15 May 2015

An act of trust

My mother-in-law to be made biscotti around the holidays this year and when we dunked them into coffee on Christmas I was immediately reminded how lovely they are. Her's were studded with pistachios and apricots and anise and nice and toasty. Homemade twice-baked biscotti is so much better than what you'd get in a package. Unlike other cookies, they do have a longer shelf life but when you've molded the fresh dough yourself it's a game-changer. At about three points since Christmas I stocked those add-ins in my pantry only to reach for them and find: we've snacked on the pistachios and they're now gone, the apricots got chopped into granola, and the anise is there, waiting to be used in a sweet application (though it does like to be crushed into meatball mix). Last week I decided I would let her's be her's and go a different direction with the inspiration.  

I happened upon a recipe from Cook's Illustrated using a good amount of almonds (check) and almond extract (check) and loved it. As is not unusual in Cook's recipes, which often contain a hack, making the dough was a bit of an act of trust. Because of the process of aerating the egg and sugar first in a food processor (which you'll use first to grind some of the almonds til powdery; this cuts the gluten down), the dough is a bit more sticky. After the first bake, things don't look all that exciting. You'll be staring at a mass of what looks like an undercooked, stout loaf of bread (see above). But this is ok and what biscotti is all about at this stage. 

You'll then slice it on the bias, hopefully more accurately to the 1/2 inch than me--some of mine ran more like 3/4 inch--and place them on a wire rack to bake for another 35 minutes. At which point they will emerge toasty and golden, but not tooth-shattering. Yes there is some babysitting here but the results are worth it. Biscotti keep airtight for over a week...maybe 2. We've been pulling them out of the jar for dunks in warm afternoon coffee and tea. I don't even think this heat wave will stop me from making them in the near future again.

Almond Biscotti
Barely tweaked from Cook's

Notes: This is Cook's Illustrated, which I don't recommend messing with. Biscotti don't run high on the butter and sugar spectrum anyways. My only change was to add a little lemon zest and make a half recipe to fit on my baking sheet--which is reflected below. I think it is easier to work with one "loaf" of dough, especially on your first time. The dough, as I mentioned, is sticky, but nothing to be concerned about once you get it into the oven. Don't be intimidated by the amount of steps, either. You're ultimately mixing wet and dry and doing a double bake. No mixer needed but food processor is recommended for some of the work though not mixing the actual dough. You could use a blender I'd imagine for the grinding and egg aerating. Use your judgement on the first bake for when to pull it--you'll want to see cracking tops and light golden hue. If your dough was a little sticky, you may need a few minutes longer than the recommended 30. 

1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp (3 1/8 ounces) whole almonds, lightly toasted
3/4 cups + 2 Tbsp (4 3/8 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, plus 1 Tbsp white beaten with pinch salt
1/2 cup (3.5 ounces) sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3/4 teaspoons almond extract
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Few swipes lemon zest

Vegetable oil spray

Adjust oven rack to middle and heat to 325 degrees. Using ruler and pencil, draw an 8 by 3-inch rectangle on a piece of parchment paper, then place parchment on a sheet pan, ink side down.

Pulse 1/2 cup almonds in food processor until coarsely chopped, 8 to 10 pulses; transfer to bowl and set aside. Process remaining 2 Tbsp almonds in food processor until finely ground, about 45 seconds. Add flour, baking powder, and salt; process to combine, about 15 seconds. Transfer flour mix to second bowl. 

Process 1 egg in now empty food processor until lightened in color and almost doubled in volume, about 1 minute. Slowly add sugar until thoroughly combined, about 10 seconds. Add melted butter, almond extract, lemon and vanilla and process until combined, about 10 seconds. 

Transfer egg mixture to medium bowl. Sprinkle half of flour mixture over egg mixture and, using spatula, gently fold until just combined. Add remaining flour mixture and chopped almonds and gently fold until just combined.

Using floured hands, pat dough into a rectangle, using lines on parchment as guide. Spray each loaf lightly with oil spray. Using rubber spatula lightly coated with oil spray, smooth tops and sides of rectangles. Gently brush tops with egg white wash. Bake until golden and just beginning to crack on top, 30-33 minutes or so, rotating pan halfway through baking.

Let loaf cool on baking sheet for 30 minutes. Transfer to cutting board. Using serrated knife, slice on slight bias into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Lay slices, cut side down, about 1/4 inch apart on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. Bake until crisp and golden brown on both sides, about 35 minutes, flipping slices halfway through baking. Let cool completely before serving. Biscotti can be stored in airtight container for 2 weeks. 

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