Baked Sunday Mornings: Doubling up with big biscotti

[B]iscotti, by description, seem something that would defy enthusiasm. Their name, derived from the cookie-version of “biscuit” and meaning “twice-baked,” is just an inkling of what they are. This double baking is meant to make them dry and hard (not typically the aim for most baked goods), for a longer shelf-life and desirable (and necessary) dipping consistency for coffee, tea, milk or, as is Italian habit, a sweet dessert wine.

By tradition, they are usually almond-flavored and not terribly sweet, these long, oblong slabs of dry (but inexplicably mouthwatering) cookies. But if you’ve spent any time in coffeehouses over the last 10 or 15 years, you have likely seen large glass jars filled with biscotti of all flavors — dark chocolate, chocolate chip, vanilla, filled with dried fruits and spices. Maybe you’ve seen them dipped in white or dark chocolate or frosted and decorated with crystal sugar or colorful sprinkles. At their basic root version of being something dry and hardy also lies the foundation for a wealth of creative spinoffs. I’ve made traditional almond biscotti as well as a red-and-green cranberry-pistachio version dipped in white chocolate; this past Christmas, I hammered candy cane shrapnel all over my kitchen making peppermint biscotti. I love biscotti, and part of what I love about them (beyond their obvious soaking spot in my hot coffee) is that the possibilities for them are endless.

[I] was eager to try out a new biscotti recipe for Baked Sunday Mornings. The Pistachio Cherry Biscotti from “Baked: New Frontiers in Baking” (2008) by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito was a variation on the main recipe of Hazelnut Cinnamon Chip Biscotti (you’ll find the recipe here).

[S]ince hazelnuts make such a rare appearance in my baking (actually, they have never appeared on my blog!), I decided to stick with the original recipe using hazelnuts and chocolate chips, plus add the dried cherries called for in the pistachio-cherry version.

[I]’m always up for recipes that call for cinnamon, too, here a teaspoon is mixed with sugar, baking powder and salt and whipped with four large eggs to make a thick, frothy foundation. Two teaspoons of vanilla (I used vanilla bean paste) are then added.

[F]lour is stirred in in two additions, then the chips, hazelnuts and cherries are mixed in to the stiff, but sticky dough. It smelled amazing, and I couldn’t resist tasting a little (sorry for those who are squeamish about raw egg batter sampling). It reminded me of a good chocolate chip cookie dough, despite no brown sugar. There was something about the cinnamon and chocolate combination that created a bit of a coffee flavor, too.

[N]either neatness nor precision is my strong-suit, but I did my best to create the long rectangle of biscotti slab for the first baking, using some flour on my fingers to work with the sticky dough. My rectangle ended up being a little wider and a little shorter than what was instructed, but I came close.

[T]he biscotti slab has a long baking time, 20 to 25 minutes, giving an aromatic preview of what’s to come (vanilla/cinnamon/hazelnut). It was lightly golden when I took it out of the oven.

[T]he slab is brushed with egg white beaten with water to give it a glossy finish, and after a cooling time, the slab is cut into the slices that are the individual biscotti. Finding the par-baked biscotti dough a little too tender, I allowed a little more cooling time than instructed so it was easier to slice.

[T]he biscotti slices are then baked again (twice-baked) for another 20 to 25 minutes. After about 21 minutes, I thought mine might be getting a bit too brown and went ahead and removed them.

[I] had some smaller and some really LARGE biscotti (probably due to my uneven proportions in my original slab), but I recalled the recipe indicated that the “Baked” creators make their biscotti in a larger size. If one wanted smaller biscotti (yes, I guess that was somewhat possible), one could make two rectangular slabs and end up with some mini versions.

[I]’m a little addicted to the trend of dipping biscotti in dark or white chocolate. Maybe it is gilding the lily a bit, but there is something of a finish to this embellishment that I really like (as well as it adding a bit of decadence to a fairly modest — in term of richness — cookie). So I melted some dark chocolate, and gave the cookies chocolatey tips.

[I] found much to love about these biscotti. Though initially worried the cherries might be a flavor clash with the hazelnuts and chocolate, I found they all fit together quite well. The cookies were crisp with tender centers and just sweet enough, enhanced with the vanilla and cinnamon. The biscotti are sumptuous and large enough that one is a dessert or a perfect afternoon treat, the final bite, cloaked in dark chocolate.

Check out the recipe here:

Blogger’s Note: In addition to the 1 teaspoon of cinnamon blended with the sugar, baking powder and salt, I used about 1-1/2 cups blanched toasted hazelnuts, 1 cup chocolate chips and about 3/4 cups dried cherries, mixing them into the finished dough.

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