Though I do not have a sweet-tooth, every now and then I like to have some sweet baked item with my tea in the afternoon or evening. And based on last week’s column, you know that I like it to be something that can be dipped or dunked. A biscotti proves to be the ideal thing to have on hand for such occasions; more importantly, I like that a biscotti can be around whenever you feel like having one because they can be stored at room temperature for a couple of weeks.
Biscotti are Italian twice-baked cookies or some would say biscuits depending on their interpretation of the word biscuit. Biscotti di Prato originated in the Italian city of Prato. The dough, crumbly and sticky when mixed, is first formed into logs, baked and then cut into ½-inch slices while still hot and baked again until dry and crisp. These cookie-biscuits were first sought after for long journeys and wars back in the day because they could be stored for long periods and were considered non-perishable food. Today, biscotti still have a long shelf life; a homemade batch can last for 2 weeks at room temperature and longer yet at cooler temperatures.
The original recipe for biscotti consisted of flour, sugar, eggs, pine nuts and raw almonds. No form of fat or leavening agent was used. Modern takes on this ole-time baked item include the addition of leavening agents that range from baking powder, to baking soda, to yeast. Fats such as butter or oil and the addition of spices and dried fruit can all be found in biscotti today. What this means is that there are now so many flavours of biscotti to be made and had, each to suit our particular taste. I like to keep it simple with some dried fruit and almonds. Sometimes I add freshly grated coconut, this results in a shorter shelf life due to the coconut being fresh with its oils, however, I never have to worry about that because the coconut biscotti are gone in no time.
In Italy, biscotti are traditionally served with Vin Santo – an Italian dessert wine. When served together, the biscotti is dunked into the Vin Santo and then eaten. A good Sherry works too or your favourite brand of dessert wine. I imagine that a Moscato wine would work well too.
One of the other things that I like about homemade biscotti is that it is not overly sweet as some desserts and baked items can be. With biscotti on hand, having people over for tea or coffee is never a bother. Ready to give it a try?
Fruit & Nut Biscotti
Yield: 14 – 16
2 ¾ cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup white granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup dried cranberries (or dried fruit of your choice)
½ cup raw almonds coarsely chopped
3 eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons oil
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F with the rack in the middle.
Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and cinnamon.
Add in cranberries and nuts to flour mixture and toss to mix.
Whisk together eggs, milk, oil and essence.
Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients and mix until just combined; do not over mix, the dough will be crumbly and sticky, use your hands to bring the ingredients together so as not to over mix.
Divide the dough in half and transfer to a parchment-lined or greased baking sheet (13 x 18”) 5-inches apart. Shape each half into an 8-inch log and flatten the top just a bit.
Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and place it on a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, reduce the oven to 325 degrees F.
Slice each log of biscotti diagonally (across) into ½-inch slices. Assemble on the same parchment-lined/greased baking sheet. Transfer to oven and bake for 15 minutes on one side, remove pan from oven, flip the biscotti and bake for another 15 minutes on the other side.
Remove biscotti from pan and cool completely on wire racks.
Store in airtight containers at room temperature for 1 – 2 weeks.
Serve with a hot beverage or a dessert wine.
You can vary the spice flavourings for you biscotti – anise, cardamom, tea masala, apple or pumpkin pie spice mix.
Add your nuts or dried fruit preference
Orange or lemon zest can be used as flavours too