#89: Make biscotti

In my world (mind), cookies reside in a hierarchy. The bottom of the pyramid is split between two types of cookies: bar cookies and no-bake cookies. Bar cookies are sweets that are baked in a pan, then cut into squares (such as blondies). No-bake cookies are just as the name implies: cookies that are created by making dough, then separating the dough into individual servings and cooling it [usually via refrigeration]. (Chocolate-peanut-butter-oatmeal no bakes are the type I see most often, and they are also my favorite variety in this genre.) The next category of cookies in the organization is drop cookies: desserts that are made by dropping spoonfuls of batter onto a baking sheet, yielding individual treats at the end of their duration in the oven. (The classic example of a drop cookie is chocolate chip, but the variety of drop cookies is vast, and includes oatmeal raisin, chocolate butterscotch chip, ginger, sugar…) One step up the cookie pyramid is hand-rolled cookies: sweets that require a small amount of manual manipulation in order to produce the desired end result. (Examples here include peanut butter cookies – which require the baker to roll each cookie by hand as well as gentle squash it with a fork; and thumb print cookies – which are created by rolling a sugar cookie in a ball, making an indentation in the middle with one’s thumb, then filling the depression with a flavored jam.) Next in the hierarchy are rollout/cutout cookies: desserts that require the using of a rolling pin to make the batter a uniform height, and a cookie cutter [or other molded device] to produce a specific shape. (Gingerbread people are a classic example of a cutout; but the shape can be as simple as a circle, as is the case with shortbread cookies.) After cutout cookies come cutout-frosted cookies: treats that take the cutout game one step further, and add decorations to the desserts before they are considered ‘done’. (Frosted sugar cookies are the types I see most often in this category.) And at the top of the cookie kingdom are cookies that require special tools in order to make them. (Spritz, krumkake, madeleines…)

To summarize:

cookie hierarchy

I have made cookies in every categorization described above; yet some treats puzzle me. Take macaroons, for example. Everyone talks about how delicious-yet-challenging they are – but what makes them so difficult to make? Do they require special tools? A lot of hands-on time? And meringues. I know there is something tricky about egg whites when attempting to make meringues, but I have no idea what it is. And biscotti. A cookie that is partly baked, then cut, then baked some more? Kooky.

I first learned of biscotti when I was in my mid-20s; until then, I had never even heard of this type of cookie. (Fancy Italian treats weren’t very well-known in rural Indiana in the 1980s.) 🙂 It took moving to a big city and spending time with some foodies for me to begin to learn about more complex, worldly fare. When I tasted my first biscotti (again, in my mid 20s) I was surprised by how crazy-crunchy it was; and initially I wasn’t sure if I actually liked that or not. After a few more casual encounters with the dessert, I came to learn that I did indeed like them. Biscotti is not-too-sweet, and with some serious mass that I can gnash my teeth around and feel like I am eating a cookie!

I was intrigued by this new (to me) thing called biscotti. Their shape is strange; and clearly their texture is unique. How are they made? How do they get their intense crunch? And why are they shaped like little wood planks? Is it because of their texture, and their ability to serve as building materials for a shelter if allowed to go stale?

In performing a bit of research about biscotti, I came to learn about their twice-baked nature. I then began to wonder: where on the cookie hierarchy would these treats live? Clearly they are not as easy to make as a bar or no-bake cookie; but are they as difficult to create as a macaroon?

I’m a curious gal, and I like trying new things. So let me try my hand at crafting some biscotti, and see what I discover in the process…

I decided to attempt two different types of biscotti: one with a standard almond base but with chunks of stuff in it, and one with a flavored base but no chunks.  After perusing numerous delicious options, I landed on what I call “C5 Biscotti” (an invention of my own creation: Cran-Cherry Cashew Chocolate Chunk Biscotti), and a Gingerbread Biscotti that I modified to make healthier.

The recipes that I followed for each treat are linked in the above paragraph; here’s a visual summary of how the process went:

The C5 biscotti batter came together very nicely; shaping the dough into two logs was surprisingly easy to do.  Look at how handsome they are!

The C5 biscotti batter came together very nicely; shaping the dough into two logs was surprisingly easy to do. Look at how handsome they are!

The logs came out of the oven perfectly golden brown and firm to the touch – just as the recipe recommended.  Success!

The logs came out of the oven perfectly golden brown and firm to the touch – just as the recipe recommended. Success!

Oops, I spoke too soon.  Upon attempting to cut the logs into individual cookies, I experienced a crumbling like you wouldn’t believe.  So many of my beautiful cookies were reduced to broken bits.

Oops, I spoke too soon. Upon attempting to cut the logs into individual cookies, I experienced a crumbling like you wouldn’t believe. So many of my beautiful cookies were reduced to broken bits.

At the end of the day, I had a fair number of decent looking cookies – but many more broken ones.  Yet no matter how they look, they all taste the same.

