Make Traditional Italian and American Biscotti

Reader Contribution by Wendy Akin
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Watching the talented bakers on the Great British Baking Show become frustrated trying to make biscotti, I was yelling at the TV: Water! Water! First, they were struggling with a sticky mess, then their biscotti were crumbling under the knife. Making perfect biscotti is easy if you know the water tricks.

I set a day to make several kinds to stock up. Biscotti keep for months, so bake some up now for lovely Christmas and hostess gifts. I stash them in the freezer so when I give them, they taste fresh from the oven.

Biscotti can be either the traditional Italian type which is very crunchy and intended for dunking in coffee, tea, or wine. Or they can be the softer American type, eaten like any cookie. The Italian type keeps longer and has no butter, so they are much lower calorie and very low fat. If you prefer, you can substitute white whole wheat flour in these recipes.

First, choose your flavors. Biscotti can be sweet, not-so-sweet, chocolate or not, and biscotti can be savory. Choose one or more biscotti recipes. Because all the equipment is the same, I generally make at least two kinds at a time. It’s hard to choose.

Each recipe makes about 30 biscotti

Equipment: A mixing bowl, usual spatulas and measuring equipment, a whisk, another small bowl, a nonstick or well seasoned baking sheet, a cutting board and a good, sharp serrated blade knife. A mixer is optional for the Italian type, but you’ll probably want to use it for the American. Plus — very important! —  a spray bottle dedicated for water.

Italian Classic Almond Biscotti Recipe

Ingredients:

• 2 large eggs
• 2/3 cup cane sugar
• ½ tsp salt
• ½ tsp baking powder
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• 1 tsp almond extract
• 1 cup chopped toasted almonds
• 2 cup (8 ½ oz) all purpose flour

Italian Classic Gianduja (Chocolate-Hazelnut) Biscotti Recipe

Ingredients:

• 2 large eggs
• 2/3 cup cane sugar
• ½ tsp salt
• ½ tsp baking powder
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• ¼ tsp hazlenut flavor
• 1 cup hazelnuts, blanched, toasted and chopped
• ½ cup dutch process cocoa powder
• 1 tsp espresso powder or 2 tsp instant coffee
• 2 cups (8 1/2 oz) all purpose flour

Italian Classic Anise Biscotti Recipe

Ingredients:

• 2 large eggs
• 2/3 cup cane sugar
• ½ tsp salt
• ½ tsp baking powder
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• 1 tsp anise extract
• 2 Tbsp anise seed
• 2 cups (8 ½ oz) all purpose flour

Italian Lavender Biscotti Recipe

Ingredients:

• 2 large eggs
• 2/3 cup cane sugar
• ½ tsp salt
• ½ tsp baking powder
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• ½ cup culinary (organic) lavender flowers
• 2 cups (8 ½ oz) all-purpose flour

Directions:

1. You can use the mixer or not for the Italian type biscotti. In either the mixer bowl or any large bowl, beat the eggs and then beat in the sugar with a whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is a pale yellow. Add the extract(s).

2. Measure the flour into a small bowl by weight or by scooping the flour and leveling it off.  Add the other dry ingredients such as the salt, baking powder chopped nuts, cocoa or coffee powder to the flour and add to the egg mixture. Mix until everything is evenly combined with no traces of flour. Don’t over mix after adding the flour; gluten will develop and your biscotti will be tough.

3. Lightly grease a cookie sheet. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

4. Set a small bowl of water out next to your baking sheet. Scoop out half of the dough onto the baking sheet, forming a rough log. Do the same with the other half. Wet your fingers and coax the dough into even logs about 10 inches long and ¾ inch thick. (Obviously, recipes with lots of nuts and such will make bigger logs.) Dip your fingers in the water bowl and use wet fingers to smooth the top and sides of the logs. It’s OK to get the dough wet on top.

5. Put the logs into the preheated oven. Bake the biscotti logs for 23 minutes until they’re just beginning to show some color. Remove the biscotti from the oven and let them cool on the sheet for about 5 minutes, then carefully slide the biscotti logs to a cutting board.

