I am not much of a baker. No, let me revise that comment: I am not a baker at all. Totally hit or miss, no finesse. Results vary greatly. The Nans fondly remember ‘Da Bizzkit’ a flop of a chocolate cake I made last New Year’s (along with the flopped braised ribs – an almost unfathomable miss). But, I perservere, often getting ideas above my station and throwing the results away before anyone gets to see them.
Lately I have been fancying a biscotti with my coffee. Seattle only offers extremely sweet biscuits or giant slabs of cheese-cake; not my thing at all. So, in the interests of using what I have to hand (or as my sister rather cheekily phrased it …”what’s almost past it’s sell-by date”), I thought I would address the many half packets of flour in the pantry – and satisfy my craving by making a simple biscotti.
Biscotti means cooked twice in Italian. Baked once in a loaf, then cut into thinnish slices and baked again in the oven to crisp up. They’re traditionally dunked in coffee or in vin santo (if you are in Tuscany and they are cantuccini). Recipes varied pretty widely – so I eventually googled “easy biscotti” and got the recipe below.
They’re crispy and delicious but they ain’t biscotti. They are more like what we know as rusks in SA. “What changes did you make to the recipe?” asked sofabrother – a veteran of my mishap stories and a pastry chef. I cut the sugar in half. “You and sugar – well that’s why they are soft and so crumbly, the sugar would have made them hard. That and thinner loaves.” The sugar in the recipe below is the correct amount.
It was only as I was half way through the process that I realised I should have asked camparigirl for a recipe: Anna-Rosa no doubt has a failsafe version that she has passed down to her daughter.
Aah well. La prossima volta.
Sweet Rusticotti (origina version said about 5 dozen … my chunkier version yielded 35 and crumbs)
- ½ cup (130 ml) vegetable oil (I use melted, salted butter because I had defrosted it and hate to waste)
- 1 cup (200g) brown sugar
- 3¼ cups (390 g) all-purpose flour
- 3 eggs
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 tablespoon orange extract
- ¾ cup (100g) mixed dried fruit/nuts and seeds (see note at end)
- Preheat the oven to 375F (190C).
- Grease cookie sheets or line a wide tine with baking paper.
- In a medium bowl beat together the oil, eggs, sugar and flavoring until well blended.
- Combine the flour and baking powder and stir into the egg mixture to form a heavy but pliant dough.
- Divide dough into two pieces.
- Form each piece into a roll as long as your cookie sheet.
- Place roll onto the prepared cookie sheet, and press down to ½ inch thickness. (See comments at end)
- Bake for 20 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, until golden brown. Mine is a fan assisted/convection oven and it took 20.
- Remove from the baking sheet to cool on a wire rack. Cool completely or they will crumble when you try and cut them.
- When the loaves are cool enough to handle, slice each one crosswise into 1/2 inch slices (I used a thin bladed knife, but a sharp pizza slicer should do it. Not a bread knife.)
- Place the slices cut side up back onto the baking sheet. Bake for an additional 6 to 10 minutes on each side. Mine took 6 minutes each side. Slices should be lightly toasted.
Why mine looked rustic (aka what I learned)
- I made the rolls too thick – easily 2 inches versus the half inch recommended – next time will make them thinner and flatter
- More sugar means harder.
- The more bits you put into the mixture – the more the biscuits are likely to crumble when you cut them. Next time I will use smaller pieces – or go for something like lemon zest/rind with slivered almonds and maybe little sours of preserved apricot.
- Leave until completely cooled before slicing …. or packing away
But wait – there’s more. Now I was on a roll (plus there) were still a lot of opened packets of flour in the cupboard, I decided to make a savoury version. I had read a recipe somewhere that had cheese, red wine and olives in it – which sounded perfect. But I couldn’t find it and was nervous going off-piste on my own with red wine in the mix – so I adapted the recipe for the sweet ones:
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) vegetable oil (I use melted salted butter again)
- 60g of mixed microplaned/grated cheese (I had a heel of pecorino and a small chunk of gruyere)
- 3 eggs
- juice of one small lemon (about 2 tablespoons) and the zest
- 3 cups (360 g) all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 tablespoon of freshly ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil (if needed)
- salt flakes and rosemary to decorate
Pretty much followed same process as before:
- Mix the eggs and vegetable oil/melted butter with the cheese until frothy
- Fold in the flour/baking powder and pepper with a generous pinch of salt
- If the mix is breaking into crumbs add a tablespoon of olive oil to bring it back together – mine needed it.
- Divide the dough in two then pat out into ½ inch thick loaves and lay out on baking paper
- Stud each loaf with flecks of salt (I used smoked) and rosemary
- The follow the rest of the instructions from 8 – 11
These turned out a) delicious and b) very crumbly. Which I am sure has something to do with the way I altered the recipe. Claudia will have to comment. But they are going to be excellent with a piece of salami draped over them, a stud of tomato and a gloop of blue cheese. Or dunked in a minestrone. Sono molto contenta con questa biscotti.
(All images campari&sofa)