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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Perfect Biscotti

I’ve described my (seemingly lifelong) search for The Perfect Cheesecake at great length. Little did I know that I have also been searching for The Perfect Biscotti.

For a long time, I didn’t like biscotti. (The same goes for yogurt, coffee, and pizza—don’t ask.) It was something about the texture (also a paramount issue when it comes to cheesecake). I didn’t like how unbelievably crunchy and hard they were. I know it seems strange to complain about a quality that a specific food is known for. Sticking with the cheesecake comparison, it’s like complaining that a slice is too creamy (impossible, if you ask me).
              
Nevertheless, I only really started to appreciate biscotti a few years ago when I discovered that they are the perfect accompaniment to various hot beverages (especially a cup of good, strong coffee). When dunked for just a few seconds, they soften ever so slightly and their crunchiness actually becomes one of their strongest assets.
              
Like my hunt for the perfect plain cheesecake, I’ve never found a plain biscotti recipe that merited the description of “perfect.” Most biscotti contain a mixture of add-ins, from dried fruit and nuts to chocolate. Not that there’s anything wrong with these embellishements, but sometimes I want a biscotti cookie base that is flavorful enough without the extras. So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered my ideal biscotti when I was least expecting it—it’s actually from a healthy cooking source.
              
Although I strive to eat healthfully for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, when dessert comes around, I believe that it’s important to indulge in the good stuff (in moderation). And it definitely still has to taste good.
              
Whole wheat flour gives these biscotti a deliciously nutty, almost buttery flavor and a coarser texture that enhances their crunch. I don’t use whole wheat flour much in my baking, but I really think whole wheat is the key to how delicious these cookies are. I added blood orange zest to them because I was serving them with blood orange sorbet (from Ciao Bella – OMG, delicious); the zest added a subtle citrus flavor that complemented the earthier butter, sugar, flour flavor combination at play.
Now that I finally have my Perfect Biscotti in the books, I think it’s time to embark upon my next Perfect Recipe quest. Thoughts? I’m leaning toward chocolate chip cookies. This could be dangerous….

The Perfect Biscotti
Adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook

Below is the full recipe, which should make about 30 cookies. I halved the recipe easily because I didn't want to make too many cookies, so I only formed one log of dough. The dough is pretty sticky, so when forming the logs I find it easiest to wet my hands a little as opposed to flouring them, which I think is messier. Although I love the pure flavor of these cookies, I think they would take well to additions like nuts, dried fruits, and spices. Add 3/4 cup of toasted chopped nuts (such as pecans, pistachios, almonds, walnuts, or hazelnuts) or dried fruits (such as cherries, cranberries, or raisins), or even 1/2 teaspoon spices (such as cinnamon or nutmeg).

Yield: about 30 cookies

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon blood orange zest (about 2 oranges)

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flours, baking powder, and salt together. In a large bowl, beat the sugar and butter together using an electric mixer on medium speed until creamy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until combined, scraping down the bowl and beaters as necessary. Beat in the vanilla and zest. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add in the flour mixture until combined, about 30 seconds.

Using your hands, divide the dough in half. Transfer each half to the parchment-lined baking sheet and form into two logs, each about 13 by 2 inches. Make sure that the two logs are spaced about 3 inches apart. The dough is pretty sticky, so I usually wet my hands slightly to keep it from sticking everywhere.

Bake the biscotti until golden, about 35 minutes, rotating the sheet pan halfway through the baking. Let the loaves cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, and lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees F. Using a serrated knife, cut the logs on a diagonal into 1/2-inch thick slices. Lay the slices, cut-side down, on the baking sheet and continue baking for 15 minutes, flipping the biscotti onto their other side halfway through baking. The biscotti should be crisp and golden brown.

Allow the biscotti to cool for about an hour before transferring to an airtight container. The biscotti will keep, stored in an airtight container at room temperature, for 2 to 3 weeks.

4 comments:

  1. thank you for posting this recipe! I love the orange flavor and the crunch of these cookies...and you make them sound not as hard as I was thinking they would be!

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  2. i adore biscotti, have never tried blood oranges-must add to list.

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  4. you know - i totally agree with you: i never knew the beauty of biscotti until i dunked it in my first cup of coffee. amazing! thanks for your homemade biscotti tips :)

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