The biscotto is a cookie most often associated with the crisp almond cantuccini of Tuscany. Traditionally soaked in the sweet white Vin Santo wine of the region and served as the simplest of desserts in ancient cities like Florence and Siena — these sweet almond morsels are almost invariably served next to a cup of espresso in most Italian-inspired caffe’s throughout the world.
As a cook of all things savory, I feared the world of baked goods and pastries for a long time — thinking my efforts would inevitably end in disaster since the essence of baking required following the rules — and I am simply not a “follow-the-rules” type of person. I tend to innovate and experiment along the cooking path more than I follow instructions. I was pleasantly surprised by the possibilities that baking biscotti and cantuccini offered in the world of sweets. . . . Written below are the details to my discoveries.
The “biscotto” (literally translated as “twice-cooked”) was my first adventure into the land of the “dolci” (the lovely word for sweets in Italian) that worked flawlessly. I discovered that making this type of sweet all starts with shaping the dough into a loaf. If the dough was too soft, I found chilling it for a while worked wonders. If the dough was too hard, I learned by practice to add a bit of water, a slug of sweet wine or freshly squeeze citrus. Once my dough was well chilled — no matter how messy it might have looked in the bowl — I learned just how to bake my homemade loaves until just golden. Most importantly, I discovered that cooling them completely before slicing them for their second round in the oven was next to essential.
Once I tackled the basics of biscotti, I started down my favorite road of experimentation which has resulted in a notebook of recipes over the years filled with both sweet and savory variations on a “twice-baked” theme. My favorite lightly sweetened and citrus spiked biscotto is actually inspired by Sicilian flavors like almonds, pistachios and oranges. I like to use Marsala for an aromatic island touch — but substituting the wine with orange juice works like a charm as well.
- 400 grams lemon-scented flour . I like to use finely ground spelt flour
- 200 grams raw cane sugar or 175 grams of raw honey
- 125 grams almonds
- 125 grams pistachio nuts
- the peel of one orange and one lemon
- 2 whole organic eggs
- 2 yolks of organic eggs
- 50 ml of Marsala wine . or 50 ml freshly squeezed orange juice
- 10 grams of baking powder
Preheat the oven at 175°C degrees. Cover a flat baking sheet with parchment paper. Grind the almonds to a fine sandy texture and put them into a large bowl. Grind the pistachio nuts into a coarse, uneven texture, adding them to the almonds. Measure the flour and sift it into the bowl with the ground nuts. Add the baking powder to the bowl of dry ingredients.
Scrub the lemon and orange and remove the zest of both citrus fruits with a zester, making sure not to grate the white layer of pith. Mix the raw cane sugar (or honey) with the whole eggs and egg yolks in a mixing bowl. Add the citrus peel and Marsala wine and mix the ingredients with an electric mixer or a whisk until the sugar has been assimilated and the ingredients are light-golden in color.
Raw cane sugar will not dissolve completely by the way; on the other hand it will give the dough a nice grainy texture.
Pour the sugar mixture into the dry ingredients using a spatula, stirring all ingredients well until an even dough is obtained. Divide the mixture into two equal parts. Roll the dough into similarly shaped loaves of about 4 centimeters wide and 10-12 centimeters long, using water-moistened hands to do so. Place the loaves on the parchment covered cookie sheet, with ample space between each loaf. Chill the dough loaves 30 minutes in the refrigerator. This ensures that the loaves will keep their shape while baking.
Remove the chilled loaves and bake the biscotti 30-35 minutes in a preheated oven at 175 degrees. Allow the biscotti loaves to cool completely before cutting them with a serrated knife diagonally in slices of 0,5 centimeters thick. Lower the oven temperature to 160 degrees; place the sliced biscotti evenly on a cookie sheet and bake them 10 minutes or until golden and lightly crispy on the edges.
Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and let the biscotti cool completely before bringing them to the table for dessert.
Serve the lemon-almond biscotti with whipped mascarpone, sweetened with honey. Fill a wine glass half full with mascarpone, top it with seasonal fruit and place two biscotti in each glass for a simple dessert.
These biscotti as well as any other nut variation of this recipe can be kept well for up to two months in a cookie tin.
I like to bake them five minutes in a warm oven just before serving them for dessert.
My Mom loved my biscotti and that is why this recipe is written especially for her.