January 7, 2018 — Continental
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Basic almond and lemon biscotti
250g plain white flour
1 tsp baking powder
225g golden caster sugar
Zest from 1 lemon
2 medium eggs
1 tsp vanilla
100g almonds with skin on
For the egg wash
1 medium egg beaten
Pistachio and lemon biscotti
Ingredients as above, replace almonds with 100g pistachios. Rub off any hard bits on the nuts.
Macadamia nut and white chocolate biscotti
Ingredients as above, omit zest of lemon, replace almonds with 100g macadamia nuts and add 75g chopped white chocolate.
Hazlenut, orange and chocolate biscotti
Ingredients as above, replace zest of one lemon with zest of one orange, replace almonds with 100g hazelnuts with skin on and add 75g chopped plain chocolate.
Cardamon, cinnamon and white chocolate biscotti
Ingredients as above, omit lemon zest and almonds, add 1 tsp ground cardamon, 1 tsp cinnamon and add 75g white chocolate.
Pine nut and candied peel biscotti
Ingredients as above, omit lemon zest, replace almonds with 100g pine nuts and add 4 tbs mixed candied peel.
Poppy seed and lemon biscotti
Ingredients as above, replace almonds with 100g black poppy seeds.
Chocolate and chocolate biscotti
Recipe as above, omit lemon zest, add 75g melted dark chocolate, 75g chopped dark chocolate and 2 tsp cocoa. (See recipe notes for this flavour.)
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Biscotti and biscuits are both words derived from Latin meaning ‘twice-cooked’. The two stage baking process bakes the biscuits and then dries them out. The original intentions was to create a nutritional package that would be non-perishable, especially for long journey and voyages. To revive the dry and hard biscuit it would be soaked in a liquid. These days our biscuits are not quite so hard and dry, but we still maintain a tradition of dunking them in tea or coffee. The dry and chunky biscotti can be eaten as it is, but it also is best dunked in a a hot beverage or an alcoholic drink – especially the Italian sweet wine Vin Santo. It is interesting to note that to an Italian, a biscotti is any type of biscuit, they call the dry, oblong biscuits, cantucci. When an American refers to a biscotti, they mean a cantucci. Just to add to the confusion, when an American refers to a biscuit, they mean a soft scone.
The most difficult part of developing a biscotti recipe is attaining the correct texture. It should have a close texture, feel solid and robust, be dry all the way through, but most importantly it should should be crumbly and crunchy. It’s only after baking a few examples that you realise how much science and chemistry is incorporated into a commercial cantucci. Valentina Harris happily admits that homemade biscotti will never be the same as shop bought. That’s a challenge I couldn’t resist.
I made eight varieties for Christmas gifts and wrapped them in cellophane bags, once I got into the swing of making variations it seemed that almost any flavour or added ingredient could be incorporated. Interchanging nuts is not always possible – hazelnuts and pistachios behave exactly like almonds, macadamia have a little more fat in the nut but held up well, however a walnut has too much fat and does not hold its texture – I would imagine Brazil nuts and pecans would behave similarly to walnuts…
1. Pre heat the oven. 190C, Gas 5.
2. Prepare the sugar. For recipes using zest, put the sugar in a large bowl, add the zest to the sugar and using a balloon whisk, mix the zest well into the sugar. For the pine nut and peel recipe, add the peel to the sugar and whisk. I use golden caster sugar, which has a slightly larger crystal than white caster which gives the biscuit a better crunch and crust. I’ve cut back marginally on the sugar as I don’t believe a cantucci should be very sweet, however this much sugar is important for the structure so don’t cut back any more.
3. Mix the dry ingredients. Measure and seive the flour and baking powder together in a large bowl. Then add the sugar to the flour and mix well with the balloon whisk.
4. Mix the wet ingredients. Make sure you use medium eggs. Whisk the egg and vanilla together. Some recipes add more liquid, but I find the dough becomes too wet.
5. Prepare the added ingredients. I lightly toasted all the nuts I used in a dry frying pan. Allow to cool thoroughly before adding the the final dough.
6. Mix the dough. Add the egg mixture and added ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir with a stout wooden spoon until the mixture just comes together. Knead for just a minute in the bowl and form into a ball.
7. First bake. Flour a work surface and roll the dough into a neat and even cylinder. Divide into three. Roll each of the sections into a longer cylinder about 20cm long and 6 cm wide or a size that will allow all three sections to fit evenly spaced in parallel onto a single baking sheet. Three cylinders of dough makes a shorter biscuit which gives a more even rise. Flatten each cylinder slightly with your fingers. Brush the tops of the dough with beaten egg wash. Some recipes use icing sugar, some just leave with flour, I prefer the slight sheen that an egg wash gives. Put the loaves into the oven and bake for 15 minutes, then take the biscuit loaves out of the oven and cool. They should look fully cooked. Indeed, you can leave out the second cooking stage if you prefer a softer, chewier biscuit.
8. Turn down the oven. 180C, Gas 4.
9. Second bake. Cut the ends off the loaves – keep for munching later. Using a sharp knife (I found a bread knife worked best) slice the loaves into oblong biscuits, just over 2 cm wide. Re-arrange the biscuits evenly on the baking sheet cut-side facing down. (You may need to do this in two stages if your biscuits do not all fit on the baking tray.) Bake for 4 – 5 minutes, take out of the oven and turn them over. Put back in the oven for another 4 – 5 minutes. This part of the baking, basically dries the biscuit and adds a little more colour. Adjust the exact time to give an even colouring without burning. More time in the oven will make a drier biscuit. Cool and keep in airtight container.
Notes for chocolate biscotti. Add the cocoa to the flour and sieve as above. Melt the chocolate very gently and add to the egg mixture. Try to avoid using flour to shape the cylinders.
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