Month: November 2014

Biscotti—A Perspective

A beautiful day in my neighborhood, albeit, a tad cold. It is the kind of day where logging a few hours in the kitchen, baking, can take the edge off the cold. And baking it will be as we will explore an approach to making biscotti.

Those times when I enjoy a cappuccino, an espresso, or a latte, a couple of house-made biscotti makes that experience that much more enjoyable. In the fall and winter months, a tin of one kind of biscotti or another seems to always be around.

Biscotti—twice cooked—are oblong-shaped cookies or biscuits that are Italian in origin. In their original form they consisted of flour, sugar, eggs, and nuts, generally almonds or pine nuts. However, today there are hundreds of biscotti recipes to choose from. Some simple and some more complex (too many ingredients from my perspective), many of which I have collected and made over the years.

The combinations and additions are many—various nuts, dried fruit, spices, chocolate, or even herbs and cheese for a more savory biscuit. Butter or oil? Egg wash or not? However, there is a common thread among all of these recipes, so why not make a go-to master recipe from which all other biscotti can be built? That is why I am writing you today, to share my master recipe and the techniques I use to make easy, quick, and consistent biscotti every time.

Ingredients
Yields approximately 45 biscotti
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2/3 cup olive oil
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs

Additions
Nuts, dried fruit, spice, chocolate, herbs, cheese, etc.

Method
In a large work bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients to combine.

In another large work bowl, whisk together the oil and the sugar until combined and smooth. Add the eggs one at a time and whisk to combine.

Fold in the additions to the dry ingredients and then fold the dry mix into the wet until the dough forms. Flour your hands and turn out the dough onto a board or countertop to form the logs for baking.

Bake the logs for 40 to 45 minutes at 350 degrees, cool for 10 minutes, cut into the individual cookies and bake again for 10 minutes at 300 degrees. Remove from the oven and allow to cool and harden. Store in a covered cookie tin between paper towel layers.

Okay, now let’s expand those steps used in a recent recipe for a batch of fig and hazelnut biscotti.

First lay out your ingredients, mise en place, and prepare the dough that you eventually turn out on the floured board or work surface. In this recipe the hazelnuts were rough chopped and dry toasted and the dried figs were cut into small pieces so that they distribute evenly throughout the dough. One tip to help that process—since the fig pieces tend to stick together—is to dust them with a little flour which will keep them from sticking and help distribute them evenly within the flour when combined.

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The next step is to cut the dough into two batches, and work with floured hands on the floured surface, roll out two logs approximately 2″ x 12″ and place one each on two prepared baking pans. My baking pans are covered with Silpat, a nonstick silicone baking mat produced in France. I use this material all the time when I bake because it is virtually indestructible (the French might also use it to build fighter jets?), reusable, and easy to clean and store. If you don’t have any Silpat, oven-proof parchment will work just fine in an effort to prevent the dough from sticking to the baking pan.

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Once the logs are on the baking pan, is to uniformly shape them and evenly spread them out to approximately 3″ wide. Then place in the preheated 350-degree oven for the initial baking. About halfway through the baking time, check to determine if the logs are baking at the same rate. You will notice they have expanded in size. If one log appears to be baking faster than the other, switch the shelves the pans are on and turn them 180 degrees to promote even baking for both.

When the initial baking is complete, remove the pans from the oven and allow the logs to cool and set up completely. If you try to take them off the pan too soon they will break in half and if not, they will still be too warm and soft to cut properly. Once the time is right, cut the logs into individual cookies, approximately 3/4-inch, and place back onto the baking pans for the second baking.

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Once the second baking is complete, remove the biscotti from the oven and let them cool completely before storing in tins.

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So there you have it, one approach to making biscotti. As I mentioned in the beginning, there are virtually hundreds of biscotti recipes to choose from, so if you are not inclined to venture out on your own by making a version using this master recipe, you should at least find one of the many published recipes out there and try your hand with one of those. They are a nice snack to have around this time of year.

Let me know how yours turn out.

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Exploring Mostarda—The Sequel

The exploration of mostarda in my last post concluded with the thought of trying fresh wasabi instead of Dijon, and using a bunch of green tomatoes as the main fruit component. Well, I was able to accomplish one of the two, in that I prepared another batch of mostarda using the tomatoes. More about that in a minute.

As mentioned in the initial piece written about the apple mostarda, condiments such as marmalades, chutneys, compotes, and savory jams have always interested me. Especially during the holidays when larger meals and gatherings provide opportunities to include these condiments as accompaniments to the main meal or paired with a cheese course and, perhaps, included as part of an antipasto.

With regard to mostarda, the challenge and the goal was to develop a master recipe, which can be used as the foundation no matter what fruit becomes the main ingredient. We are close, with a little tweaking left to do, which would include trying the fresh wasabi as an option.

Now, back to the tomatoes. Scientifically speaking, a tomato is a fruit. From a cooking perspective, tomatoes are generally categorized as vegetables because they are used in savory, rather than sweet cooking. If you recall my description of mostarda from the initial piece, “A traditional northern Italian condiment, the mostarda is a fruit preserve in mustard syrup” and, as such, I consider the green tomatoes fruit in this preparation.

In keeping with the master recipe theme, with this version of mostarda the ingredients list changed slightly while the method remained the same.

In place of the apples I used 5 green tomatoes, skin, pulp, seeds and all; a finely diced, sweet white onion instead of the red; Sambuca in place of the brandy; and a little more generosity with both the Dijon and the dry mustard.

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Rather than repeat the steps listed in the method for the apple mostarda, I would ask you all to refer to that initial piece because the steps are all the same.

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My thoughts about the end result are these:

  • Tomatoes are a good mostarda ingredient, however my preference would be pears, peaches, apples, cherries, and perhaps grapes.
  • Once cooked down, the tomatoes lost their pale green color, turning more amber as the sugars caramelized.
  • On initial tasting, this mostarda was not “zippy” enough for my palate; however, the next day it had improved as the flavors seemed to have melded together.
  • The mostarda is a good accompaniment for roasted turkey, roasted chicken, or other fowl such as quail or Cornish hens, as well as pan-seared duck breast, venison loin, or lamb. It would make a fine accompaniment as part of a cheese course.
  • The master recipe is still in need of some fine tuning, so next up will be a possible substitution of fresh wasabi and the mustard seed oil.

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If you decide to try your hand at making a mostarda, it would be interesting for me to hear what you finally come up with and how you use it at your table. Enjoy!

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