Biscotti have become ubiquitous. They are easy to make, store well and lend themselves to dipping in both coffee and chocolate. I don’t know why I started baking biscotti. Had you asked me back then I would have said I don’t like them – too hard, too bland. Cherry almond biscotti is the first of the recipes I developed almost 20 years ago. I had a vague idea about a baking business that swiftly blossomed into a small home industry and then slowly tapered off until I returned to just baking for friends and for pleasure.
Biscotti, (the plural of biscotto) is also a generic word for cookies made with the twice-baked technique. When in Italy, if you want one of the long dry cookies we call biscotti you would ask for cantuccini. In any case, they are frequently presented traditionally flavored with anise, often containing almonds or filberts.
For the first time this year, I entered the county fair with two cookie recipes (biscotti and a chocolate fleur de sel) and one toffee. I won ribbons for each, the blue ribbon for my cherry almond biscotti.
My recipe has a little butter that makes them less hard and easier on the teeth, and I add layers of flavors so they are a more complex cookie than traditional recipes. I have tried cutting the sugar back on all my recipes. But I added a little back to the batch I sent to the fair, and I have to admit, I like them better a little sweeter.
Usually I slice the logs after they have partly cooled. Using a serrated knife, I cut ½” wide slices. This week as I am finally starting my Christmas gift baking, I baked a batch that I didn’t have time to cut until hours later. Allowing the logs to cool completely permitted me to slice ¼” cookies without crushing or crumbling. I love these extra thin versions! I’ll still be cutting the thicker version, but I think every batch will now have a portion of each size.
You can treat this recipe as a master for other flavors: the butter, eggs sugar and flour will remain unchanged. Consider dried cranberries with pecans and orange zest or hazelnuts with vanilla bean and hand chopped chocolate, or salted cashews with toffee bits and instant coffee crystals or ginger with tiny diced crystallized ginger and pine nuts.
Cherry Almond Biscotti
This recipe can be doubled and tripled well. Don’t try tripling unless you have a pro-mixer with a big bowl.
1 stick (1/2c) sweet butter, softened to room temperature
4 large eggs, room temperature
1.75 c white or raw sugar
1.5 c coarsely chopped whole almonds
1t fresh lemon or orange zest
1t almond extract
1t anise or vanilla extract
1t ground anise seeds
4 oz coarsely chopped dried tart cherries
18 to 20 oz unbleached flour (or a combination of whole wheat and unbleached)
2t baking soda
- Tart cherries are my preference but you can use dried sweet cherries. You might consider cutting back on the sugar by ¼ c.
- Whole almonds can be toasted or raw, they cook in the dough and toast a little in the second baking. I hand chop the almonds to get a big coarse piece. Food processors tend to give you some big pieces, some small and some flour.
- I weigh my flour – you can sift and measure. Flour should be about 4 oz to the cup.
Set oven to 350. Prepare 2 cookie trays, either oiled or lined with parchment or silpat.
In the bowl of an electric mixer cream the butter, add sugar and mix until fluffy, scraping down the bowl before adding eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl before incorporating the next egg. Stir in spices, zest, extracts and chopped cherries. Stirring in the cherries before the nuts helps distribute them better. Stir the nuts into the wet batter.
In a separate bowl sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Sprinkle into mixer and mix until combined. If the dough is still too soft, add extra flour in 1/4c increments.
Depending on the size of your eggs and the temperature of the butter, the dough may be soft to handle. Flour a large surface and dump out the dough. Knead in extra flour until you have a mass of dough that holds together and is not too sticky to manage. Cut into 4 equal sections and roll each into a log long enough to fit on your baking sheet. Logs will be placed side by side, allowing for room for each to expand in baking. Repeat to finish all four logs.
A convection oven makes for easy baking of multiple trays. You can bake both trays in a conventional, remembering to switch them after ten minutes. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. You can test doneness by touching the top of the logs. They should be firm with only the slightest give. They will be slightly golden brown. Reduce oven temperature to 170 to 220 for the second bake.
Remove from oven and allow to cool at least 20 minutes before cutting. To cut: move logs to a cutting surface. Using a sharp knife (serrated works well for me) cut the log on a diagonal, ½” wide for the longer traditionally shaped cookie. When I want to make mini cookies I cut perpendicular slices instead of angular. Biscotti are placed cut side down to fill the cookie sheet and returned to the oven to crisp. If you are in a hurry increasing drying temperature to 220, and consider cutting your cookies thin (1/4”). The second bake takes from 15 to 25 minutes.
Store airtight. Can be recrisped in the oven before serving, if needed. This recipe converts well to a gluten free flour.