Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Cantuccini aka Almond Biscotti

One thing you should know about me is I love coffee. Almost as much as I love chocolate (emphasis on the almost). I drink it at all times of the day, but I'm particularly fond of the afternoon coffee pick-me-up, and no such experience is truly complete without a crunchy biscotti to dunk in your caffeinated beverage. I am partial to almond, or sometimes a chocolate variation, if I'm feeling indulgent.

For those of you not familiar with biscotti, they are twice-baked cookies known for their distinctive oblong shape and crunchy texture. They originated in Italy, hence their traditional name, biscotti di Prato or cookies from Prato (a city in Tuscany, just north of Florence). I always found it odd that biscotti is the Italian word for any type of cookies, yet in English, we use it to refer to such a specific confection. But I'll spare you my musings on semantics. 

Because biscotti are baked twice and contain very little fat (no butter or oil), they are able to achieve a formidable state of crunchiness, perfect for dipping in your beverage of choice. The traditional Italian accompaniment is vin santo (dessert wine), but I prefer coffee or hot chocolate. I think a cappuccino or a latte is the perfect pairing, but I switch to iced beverages in the summertime.

After years of eating store-bought biscotti with my afternoon coffee, I finally decided to try my hand at baking some from scratch. Now I'm kicking myself for waiting so long. The recipe requires only a few basic ingredients and makes more biscotti than you could possibly need. Not to mention that these biscotti taste ten times better than anything you can buy at the average coffee shop. 

The recipe is very basic, so feel free to play around with it after your first time around. Try substituting a different type of nut for the almonds or adding some dried fruit. Maybe get crazy and dip the bottoms in dark chocolate. Just make sure you have a mug of your favorite beverage handy.

The Leaning Tower of Biscotti

Bon appetit!

Makes about 4 dozen
2 c all purpose flour
3/4 c sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 c unblanched whole almonds
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. 

Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl and stir with a plastic spatula. Then mix in the almonds. 

Whisk together the eggs and vanilla in a small bowl, then stir into the flour mixture. The dough may seem dry at this point, but it will come together as it is kneaded. 

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, pushing the dough away from you with your palm and folding it over onto itself. Rotate dough about a quarter turn each time after you knead it. Continue this process until the dough is smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. 

Divide the dough in half and shape into a 10-12-inch long log. Gently press down on the logs to flatten them until they are about 2 inches wide and 1 inch high. Transfer to the prepared pan. 

First Baking
Bake logs for about 30 minutes, or until they have risen slightly and are firm to the touch. Slide the logs, parchment paper and all, off the baking sheet and onto a cooling rack. The logs must be completely cool before you can continue with the recipe. Since they will take about 30 minutes to cool, you can either turn the oven off or leave it on for the next step. (You can bake the biscotti up to this point several days ahead. Wrap the logs well in plastic and continue when it's convenient.)

Second Baking  
When the logs have cooled completely, preheat the oven to 350°F, if necessary. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. 

Working with a sharp serrated knife, cut the cooled logs diagonally into 1/4 to 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place the sliced cookies cut side down on the pans and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the biscotti are crisp and golden. Cool on the pans.

Serve at room temperature with your beverage of choice. Store for up to a month in an airtight tin or plastic container.

Voila! Biscotti galore

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