The Biscotti Experiment

Whilst at Gail’s party last month she suggested (brilliantly) that we have a biscotti-themed party this summer. Her friend Dotty makes the most delicious biscotti I have ever tasted, both home baked and professionally baked. Naturally I thought “game on!” and began searching the enormous stack of recipes I have accumulated over the years for recipes. Many moons ago my dear friend Susan emailed me several recipes for biscotti that were fantastic, I made them for a backstage party at my then job and they were scarfed up. I know those recipes are in that pile somewhere, but alas, they were proving to be elusive. Thankfully, dear Susan remembered the website and sent me the links and to my delight they are just as good now as I recall. Plus my friends at the recipe swap contributed several other recipes to try so with a raft of printouts and a kitchen table piled full of ingredients I commenced Phase I of the Biscotti Experiment.

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Phase I: Spumoni Biscotti

Living in San Francisco, which is home to a very large Italian community with a deep culinary history, the delightful spumoni ice cream is well known to all. And biscotti are a pervasive temptation at every good bakery and coffee shop.  What could be better than combining both treats into one?   One of my favorite purveyors of spumoni is the Original Swenson’s Ice Cream shop on Russian Hill, a mere block from my former abode. Many an evening I would forgo dinner for an ice cream cone from Swenson’s and their spumoni is particularly fine.

The recipe Susan found for spumoni biscotti taste just like the wonderful ice cream in cookie form. A rich tender almond base with nuggets of pistachios and glacéed cherries and chunks of chocolate. However, Susan suggested drizzling the finished biscotti with melted chocolate and I must say I really like this approach much better. Not only does it give the biscotti an undeniably beautiful finished product the flavor of the chocolate is more subtle and does not overpower the flavor of the nuts and fruit. Of course, if you prefer that, I would recommend that you use both chocolate chunks and a finishing drizzle!

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Let the games begin!

First to prepare the ingredients, I bought a new bag of non-recalled salmonella-free pistachios and shelled them, while drinking a nice glass of wine, which took about an hour and gave me a blister. The things we do for cookies! tee hee. It was worth the sacrifice. After they were shelled I placed them in a tea towel and rubbed them hard to remove the papery skins, and then coarsely chopped them.

pistachio collage

Hard not to snack on the pistachios!

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The recipe calls for Maraschino cherries, which I normally never use because the red dye creeps me out. Of course, I ate plenty of red dye #2 as a child, until it was pulled from the market due to health concerns, and cake decorating was never really quite the same after that, you just couldn’t get that true red with the safe stuff. Anyway, I survived those carcinogens and rather happily avoided the violent red cherries after that, however for this recipe you really do need that pretty red color. What the heck, we only live twice, or so they say. I destemmed them and drained them on a paper towel.

Drain the cherries

Nuclear Maraschino cherries

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While working in the world’s tiniest kitchen such as mine, one really has to be mindful of the lack of counter space (none) and use alternative surfaces. However, on occasion, these alternative surfaces are less than reliable and, et voila! one turns around and finds all the carefully drained glowing cherries decorating your newly mopped floor. Breathe. Counting to 10.

Oh crap!

Oh, crap! Good thing I have a back up jar, a la Julia Child’s advice.

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After mopping the kitchen floor, again, and a soothing cup of tea, at last the ingredients are assembled for baking. (Three Hours Later….)

Mis en place

Mis en place

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I began to prepare the dough: creaming the butter and sugar together, adding the eggs one at a time, adding the extract (not shown as it is clear and not very interesting except for that marvelous almondy scent that wafts up from the mixer), and slowly adding the flour. I folded in the pistachios and cherries by hand. Please note that I deviated from the recipe by not adding chocolate chunks but if you want to use them you would fold them in here.

dough collage

Fun with dough

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The dough is perfect and gorgeous, and I nibble on a bit of it as I divide it into two balls and form it into two loaves for its first bake.

prebake collage

Ready to bake!

