Sunday mornings are one of my favourite times to be up early (I like to begin baking before everyone wakes up) & this weekend was no exception. The stunning sunrise at “OMG it’s early” o’clock was glorious, bringing with it a bright, albeit chilly, day & …. (drumroll please) …. a new hob! After being hob-less for eight very long weeks now, you can imagine my eager anticipation! With a fresh biscotti & coffee in hand, I sat fantasising about heavenly hob cooking: silky Spaghetti alla Carbonara, rich risotto & fat, fluffy pancakes – it was as if my Fairy Godmother had popped in for a coffee & brought Prosecco instead!
While the two great guys from a well-known electrical company (think spicy food) turned up & got to work fitting the new hob, I discovered they had been on the road since 6.30am with no breakfast or coffee (& they were still smiling!). Obviously, I had baked & there was a selection of biscotti & breakfast bars for them to share, as my way of thanking them (I did the Mum thing too, packing them off with a little bag of goodies). Big thanks to Michael & Steve, you are stars!
Italian food has always been my passion & when our Son was working in Naples last year, we would chat almost daily about the amazing food there, the fabulous people, wonderful fresh food markets, coffee, Grappa & of course, the Biscotti! Biscotti are one of our favourite treats, especially as they travel well & can resist a good dunking in a drink. When you’re having a relaxing afternoon break sipping your caffè macchiato, you want a good solid biscuit to dunk. That first, almost trepid, dip as you submerge it a little into the steamy liquid & the smug relief you feel as you retrieve it is quickly replaced with sheer horror, as you helplessly watch collapsing chunks plunge back into your cup! It’s happened to us all & when your dunk is sunk, no matter how fast you try to spoon it out, it’s gone to the bottom of that cup faster than a brick & is now a murky, mushy mess waiting for you to sup up.
It’s as if biscuits are just not dunkable anymore – they lull you into a false sense of security, thinking their dense sweetness will hold up to that cappuccino you’re so carefully clutching – believe me, it won’t! Then there’s that sneaky fracture, the one you can’t see until it’s too late & half of your biscuit is bobbing around like flotsam on a coffee pond, the rest sunk to the dark depths of your cup.
However, there is something to make difficult dunking a thing of the past: the bellissimo Biscotti. Actually, to refer to these luxurious lovelies as a mere biscuit doesn’t do them justice! Here’s a bit of history for you: Biscotti comes from an old Latin word “biscoctus”, which basically means twice-baked. In the old days, storage options were quite limited & so by cooking them twice, the biscotti would keep for a lot longer & still be good to eat (I knew those Latin lessons would come in handy one day!). For a while, I’ve been buying them from a little local supermarket & at one point, we had a serious stock pile in the pantry (just in case there was a world shortage, you know). Recently however, they didn’t have any & our stash was running low, so my Husband (who adores them as much as I do) suggested I make some. Challenge accepted! This recipe is for a nutty biscotti called Cantuccini & although I’ve adapted it slightly, it’s as close to a traditional recipe that I can get, so I hope our Italian friends like it as much as we do! Hands washed, aprons on!
What you need:
300g Plain Flour
175g Golden Caster Sugar (or use Golden Demarara Sugar & chuck it in the coffee grinder until fine)
2 large Eggs
25g melted salted Butter
1 heaped teaspoon of Baking Powder
Half a teaspoon of Vanilla Extract
200g whole Almonds (or 100g each of Hazelnuts & Almonds)
Zest of an Orange (optional – you can make it with either nuts, zest or both)
What to do:
Pre-heat the oven to 180*C.
Firstly, you need to toast your nuts. Lay a sheet of greaseproof paper on a baking tray & evenly spread the almonds (& hazelnuts too if you’re using them). Place the tray in the oven & let them toast up for about ten minutes, until their colour deepens slightly & you can smell their toastiness. Once done, turn the oven down to 150*C & remove the nuts from the oven. Gently ease the greaseproof paper, with the nuts on top, onto a chopping board (not a plastic one!). Leave to cool for about five minutes or so.
Wearing oven gloves, pick up a small handful of the nuts & gently massage together in your hands, which will remove some of the papery skin easily. Chop the nuts into large pieces – you want to be able to taste the nuts in your Biscotti, so take it easy when chopping. Set to one side for later.
Prepare your orange for zesting by giving it a good wash in some warm soapy water. It’s best to use unwaxed or organic oranges for this, as the last thing you want is a mouthful of icky wax! Once washed & dried, get a fine cheese grater or zester & give it firm, quick strokes to just skim the top off the skin – if you’re getting the white pith underneath as well, you’re doing it too hard (don’t take the pith – it’s bitter). Set the zest aside too.
Get a couple of medium-sized mixing bowls – one for the dry ingredients, one for the wet. In one bowl, sift the baking powder & flour together. In the second bowl, crack the eggs in, add the sugar & vanilla extract. Whisk well for a couple of minutes or so by hand until it becomes a creamy coloured, glossy mixture, then gradually pour in the melted butter & whisk again as you do so.
Add the zest & mix well, then pour the creamy mixture into the dry ingredients, stirring well with a spatula & as everything begins to combine, tip in the chopped nuts & mix to form a firm dough.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured worktop & shape into a flattish sausage shape, about half an inch deep & roughly three inches wide. Carefully transfer onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper, cutting the sausage into two equal portions if necessary & leaving a couple of inches gap between the two on the tray. Make sure any escaping nuts are squished back into the dough, otherwise they might burn & spoil your biscotti.
Place in the centre of the oven & bake for about 25-30 minutes, until firm & slightly risen. Slide them onto a cooling rack & leave for about 10 minutes or so, keeping the greaseproof paper on the baking tray for later.
Once cool enough to handle, cut the large biscotti into slices, about half an inch wide. Return them to the greaseproof lined baking tray, standing up & slightly separated, then pop them back in the oven for about 20 minutes for round two, until lightly golden & bronzed on top. I like to turn the tray around halfway through, just to make sure they are toasted all around.
Remove from the oven, leave to cool completely on a wire rack & your biscotti are ready! They make great gifts, or will keep for a week or so in a jar (if you hide them, otherwise they last about an hour if you’re lucky!). I also like to use them as a base for no-bake cheesecakes (I make a mean lemon cheesecake with these crumbled up).
Traditionally, Biscotti are dipped in a glass of gorgeous Vin Santo wine, but these unsinkable beauties can be enjoyed with a coffee whenever you need a nutty nibble. So for a dastardly dunk, be brave with a bellissimo Biscotti! Stay hungry 😉 A x