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Friday, December 26, 2008

Biscoctus Biscotti

In all honesty, i had somehow managed to go through most of my life without discovering biscotti. I even managed to live for a month in Italy without having a single one. Granted, it was June and I was distracted by gelato, Baci chocolates and good-looking Italian men. And until a few weeks ago I had no clue they belonged to an extensive class of "double-baked" cookies. So when I was flipping through the cookie section of The Baker's Dozen Cookbook (my new favorite desert book!) and came across the biscotti recipe I immediately decided I had to make them. Two batches later, I am hooked. They are great and easy to make. The double-baking makes them last forever though that doesn't make much sense around here because they seem to disappear within days...

According to Wikipedia, the word "biscotti" (pronounced [bis-COT-tea]) in Italian is the plural form of biscotto, which applies to any type of biscuit, and originates from the medieval Latin word biscoctus, meaning "twice-baked": it defined biscuits baked twice in the oven, so they could be stored for long periods of time, which was particularly useful during journeys and wars. Through Middle French, the word was imported into the English language as "biscuit". Frequently the term "biscotti" is taken to refer to a specific type of hard almond-flavoured biscuits traditionally served with vin santo, probably originating from the town of Prato and therefore still known as "biscotti of Prato". In general, biscotti is more a method of preparation, rather than a specific recipe, as pointed out by Laura Schenone from in her history of biscotti. She also points out the fact that biscotti are usually first baked at high temperature and then on low temperature - probably a consequence of how wood-burning ovens work.

While keeping their hardiness, biscotti today seem to be very different from their ancient predecessors. They are buttery, usually studded with nuts and sometimes covered in chocolate. We are so spoiled, I don't think we would have them any other way.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Biscotti

2 +1/2 C flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C butter (1 stick)
1 1/4 C sugar
2 large eggs
2/3 C hazelnuts, roasted, chopped
1/3 C quality semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 300F. Sift flour with baking powder and salt, and set aside. Beat butter and sugar until combined (1 minute) - do not overbeat, you don't want to incorporate too much air. Add the eggs one at a time. Add the flour and blend until almost combined, add the nuts and chocolate and mix well. I thought that 2.5 C of flour were a little too much so go easy on the flour at the end, you do not want crumbly dough. Divide the dough in half. Wrap each half in a plastic wrap or parchment paper and roll into a long log, about 14 inches long. Place the two logs about 4 inches apart on a big baking sheet, lined with lightly oiled parchment paper. Bake, turning the sheet around halfway, for 1.5 hours. Remove from the oven and let just cool slightly. Slice carefully into 1/2-inch thick slices using a serrated knife. Return the cookies to the baking sheet, laying the flat and return to the oven for ~10 minutes, until golden. The oven can be turned off before placing the cookies inside. Cool and story in a tin box.

These were marvelous! Crisp but not too hard. They can be eaten as it is or dipped in tea, coffee or hot chocolate. Oh, I love the combination of chocolate and hazelnut, it makes me think of Nutella. Just smelling these is heaven! The variations offered include pistachio-raisin (2/3 C pistachios + 1/3 C raisins in place of the chocolate and hazelnut), pine nut-orange (1/3 C tasted pine nuts + 1/3 C candied orange), and the classic almond anise biscotti (1 C almonds + 1 tsp anise). What other flavors can be made? Any ideas?

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