I like to imagine myself in a cafe, say in Italy, sitting down on one of those little chairs, at a table, protected by an umbrella, enjoying a cup of coffee, dunking in my biscotti till that crisp hard cookie soaks up just enough of the liquid to yield in my mouth to an explosion of liquid, and the crunch of the nuts. I look down and realise I am sitting with a thin, round Marie biscuit, watching it crumble into my cup of tea into soggy chunks. I am not in Italy but in my house looking to see when the super hot weather will let up so I can at least enjoy my cuppa outdoors. Not going to happen anytime soon. But at least I can bake up a batch of Biscotti to go with my tea. I know I said coffee, in my make-believe world, but in reality I do not drink coffee (even though it sounds so much more European). So tea it is.
It was also the ideal time for me to check out my new stand mixer and see if it would stand up to a firm biscotti dough. I have baked a biscotti many times before. Sometime they would be flecked with orange zest and studded with cranberries, at other times, they would be simple with just the flavour of Annise. I am partial to the ones with almonds and pistachios but my all time favourite is a dark chocolate with hazelnuts. Most of the biscottis I have baked before have always had some amount of fat. So the dough is almost like a cookie dough. But I have been told that the authentic biscotti does not have any fat and it is this that make that biscotti really crunchy. So my search for a non-fat (not really, I was going to use chocolate remember) biscotti began.
Most sources had recipes of almost similar proportion about 3 eggs to about 1 3/4 to 2 cups of flour and 3/4 to 1 cup of sugar. So I figured this might be the way to go, except I did not have 3 eggs at home. I only had 2. Now this has never stopped me. I decided to use two eggs and a dash of milk to get the dough to the right consistency rather than work the recipe down to 2/3. I was pretty sure it was not going to affect the end result. What I got in the end was a really firm and somewhat sticky dough. My stand mixer handled it with out a whimper. I am still smiling from ear to ear that I managed to get a lovely uniform dough without breaking into a sweat.
Wet hands will be what you need to pat down the dough into a log. Normally with the mentioned quantity you should be able to make two medium-sized logs. But me, I wanted one big log. I wanted those extra long biscottis that you would find in those cafes, wrapped and peeking out from the tall jars on the counters. If it is the first time that you are making these crunchy delights, stick to smaller logs. They will be so much easier to handle. The first bake will dry out the surface and basically cook the dough. At this point it is something like a chewy brownie or cookie. you could save a piece or two to eat as is. I always do. When it is still warm, you can almost feel the chocolate melting in your mouth. You really have to stop yourself from finishing the entire lot. Tell you what, if you make two logs, eat one right away and keep the other to be baked again. See I told you twice as much fun!
Have you ever had a rusk when you were a child? Those little hard pieces of bread?(mildly scented with fennel) I used to love those.These biscottis are a more sophisticated version of rusks. I know bakeries who still double bake their cake scraps to a crisp and sell them as cake rusks. Now these are the cookie version of that. Once they are sufficiently cool, you will need a really sharp knife to gently saw through the log to create the sticks of biscotti. Usually they are cut on the diagonal but since I made one big log, I just cut straight down. A word of warning– if you do not have have a really sharp knife you could land up with these cookies crumbling under pressure. Like I said earlier, the longer your biscotti, the more likely they are to fall apart as you lift and turn them on to their side for a second bake.
The second round of baking will basically dry up the moisture and make them crisp. Now having eaten your fill of the chewy biscotti, it is time to enjoy them crunchy. I promised you twice the fun remember? The intense chocolatey flavour is interspersed with the crunchy almond. Now all you need to do is dunk it into your cup of espresso. The marriage of these flavours is just perfect. But if you should choose to enjoy these like some of the Italians with your dessert wine, choose to go the anise way or even the orange zesty way.
100 to 150 gms Hazelnuts
120 gms Dark Chocolate (use the best quality you can lay your hands on)
210 gms Brown Sugar (go ahead ans use white if you do not have brown, but brown does add a mellow flavour)
30 gms Cocoa
230 gms All-Purpose flour
1 Tbs Instant coffee
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp Salt
1 tsp Vanilla extract
3 Eggs ( I used 2 and a generous splash of milk)
1. Sieve the flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda
2. In a blender add the chocolate and sugar and pulse till the chocolate is in fine pieces.
3. Beat the eggs and vanilla together until well combined.
4. Add the sugar mixture and the flour mixture to the eggs and start to combine
5. Add the roughly chopped Hazelnuts
6. You should get a very firm dough
7. Line a cookie pan and form the dough into two logs giving enough room for the logs to expand a little. You might need to use wet fingers to coax the dough into shape.
8. Bake in a 160 C pre-heated oven for about 30 minutes.
9. Remove pan from oven and place on a rack to cool
10. Using a spatula move the logs to a cutting board and with a sharp knife, cut the big logs on the diagonal into long strips.
11. turn the strips on to their side and put them back into the oven at 150 C to dry out. It could take about 20 minutes.
12. They will continue to crisp up as they cool.
These craggy and rough surfaced biscottis are dark and devilish but are perfectly sublime to taste. Biscotti can be stored in an airtight container for a long time. Try drizzling with chocolate for an even more intense chocolately taste. As for the difference between those recipes which have butter and this–well the ones with butter are a little more tender and not as hard. For me these are a few calories less ( I can fool myself and eat one more piece!)