April is a time when spring is in the air, and lighter eating is on the brain. Enter Italian biscotti and tea. This sophisticated twice-baked cookie is a long-shaped crunchy stick-like biscuit. I admit I have had my fill at our local Starbucks to ready-made boxed biscotti at Safeway. These cookies aka “cantuccini” are fun to dunk in tea or coffee, but are even sweeter to the palate if home-baked.
Several years ago, when I wrote the original book The Healing Powers of Olive Oil, I met a dear elderly woman who sent me her cookbooks, and taught me about Mediterranean fare. She is Italian, and part of a family-owned olive oil company located in central California. One autumn for my birthday she home-baked several types of biscotti and sent them to me. Since fall is my favorite season, I was moved by her kind gesture and hard work. I transcended into biscotti heaven when I opened the package left on my doorstep. I took my first bite of the crumbly-like shortbread and I was hooked.
As time passed, I never did try my hands at baking biscotti for fear of failure. It seemed too hard—making the dough, rolling it, twice baking. I resisted. But this week I finally took the plunge. Making this Italian cookie is checked off my list of phobias. The process was fun. Throughout the week I prepared for D-Day. I collected items from almonds, anise (a licorice extract used to flavor cookies), dark chocolate, and parchment paper. I was ready to make it happen despite I was entering unchartered waters, so to speak, on an early spring afternoon after my morning swim.
Italian Almond Biscotti
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
½ cup European style butter (you can use ¼ cup fruity olive oil)
1 cup white sugar, granulated
3 large organic eggs
1 teaspoon raw honey
1 teaspoon fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon anise
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups chopped almonds
In a mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients and set aside. Cream butter and sugar in an electric mixer bowl at high speed until mixed well, add eggs. Mix in dry ingredients, add extracts and almonds. Put flour on your hands, shape dough into two logs 8 to 12 inch long, 2 ½ inches wide and ½-1 ½ inches thick. On a parchment covered cookie sheet place rolls. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for about 10 minutes for a less crumbly cut. Slice rolls into ½ inch strips. Place cut sides up on fresh parchment papered cookie sheet. Put back into a 400 degree oven and bake till golden brown. Cool. Makes approximately 30 cookies (the amount varies depending on how big or small you slice the logs).
Icing: Mix ½ cup dark chocolate chips with ¼ cup half-and-half. Melt in microwave. Add ½ to 1 cup confectioners’ sugar. Dip side of cookies into chocolate. Roll in almonds. Place in fridge till icing hardens. Store in container. Freezes well.
After the biscotti was done I sat down in the living room. With a cup of hot black tea I tried the rustic-style biscotti. (My cookies were not perfectly uniform like store-bought ones.) It was chewy with a slight crunch. I dipped it into the tea and it was a softer texture. My mind raced: “I can make different flavors — chocolate, lemon, macadamia, even peach.” I felt a sense of novelty and accomplishment in the Sierra season when new things can happen.
Motto: Face your fear factor when baking. It will boost your culinary skills and make your spring come alive.
Cal Orey, M.A. is an author and journalist. Her books include “The Healing Powers” series (Vinegar, Olive Oil, Chocolate, Honey, and Coffee) published by Kensington. Her website is www.calorey.com.