Chocolate Chip Walnut Biscotti

Most people have an aversion to certain foods. They don’t like bananas, or are allergic to garlic, or can’t stand cilantro. I don’t do nuts of any kind, and I don’t drink coffee. This biscotti recipe contains both nuts and coffee, a double whammy for me, so I cannot tell you that they are good. But you could believe me when I tell you that everyone who has tried them has loved them, and then give ‘em a go yourself.

I doubled the recipe* because I like to have enough to give some away. Okay, I give all these away. My friend Melba and her husband Brian had sad news recently about their beloved dog, and I hope these biscotti will help console their hurting hearts. If you know someone who could use a bit of cheer, consider a small gift of something homemade. We cannot change the circumstance, but we can remind people we love that they have been on our hearts. Food conveys love, care, warmth.

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It’s an easy dough to put together, but I don’t know why they set up recipes the way they do. If they want you to cream the butter with the sugars and then add the flour and other dry ingredients, why don’t they tell you that? In that order? Why do they tell you first of all to combine the dry ingredients and then set them aside? Why would I want to wash two bowls when I can wash just one?

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I suggest: combine the butter and sugars, add the eggs, then the dry ingredients (I do not sift together these together, I just put them in), then the chips and nuts. This recipe says to use an electric mixer. You know I love my new mixer, and certainly you are welcome to use yours, but this is one you could manage with a good spoon. Your call.

The dough is like a cookie dough, pretty stiff, easily pulling away from the side of the bowl.

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I did not have instant espresso powder, whatever that is. But my former barista son Samuel tells me that ground coffee is the same thing, that the difference between coffee and espresso is in the brewing method and the brewing method only. Well, I hope so because he was sequestered while I was making these, solving yet another perplexing coding problem, and I had some ground Folger’s in the fridge, so I substituted that for the instant espresso powder.

The walnuts are another thing. I had bought them already chopped but have learned from making this recipe in the past that if they are too big, the loaves are harder to slice when the time comes for that, so I chopped them smaller. For this purpose may I present the best chopper I know (Kwik-Kut Mfg. Co, Mohawk, NY). I’ve had it for decades but I know they still sell them. I got some for gifts at Yoder’s this past year. (Great for egg salad too, if you are into that.)

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I put the 2 cups of nuts (remember I doubled the recipe) into my four-cup glass measure and chopped them right in there (again why measure in one cup and chop in another – that would be two things to wash instead of one). I didn’t get carried away and I didn’t go for a specific size piece. I just chopped till I got tired of chopping.

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I suggest using mini chocolate chips instead of the regular-size morsels (again for the ease-of-slicing reason), but I didn’t have enough (having used half the bag in the oatmeal cookies I made yesterday). So I used some regulars too, and tried chopping them into what I needed, the same as I chopped the nuts. It was a little harder but I reduced their size a bit. Using all mini chips would have been better. Get the minis.

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Once all of the ingredients are combined, you can use your hands and form one solid ball of dough. I cut this into four pieces so that I’d have equal-size loaves.

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I formed these quarters and put them on my pans, hoping they wouldn’t spread too much. They look like little meatloaves to me!

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I found that it took longer to bake than the 25 minutes at (fully pre-heated) 325F for these loaves to be firm to the touch, more like 35 minutes. I gave them their prescribed five-minute rest period, then used the right knife for slicing biscotti to slice them. Between the nuts and the chips, and the loaves still being pretty hot after the five minutes, it was not as smooth going through as perhaps it might be (you see a few breaks), but I managed to slice them, put them cut side down and bake again. This too took longer, more like 15 minutes per side.

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Who knows, maybe I sliced them thicker, or maybe my oven is on the cooler side and I should have upped the heat. Whatever the case, they looked great in the end, even if I cannot tell you they tasted great. Samuel gave them the thumbs-up, and he doesn’t even like sweet things generally.

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Doubling the recipe made quite a few; I count about 30. These keep well, ship well, dunk in coffee well 😊 Enjoy!!

 

*recipe from my William-Sonoma Cookies and Biscotti cookbook, Time-Life Custom Publishing, 1993

The Right Knife for Slicing Biscotti

Yesterday I quadrupled my biscotti recipe. That’s a lot of biscotti! But I like giving them as gifts, and in this gift-giving season, a pile like this comes in handy.

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I have made these lemon-anise-almond biscotti many times, but this time I had a problem. I formed the loaves and baked them until they were firm to the touch, but I’ve got things to do, you know, so when they came out of the oven, still hot, I wanted to slice them right away.

This has been a challenge for me before, but it was worse today – as I sliced the hot loaves, every time my knife hit a larger almond piece, the piece started to break apart, especially at the edges. You don’t want this. See how some of them are full pieces and some have broken edges?

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You want full pieces. You want all full pieces. Why was this happening?? I was not using my ordinary, everyday serrated knife, the one that fits in my wooden block holder, the one I’ve been using so long that its teeth are worn down (which would surely jam up against the almond pieces and cause breakage).

Instead I was using what I consider my best serrated knife, the one I hold in reserve for special jobs. It lives in the drawer because there’s no slot for it in the wooden block. It’s hefty and shiny and has very sharp teeth (for making short work of almond pieces) and I think it was expensive. It looks expensive. (It was a gift so I can’t be sure.) I was being very careful. Okay, the loaves were still hot, but that shouldn’t matter so much.

But I can’t have broken pieces. It’s true that they would taste just as good, but c’mon, I am not going to give them as gifts. And I am not going to eat them myself (no nuts for me, and almonds are the worst). And I would feel pretty bad saying to someone Here, would you like the broken ones? Yet they seem too good for the chickens!

Then I looked at that gorgeous knife as if it’s the knife’s fault that I had this problem, and I realized: It’s the knife’s fault! It’s too fat! Heft in a knife is perhaps not always ideal. I then remembered another serrated knife that I got at the county fair decades ago, you know the kind: “This knife will slice through wood” and some guy behind a table is demonstrating the amazing strength and sharpness of a $5 knife with a plastic handle. You can hardly believe it’s that good but you see the proof for yourself. I had bought the knife. It didn’t fit in the holder either so it too lived in the drawer. And there it was.

These are the two knives side by side, the poor cousin and the rich uncle.

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Standing up on their teeth, look at the difference in their thickness. And see what a difference in the slicing!!

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That cheapo knife made perfect slices for me every time. See how each piece on this baking sheet is a full piece, like the one I’ve outlined in red, no broken edges?

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Needless to say, I was very happy I had kept the cheap one, very happy to have the right tool for this job. Bigger, heftier, pricier and stronger is not always better. Only one question remains.

What should I do with the broken pieces??

Unbeatable Biscotti

“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.”

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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.

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This is the recipe from the book.

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You can see that the page is wrinkled and has spots of something that spattered on it where it says “Makes about 3 dozen.”

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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.

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When you add the oil (olive oil for mine, I always use olive oil) and it sits on the top looking so separate,

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The dough is quite stiff by the time you mix everything in. The strong spoon is better.

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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!

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And put the stiff dough in.

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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.

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Now put those slices, cut-side down, on a baking sheet and right back in the oven.

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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.

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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!