A couple months ago I was in the Maryland and DC area visiting friends. I reached their home in the evening after a very short flight, so I was in no way tired and was excited to explore the area with them. But probably to ensure that I won’t get cranky from hunger, my hosts decided to feed me some snack before we headed out. My friend Soumya brought out a plate of beautiful looking biscotti that I couldn't have resisted even if I wanted to. She told me that she had bought those at Starbucks. Had she not told me later that she was joking, I would have absolutely believed that! These decadent homemade biscotti were much easier to bite into than the usual extra hard ones, and so tempting that it became my favorite travel snack for the rest of the trip.
A little bit of a background on biscotti and my love/hate relationship with them - until I came to the US some 10 years ago, I didn’t know these cookies existed. But while I was at Purdue, the Nonni’s triple chocolate biscotto (yes, that’s the singular form!) quickly became a fairly regular afternoon snack. As much as I love the taste, the disappointing thing about biscotti for me is that they are generally difficult to eat without dunking them in tea/coffee/milk. But they taste so good, that I was determined to find out why the extra hard (and not all that pleasant) texture. Turns out, the twice baked hard cookies were prepared that way to increase the shelf life in the verrrrry olden days (biscotti can be traced back to 1st century AD). These long-lasting cookies used to be a convenient snack for travellers. Apparently during the European renaissance period, these cookies were even enjoyed dipped in wine!
Anyway, coming back to the present- I found out that Soumya had used one of Giada De Laurentiis’ biscotti recipes with some very good modifications. She had cut down on the sugar and used all brown sugar instead of white, orange zest instead of lemon, and also changed up the add-ins such as nuts, chocolate etc. I followed her directions, with one minor change of switching out half of the all purpose flour with whole wheat. The baking times I used are also lower than the original recipe - partly because I was worried about ending up with very hard cookies, and partly because I was too impatient.
Ingredients: (Makes ~3 dozen biscotti)
2 cups flour (I used half all purpose and half whole wheat flour)
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ cup dark brown sugar
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
zest of 1 Navel orange
¼ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
¾ cup coarsely chopped nuts (I used half cashews, half pistachios)
⅓ cup dark chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking pan with parchment paper.
Whisk together the flours, baking powder and salt.
In a large bowl, cream the butter, sugar and orange zest. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking until well combined. Add the flour mixture and beat until just combined. This is not an easy step, but persist and you’ll end up with a lovely dough.
At this point it is best to use your hands (or perhaps a wooden spoon) to mix in the nuts and chocolate chips.
Divide the dough in half, and make two elongated logs. Put them on the prepared pan, leaving some room since they will expand a little. Gently pat them down, trying to ensure the width and height stays approximately the same everywhere to ensure even baking.
Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let them cool on a wire rack for ~10 minutes before slicing about 1” thick using a sharp serrated knife. At this stage the cookies are still cooking inside with the heat that's trapped and are a bit fragile, so they are prone to breaking if the wait time is too short or too long. I like to start slicing around 10 minutes after taking them out of the oven, and as I get to the center of the logs, I let them rest for another minute or two if they’re too warm.
Place the biscotti back on the baking sheet, cut side down, and bake for another ~12-15 minutes. Remove from oven and let them cool completely on a wire rack before storing in an air-tight container.
Enjoy with a steaming cup of tea or coffee… or wine if that suits your taste!
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