Until recently, I never understood some people’s fascination with biscotti. My parents loved them. I did not. To me, they were long, thick, rock-hard bricks with a peculiar licorice taste, obnoxiously trying to pass themselves off as cookies. They didn’t fool me, though. Whatever they were, I was certain that they were not any kind of cookies I was interested in.
When I was a kid, every Sunday dinner was finished off with a pot of espresso and a plate of those obnoxious biscotti – always Stella d’Oro brand. Every self-respecting Italian housewife kept a stash of Stella d’Oro cookies in her pantry, including my mother and my nonna. You know, in case anyone happened to stop by. God forbid someone should stop by for coffee and there were no cookies or cake to serve with it! Tongues would wag for weeks!
As they sipped their espresso, the adults would dunk the biscotti into the thick, dark liquid and eat them. Gah! The only thing worse than biting into one of those jaw-breaking biscotti, was biting into one turned to mush by strong black coffee. To this day, the thought of it makes me cringe.
It wasn’t until I began blogging that I realized that all biscotti were not the same. In fact, homemade biscotti were kind of wonderful. You can flavor them however you like, and stud them with all kinds of dried fruits and nuts – or even chocolate. And, instead of being as hard and tough as granite, they could be delightfully crunchy. The best part is, that biscotti are not hard at all to make at home, so you can have nice, fresh ones whenever you want. You never have to keep cellophane-wrapped packages of that other kind in your pantry again.
Perhaps, if my mother and grandmother had baked their own biscotti from scratch, I would have discovered their allure at a much earlier age. Think of all the years I wasted hating them! Unfortunately, except for certain holiday specialties, neither Mom nor Nonna were much into baking. Such a shame…
Since I began baking my own biscotti, I’ve tried several different recipes. Over time, I’ve taken a pinch from some and a dash from others and come up with a “go to” recipe that I really like. The basic recipe stays the same, although I switch the various add-ins based on what I have on hand and whatever my whim is that day. For these, I’ve used toasted almonds and plump dried cherries. I think think that this is my favorite combination of all. The cherries add a little chew and a touch of tartness to balance out the sweet. The texture of the biscotti is light, but super crunchy. And, there is no danger of chipping a tooth on one!
I like to add a little Fiori di Sicilia to these biscotti as well. It’s a little difficult to describe, but Fiori di Sicilia is an Italian flavoring that has notes of vanilla and citrus. Think of an orange creamsicle and you’re on the right track. It literally means “flowers of Sicily”. I get mine at King Arthur Flour, but you can simulate the same flavors by mixing 2 parts vanilla extract with one part each of orange and lemon extracts. It smells heavenly and gives the biscotti a certain special something.
The key to a biscotti’s signature crunch is that they are baked twice. The first time, they’re baked in one long log. Then, they sit and cool off for a while. After that, they are sliced into bars and baked again until they get all browned and crispy.
Here they are getting ready for round two.
Even though I do sometimes serve my biscotti with espresso, I never dunk. I’m convinced that the reason my parents did is because the ones they had were so damn hard. These biscotti are toothsome, but with one bite they yield into lovely, crumbly bits of deliciousness. Move over Stella d’Oro. There’s a new game in town.
Cherry Almond Biscotti
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 cup sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons orange zest
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia
- 1 cup sliced whole unsalted almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
- 1 cup dried cherries
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk the flour and baking powder in a bowl to blend. Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar, butter and salt together until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the orange and lemon zest, vanilla and Fior di Sicilia extracts just until blended. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time. Add the flour mixture and mix on medium-low speed just until incorporated. Stir in the cherries and almonds.
- Form the dough into a 12-inch long by 3-inch wide log on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until lightly golden, about 30-35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 275 F.
- Place the biscotti log on the cutting board. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut the log on a diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Arrange the biscotti, cut side down, on the baking sheet. Bake the biscotti for 30 minutes. Transfer the biscotti to a wire rack and cool completely.
- The biscotti can will keep in an airtight container for up to a week or frozen for up to a month.
Makes approximately 2 dozen biscotti.