Baking memories: Classic Italian cookie is a lovely Christmas treat
Being the son and grandson of two excellent home and professional bakers, my mother and grandmother, I probably have a unique perspective on the Christmas season. As I've shared many times before, beginning in the first week of December those two wonderful cooks started their holiday baking, an expression of their philosophy that you could never have too many cookies to offer to visitors or to give as gifts for family and friends.
Fortunately, they left me many of their own recipes, which I still love to bake; and I have many more that I've developed with the pastry chefs in my own restaurants. That means I have what may sometimes seem like an endless supply of favorite cookie recipes to share as we move into the festive season. So, I'd like to offer you a few great cookie recipes in these weeks leading up to Christmas.
First up is a version of one of Italy's most famous cookie varieties: biscotti. Biscotti was a fairly common treat in my childhood home thanks to the fact that our town of Sankt Veit an der Glan was less than an hour's drive from the Italian border.
As anybody who knows even a little bit of Italian might figure out, the name "biscotti" literally means "twice-cooked." That refers to the fact that these traditional cookies are cooked in two stages. First, a log of dough is baked for just over half an hour, during which time it spreads out to a flattened oblong loaf shape. Then, once that loaf cools, it is thinly sliced, and the slices are baked until firm and crisp.
At their most basic, biscotti doughs are simply flavored with vanilla or almond extract and studded with chopped or slivered almonds; others may include hints of anise seed or chopped candied orange peel. I tend to enjoy when bakers get more creative, adding other sweet flavors to the dough and incorporating not only different kinds of nuts, but also dried fruit, and chocolate. The following recipe, for example, blends cocoa powder into the dough's dry ingredients for a mellow chocolaty flavor; then, bittersweet chocolate chips and walnuts are mixed in, giving these Italian biscotti a happy resemblance to the flavor of an all-American Tollhouse cookie.
As you'll notice, this recipe yields a generous quantity of biscotti. That's because, with two separate stages of cooking, it makes sense to bake lots of them. Fortunately, the biscotti store well for several weeks in an airtight container between layers of parchment or wax paper. So, you'll be sure to have them ready to serve to your own guests or offer as delightful personal presents.
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COCOA BISCOTTI WITH WALNUTS AND BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE CHIPS
Makes 7 to 7 1/2 dozen
4 cups (1 L) all-purpose flour
1 cup (250 mL) unsweetened cocoa