I garner inspiration and ideas from plenty of different resources. Books, magazines, films, travel, and discourse with friends all influences my culinary life just as much as the other aspects of my life. One such beautiful friend has beautiful Italian blood flowing through her veins, so we naturally tend to discuss (among other things) Italian food. She and her sweet mama are a wealth of knowledge on the subject!
One of the things we talked about recently was biscotti. Particularly, one such recipe for Cornmeal Biscotti I found in my copy of The Essential New York Times Cookbook. Neither of us had ever heard of cornmeal biscotti. We’re both accustomed to the usual all-flour, almond biscotti and wondered how the cornmeal would alter the texture of the biscotti. Even in my homemade cornbread, I always note a slight “crunch” running throughout. I also couldn’t quite imagine how the flavors would combine.
Lastly, cornmeal isn’t quite as finely ground as flour. Having worked with almond flour before, I knew that a courser crumb lends to a crumblier end result. You really want to combine the coarser ground product with something finer like flour in order to make a more appetizing product for the palate. I know some will disagree with me. Many gluten free or paleo baked-good mixes use straight almond flour. I like nut flour, I do! I just don’t agree that it makes a completely satisfying baked good on it’s own. You wind up with a more dense, less pillowy, and much “sandier” texture. I was musing on this exact issue with this biscotti recipe.
Biscotti is an Italian biscuit-cookie-cracker amalgam that is typically almond-based with anise punctuated throughout. It is baked twice (the name itself translates to “twice-baked”). Once to set and the second time to dry it out for long-storage and easy travel. It’s notably hard, quite crunchy, and served well with an espresso. Many dunk theirs in their coffee to soften it up prior to eating. (The softer, cookie-like biscotti of America doesn’t hold up very well to being dunked, however.)
1/2c coarse chopped blanched almonds
1/4c coarse chopped skinned hazelnuts
1tbsp minced rosemary
1-1/2tbsp finely grated orange zest
1c AP flour
1/2c coarse yellow cornmeal
1tsp baking soda
1tsp anise seeds
3lg eggs, separated
1) Preheat the oven to 350°. Spread all the nuts out on a baking sheet and toast them 6-8min, stirring occasionally, until golden. Leaving your oven on, remove the baking sheet, and allow to cool on a rack.
2) While the nuts are toasting, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. When the butter is melted, stir in the rosemary and orange zest. Set aside to cool.
3) In the workbowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking soda and anise seeds on low speed. Add two eggs, one at a time, thoroughly mixing between each addition. Add in the seasoned melted butter and mix completely. Stir in the toasted nuts until just combined.
4) Allow the dough to rest for 5min and use this time to line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Form the stiff dough into a log roughly 2in wide on the baking sheet. Beat the remaining egg with the water and lightly brush over top the biscotti log.
5) Bake the log for 30min until it is a deep golden brown. Remove to a rack and reduce the oven temp to 200°. While the oven is cooling, use a serrated knife to slice the log at a diagonal into thin 1/4in wide slices. Arrange the slices on 2 parchment-lined baking sheets. Pop them back in the oven to dry for 40min-1hr. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
Since, I’m all for exploring in the kitchen, sometimes I understand that the average home cook is going to use what can be found locally. In this vein, I knew my substitutions would not alter the end result. For my biscotti, I used sliced almonds. I couldn’t find skinned hazelnuts, so I had to use ones with skins still in tact or spend quite some time attempting to remove them. Honestly, I wasn’t willing to commit to that and it didn’t really matter in the long run. The biscotti turned out just fine with the skins still attached.
The recipe calls for unsalted butter, but I never buy it. I prefer salted butter and this too was ok. I used blood orange zest since I had one on hand. I will say, I accidentally used all 3 eggs in the batch due to being distracted watching livestream church at the time, but other than a longer drying time, it didn’t wreck my biscotti at all! If anything, it just added more protein. I also personally sliced my biscotti at an angle driving downward creating 1/2-3/4in slices. This was just a personal habit. The manner of slicing isn’t going to change the end result.
The final biscotti was an aromatic dream. The flavors and herbs were so forward that one or two was sufficient with my morning coffee. The texture was coarse and grainy, but not necessarily off-putting. I completely expected the biscotti to taste like a cornbread stick to be honest, but the cornmeal flavor wasn’t too assertive and was well-balanced by the rosemary and anise. The orange was lost among the other flavors I’m afraid. Next time I would use orange oil to punch up that note a bit more. It wasn’t too sweet and possessed just the right amount of grainy crunch to make you slow down and savor every bite.
This is definitely not your average sugar-bomb-American-coffee-house-cookies-parading-around-as-biscotti biscotti. This one made me imagine I was back in Rome enjoying an invigorating doppio espresso outside a café watching the people walk by. It was savory and fragrant. A luxury without causing laziness. Something that provided a little sustenance to start my morning (since I’m not a huge breakfast eater these days).
What is your favorite biscotti flavor?
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