I have been eating biscotti with a fervor this past month. It’s unnatural considering I’ve never really liked biscotti; I’d always seen them at coffee shops and just sort of sniffed at them dismissively. I thought of them as edible rocks, which they are, in some way.
Biscotti is actually plural for biscotto, the Italian name for this cookie. From the Latin bis coctum, “twice-baked,” one of the earliest mentions of it was in second century Rome. It was referred to as a dry (which it is), hard (yes!), unsweetened cracker known for its extra-long keeping qualities. I’ve read that biscotti can keep in the freezer for up to two months. One of my food sources tells me that a foreign coffee chain here in Manila does indeed keep them for that long and just serves them when ordered. Ooh, food gossip.
In their native Italy, biscotti is enjoyed not with coffee but also with vin santo, a sweet wine. Of course the rest of the world enjoys it with coffee, since it’s the perfect dunking cookie for all sorts of hot liquids.
I baked biscotti for the first time just recently. Since I’m currently having a love affair with all things almond, I baked biscotti and added in some toasted slivered almonds and a healthy teaspoon of almond extract. I also had some good Ghirardelli chocolate chips, so I threw those in too.
This is the stickiest, hardest dough I’ve handled. It’s like me in a bad mood ”“ refuses to be coaxed. Heh. I found that keeping my hands wet enabled me to work the dough more easily. The recipe I used stated I roll it (flattened and pounded is more like it) into a rough log about 14 inches long, 2½ inches wide, and ¾ inch thick. In reality, my log was about a foot long, 4 inches wide, and ¾ inch thick.
Here they are after the first bake. Some recipes state that the second baking can be omitted if softer cookies are desired. I tasted these after the first bake, and blech, I don’t recommend it. They tasted like spongy cookies that were hard in some places.
After the first baking, I left the biscotti to cool for about 13 minutes while I turned my oven temperature down 25°. Then I got my favorite (my only!) 9-inch chef’s knife and sliced the biscotti into logs. In magazines and coffee shops, I see elegant fingers of biscotti that would be right at home at a tea party. My biscotti were more like hardy legs on a wooden soldier, not that I minded though. Hale and hearty is fine with me. When slicing biscotti, most recipes say that you should cut them straight up and down with a sharp knife. I found that I got the neatest slices by holding down the top of the blade with my palm, using it as a fulcrum and then just moving the handle of the knife down, similar to mincing garlic. (That sounds more difficult than it really is, trust me).
These babies baked for 25 minutes, although another five minutes wouldn’t have hurt. Unlike most other cookies, biscotti are very forgiving. It’s almost impossible to overbake them ”“ unless that’s your aim, of course.
Straight out from the oven, these were already nice and crunchy. Once cooled, they became bone-dry and loud when bitten into. Rrr, lovely. Next time I won’t add the chocolate chips. They overwhelm the subtle flavor nuances of the biscotti.