My husband had very interesting friends. One of them was Eldon Dedini the famous cartoonist. He was a frequent visitor. Since he was Italian I decided to make and keep on hand the Italian cookie known as biscotti. With that choice I opened the door to a fascinating history but did not know it at the time. Biscotti appear and disappear for centuries at a time.
Biscotti were originally baked for Roman soldiers because they lasted for a long time. When the Roman Empire ended the biscotti disappeared. But they reappeared in the 14th century in Tuscany in the city of Prato. Here they were made with almonds which are everywhere in that region and anise. Once again they were favorites of those making long voyages and in this case it was Columbus who took the biscotti with him on all the voyages to the new world. And of course other countries copied the biscotti with Germany baking their own version called zwieback. Different regions in Italy have different names for the biscotti. In Tuscany they are called Cantucci and in Prato they are called Prato biscotti.
All was quiet with the biscotti until the 1990's when they hit the USA. They became very popular. There is no perfect way to make biscotti. There are a few guidelines such as those made with butter or oil have a shorter shelf life. One of the reasons for their popularity is that biscotti are versatile. Fillings can be varied from fruit, nuts spices, orange, raisen, cranberries, etc. It is hard to ruin biscotti. If the dough is to dry just add another egg, too sticky, more flour. If left in the oven too long use them for dunking. When making biscotti learn that practice makes perfect. Patience is required in making biscotti because they are time consuming. The result is well worth it. You can enjoy them with an assortment of drinks from coffee to wine. The Vin Santo biscotti are enjoyed with sweet wines. Vin Santo means holy wine. Some biscotti recipes include chocolate.
All you need to make biscotti is a bowl, a spoon, a couple of baking sheets and some parchment paper. Always preheat the oven and check the temperature to make sure it is correct. Place the racks in the middle of the oven and rotate to make sure that they are evenly cooked..Always use the best ingredients. When you have gotten to the point of having formed logs place them on a baking sheet but no more than two on the sheet. Humidity affects the biscotti. You can put them in the fridge for around 15 minutes before actually baking them. After the first baking of the biscotti let them cool for around fifteen to twenty minutes but no longer because they will become very hard. Slice the logs with a knife that prevents crumbling. A serrated knife. For the second baking put the sliced pieces on their sides back onto the baking sheet. Be sure to reduce the oven temperature to between 200 and 300 degrees. Then bake for another twenty minutes. The longer that you keep them in the oven the harder and crisper they will become. If you intend to store them make sure you let them cool before putting them in a metal tin to preserve their crispness. Properly stored biscotti will last a month.
There are quite a few biscotti recipes. I did not use the Vin Santo recipe when I made them for when Dedini stopped by because he liked Chanti. Chianti is not a sweet wine. He did not dunk. And I did not use brown sugar. However, I found a recipe that I like and it does have brown sugar. I have given you the basics so most biscotti recipes can be made following these guidelines. Following is the Almond Anise biscotti made with brown sugar. Hope that you will enjoy this recipe as I have.
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 tablespoon anise seed, some people use anise oil
3 eggs
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cup chopped almonds
Line baking sheet with parchment paper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
In large bowl beat sugars and butter until well blended
Add anise seed and eggs Mix well.
In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Add dry mix just until well mixed. Fold in the almonds
Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead for a very short time.
Divide into two equal pieces and shape into two rolls approximately 10 inches by 1 inch
Place the rolls about 4 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet. Then flatten each one to 2 inch width
Place them in the oven on the baking sheet and bake for around 20 to 30 minutes or until they are a golden brown
Remove them from the oven and let them cool completely
Transfer them to the cutting board and cut them diagonally into 1/2 inch slices
Arrange slices, cut side down on ungreased cookie sheets,
Return to the oven and bake for 6 to 10 minutes until the bottom begins to brown.
Turn and bake for an additional 3 to 5 minutes or until crisp
Remove from oven transfer to cooling rack and cool completely
Once cool, eat or store in a tightly covered container.
Nancy Jacobs was a writer, a poet, an artist, a great home chef, a widow, and a mother who lived in Pacific Grove, CA. Nancy passed away October 16, 2021 after a brief illness