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The Roost is filled with the perfume of almonds and nuts and fruit as I pull the pan from the oven, the loaves are golden brown and perfectly done. Once they have cooled I cut them on the diagonal, and replace them on the baking sheet for their final bake and crisp.

baked collage

Biscotti to be…

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Now The Roost really smells divine as the biscotti are officially completed. However, I have a trick in store for them, heh heh heh, and set them aside to cool.

Second bake done

Golden and crisp and fragrant, mmm

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Following Susan’s excellent recommendation I prepare to drizzle the biscotti with melted chocolate. I have been eating 100% cacao mass for a while now, on doctor’s orders (seriously!), so buying a 70% bar rather felt like heresy, but I suffer for my art. I broke up the 70% cacao dark bar into my favorite microwavable bowl and melted the chocolate perfectly in the microwave. For my machine this took 80 seconds. Now, this may be the absolute best reason to own a microwave! Isn’t it pretty and glossy? After my 100% cacao it tastes almost unbearably sweet, but this particular brand has a very pleasant fruity acidity which pairs perfectly with the demi-sec cookie.

chocolate collage

Chocolate, before and after

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Drizzling chocolate on anything is so much fun. I highly recommend you try it. It is so easy and yet really looks fantastic and fancy. The best part is getting to lick the bowl when you are done. One bar of chocolate perfectly covers the biscotti with tantalizing drizzles. Some things are just meant to be, no? The hard part is waiting for the chocolate to set. Like I did that! I crack myself up sometimes…

Spumoni biscotti done!

This was the fun part

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Spumoni Biscotti

1/2 c unsalted butter

1 c sugar

2 eggs

1/2 t vanilla extract

1/2 t almond extract

2 1/2 c flour

1 1/2 t baking powder

1/4 t salt

1 cup shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped

1 c drained maraschino cherries, stemmed and patted dry

3/4 c chocolate chips (or 1 bar of dark chocolate, I used Green & Black’s 70% cacao dark chocolate)

Preheat oven to 325° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or a Silpat.

In a mixer combine softened butter and cream, then add sugar and cream until light and fluffy. In another bowl mix the flour, baking powder and salt.

Beat in eggs, one at a time, mixing well, then add almond extract. With mixer on lowest level add flour mixture slowly and mix until combined. Add the pistachios, cherries and chocolate chunks (if using) and fold by hand with a spatula.

Divide dough into two balls and form into a loaf shape, approximately an inch in height and place on baking sheet 4” apart.

Bake for 40 minutes or until the loaf edges start to brown. Remove from oven and let cool until you are able to handle them. Remove to a cutting board and use a bread knife to cut diagonal slices 1/2” thick.

Transfer slices to baking sheets placing them cut side up. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until edges are golden and cookies are almost completely crispy. Cool on rack. (The original recipe suggests reducing the oven temperature for this step but I found the cookies did not crisp up enough so I highly recommend using 325 throughout.)

When the cookies are cool, break up your chocolate bar and place in a microwavable bowl. Microwave on high for 1 minute and stir. Continue to microwave at 10 second intervals until chocolate is almost completely melted. It will continue to melt as you stir so please remove when there are a few small lumps remaining. If you overheat the chocolate it will seize and will be unusable, so watch your machine closely.

Using a spoon, drizzle the melted chocolate over the biscotti in a decorative fashion. Try not to lick the spoon. Set biscotti in a cool place until the chocolate has completely hardened then transfer to an airtight tin or zippy bag.

Here is a link to the original recipe.

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I like to serve these with your favorite tea (mine is rooibos) or espresso with a lemon peel. Or just in a napkin while on the couch!

Spumoni biscotti done Spumoni

Food porn alert!

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Next: Phase II – Coconut…..

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2 responses to “The Biscotti Experiment

  1. Looks absolutely delicious … Laila .. http://lailablogs.com/

  2. Pingback: Biscotti Experiment – Phase II « Heather in SF

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