There are certain truths in this uncertain world. Water is wet, sky is up, there’s always going to be a roll of fat above the elastic no matter HOW many pairs of Spanx you wriggle into (it has to go somewhere). I’ve learned another. Once you bake something everyone likes, you will be baking it for as long as your feeble hand can raise a wooden spoon and stir. Trying to back out with excuses won’t work. I’ve tried them all. Poverty? “All you have to give me this year is your biscotti.” Debilitation? “I know it’s only been a few weeks since you had knee surgery, but you can SIT while you bake, right? Plus, didn’t the doctor give you those really good pain pills?” Heartbreak? “Honey, you’ll feel SO much better if you do something that takes your mind off him.” Depression? “Baking cookies will put you into the holiday mood, you’ll see.”
Think you can put your foot down and just say no? Oh poor naive soul. For that’s when the serious whining begins. Sure, you think, I can ignore whining. They’ll stop once they realize it doesn’t work. Well, they don’t. Why? Because we aren’t talking about children here. This is the well-honed whining of adults. You think a 3-year-old is bad? Feh, amateurs. Just try taking away the favorite cookies from a senior citizen. And if you are related to them, say you sprang forth from their womb or they happen to be your favorite auntie? Oh, you are SO screwed. Grownups are crafty when whining. They know how to strike when your guard is down, and suddenly your steely stance is puddled on the ground around you. I know. You see, I’m a well-practiced whiner too. A little hug, a squeeze of the hand, a gentle sigh when passing your baking rack, that wistful look towards your cookie sheets. Adult cookie-whining is verbal, nonverbal, and merciless. Resistance is futile, and you know deep down you’ll eventually submit.
So, I’ve given only cookies as presents, sat with my leg in a brace and took drugs while baking, cried into the batter when my heart was broken, and had my blue mood lifted as I stood elbow deep in flour and sprinkles, singing along with Bing. Because I love my whiners, love that they love my baking, and probably wouldn’t have it any other way. Problem is, they know it too.
For nearly 20 years now I’ve been known as the biscotti baker among my family and friends. I leave most of the holiday cookies of my childhood to the rest of the group, and have collected quite a stack of biscotti recipes over the years. The number of varieties grew and shrank with my bank account, maxing out at 8 different kinds in the heady days of employment and ample shoe income. This year resources are as tight as waistbands on New Year’s Day, so I’m only doing three kinds. Naturally, they are the three favorites of the most practiced ‘persuaders’ in my world.
Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti (Inspired by a recipe I found in Gourmet magazine 20 years ago)
Makes about 3 dozen 1/2”-wide biscotti
I like these just as they are, but they aren’t bad dipped in white chocolate if you feel so inclined.
- 1 1/3 cups dried orange cranberries (available from Trader Joe’s, or if you can’t find them, use regular dried cranberries and add a tsp of grated orange zest.)
- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3 large eggs
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp almond extract
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 cup shelled pistachios (I’ve made these with toasted slivered almonds and they are very nice too, but the pistachios help add to the holiday color scheme)
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 tsp water to make an egg wash
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Cover the dried cranberries in very hot water and soak for 10 minutes to plump them up a bit. Drain and pat dry on paper towels.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper (or butter and flour it so the cookies don’t stick). Mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt (and orange zest if using) in large bowl with electric mixer. Add eggs, vanilla and almond extract and milk, beat just until dough forms. Add cranberries and pistachios and mix at low speed until just combined (you don’t want to break up the pistachios too much).
Halve the dough and shape into two 13×2-inch logs, making sure to leave plenty of room between them – they will spread a bit. This dough can be sticky, so flour your hands and board well. Brush logs with egg wash.
Bake in middle of oven until just golden, about 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven, cool for 5-10 minutes until they are cool enough to touch. Transfer the log to a cutting board, and slice diagonally (a serrated knife works best) into 1/2 to 3/4 inch biscotti (I like them a little thicker). Arrange the slices cut side down in 1 layer on the cookie sheet. You don’t need to leave space between them since they won’t spread anymore.
Bake another 20-25 minutes, turning once, until they are slightly golden and crisp. These keep for about 2 weeks in an airtight container. Calories: approximately 90 per ounce.
Double Chocolate Walnut Biscotti (Adapted from Gourmet magazine)
Makes about 24-30 biscotti
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup walnuts, chopped
- 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- 1 tsp grated orange zest (optional – chocolate and orange are a good combination, but you can leave out if you don’t like it)
- 1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
- Optional (but really, is dipping in chocolate EVER optional?): 4 oz. bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, melted for dipping.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a cooking sheet with parchment paper (or butter and flour so the cookies don’t stick).
In a bowl whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt and orange zest. In another bowl with an electric mixer beat together butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat until combined well. Stir in flour mixture to form a stiff dough. Stir in walnuts and chocolate chips.
The dough is pretty sticky, so I find the easiest way to shape them into logs is by putting half of the dough onto a sheet of lightly floured waxed paper, and using that to shape into slightly flattened log, approximately 12 inches x 2 inches. Repeat with the other half of dough. Put the logs onto the prepared cookie sheet, leaving about 3 inches room between them (they will expand). Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar, and bake 35 minutes, or until slightly firm to the touch. Cool biscotti on baking sheet 5 minutes.
On a cutting board cut biscotti diagonally into 3/4-inch slices. A serrated knife works well here. Arrange biscotti, cut sides down, on baking sheet and bake until crisp, about 10 minutes. Cool biscotti on a rack. If you like, dip one end of the biscotti into melted bittersweet chocolate, and refrigerate until the chocolate sets up. The biscotti keep for a week or two in airtight containers in a cool place and freeze very well too. Calories: 120 per ounce.
Cinnamon Sugar Biscotti (From Bon Appetit)
Makes about 40
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 2 1/2 tsps ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 cup plus 3 TBSP sugar
- 6 TBSP (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 large eggs
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1-3 TBSP milk, if needed
Preheat oven to 325°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Mix flour, 1 1/2 tsps cinnamon, baking powder and salt in medium bowl to blend. Set aside. Using electric mixer, beat 1 cup sugar and butter in large bowl until fluffy. Add 1 egg; beat well. Add egg yolk; beat well. Mix in vanilla, then dry ingredients. If it’s a really dry day, you may need to add a few tablespoons of milk to get the dough to come together. If so, add it one tablespoon at a time until you can form logs.
Transfer dough to work surface. Divide in half. Shape each half into 9-inch-long, 1 1/2-inch-wide log. Transfer logs to baking sheets. Beat remaining egg in small bowl. Brush logs with egg. Bake until golden and firm to touch (dough will spread), about 45-50 minutes. Cool on baking sheets. Maintain oven temperature.
Mix 3 TBSP sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon in small bowl to blend. Using serrated knife, cut logs into 1/2-inch-wide diagonal slices. Place biscotti, cut side down, on baking sheets. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar over each biscotti. Bake until pale golden, about 20 minutes. Cool on racks. Store in airtight container. These keep well for a week or so. Calories: Approximately 70 per biscotti.