The etymology of biscotti is such that it means twice-cooked, which they are. But biscotti is an Italian word, and in Italy they use it to refer to cookies in general, which are not cooked twice. Similarly, what we call biscuits (same etymology) are only cooked once. Go figure. In Tuscany, they call those things that are cooked twice and that we dunk in our coffee cantucci, and they dunk them in vin santo. Smart folks. They also make theirs a lot smaller than ours, unsurprisingly. I intended to make mine Italian-sized (like the ones from Trader Joe’s), but they ended up sort of in between. I didn’t expect such a stiff dough to spread that much.
I used a recipe sent to me by an Italian friend, Agnese. Here’s my translation:
- 150 g almonds (look at the amount on the package and estimate)
- 250 g flour (about 2 1/2 cups)
- 250 g sugar (about 1 1/3 cups)
- ½ tsp vanilla
- zest of one orange and half a lemon
- 2 eggs
- ½ tsp baking powder
Peel, lightly toast, and chop almonds.
Mix sugar, flour, vanilla, zest, salt, and leavening.
Add lightly beaten eggs, mix.
Add almonds, mix.
Form dough into little logs 3cm in diameter.
Bake 15-20 min at 200C/ 390F.
Cool, slice 1cm wide.
Bake 10 min at 160C/ 320F.
I intended to follow it exactly, really I did. But I ended up not toasting the almonds (I used slivered ones) and adding about a tablespoon of almond paste, because I had some and I thought it was cool and the dough seemed too dry to come together at first. I’m not sure if the almond paste actually helped the consistency or if the dough just got more cooperative after sitting for a minute – the almond paste was really hard to distribute evenly, so I’m doubtful that it had much of an effect.
The baking went a little weird, too – I put it in for about 25 minutes at 350F (the Joy of Baking website influenced my temperatures), then let it cool, sliced it (didn’t think about how that’s actually kinda hard – see the broken tops on mine), and cooked the slices at 300F for…a long time. I think I had them in for 10 or 15 minutes on one side, then I flipped them, another 10-15 minutes, and then stood them upright and baked for another 10-15 minutes. I just kept going because they seemed really soft and I wanted to have real cantucci/biscotti, which everyone knows are hard and dry (so unusual to want that in my food, but I did!). When I did take them out, they were slightly golden but really not very brown (since I kept the temperature fairly low), and still slightly soft. After cooling, though, they were hard as rocks. I guess that’s the trick; I won’t second-guess myself so much next time.
I found out, after a mimosa, that they taste pretty good dunked in champagne. I personally don’t like dunking them in vin santo – I’d rather just drink the vin santo! But the champagne was just right. Coffee, of course, will also do.
Edit: I had some left over when I went home for the break so I smuggled them to Florida (ok, it’s not technically smuggling, but with the way airport security is, I feel like I’m smuggling), and my dad tried them. He approves but requests softer ones. They will await him on Christmas – don’t tell!
Edit #2: My dad (and everyone else in the family) likes the new biscotti. I followed the times and temperatures in the recipe exactly and used about 2-3 Tbsp of almond paste in addition to the regular ingredients. I also forgot to add in almonds so I just pressed them onto the top. They turned out soft enough that there’s no need to dunk them in anything, and the inside has a taste and texture not unlike almond macaroons. (No surprise, since almond paste has the same ingredients). Yum. It kind of makes me want to forget about making biscotti and just make macaroons, but whatever. Anyway, I won’t say that it’s a completely un-authentic way to do it – when I tried biscotti from my (extended) family’s store – best biscotti I have ever eaten, including, I must admit, mine – I noticed that they had a macaroon type of flavor, with a texture slightly but noticeably different from your average Starbuck’s biscotto.