Biscuit ~ Biscotti ~ Biscotto …

EpicureanPiranha | November 16th, 2010 - 01:04

Perfect for Dunking!

I discovered biscotti, those delicious, dry cookies, traditionally dunked in espresso or vin santo (a lovely, sweet Italian wine), upon my first visit to Rome in the mid-1980′s. It was the peak of summer. The sun shone brightly every day, perfect weather for exploring the riches of this ancient city and whiling away an hour or two in one of the many charming sidewalk cafes or restaurants lining Rome’s streets and piazzas.

Biscotti figues amandes in vintage glass

Deliciously perfumed fig and almond biscotti, with a hint of lemon, look lovely in a flutted vintage glass dish. The small blue vintage dishes contain almonds and figs.

Whenever I ordered an espresso or cappuccino during the day, it would be served with a wonderful little biscuit, flavoured with almonds, amaretto, anis, or some other equally tempting flavour. Very dry and perfect for dunking, they would soak up a little coffee, softening just enough to achieve a perfect texture and for the flavours to mingle on, and tantalize my taste buds ~ most unlike the cookies I was used to in North America, which to my dismay, usually disintegrated into the bottom of my cup once they touched the hot liquid!

A Wide Variety of Delightful Flavours and Shapes

These lovely Italian confections, referred to as biscotti or cantucci in Italy, come in wide variety of delightful flavours and shapes. Stars, wreaths, diamonds, and the more familiar “biscotti” shape we’re most familiar with now, but in Italy in the 80′s they were typically small ~ no more than 5 cm (2 in.) long or diameter. Perfect for tiny espresso cups or for a few to sit elegantly on a small dish next to a glass of wine. Given that I’m a French-speaking Quebecer, I simply thought that biscotti referred to the French term “biscuit”, and indeed, in Italy, biscotto is a generic term for small, usually sweet, dry cookies, normally baked twice to ensure long keeping qualities. Hence the origin of the name biscotti in Italian, and biscuit in French and English, which come from the Latin words bis ~ meaning twice, and coctus ~ meaning cooked, or “twice-cooked”.  Since coffee bars like Starbucks had not yet invaded Canadian and European shores in the mid-80′s, it wasn’t until some time later that I realised the term biscotti was, in other parts of Europe and North America, used to refer to the oblong version of this Italian cookie.

Biscotti figues amandes in glass cookie jar

Biscotti, when dunked in a cup of hot espresso, soak up a little liquid, softening just enough to achieve a perfect texture and for the flavours to mingle on the taste buds ~ most unlike North American cookies which tend to disintegrate into the bottom of your cup once they touch the hot liquid!

Alberto Capatti and Massimo Montanari’s excellent book, Italian Cuisine: A Cultural History, references both biscotti and hazelnuts, although not together in one recipe, as foods relished by the wealthy during the 16th century.  Another interesting fact, mentioned in Larousse Gastronomique and several other sources, states: “the very hard, barely risen biscuit was for centuries the staple food of soldiers and sailors. Roman legions were familiar with it and Pliny claimed that “Parthian bread” would keep for centuries”!  I have to admit that some of the cookies passed off as Italian biscotti in certain British and American coffee bars and shops have been so bland and rock hard that I’ve been tempted to believe Pliny’s claim!

♥ Simple to Make ~ a Delightful Treat for Guests or a Perfect Hostess Gift ♥

Yet, even though I’d enjoyed the biscotti I’d eaten in Italian cafes and pasticcerias so much more than what’s available commercially, I’d never tried making them until a little over a year ago. For some unknown reason, I thought making biscotti from scratch might be too much effort for the reward, but I was mistaken on two counts! Although the elapsed time is rather long, they take very little actual time and effort to prepare, and, the taste of home-made biscotti is superb!  They were such a success with my family and friends that I’ve had innumerable requests for a recipe (as well as to bake more!).

I must tell you that there are probably as many recipes for Italian biscotti as there are Italian bakers – but they’re made using the same technique, and the basic ingredients tend to be the same. As to the flavourings, you can let your imagination run wild, although some of the traditional flavours for sweet versions tend to be among the best! These include almond, almond amaretto, fennel, hazelnut, sesame and often include fresh lemon zest in the preparation. Savoury biscotti are also very popular, and can be flavoured with all sorts of ingredients from cheeses to vegetables such as sun-dried tomatoes or olives, complimented with herbs and spices. They’re delicious served as an aperitif cookie, in the preparation of amuse-bouches (canapes), or served alongside soups, salads, etc.

I’ve tried several sweet recipes which were really delicious. Here’s one that I and my biscotti tasters particularly enjoyed

This lovely recipe is from a gorgeous cookbook I recently purchased in London, England: Gifts from the Kitchen by Annie Rigg. I’ve added a number of useful notes for less experienced cooks (or novices!) to ensure your success in making these lovely treats which are sure to impress!

