“You could sell these.”
“You should sell these!”
“If you’ll make me more of these, I’ll pay you.”
“These are better than any you can buy.”
If just one person had said such things about my lemon-anise-almond biscotti, I would have thanked her (or him) and carried on. But these make a great gift – they mail well and keep well – so I have made a gift of them many times. And I have heard similar versions of “these are great!” over and over again throughout the years since I discovered and tried this recipe in the Williams-Sonoma “Cookies & Biscotti” baking book. I don’t even eat them myself (can’t abide the almonds) so I can’t chime in. Sometimes you have to just take people at their word.
This is the book.
This is the recipe from the book.
You can see that the page is wrinkled and has spots of something that spattered on it where it says “Makes about 3 dozen.”
This is what happens when a book is open near your work area. The marks of use are like a letter of reference or a proof that the book has been opened to this page near splashing ingredients numerous times. You don’t use a recipe over and over that you don’t have success with. The marks on this page are the same as a tattered quilt to me — used, loved, used again.
Not only are these a wonderful gift, but they are a joy to make – even for someone who can’t abide nuts! Start with the mixing of the eggs and sugar. I know I’m partial to my own chickens’ eggs. Yesterday, when I needed one and simply walked out to the coop to get one (and the door was stuck on account of being swollen from the rain and I couldn’t get it open and had to ask Samuel for help!), I thought How many people can just walk out to their coop and get a fresh egg when they need one?
I know my eggs are super fresh, but I think yours would look just as beautiful as this whisked up in a bowl with the sugar.
When you add the oil (olive oil for mine, I always use olive oil) and it sits on the top looking so separate,
you might be tempted to wonder how it will incorporate. But a little wrist action brings those pure ingredients together into a smooth, glistening mixture that has its own beauty. I love the gleam.
I don’t measure the lemon zest. The peel of one lemon, grated fine, has always been perfect not only in amount but also in how it adds to the pleasure of making these biscotti. On and in my grater, the little pieces of peel not only look beautiful, but the lemon oil that gets released fills the air with a freshness like no other. And however much it makes, it makes. I put it all in.
Next comes the anise, another sensual wonder. You can buy ground or crushed anise, but to crush it yourself in an old-fashioned mortar and pestle, to smell the rich aroma of the anise oils breaking forth from the seeds – well, I’m in heaven.
Once the grated lemon peel and crushed anise seed have been mixed in, it looks like this. Your nose will tell you you’re on the right track.
It’s time for the rest: baking powder, vanilla, salt, flour, almonds. The recipe says to use whole almonds and chop them coarsely. If I liked almonds and wanted the joy of that experience (no doubt for almond-lovers it’s right up there with mixing the olive oil in, grating a fresh lemon and crushing anise seed), I would do that. But I simply tolerate the almonds for the sake of those who like/love them, so I cheat here and add the very thinly sliced almonds you can buy. In this case it was raining the other day when I might have gone to the store and Mom had some in her freezer – thanks, Mom!
Notice I moved to a strong wooden spoon instead of the whisk for this part.
The dough is quite stiff by the time you mix everything in. The strong spoon is better.
The recipe says to turn this out on a floured board and knead until smooth, about 10 times. I don’t know if I was distracted (that never happens around here!) or if I thought the dough looked smooth enough. Anyway I forgot this part and jumped to the pans. Again not sure what moved me to use parchment paper this time (for the first time ever) but I did, and it was great. I lined the pans. Notice I am not overly generous with the paper. Cheap runs deep!
And put the stiff dough in.
Turns out that not kneading the dough did not change the outcome. My loaves baked for the 30 minutes the recipe calls for, and they didn’t look very brown, but I took them out, waited a few and sliced them. It was just right.
Use a good serrated bread knife. You have to get through the almonds, and whether they are finely chopped or thinly sliced, they are an obstacle. Slice carefully.
Now put those slices, cut-side down, on a baking sheet and right back in the oven.
After 20 minutes in the oven for this part of the process, I didn’t think these looked quite browned enough, so I left them in another 8 minutes, and I liked that color, so I took them out, let them cool and boxed them up for my sister Joanne and her husband Fred, who were in town for a visit.
I found just the right box in my handy-dandy empty box collection. Look at that, two layers fit perfectly. My children always laughed at me for saving empty boxes of various sizes, but as any empty box collector knows, all boxes are not the same and there’s something to be said for having a good selection for times such as these, which I did (on account of careful saving), and which came in handy (again). I say, if a thing – say for example my empty box collection – doesn’t harm anyone, shall we perhaps kindly overlook the quirk and allow the collector to indulge? But I digress.
Enjoy your biscotti and prepare yourself for rave reviews!