Tuesday, 24 September 2013

biscotti for an autumn evening - you dictate the season

The autumn sun has just about set, I’m thinking ahead, and tonight I will indulge in an evening tipple, a little brandy perhaps. In my hand I want to see a little hard biscuit. Cantuccini, dipped in a little spirit, with a short coffee. The flavour is light, you can still taste the nuts as well as vanilla and a touch of cinammon. A winning combo, making a proper end to an evening. 

After some experiments I’ve mastered the recipe for cantuccini now. My first batch were definitely the dentist’s friend, requiring serious dunking, in tea coffee or alcohol to avoid that worrying bite and crunch, after which you couldn’t help wondering if there was a nut in your mouth or a fragment of something, that until very recently, had formed part of your dental infrastructure.

All in all, despite this being a two-step recipe, it is worth making the effort. The biscotti, apart from being the only thing in my cupboard with that name that is actually cooked twice, keep for ages, if you can hide them from the greedy. They are not too sweet either.

I have used mixed nuts and favour some brazil nuts and some hazelnuts as an alternative. I don’t want any fruit in there myself, but some people include raisins or apricots (chopped up). You don’t have to peel the almonds either, of course. Time to bake.

  • The dough should be sticky but not wet. Eggs vary in size, as does opinion about what large means (thank you, Marks and Spencer). If your dough is not sticking together add a little water, drop by drop. Or you could add some alcohol, it will give the flavour a twist, something without too pungent. Not milk, since this is a fat free recipe, let’s not spoil it.
  • Don’t forget the salt, it makes a big difference, and I try to have fresh baking powder, because baking powder does go off and a poor rise is just depressing.
  • When you take the loaf out It’s worth waiting a while before cutting the first bake of the loaf into slices. I find a very sharp serrated knife works best. I’m also thinking of drying out the almonds a little before starting on this recipe. I skin the almonds by soaking them in boiling water, and that makes them a teeny bit soggy.

Set your oven to Gas Mark 4 (180°C/350°F).


325g (12oz) plain flour
300g (11oz) caster sugar
1½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. salt
325g (12oz) whole blanched almonds
3 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract

  • Prepare two baking sheets with baking parchment.
  • Roughly crush about a third of the almonds (I sometimes use 1/3 almond flour)
  • Mix the dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and almonds.
  • Whisk the eggs and vanilla together and stir them into the dry ingredients, working it into a stiff dough (I use a fork). If it’s not all sticking together add a few drops of water.
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured board and divide into two.
  • Roll each half into a sausage and divide again into two, so you have four pieces. I do this because it fits on my baking tray, and makes slightly smaller biscotti.
  • Put the sausage shaped dough on the lined trays and flatten a little – they will spread a bit, so keep them well spaced.
  • Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the logs are well risen and have almost doubled in size.
  • Leave the oven on.
  • Cut into slices about 1cm thick. Some people say they should be smaller, but I can’t cut them that small. Don’t worry about leaving space between the slices.
  • Put the sliced dough back and cook for around 20 minutes more, until they are lightly toasted. Let them cool before storing (or eating).

Makes lots.

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