A great long-lasting food for travelers many centuries ago, Biscotti was sustenance for the Roman legions on their military campaigns and was probably the original “hard tack”, a dry hard biscuit designed to last almost forever by the twice (“bis”) baking (“cotto”) method. Its relatives are the German zwieback and the English biscuit. Those dunking their high-end little biscuits in a foamy cappuccino at the popular coffee shops today never imagined that biscotti has such utilitarian beginnings.
Biscotti’s journey to sophistication began during the Renaissance when a Tuscan baker served the little biscuits dunked in “vin santo”, a local sweet wine. The dry, crisp composition of the biscotti was the perfect instrument for dunking.
Authentic Italian biscotti is very simple to make and can be as fancy as you like by adding fruit and nuts or dipping the ends in white or dark chocolate. They make great gifts or for a simple dessert after a heavy meal.Although there are steps involved making biscotti, it is not difficult if you follow a few pointers. In the Spring 2007 issue of Baker’s Companion, there is an article on creating authentic Italian biscotti which gives step-by-step instructions to ensure success in making these lovely little crisp cookies. Without going through all the steps in detail, here are three important ones.
1. To keep the biscotti from crumbling after the first baking, spritz the baked dough lightly, but thoroughly with water taking care to cover the sides and the top. Let stand 5 minutes before slicing. This is an important step especially if your biscotti contains nuts and fruits.
2. When cutting the biscotti for the second bake, use a serrated knife and cut with a straight up and down motion. This steps ensures that the biscotti will stand up for the second bake.
3. Instead of flipping the biscotti over to bake a third time, stand them up on the prepared baking sheet so the air can circulate around them as they bake.
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar (4 3/4 oz)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 drops strong cherry flavor(optional)or 1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chopped pistachios (4 1/4 oz)
1 cup sweet or sour dried cherries (5 oz)
2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet (18x 13-inch) with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, baking powder, and vanilla or cherry flavoring until creamy looking. When properly beaten, the egg/sugar mixture will be thick and lemon colored and drop in a ribbon from the beater.
Lower the mixer speed and add the flour beating gently until incorporated. Transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet and shape into a rough log about 14 inches long, 2 1/2 inches wide and about 3/4 inch thick. Smooth the top of the dough with a wet dough scraper.
Bake the dough for 25 minutes. With dried fruit and nuts, it may be necessary to bake an additional 5-10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on pan from 5-25 minutes. I let mine cool about 15 minutes. Spray with the water as in pointer step 1. Let stand 5 minutes. This will soften the crust to make slicing easier.
Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees F. Wait 5 minutes, then cut the biscotti on the diagonal into 3/4 inch slices using a serrated knife and straight up and down motions. If you slice the biscotti wider at the top than the bottom, they will topple over while baking the second time.
Set the biscotti upright on the prepared baking sheet 1/2 inch apart so the air can circulate. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool. Store in an airtight container to preserve their texture. If the biscotti aren’t as hard as you like, store uncovered overnight to continue drying. Biscotti can be stored at room temperature for two weeks; for longer storage, wrap airtight and freeze. Yield 14-16.
Recipe from The Baker’s Companion, Spring 2007, page 64.
For more biscotti recipes, visit King Arthur Flour.