The first time I made biscotti something went terribly wrong. I don’t know what, but something did. They were …er… soft. That was a long time ago but I still remember my bitter disappointment. It was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back and I pretty much gave up on baking after that. Knowing thyself as I do now, I’m sure it was all my fault, though I doubt I would have admitted it at the time. I must have cut corners, over or under measured the ingredients, improvised on the recipe as I was wont to do. Both my mother and grandmother do their measuring with coffee mugs and their baking comes out perfectly. Needless to say, I have not inherited this ability to eyeball ingredients with laser-like precision. When I use a recipe I have learned to follow it exactly–at least the first time around–and I’m much happier with my results of late, especially when it comes to baking. Not all recipes work. Some of them are just plain wrong, and I’ve ranted about that in a previous post. I find that to be particularly so with books written by professional chefs who have not collaborated with a food writer, because so much of what they do comes out of instinct and years of skill honed in the kitchen. I still improvise, but I know that it’s in the name of fun and experimentation, and that things might not turn out the way I hope. Now when I improvise, I take copious notes as I go along. If a dish comes out really well, I’ll know how to recreate it.
Take these biscotti. Fifteen years later, I attempted another round of making them. I’d been having a biscotti craving lately, particularly for chocolate biscotti, but the only ones I could find were those grainy long sticks of fiber board that you can get at any number of neighborhood cafes. I truly despise those bastardized versions of the venerable Italian biscotto. Now, I happen to live a hop, skip, and a jump from my city’s Little Italy and could have gone into any Italian deli and come out with a box of the genuine biscuit. Most of the time these little crunchy little cookies studded with whole almonds are enough to make me swoon, but this time I knew they wouldn’t cut it. I wanted chocolate. Double chocolate. So I came up with these.
I call these double chocolate because of the cocoa base and the addition of chocolate chips. You can make them triple chocolate by drizzling them with melted chocolate. And in the spirit of keeping things authentic I included the whole almonds, which is–in my opinion–the best part of any biscotto.
The outcome here is not based on any one recipe. I looked through several to get an idea of the base ingredients and then experimented with others. Some of the recipes called for too much butter. Pointless for a cookie that’s supposed to be hard and dry, don’t you think? Others seemed complicated, or that they might turn out too sweet. I like what I came up with, but I confess that the next time around I’ll probably double the almonds. I like my biscotti to have a mouth full of them in every bite. Just like the ones from the Italian deli.
Double Chocolate Almond Biscotti
1/2 stick butter
3/4 cup sugar (180 ml)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup cocoa (80 ml)
2 cups flour (500ml)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 scant cup chocolate chips (100g)
1 cup almonds (100g)
1) Toast the almonds on a baking sheet in the oven at 350F (180C) for about 15 minutes. Shake the pan once to make sure they get evenly browned.
2) Cream butter, sugar, and vanilla together in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs and then cocoa. Beat until well combined.
3) Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together in another bowl, then gradually incorporate into the wet ingredients with a wooden spoon until a dough has formed.
4) Stir in the chocolate chips and almonds. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill for an hour.
5) Preheat oven to 325F (160C). Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board. Separate into two. Form each half into a flat log about 12 inches long by patting it down and squaring off the edges with your finger tips. Place well apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
6) Bake for thirty mintues. Cool on a cutting board until no longer hot to the touch and then cut crosswise on the diagonal into slices about 1 inch thick. Arrange on the baking sheet and bake for another 15-20 minutes.
7) Transfer biscotti on a wire rack to cool. Keep at room temperature in a cookie tin or other airtight container.