I can bake one thing: biscotti. That's all. My lasagna is watery, my biscuits are dry, and my rice is mushy. But I can bake a batch of decent biscotti that impresses family, friends, and coworkers (most of them).
That's not because of any special recipe or trick, but rather (I think) because of the aura around the twice-baked desert cookie. Who actually bakes their own biscotti? The process is time-consuming. The end-result not particularly filling. And most kids (the main consumers of baked goods, I'd venture) would rather have a regular cookie or cake.
So it's a quirky little recipe to have in your toolkit.
I first learned to make biscotti from a woman in my parent's church. Georgiana baked perfectly brown, generously sized, chocolate-glazed biscotti for my mother. I loved it, too. When my mother complained that the biscotti was disappearing before she ever ate any, Georgiana simply baked twice as much for us, and even sent me packages of biscotti in college.
Home from college one summer, I asked Georgiana to teach me the recipe. Here it is, pasted in full. She moved out of state a few years later, leaving me with a corner on the biscotti market in my family.
You can riff on the recipe, experimenting with different berries (try cranberries), nuts (but avoid peanuts; the flavor is too strong), and toppings (extra-dark chocolate, white chocolate, perhaps a sugar glaze). No matter what, if you have a few hours and patience, you'll have the perfect snack to pair alongside a hot drink.
3-1/4 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking power
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/4 cups sugar
1-1/2 sticks melted butter
1 orange, zest and juice (a lemon also works)
1-1/2 cups nuts (your choice on kind, but I think almonds and pecans are best)
6 ounces bar chocolate
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In medium bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and salt. In large bowl, whisk together sugar, melted butter, eggs, orange zest and juice. Transfer the flour mixture into the larger bowl.
Toast the nuts on the stovetop in a pan for a few minutes, and then add to the mixture. Stir until dough forms and then divide in two parts. Flour hands and, on two large un-greased cooking sheets, form dough into two 14- by 4-inch loaves. Place cooking sheets in oven. After 15 minutes, switch cookie sheets’ positions and bake for 15-20 more minutes.
Cool loaves 20 minutes. Transfer onto cutting board and, with a serrated knife, cut into half-inch pieces. Don’t press down as you cut, as that'll cause the cookie to crumble. Place the cut side down back on the cookie sheets.
Reduce oven to 325 degrees F. Place cookie sheets back in oven for 15 more minutes, then swap cooking sheets’ positions and bake another 15 minutes. (Keep an eye on the biscotti. Don’t let it hang off the side of the sheet because it will burn. And of course, the longer you leave it in the oven the drier and crispier your biscotti will be.) Transfer biscotti to wire rack to cool.
Melt chocolate in glass bowl in microwave, being careful not to burn chocolate. Add tad of Crisco for shine. Stir until smooth. Dip biscotti in chocolate and set to dry.
For a Christmastime biscotti, you can try topping the cookies with white chocolate, or baking with cranberry and pistachio for a red-and-green theme. Or sprinkle coconut shavings on top of the chocolate, which will give you white biscotti even if it’s not a white Christmas.
Stephen Kurczy edits on the International desk of the Monitor.