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A&E >  Food

Biscotti break

Twice-baked cookie originated as an after-dinner treat in Italy but is perfectly served with a morning espresso

Take a midwinter coffee break with biscotti.

Once-bitten, the twice-baked, dry and highly dunk-able treat is often difficult to put down, especially when paired with espresso.

The crunchy cookies gained popularity in America in the 1990s alongside the rise of coffee culture. But they date to 14th-century Prato in Tuscany, where they were known as Biscotti di Prato and made with almonds, abundant in the area.

Biscotti is the plural of biscotto, which means twice cooked in Italian. The first baking helps the biscuits hold their shape. The second gives them their crackly consistency.

Anise, pine nuts and hazelnuts – as well as almonds – are classic additions. But for those who don’t mind doing away with tradition, the easy-to-make dough offers a versatile base for all kinds of flavorings.

Other nuts, spices, seeds, extracts, dried fruit, lemon or orange zest, chocolate – even candied bacon – offer almost endless variations.

The process can be time-consuming because of the two turns in the oven, but it’s not difficult. And the dough is pretty forgiving. If it’s super-sticky, wet your hands before forming loaves. Or, add a bit more flour. Too crumbly? Add another egg.

When it comes to flavor, toasted nuts tend to have more than their raw counterparts. Here are a few more tips:

• Parchment paper makes the transfer from baking sheet to cutting board much easier.

• Cut loaves when they’ve cooled to lukewarm after their first round of baking. If they’re right from the oven or still too warm, trying to slice them will only smash down the loaves. On the flip side, if you wait too long, completely cooled dough can crack.

• Use a long, serrated knife. Cut straight across loaves for uniformly sized pieces or diagonally for slices in varied sizes.

The crunchiness of biscotti comes from the second run in the oven. If they turn out break-your-teeth hard, crush them up and use them as crust for cheesecake.

Or, leave them a little longer in that latte when you dip them.

Almond Biscotti

Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

These biscotti pack a light, crispy crunch. But the original recipe is a tad fussy. It called for drawing rectangles with pencil on a piece of greased parchment paper, which didn’t seem necessary.

It also included an egg white wash to give the biscotti a nice, smooth shiny surface. Not all biscotti recipes suggest this step, which isn’t necessary but does add a nice touch to the finished product. The egg white wash also helps my addition of an optional sprinkling of turbinado sugar to stick to the tops of the cookies. If you make a double batch, like I did, one egg white will be enough to wash all four loaves (each batch makes two).

I made a couple of variations of the recipe, also adapting instructions for Hazelnut-Lemon- Lavender Biscotti, listed below. I also dipped half of the almond biscotti in dark chocolate for an extra treat.

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs, plus 1 large white beaten with a pinch of salt

1 cup sugar

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 ounces sliced almonds, toasted

4 ounces chopped almonds, toasted

Turbinado sugar, or sugar in the raw, for sprinkling (optional)

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a medium mixing bowl.

Process two eggs in food processor until lightened in color and almost double in volume, about 3 minutes. With processor running, slowly add sugar until thoroughly combined, about 15 seconds. Add melted butter and almond and vanilla extracts, and process until combined, about 10 seconds. Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle half of the flour mixture and fold gently with a rubber spatula until just combined. Add remaining flour mixture and sliced and chopped almonds and fold until just combined.

Divide batter in half. With floured hands, form each into an 8-by-3-inch rectangle. Smooth tops and sides. Gently brush tops of loaves with egg white wash. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar, if using. Bake until loaves are golden and just beginning to crack on top, 25 to 30 minutes.

Let loaves cool on baking sheet for 30 minutes. Transfer loaves to cutting board. Using a serrated knife, slice each loaf on a slight bias into ½-inch-thick slices. Space slices with one cut side down, about ¼ inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until crisp and golden brown on both sides, about 30 minutes, flipping slices halfway through baking.

Let cool completely before serving.

Biscotti can be stored at room temperature for up to 1 month.

Yield: About 30 cookies

Note: This dough will be extremely sticky. The original recipe called for vegetable oil spray and a rubber spatula to help form loaves. I found floured hands to work just fine, but I used a little extra flour for sprinkling; this made the sticky dough easier to form into rectangles.

Hazelnut-Lemon- Lavender Biscotti

Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

Follow the recipe above, substituting lightly toasted hazelnuts for almonds. Add 2 to 3 teaspoons of dried lavender to the flour mixture. Use ¼ to ½ teaspoon lemon extract instead of almond extract and add zest of 1 lemon to food processor with butter.

Ginger Honey Lemon Chia Biscotti

Adapted from Wheat Foods Council

These eggless, butterless biscotti won’t break your teeth; the honey, syrup and bits of crystallized ginger help keep the cookies semi-soft even after their double baking. To make them vegan, use agave instead of honey.

The original recipe for Honey Almond Biscotti can be found at http:// honey-almond-biscotti.

2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 to 3 tablespoons chia seeds

1/3 cup honey

2 to 3 tablespoons ginger syrup

1/3 cup water

1/2 teaspoon lemon extract

3 to 4 tablespoons crystallized ginger, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt and chia seeds. In a medium bowl, blend honey, syrup, water and extract. Add honey mixture to dry ingredients and mix until well-blended. Gently stir in ginger bits.

Turn dough onto lightly floured surface. Divide dough in half and form each portion into a log about 12-by-2-by- ¾-inches. Place logs onto baking sheet coated with nonstick spray. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake 30 minutes; remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes. Place log on cutting board and with a serrated knife, cut log diagonally into ½-inch slices, using a sawing motion. Place slices cut side up on baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Centers will be slightly soft, but will harden as they cool. Remove to wire rack to cool.

Yield: About 4 dozen

Salted Dark Chocolate, White Chocolate and Almond Biscotti

From Cindy Swain of Correggio in Emilia Romagna, Italy

Blogger Cindy Swain, a Davenport native, adapted this recipe from “Ready for Dessert” by David Lebovitz. It originally appeared on her blog on May 22, 2014, at http://italicana dark-chocolate-white- chocolate-almond- biscotti/.

Swain wrote these biscotti were “full of salted dark chocolate and white chocolate chunks, but not overly sweet and sugary.” 

“And, there is no butter. Hip hip hooray for a baked good without butter when you want a dessert that’s a bit lighter.”

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups kamut flour (see note)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 egg

2/3 cup applesauce

1 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped

3 1/2 ounces salted dark chocolate, chopped

3 1/2 ounces white chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, stir together the flours and baking powder. In a large bowl, beat the egg, applesauce, sugar and vanilla on medium speed for about 5 minutes. Stir the flour mixture into the larger bowl, then add the almonds and chocolate. Stir until combined.

On a lightly floured work surface, divide the dough in half.  With moist hands, shape the pieces into two 9-by-3-inch logs. Set them on the prepared baking sheet, leaving enough space between them as they will flatten out when cooking.

Bake for 20 minutes. (Logs should be slightly browned.) Remove them from the oven and reduce the temperature to 300 degrees. Allow logs to cool on the baking sheet for at least 15 minutes.

Transfer logs to a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut the logs into ½-inch thick diagonal slices. Place the biscotti cut side down in a single layer on the same baking sheet. Use an additional baking sheet if necessary. Bake until the biscotti are pale golden and firm, about 20 to 25 minutes. Let the biscotti cool completely; they will keep in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Note: High in protein and derived from an ancient relative of durum wheat, kamut flour can be found in natural foods stores or grocery stores.

Yield: About 34 biscotti

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