6. Reset the oven to 325 degrees.

7. Now comes the secret trick to perfect biscotti: Fill your spray bottle with room temperature water and thoroughly spray each log! Don’t saturate it, but get the surface wet.  Pick up your serrated knife and with a light sawing motion cut the logs into even slices just less than ¾-inch thick. Be careful to keep your slices perpendicular and straight so they will stand up.

8. Arrange the slices standing on edge back onto the cookie sheet.  It helps to position them in a “/\/\/\” pattern to keep them standing. Put the biscotti back into the 325 degree oven and bake them for another 30 minutes until they feel quite dry and the cut surfaces are beginning to turn golden. This could take up to 50 minutes on a damp day. They need to be dry.

9. Remove the biscotti to a cooling rack and allow to completely cool before packing them airtight, They can go directly into tins or, if made in advance of gifting, I pile them into foil baking pans and slip the pan into a zipper freezer bag where they keep beautifully for weeks.  If frozen, biscotti stay fresh for months.

American-style Biscotti

American style biscotti are softer and generally sweeter than the classic Italian style. They’re crunchy but not as hard as the Italian. We’ll use the same tricks that I explained in the previous Classic Italian biscotti, but the directions will be somewhat different.

Pecan Sable Biscotti Recipe

Ingredients:

• 6 Tbsp (3 oz) unsalted butter at room temperature
• 2/3 cup cane sugar
• 1 tsp vanilla
• 2 large eggs
• 2 cups (8 ½ oz) all purpose flour
• ½ tsp salt
• 2 tsp baking powder
• 1 cup finely chopped pecan pieces

Lemon Biscotti Recipe

• 6 Tbsp (3 oz) unsalted butter at room temperature
• 2/3 cup cane sugar
• 1 tsp vanilla
• 2 tsp grated lemon rind
• 2 large eggs
• 2 cups (8 ½ oz) all purpose flour
• ½ tsp salt
• 2 tsp baking powder

3 P’s Biscotti: Parmesan, Pistachio, and Pepper

Ingredients

• 6 Tbsp (3 oz) unsalted butter at room temperature
• 1 tsp vanilla
• 2 large eggs
• 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
• 2 cups (8 ½ oz) all purpose flour
• 1 tsp salt
• 2 tsp baking powder
• 2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
• 1 cup shelled pistachios (or pecans if not available)
• Optional:  a pinch of red pepper for the top

Directions:

1. One tiny trick to start: If you forget to leave out the butter overnight, fill a bowl or mug with tepid water and drop in the wrapped sticks of butter and the eggs. In about 15 minutes, they will be a room temperature.

2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Very lightly grease a cookie sheet or have one that is very well seasoned.

3. Measure out the flour into a small bowl and add the other dry ingredients: salt, baking powder, nuts, spices if using. Whisk these together.

4. In the mixer bowl, cream the butter and sugar together well. Add the extract if using and then the eggs. Beat until the mixture is emulsified and looking fluffy. Add the non-dry ingredients such as lemon zest or cheese if called for in the chosen recipe and thoroughly beat in.

5. With the mixer on low, add in the dry ingredients. Mix only until there are no traces of flour; over mixing can make your biscotti tough.

6. Set a small bowl of water out next to your baking sheet. Scoop out half of the dough onto the baking sheet, forming a rough log. Do the same with the other half. Wet your fingers and coax the dough into even logs about 10 inches long and ¾ inch thick. (Obviously, recipes with lots of nuts and such will make bigger logs.) Dip your fingers in the water bowl and use wet fingers to smooth the top and sides of the logs. It’s OK to get the dough wet on top.

For the Parmesan biscotti, make the logs a bit longer and skinnier since these will usually be a nibble with a glass of wine.

Optional red pepper: If you like, very lightly sprinkle the tops of the PPP biscotti with a bit of cayenne or, if you are so fortunate, Espelette pepper.

7. Put the logs into the preheated oven. Bake the biscotti logs for 23 minutes until they’re just beginning to show some color. Remove the biscotti from the oven and let them cool on the sheet for about 5 minutes then carefully, slide the biscotti logs to a cutting board.

8. Reset the oven to 325 degrees.

9. Go back to the directions above for the Italian type and proceed from “Reset the oven to 325 degrees”.

Wendy Akin is happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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