Friday, August 12, 2011

Classic Italian Biscotti

Biscotti are very traditional Italian biscuit cookies that have also found great favor in America, especially in the 90s when we saw a significant proliferation of coffee houses across the country. Since biscotti are very dry, crispy and crunchy in nature, in Italy they are invariably taken with a cappuccino or an espresso or Vin Santo. If you’ve ever found yourself lounging in the sun at an Italian caffè, you’ve undoubtedly dabbled in this ritual.

Modern biscotti originated in 13th century Tuscany and were characteristically flavored with almonds from the groves of Prato, the second largest city in the region and a leader in the slow food movement. They are made with just a few simple ingredients and baked twice to ensure extra crispness. The dough is baked in the form of a solid log and then cooled a bit to firm up. The logs are then sliced into long narrow cookie portions and toasted for about 10 minutes on each side. The result is a nice crisp biscuit full of texture and toasted almond flavor.

Biscotti made in this country are usually much sweeter, sometimes made with butter and full of all sorts of stuff like dried fruit and chocolate chips. These adaptations offer their own unique interest and fun but I most often favor the more traditional style. This recipe for Classic Italian Biscotti is one that was routinely baked at Chez Panisse. It’s full of toasted almonds and slightly flavored with orange zest and a hint of anise.

Biscotti are a wonderful ritual with your afternoon sip of coffee or evening sip of wine or as an accompaniment to gelato or ice cream. They can be stored for days, the better to sneak a sumptuous bite whenever the mood strikes.

Bench notes:
- If you have strong objections to anise seeds, they can be left out but the flavor here is fairly subtle.
- Beating the eggs and sugar to ribbon stage lightens the texture of the cookie so try not to over mix once the remaining ingredients are added.
- Lemon zest can be substituted for orange zest.
- The dough is quite wet and sticky. Lightly moisten your hands with water to make shaping the logs a bit easier.
- I use a sawing motion with a sharp serrated knife to slice the baked loaves. Slice at an angle for longer and more stylish cookies.
- Biscotti are best kept in an airtight container. They will last quite a long time.

Classic Biscotti
adapted from Chez Panisse
Makes about 3 dozen biscotti

1 1/2 C whole almonds
2 C flour
1 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
2 – 3 drops almond extract
1 C sugar
3/4 t anise seeds
2 t orange zest

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment or silpat.

Coarsely chop almonds and set aside.

Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.

In bowl of electric mixer, whisk eggs and egg yolk, almond extract and sugar until mixture thickens and holds its shape in a ribbon for a few seconds when the whisk attachment is lifted. Switch to a paddle and add dry ingredients, mixing on low just until the dough comes together. Add chopped almonds, anise and orange zest and blend thoroughly for about 10 to 15 seconds.

Lightly moisten your hands with cold water and form the dough into two logs about 3” wide and 12” long and about 3" apart. Try not to handle the dough too much.

Bake for about 25 minutes, until a light golden brown. Place the baking sheet on a wire rack. Lower oven temperature to 300 degrees.

Let biscotti logs cool for 10 minutes before handling. Slice into 1/2” pieces using a sharp serrated knife. Bake for an additional 10 minutes at the lower temperature. Turn and bake for another 10 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container.


A Plum By Any Other Name said...

It's a fairly well-kept secret how easy biscotti is to make. This recipe sounds lovely. Someone is going to be having some biscuits with her coffee this weekend. :) Thank you!

pastry studio said...

Hello, Plum! Yes, biscotti are a cinch to produce and the results are rewarding bite after bite after bite. Hope you enjoy this version as you linger over your weekend coffee!

Lucia Metcalf said...

I wanna make it! I'm always afraid it won't look or be crunchy like it's supposed to!

deb said...

Biscotti are irresistible and oh so lovely dipped in coffee. I very much enjoy you "bench notes". Just the information we bakers seek!

eclite said...

I really enjoy checking in with your blog! My biscotti are in the final stages of cooking and I am looking forward to doing a taste check! Have a great week.

pastry studio said...

Hellooooo and thank you, eclite!! Isn't the smell of baking biscotti wonderful? Hope you enjoy for days to come.

valérie-jeanne said...

I'll file this one away for a cool Fall day. Sounds so good with a cup of tea.

xlizzyx said...

Got even more "twice- baked" Italian biscotti at and trust me, will be adding more :)))
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Luv'n Spoonfuls said...

I am a huge fan of traditional biscotti, and your recipe looks lovely and classic. I have never made any with anise but plan on bookmarking this one for the fall and holiday baking marathons, and think the flavor combination sounds delightful. Beautiful photos (as always) ;-)

Ben David said...

Hi - you may want to explore Mandelbrot - literally "almond bread" - the Jewish version of biscotti, brought by them from Italy and Alsace to Eastern Europe.

Here's one of several good links I got from Google:

The best version of this I've tasted folded the dough around a filling of slivered almonds and toasted sesame seeds, with a swirl of filling in every slice.

pastry studio said...

Thanks very much for the suggestion, Ben David. I'll definitely look into it.

Anonymous said...

Do you think I can make these sans almonds? I like my biscotti on the "plainer" side but with a stronger anise you suggest increasing the anise in this recipe? I'd appreciate any recs! Can't wait to try this!

pastry studio said...

Hello Anonymous! Yes, go ahead and leave out the almonds and increase the anise seeds up to a tablespoon. Have fun!

Nancy said...

I've tried this a few days ago. They were very delicious and easy to make. Thanks a lot for posting and the bench notes!