The word Biscotti is well known, even Italians use the word “Cantucci” for this Italian cookie specialty which we feature today.
Biscotti refer to any type of crunchy cookie, round, square or otherwise – In England they call them “biscuits”.
These cookies, the Biscotti, have been baked for centuries. It used to be the perfect food for sailors who were at sea for months at a time. The biscuits were thoroughly baked to draw out moisture, becoming a cracker-like food that was resistant to mold.
We found out that Biscotti were a favorite of Christopher Columbus who relied on them on his long sea voyages.
Biscotti are eaten and enjoyed in many ways. In Italy they use them as “dipping cookies” either in a cup of espresso or cappuccino or in a special Italian wine known as Vin Santo.
Or even for breakfast! They are enjoyed as a breakfast biscuit with coffee or as a dessert along side a dish of Gelato or Spumoni.
Last but not least biscotti can be savored as a subtly sweet crispy snack all by themselves. Though modern biscotti are associated with the Italian region Tuscany, the popular Italian cookie traces its origins back to Roman times.
The word biscotto derives from “bis,” Latin for twice, and “coctum” or baked (which became cotto or cooked). The Roman biscotti were more about convenience food for travelers rather than a pleasurable treat for leisurely dinners. Unleavened, finger-shaped wafers were first baked, then baked a second time to completely dry them out, making them durable for travel and nourishment for the long journeys.
Pliny, a Roman philosopher and author, boasted that they would be edible for centuries. Biscotti were a staple of the diet of the Roman Legions. After the fall of the Roman Empire in 455 C.E, the country was repeatedly sacked by the Visigoths, the Vandals and others. The people did their best to survive but there was no culinary development. With the progression of the Renaissance, cuisine also flowered. Biscotti re-emerged in Tuscany, credited to a Tuscan baker who served them with the local sweet wine. Their dry, crunchy texture was seen to be the perfect medium to soak up the wine.
Centuries later, many still agree that dipping Biscotti into Vin Santo is a perfect way to end a meal or to while away an hour at a café. Tuscan Biscotti were flavored with almonds from the plentiful almond groves of Prato. Cantucci di Prato can be found in the window of every Pasticceria in Tuscany. Cantucci became a staple in the Tuscan cities of Florence and Prato, and spread throughout the Italian peninsula. As the Roman Legions had appreciated their long storage ability, so did the soldiers, sailors and fisherman of the Renaissance. But now, rather than pallid, dry staples for nourishment, Italian bakers put their culinary gifts to work. Biscotti became so popular that every province developed its own flavored version.
Ingredients Classic Biscotti Recipe
3½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tbs baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
4 large eggs
2 egg yolks and reserve one egg white
2 cups granulated sugar, plus 1 tbs for topping
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tbs Anisette or Amaretto liqueur
1 tablespoon anise seed
6 cups whole almonds, coarsely chopped
Baking Instructions Classic Biscotti Recipe
– Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease two heavy cookie sheets, or line with parchment paper.
– In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.
– In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, egg yolks and sugar until light, about 2 minutes; the mixture will look somewhat curdled. Beat in the vanilla, anisette or amaretto and anise seed. Beat in the dry ingredients, then the chopped nuts.
– Divide the dough into four portions.
– On a lightly floured board, shape each portion into a flat log, just about the length the cookie sheet.
– Place two rolls on each cookie sheet. In a small bowl, beat the egg white with a fork until frothy. With a pastry brush, glaze each log with some egg white and sprinkle with granulated sugar.
– Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the logs are lightly golden brown, firm to the touch and just beginning to crack slightly. Allow the logs to cool on the cookie sheet about 20 minutes.
– Reduce the oven temperature to 200°F.
– With a serrated knife slice the biscotti on the bias into ½-inch slices.
– Lay the slices on the cookie sheets in a single layer;
– Return the biscotti to the oven and cook for 20 more minutes, turning over halfway through the baking time or until the biscotti are toasted and crisp Store the biscotti in an airtight container.