Friday, December 18, 2009

Holiday Biscotti

These light and crisp, double-baked Italian cookies are a great alternative to the more traditional holiday cookie fare. They have a biscuit-like crunch and texture, and a mellowed sweetness, making them a perfect accompaniment to coffee, tea, milk...or an after-dinner dessert wine (like vin santo). 

And, in addition to their versatility in pairing with a morning coffee or a little night cap, they welcome most any flavoring from nuts and berries to chocolates and dried fruits. 

My favorite for this time of year is Cranberry-Pistachio Biscotti. With its colorful pops of red and green, it makes a festive, dessert table display. And...because they are just a bit more unexpected from the more usual holiday cookie...they also make a great little gift -- piled high in a tin, or packaged in a clear bag tied with a colorful bow. 

One of the signature qualities of Biscotti is its crunch...achieved by double baking. Essentially, you prep your dough, then shape it into long logs that then get baked for about 25 minutes. Once baked, the logs then get placed on a cooling rack for about 15 to 20 minutes. Then... you reduce your oven temperature, cut the logs into thick slices, place them back onto a cookie sheet, and bake for them for another 15 to 20 minutes, until they are just firm to the touch and lightly golden. 

I figured that while I had to wait on the baking and cooling of these little biscuits, I might as well prep and bake another batch...Chocolate-Almond Biscotti, with coarsely-chopped, whole toasted almonds and mini chocolate chips. Yum! It was actually fairly simple to coordinate the two batches, prepping the second while the first "logs" bake; baking the second "logs" while the first batch cools, etc. 

Both of these recipes were clipped and filed a few years back. The Cranberry-Pistachio Biscotti is adapted from...an adapted...Martha Stewart recipe, and one that I've made many times. Since these were going to also be bagged and placed in tins for gift-giving, the recipe here is for a dozen more cookies than the Chocolate-Almond Biscotti (which is adapted from a Cooking Light recipe). Each recipe called for slightly different baking and cooling times, as well as log-prep directions. With a few little changes here and there to make the processes more uniform, I think they turned out great. Perfectly crunchy...and mildly sweet!

Cranberry-Pistachio Biscotti
adapted from an adapted Martha Stewart recipe 
makes 2 1/2 dozen (about 30 cookies)


2/3 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup boiling water

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar, plus more more sprinkling
4 large eggs, divided (3 for baking and 1 for wash)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup unsalted, coarsely chopped pistachios

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.

2. Place cranberries in a small bowl and add boiling water (to reconstitute/plump berries). Let stand until plump, about 15 minutes. Drain berries and set aside (I leave them in a strainer, set over a bowl to allow them to drain completely while other prepping is done. You do not want the berries to be moist when adding them to your dough).

3. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. 

4. In a separate bowl, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add 3 eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla. Add flour mixture and mix on low speed until combined. Mix in cranberries and pistachios.

5. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; divide in half. Shape each half into an approximate 16-inch by 2-inch log. 


Then transfer logs to prepared baking sheet, placing them about 3 inches apart. With the palm of your hand, flatten logs slightly to uniform shape. Brush beaten egg over surface of the dough logs, and sprinkle lightly with sugar.

6. Bake, rotating sheet halfway through (note: Chocolate-Almond recipe below does not call for this rotation), until logs are slightly firm to touch and lightly golden, about 25 minutes. Transfer logs on parchment to a wire rack to cool slightly, about 15 to 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees F. (note: since I then baked the Chocolate-Almond logs, I reduced the temp after this second batch...and continued with second bakings at the reduced temp. Also...while I suggest this 325 degree F. setting, I did bake this batch at a recommended 300 degree F. temp. Both settings work... though the slightly higher temp results in a more crunchy biscuit).

7. Place logs on a cutting board.
Using a serrated knife (important...as it allows you to "saw" gently through logs and avoid them being reduced to a crumbled mess), cut logs crosswise on the diagonal into approximate 3/4-inch slices. 








Stand slices upright on baking sheet and return to 325 degree F. oven to bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, until just golden and firm to touch. Remove from pan and cool completely on rack.










Chocolate-Almond Biscotti
adapted from Cooking Light recipe
makes 1 1/2 dozen (about 18 cookies)


1 1/2  cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole almond, toasted lightly
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Coarsely chop almonds and add to flour mixture.

3. Combine eggs and extract, stirring well with a whisk. Add egg mixture to flour mixture, stirring until just blended (dough will be crumbly). Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly 7 or 8 times. Divide dough in half and shape each half into two, 9-inch by 2-inch logs. Bake for approximately 25 minutes. Transfer on parchment to wire rack to cool for about 15 to 20 minutes.

4. Using serrated knife, cut logs crosswise on diagonal into 3/4-inch slices. Stand slices upright on baking sheet and return to reduced temp oven (325 degrees F.) for final baking, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove to wire rack to cool completely.

Note: Biscotti can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

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