Christmas notes: biscotti

This recipe for biscotti is one I use often, but reprise it faithfully at Christmas, its making an economical gift for my aunt and uncle, who each year kindly claim to love the things.

Biscotti

The base mixture is simple: whisk two eggs with 8oz sugar until they’re pale, creamy and leave a fleeting trail when trickled from a whisk – ribbon stage. Add 1tsp salt and two capfuls of good vanilla extract. Whisk these in.

At this stage, you begin flavouring as liked. For

Almond and orange biscotti

I add two capfuls of best French almond extract, giving an unabashed whack of marzipan, and grate in the zest of an orange or two, depending on size and freshness. Whisk those in thoroughly.

Orange gives an unimaginable lift and twist to the flavour of almonds – one of those combinations that seems not only to ‘work’ but produce something greater or different than its parts.

But anyway, dry ingredients are 8oz flour, 2oz ground almonds, 4oz whole almonds and 2tsps baking powder and are added to the eggs and sugar. I fold together, with some idea of keeping intact the air I’ve whisked into the eggs.

The dough is divided into three rough mounds on a baking sheet. With wet hands mould three fine little logs and bake at 175 until an even pale gold – around 15mins normally does.

Remove from oven and leave to cool for five minutes, before slicing on the bias.

Lay on a baking sheet and return to the oven for their nominal second cooking (bis-cotto: twice cooked). I do this at a rather lower temperature, perhaps 140, and allow them to dry fairly slowly (we’re really drying away sponginess, not baking) rather than dicing with a higher temperature at which the high sugar content of your little bics would make them prone to burning. This will take another 15 minutes perhaps – timing isn’t especially crucial.

Take from the oven and cool on a cooling rack.

Pack in airtight containers.

My favourite variation, I think, is

Hazelnut and chocolate biscotti

The flavours are very Italian, slightly childish and quite delicious. All processes are the same except I omit the almond essence and substitute hazelnuts for the almonds in the dry ingredients: 2oz ground toasted hazelnuts and 4oz of the whole nuts, plus 2oz good dark choc.

These are mixed, baked, sliced, baked, cooled and packed in the same way.

Traditional and great with morning coffee, biscotti (esp. the hazelnut and chocolate ones) are nicer with fortified wine, vin santo being the authenticist’s choice. I like madeira too, if not better. A snappy verdelho is nice in the morning, perhaps something richer if taken later.

Note

The glass in the photo contains H&H 10 year old verdelho. A good madeira is, I reckon, a “fridge door staple”. The opened bottle will last in perfect condition indefinitely until you polish it off.

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