Beautiful biscotti (with photo gallery)

For those who only love a soft chewy cookie read no further! This article is totally devoted to a dry, crumbly Italian cookie that is so brittle, that it literally crumples in your mouth.

Decorative dunkers are a great way to start your Christmas baking.

Decorative dunkers are a great way to start your Christmas baking.

For those who only love a soft chewy cookie read no further! This article is totally devoted to a dry, crumbly Italian cookie that is so brittle, that it literally crumples in your mouth.

A cookie, that was once thought to be edible for centuries. A cookie, which regally sits beside a steaming cup of café latte or a cappuccino.

If you are following my trail of crumbs, it must come to you as no surprise that the path leads to the toughest cookie of all…the biscotti!

In Italian, biscotti translates to as ‘twice cooked’ which indeed describes how these tasty cookies are made. Originating in Rome, biscotti is the oldest cookie that can be traced as far back as the fourteenth century.

Roman soldiers discovered that by baking their bread twice resulted in a hard biscuit that kept better on long travel. Somehow the idea of twice baking became the beginnings for biscotti. Though, at that time biscotti wasn’t so much a sweet as it was a functional food to take on the road.

During the Renaissance, biscotti re-emerged in Tuscany. Here the bakers revelled in the crunchy delights of the biscotti. They, however, added a twist by serving the cookies with sweet wine. Biscotti’s dry, crunchy texture was deemed to be the perfect medium to soak up the wine. Centuries later, many Italians still agree that dipping biscotti into Vin Santo is a perfect way to end a meal. The alternative is, leisurely enjoying them with steaming cup of espresso.

You may be wondering how the biscotti made its way across the ocean to Starbucks and other coffee shops. Well, we can thank Christopher Columbus for introducing the biscotti to North America. He too, like the Roman soldiers, used the cookie as a viable food source that could resist moisture and mold on his overseas journeys.

Today, coffee lovers are embracing the gourmet cookie with a soaring passion, happily dipping and dunking their way through the day, delighting in a “new trend” that’s centuries old.

Known as the ‘cookie of the millennium,’ the biscotti has long surpassed the beloved chocolate chip cookie in popularity. Why? The hard texture of biscotti have made them ideal for dipping, so it is easy to sell it as an add-on with a cup of coffee or tea. As popularity of coffee houses and espresso carts grew, so did the biscotti as its side kick.

Another reason for its popularity, is perhaps there is a certain elegance attached to the slim crescent shaped cookie.

This is apparent as biscotti are turning up in elegant restaurants alongside a steaming cup of cappuccino, in gourmet marketplaces, on supermarket shelves, in delis, ice cream parlours and even upscale beauty salons which offer the true ‘pamper you’ service.

Traditionally biscotti were almond flavoured as almonds were readily available in Italy and nearby countries.

Today there is a variety for every palate, whether it is low in fat or sugar, frosted, full of nuts and dried fruits, or delicately flavoured with lemon or spice; the sky is the limit to what ingredients can be added to kick-up the flavour of these tasty cookies.

Whatever variety you favour, there is only one method that is used when making these gourmet biscuits. Rather than making trays and trays of individual cookies, the biscotti dough is first formed into a log and then baked. After a short cooling period, the log is then sliced, using a serrated knife, into diagonal slices.

And then it is time for bake number two. The point of this second baking is to dry out the biscotti so they lose any excess moisture.

This ensures a crisp, dry cookie. A low oven temperature and a slow baking time are the key, for you do not want any browning of the cookie.

Once the individual biscotti have baked and cooled, it is time to beautify them! Though the baked biscotti can be eaten as is, they can be glazed or drizzled with chocolate.

To do this, simply line a baking sheet with waxed paper. Using a small icing knife, spread melted chocolate on one side of each cookie. Or, dip cookie by holding onto its edges and press down into a shallow pan of chocolate. Otherwise, simply dip one end of each biscotti in melted chocolate — or, ‘double dip’: dip one end, cool, then make a second shallow dip — one end dark, one end white. Place dipped cookies on the baking sheet and let it set until thoroughly firm.

You can also top the melted chocolate with nuts or coloured sprinkles for added wow factor.

Brownie biscotti

1/3 cup butter, softened

2/3 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

1 egg yolk, beaten

1 tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease baking sheets, or line with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Combine the flour, cocoa and baking powder; stir into the creamed mixture until well blended. Dough will be stiff, so mix in the last bit by hand. Mix in the chocolate chips and walnuts. Divide dough into two equal parts. Place onto baking sheet 4 inches apart. Brush with mixture of water and yolk.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, or until firm. Cool on baking sheet for 30 minutes. Using a serrated knife, slice the loaves diagonally into 1 inch slices. Return the slices to the baking sheet, placing them on their sides. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes on each side, or until dry. Cool completely and store in an airtight container.

Almond-fennel biscotti

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour, sifted

3 tbsp whole fennel seed

1 tbsp baking powder, sifted

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup whole almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped

finely grated zest of 2 lemons (or large orange)

3 large eggs

1 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 egg white, lightly beaten

Heat oven to 350 F. Combine the flour, fennel seed, baking powder, salt and nuts in a bowl and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the lemon zest, eggs, sugar and vanilla with a sturdy wooden spoon. Slowly stir in the oil. Gradually stir in the dry ingredients. If you have a plastic pastry scraper, it’s a good tool to incorporate the last bit of dry mix. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rest for 10 minutes. Line a 12×18-inch baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and divide in two. Roll each portion into 14-inch logs and transfer to the prepared sheet. Lightly flatten the logs with your hands so they are 2 1/2 inches wide. Brush with egg white.

Bake on the middle rack until lightly golden on top and just firm in centre, about 30 minutes. Remove and reduce the oven to 300 F. Let the logs cool 15 minutes then carefully transfer to a cutting board. With a sharp serrated knife, slice the logs 3/4-inch thick. Transfer the cookies back to the sheet and bake until dry on the cut sides, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Madhu Badoni is a Red Deer-based freelance food writer. She can be reached at