At the end of the day, I had a fair number of decent looking cookies – but many more broken ones. Yet no matter how they look, they all taste the same.

Feeling decently confident about my biscotti skills thus far, I went ahead with the gingerbread cookie recipe – and the dough was a hot mess.  I ended up adding a full cup more flour to the batter than was indicated in the original recipe, just to try and get the mixture to hold together enough for me to transfer it to the baking sheet.  After lubing my hands with water and moving quickly, I was able to plop two logs of gloppy dough onto the baking sheet.

Feeling decently confident about my biscotti skills thus far, I went ahead with the gingerbread cookie recipe – and the dough was a hot mess. I ended up adding a full cup more flour to the batter than was indicated in the original recipe, just to try and get the mixture to hold together enough for me to transfer it to the baking sheet. After lubing my hands with water and moving quickly, I was able to plop two logs of gloppy dough onto the baking sheet.

Despite my concerns and doubts about the gingerbread batter, it baked up wonderfully.  And when I held my breath and began slicing into each log, the cookies separated without any issues at all.  Every cookie held its form, and looked terrific!

Despite my concerns and doubts about the gingerbread batter, it baked up wonderfully. And when I held my breath and began slicing into each log, the cookies separated without any issues at all. Every cookie held its form, and looked terrific!

After two hours in the kitchen, I had made quite a mess…

After two hours in the kitchen, I had made quite a mess…

…but I had also created some pretty darn tasty biscotti.

…but I had also created some pretty darn tasty biscotti.

And after just 15 minutes of clean up, I was able to restore my kitchen back to an acceptable state.

And after just 15 minutes of clean up, I was able to restore my kitchen back to an acceptable state.

The smell of the cookies filled the house with a fantastic aroma.  I eagerly taste-tested each cookie, curious to learn how my efforts fared…

The gingerbread biscotti tasted like a less-sweet Biscoff cookie.  The ginger and molasses flavors were balanced and mellow, and the granular sugar dusting on the top of the cookie ended each bite with a perfect finish.

The C5 biscotti had a great almond flavor, and a good proportion of mix-ins – I was never overwhelmed with fruit, nuts, or chocolate in a single bite.  If anything, I kind of ‘lost’ some of the flavors of the mix ins; it’s as if my mouth had too much to process and couldn’t focus on the tastiness of each individual ingredient, so it defaulted to focusing on the almond flavor in the base of the cookie.  Which is fine (the base cookie is tasty) – but it also seems a bit of a shame (and a waste) to add extra ingredients if they won’t be fully appreciated in the final product.

Both varieties of cookies were crazy crunchy and dry – in a good way. Biscotti is a cookie that is meant to be dunked in a beverage (usually coffee, though tea and milk also work) and still hold its form – and these cookies do exactly that.  If a person wanted to eat the cookies without the aid of liquid, I would advise cutting the second baking times in half.

I would definitely make the gingerbread biscotti again, exactly as written in the recipe I provided – goopy batter and all.  I would also make the almond biscotti again, but I probably won’t repeat the C5 version.  Instead, I’d choose just one mix-in to feature, or I’d add cocoa powder to the base and perhaps use chopped almonds or hazelnuts as a sole mix-in.  I can also envision adding maple or honey to the base, and flavoring the cookies that way.  I think the core of this recipe is incredibly flexible, and can be amended in multiple ways; I like it!

So I’m left with many options for future exploration, as well as three tins full of crunchy coffee- and milk-worthy cookies.  Delights for me, and treats to share – a successful venture for everyone.  🙂

Stef

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About Stef

A "serious" gal who is trying to remember to lighten up and smile.
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9 Responses to #89: Make biscotti

  1. Cripes! I’m no baker but I do cook a lot–4 kids will do that to you–I had no idea. BTW–reading your post was fun!

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    • Stef says:

      The land of cookies is very complex. (At least in my head.) 🙂 I’m glad you had fun reading this post; I enjoyed putting it together! Thank you for sharing a comment – I appreciate it!

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  2. Great post! will have to try this sometime. I just started my 101 in 1001… looking around for inspiration as I’ve left a few TBDs

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    • Stef says:

      Thanks for reading, commenting, and following! I really appreciate it.
      Good luck with your 101; I’m around halfway through with mine, and am having a great time with it… 🙂

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  3. Chef Randall says:

    I love baking and also eating cookies. My kitchen gets much the same like in your first photo. Hey try these cookies out http://savorthefood.wordpress.com/2012/12/09/sweet-milk-sandwich-cookies/
    and while you are there, I would like to invite you to sign up to follow my blog, it’s FREE.

    I look for ward to your future post’s.

    Chef Randall
    savorthefood.wordpress.com

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    • Stef says:

      Chef Randall, I love the picture step-by-steps you include in your blog posts! I think visuals like that help all cooks (from novice to confident) understand the recipe that much better. Thank you for sharing!

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  4. I wish I had the time…

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  5. Pingback: #88: Make scones | Smile, kiddo.

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