Almond Fig Biscotti

  • Position the baking shelf in the centre of the oven.
  • Preheat the oven to 180C (350F).
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Ingredients & Preparation

50g unsalted butter [sweet butter]
♦———————————–♦ Melt butter in a small pan or in microwave; cool.

225 g plain [all-purpose] flour, plus a little extra for rolling
150 g castor [granulated] sugar
pinch of salt [I used 1 ml (1/8 tsp) salt]
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) baking powder
♦———————————–♦ Combine in large bowl & mix well.

Biscotti figues amandes I

Once the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder are thouroghly mixed, add remaining dry ingredients ~ roughly chopped dried figs & nuts, and lemon zest. Mix well using light circular and lifting motions (I like to use a large fork to do this, or use a wooden spoon).

75g whole almonds, roughly chopped
100g dried figs (or dried morello cherries), roughly chopped
1/2 unwaxed lemon – finely grated zest (see notes)
♦———————————–♦ Add to flour mixture and combine with a wooden spoon (see notes).

Biscotti figues amandes II & III

Add thoroughly blended butter egg mixture to dry ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon to combine (a) until dough starts to form a ball (b). Do NOT over-process the dough or be tempted to use a stand mixer with a dough hook, or your dough will be too dense!

1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla extract
♦———————————–♦ Wisk together in a small bowl; add cooled butter and whisk to blend.

  • Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour the egg – butter mixture into it; stir with wooden spoon until ingredients are well combined and come together in a ball.
  • Divide the dough into two equal pieces. Very lightly dust a work surface with a little flour and shape the dough into two logs, each about 20 cm long. Place the logs on the prepared baking sheet, leaving plenty of space between them and the sides of the sheet (see notes).
  • Bake until golden brown and firm to the touch, about 35 – 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet (see notes). Turn off the oven.
Biscotti figues amandes ~ second baking

Once the baked logs have cooled, thinly slice them on the diagonal and place on cookie sheets to bake a second time ~ this is where the “bis” in the word biscotti originates.

  • Once the logs are completely cool, preheat the oven to 170C (325F). Remove the logs from the baking sheet. Prepare the baking sheet with parchment paper (see notes), slice the logs on the diagonal no more than 1 cm (1/2 in.) thick, and place the slices on the baking sheet. Place in centre of oven and bake 20 minutes or until golden. If you need 2 baking sheets, position them in the centre of the oven and switch the pans around halfway through baking.
  • Remove from the oven, allow to cool, and package in cellophane or pretty boxes.
Pistachio & dried cranberry biscotti

Last Christmas I found some lovely reproduction vintage metal tins, and filled them with delicious pistachio & dried cranberry biscotti, a recipe from Ricardo Larrivée.

My Notes for Success: ♥

  • I used the zest of a whole, large lemon for an extra burst of freshness ~ perfect!
  • Prepare all the ingredients as I’ve indicated before combining.
  • When combining chopped nuts, fruits, and zest with flour mixture, I prefer to use a large fork as it helps to blend well whilst keeping the mixture light and aerated.
  • After adding the liquid and combining, the mixture should not be too dry or too moist. Shape gently into logs and flatten the logs slightly before baking.
  • Once the logs are baked, place the baking trays on a rack to cool to allow the air to circulate underneath.
  • When removing the cooled logs from the baking sheet, there’s no need to change the baking parchment for the second baking. Just place the slices side by side (it doesn’t matter if the slices touch each other as they no longer expand at this stage) on the same sheet.
  • If the logs are crumbly and break when slicing, they may be slightly overcooked or perhaps a little too much flour was used (always make sure to use large eggs at room temperature!) No matter, they’ll still be delicious ~ just bake them a little less during the second baking.

A Few of My Own Fav Variations: ♥

These are a few of my own favourite flavour combinations you may wish to try:

  • East-Coast Freshness: Replace the lemon zest with the zest of a large orange; replace the figs with dried cranberries, and the almonds with pecans.
  • Pecan-Date-Cinnamon: Use the zest of 1/2 lemon. Add 2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) cinnamon to flour mixture. Replace the figs with dried dates and the almonds with pecans.
  • Pistachio-White Chocolate: Use the zest of 1 lime. Replace the figs with coarsely chopped quality white chocolate, and the almonds with whole pistachios.
  • Caffe-Latte-Nocciola: Omit the lemon zest. Add 2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) ground espresso coffee to flour mixture. Replace the figs with coarsely chopped quality white chocolate, and the almonds with hazelnuts.


2 Responses to “Biscuit ~ Biscotti ~ Biscotto …”

  1. Merci Solange ~ tu m’en donneras des nouvelles !

    ~ marie x

  2. SolangeLancup says:

    Recette très alléchante……….
    Ce sera ma prochaine
    Miammm miammm!!!!

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