Almond Biscotti

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Legend has it that the twice baked treat that we call biscotti originates in the Italian city of Prato and should be called biscotti de Prato. Prato is in Tuscany – kinda’ North Central Italy. The original jobbies were supposed to be this nice almond version. These may go way back. We do know that something like these was being made in the medieval period. The first “official” recipe was somewhere around the 1800’s or thereabouts. People who like biscotti are nuts about this version. It is not hard to make at all.

{Herself sez: Well, pics will have to come later – we ate them up before I could get my camera out and set up! They are THAT good!}

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
230 g sugar (1 cup) – can be reduced to 200 g easily, or less by taste
3 eggs
3 g anise or vanilla extract (1 tsp)
320 g all-purpose flour (2 cups)
8 g baking powder (2 tsp)
dash salt
80 g chopped almonds (1/2 cup)
milk for brushing
sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

You should use a mixer for this unless you have more energy and strength that good sense. You can use a flat beater or a dough hook. If you want to be really efficient use the flat beater until you add flour and then switch to the hook.

Cream the butter and sugar until nice and smooth. Use less sugar if this is too sweet for you. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix for a few seconds. Anise may be the more traditional flavor if you have it. Remember vanilla wasn’t available until the conquest of Mexico. Interesting that both chocolate and vanilla come from the new world. Add all the rest except the almonds and mix together. Lastly add the almonds and mix briefly to evenly distribute. Traditionally you just use plain old almonds – not blanched or anything else. You don’t really have to chop them, when you slice the stuff you will cut the almonds anyway. Follow your own preferences.

Use the biggest pan that will fit in your oven. If you don’t have a good sized pan then use two smaller pans. Cover the pan with foil and then butter the foil quite thoroughly. Divide the dough in half and then spread it on the pan with a good space between. You will wind up with two strips 12” x 3” or 10” x 4” depending on the size of your pan. You will find it easier to just pat into place rather than trying to spread with a utensil. Keep them as far apart as your pan will allow and as square as possible. You don’t want the two strips to melt together. This will all make sense after you do it the first time.

Brush the top with milk and sprinkle well with sugar. You will probably use about 1/4 cup of sugar or a bit more when it is right. Bake at 375°F for around 20 minutes. You want a nice golden brown and it should be firm to touch.

When nice and brown remove from the oven and turn the heat down to 300°F. Slide the foil and pastry onto a wire cooling rack. Let it cool for 15 minutes. You have to be very careful with these steps as the pastry is rather fragile here. After it has cooled for the required time you need to get the pastry off the foil. The best way that I have found is to place the foil/pastry to the edge of the counter with the strips parallel to the edge. Support the strip from the bottom as you slide the pastry off the counter while peeling the foil down. When you have finished the first strip turn the foil around and do the other. This is the time to be very careful or you will crack the stuff. Slice the pastry with a good bread knife at a 45° angle. If the knife is not good and sharp you may rip the almonds around.

Put the slices with a cut side down on an ungreased baking sheet. You will do much better to use a jelly roll pan (the kind that had a lip all the way around). If you use a real non-stick cookie sheet the slices are likely to go sailing as it takes almost no movement to get the slice sliding. Bake them at 300°F for 10 minutes or so on one side, turn them over and do another 10 minutes. Just turn the oven off, crack the door, and let them cool for a while in the oven. After things have cooled off store them in a really airtight container.

Since these are so bone-dry they are traditionally served with something to dunk them in. Coffee and tea are well thought of. The old Italian tradition was orange juice after dinner. Try it – the reason most stuff (food wise) gets to be a tradition is because it is good.

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