the log on the baking tray and bake for 25 minutes or until firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and let the log cool for 10 minutes and reduce the oven temperature to 165 degrees C. Put the log on a cutting board and using a serrated knife, cut about ½ inch slices on the diagonal. Place the biscotti, cut side down on the baking tray and bake for another 8-10 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove from the oven and let them cool. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Chocolate-Almond Biscotti

110g blanched almonds
135g caster sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
225g flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
110g dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips (or you can cut a bar into bite sized chunks)

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C and line a baking tray with wax paper. Place the almonds on the tray and toast in the oven for 8-10 minutes until lightly browned and fragrant. Cool them and chop coarsely.

With an electric mixer, beat the sugar and eggs on high speed until pale and fluffy — about 5-10 minutes. Add the vanilla essence and mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the egg mixture and beat until combined. Fold in the almonds and chocolate chips/chunks with a spatula.

With well-floured hands, transfer the sticky dough on to a floured counter top and shape it into a log 12 inches long and 3 inches wide. Place the log on the baking tray and bake for 25 minutes or until firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and let the log cool for 10 minutes and reduce the oven temperature to 165 degrees C.

Put the log on a cutting board and using a serrated knife, cut about ½ inch slices on the diagonal. Place the biscotti, cut side down on the baking tray and bake for another 8-10 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove from the oven and let them cool and then store in an airtight container at room temperature.

The writer is a professional pastry chef with a diploma in pastry from Le Cordon Bleu

Originally published in Dawn, EOS, June 27th, 2021

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