The Ever Popular Biscotti
Biscotti have taken the world by storm. These subtly sweet, crisp cookies can be found in different countries around the globe, although they can be traced back to Italy as far back as the fourteenth century. In fact it is said Christopher Columbus carried these cookies on his voyages because they were so sturdy, and their dryness prevented the problem of spoilage. The name biscotti can be translated as twice cooked which indeed describes how these tasty cookies are made. By baking them twice, they lose any excess moisture, which ensures a crisp, dry cookie perfect for dipping. Since biscotti are not very sweet, they are a perfect snack at any time of the day, whether they are enjoyed with a cup of coffee in the morning or dipped into a sweet dessert wine after dinner.
Biscotti come in a myriad of flavor combinations, chock full of almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, citron, raisins and even chocolate pieces. The traditional favorite biscotti in Italy must be the Biscotti di Prato, which are crisp, dry almond cookies named after the city of Prato and usually served alongside a glass of Vin Santo wine for dipping. Vin Santo is a Tuscan wine ranging from dry to sweet with a golden brown coloring and intensity of flavor that pairs perfectly with the almond wafers. Another popular Italian biscotti are the anise-flavored variety, which seem to have been created to be eaten with a cup of caffelatte, or coffee with steamed milk. There are no set rules as to what can and cannot be eaten with this crispy treat, it is traditionally served with coffee or dessert wines in an Italian household. It can also be served with milk, tea and hot chocolate. The crisp, dry texture of the cookie makes it ideal for dipping into your favorite beverage.
Today, Americans are creating a biscotti renewal, embracing this Italian dessert with such enthusiasm that biscotti can now be found in every coffee shop, bakery and grocery store. There is a variety for every palate, whether it is low in fat or sugar, frosted, full of nuts and dried fruits, or delicately flavored with lemon or spice. Biscotti can easily be made at home with good results if a few simple tips are followed. They are quickly molded into long logs, which are baked. Then after allowing them to cool for ten to fifteen minutes, they are sliced into wafers, which are returned to the oven to crisp up. Most twice-baked cookie recipes can be divided into two categories. The first are those made with eggs as the only adhesive ingredient, and the second are those that utilize butter or shortening as well. The biscotti made with added fat tend to be more delicate in texture than those made only with eggs. Other differences are mainly in the form of the types of additives and flavorings implemented in the recipe. The cookies can be either sinfully decadent or health conscious depending on the ingredients used. You can find my Biscotti Collection HERE or click on the links listed under the photo below.
Here are a few helpful hints to keep in mind when baking biscotti!
* Recipes using shortening or butter tend to yield a more shortbread-like texture and are softer in the center than ones using just eggs particularly when still hot from the oven. The cookies should always be baked on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil for easy removal.
* Mix the dough just until it sticks together. Don’t overmix. Lining the baking sheet with parchment paper prevents sticking and makes cleanup much easier.
* Normal biscotti dough may appear very dry and barely stick together; avoid the temptation to add water to moisten the dough.
* Use a sharp, serrated knife to cut the biscotti for their second baking. Slicing the loaf on an angle allows for longer, gourmet looking slices. The slices should be cooked until just lightly browned. They will continue to harden and crisp during cooling, so do not be tempted to over bake them to ensure crunchiness.
* If your log-shaped loaf crumbles when you attempt to cut it into strips, wrap it firmly and place in the freezer overnight before attempting to cut it again. This method works well with cookie recipes that include whole nuts or melted chocolate as well.
* Do not crowd the biscotti slices on the baking sheet for their second baking as they need the hot air to circulate to enable them to crisp up evenly.
* Store biscotti in an airtight container. They will keep well for a few weeks. Frozen, they will keep for months.