Toasting Grandma's Biscotti
I love baking biscotti for family events and potluck parties, and especially during the holidays, when I make several batches and ship them as presents to family and friends. They are perfect gifts to make on a small budget, and they travel very well.
Cantuccini di Prato, the traditional Tuscan name for the biscotti we make, are the real reason Italians start drinking at a young age. Usually grandparents are to blame. Well... at least in my case!
The hard and crunchy cookies are a dessert staple at Sunday family lunches for a couple reasons. First of all, it is an excuse to drink more alcohol after a meal, as tradition is to dip the cookie into a glass of Vin Santo, which is a sweet dessert wine, or into any wine leftover from the meal. Second, when properly stored in a glass jar, these biscotti have a pretty long shelf life—about three weeks—which means that if grandma spent too much time preparing fresh pasta for the family lunch and did not feel like making a fresh dessert, she can always rely on the biscotti in her cookie jar.
It took me over a year to perfect my grandmother's recipe. They are fairly easy to make, but a few tips are necessary to achieve the fantastic crunch that makes these really special:
Toasting the almonds is the first thing to pay attention to. Put them in the oven when it is already at temperature and make sure you keep an eye on them. You want the almonds to get crunchy and reach a lightly toasted flavor; they can burn quickly if you get distracted. Remove them from the baking sheet as soon as they come out of the oven to cool, otherwise they will keep cooking on the hot metal of the pan.
After the dough comes together, mix in the toasted almonds by hand, and not with the mixer palette which will brake them. One of the beautiful things about these biscotti is that you can see a cleanly cut almond along the side of the coodie, so don't break the almonds with the mixer. Depending on how big your eggs are, the dough might come out soft enough to allow all almonds to be easily incorporated in... or not. If it comes out a bit thicker, do not worry; just push the almonds inside with your fingers—the dough won't break!
The hardest part of this recipe is exercising patience. Once the biscotti loaves are baked and you take them out of the oven, you need to allow them time to cool before you start cutting them into cookies.
It is also very important to use a bread knife and not an even blade. Without exercising too much pressure, slice the loaves into biscotti with long, steady movements of the arm. If they are still warm inside, let them cool.
Cantuccini do not come out crunchy right away, they need to sit on the tray for a few hours, followed by another quick toast in the oven. This is probably the hardest step of all, as the degree of crunchiness is something very subjective. I personally like them rock solid, but I have many friends that like them on the softer side, just freshly cut.
Relax, enjoy the baking process, and having fun experimenting with different toasting times. I am sure you will find your favorite crunch!
Watch Gabriele and Debi Mazar cook meals from their home Wednesdays at 10pm ET/ 9pm CT on Cooking Channel.
Traditionally, the main meal in Italy is a lengthy affair, composed of a number of small courses. Dishes typically are relatively simple, with seasonal and fresh ingredients.