In the achingly beautiful short memoir, "A Christmas Memory," Truman Capote recalls "my friend," the distant cousin on whom the story centers along with his seven-year-old self, waking on a late November morning and exclaiming "Oh, my...it's fruitcake weather!"
Yesterday I stood at the window, looked outside at the gray November day, and exclaimed, "Oh my, it's biscotti weather!"
Six years ago I wrote about my biscotti baking. I still bake biscotti every year, the circle of recipients widening. Now I bake for the Andrews House Christmas Cupboard, an annual fundraising event by one of our local non-profits doing frontline work among those who are in need. Our Legal Clinic has been hosted by Andrews House for over 13 years, and this is a way for me to say back to the staff and board "thank you." I ship more biscotti out west than I used to: some to my children, some to my extended family of Alise's parents and of Eric and Brandee and their girls. Some will be shipping south; some will be delivered just a few blocks away.
When I blogged about the biscotti in 2010, I included a recipe. While I still follow the same recipe, some of my opinions have changed, so I am setting out below the recipe with April's 2016 editorial comments.
And biscotti even brings me to poetry, including this from last fall:
I have been baking biscotti
For days now
In a slow rhythm
And shutting down the computer tablet email facebook
Trying fiercely to carve out sanctuaries of time.
In the morning
When I come downstairs to make oatmeal
I open the deck door and step outside
In the chill dark
Or the damp
And stand there to try to measure the day
Not to tell the weather
But to make myself more aware
Of the fragility of each day.
Sometimes a lone crow
High in the walnut tree caws.
While I type this
At my office
I think of the deck
And the silence of the morning
And the smell of cinnamon
Lacing the house each evening.
Lacing the house each evening.
The Biscotti Recipe
As I noted six years ago, this is not a secret family recipe. No one in my family on either side of the family ever baked biscotti. I can pretty much guarantee that not one of my four grandparents ever even heard the word biscotti, let alone tasted it. Somewhere I stumbled on the recipe, and in a happy moment of serendipity, biscotti became my holiday baked item.
1½ cups pecans or almonds*
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon**
2 cups sugar
½ cup melted unsalted butter***
1 ½ tablespoons grated orange rind****
Notes on ingredients
*This recipe originally called for almonds. I made it with pecans for years. Either works. I now prefer the almonds, as they make for a more flavorful cookie.
**At a minimum. If I am using what I call OTC cinnamon (the regular, widely available stuff as opposed to more pungent specialty cinnamons), I usually use a heaping tablespoon.
***Using salted butter will not kill this, but it really is better with unsalted. I have never made this with margarine or any other substitute, so I have no experience with using something else.
****Use it if you have it. I used to skip this ingredient entirely. A few years ago I realized it was worth the extra effort to buy some oranges and grate the rind.
Preheat over to 350°. Prepare 2 baking sheets: I use parchment paper, but you may coat lightly with vegetable spray or Crisco. With parchment paper, I am guaranteed the biscotti will not stick.
Chop (by hand or with food processor) ½ cup of nuts fine (like flour); set aside.
Coarse chop the remainder of the nuts and place in small bowl with flour, baking powder and cinnamon. I usually whisk these ingredients to blend them.
In large bowl, beat eggs on medium speed until fluffy. Add finely ground nuts (the ½ cup), sugar, butter, and orange peel. Beat until blended. Note: I use a mixer through this step.
Stir in flour mixture to form dough. The dough should be fairly stiff and heavy, but not dry. I will use a mixer to start the process, then finish with a spoon. (Note: I have a hand mixer, not a stand mixer. If you have a heavy-duty Kitchenaid or similar workhorse, you may be able to mix everything with your mixer.)
Divide dough into quarters. On well-floured work surface, roll and shape each quarter into a log approximately 12 inches long and 1-2 inches wide. It is like rolling fat "snakes" from clay; dust your hands with flour. Place 2 logs on each baking sheet and bake 25-30 minutes, until "firm in center" per the original recipe. There is no magic to this: 25 to 30 minutes in a stove at 350° will get the desired results. (Note: you can bake both sheets (all 4 logs) at the same time, rotating top/bottom, front/back at 15 minutes. I used to do this, but now bake one sheet of logs at a time. I was reminded why with my first batch, when I doubled up and the bottom sheet became too browned on the bottom. Tasty, yes, but not pretty!)
Let logs cool slightly: 10-15 minutes. While still warm, cut each log diagonally into ½ inch thick slices (or whatever other thickness you desire). Place slices face down on baking sheets (as opposed to on edge). Bake 7-8 minutes; turn slices and repeat on other side. Again, you can bake two sheets of biscotti at the same time; rotating top/bottom, front/back. Depending on your cutting and layout skills, you may get all biscotti baked at the same time. Or you can slow down and stretch out the experience. The individual biscotti can be set close, as they do not spread. Cool on wire rack.
Makes up to 80 cookies a batch, depending on how thick you cut the slices. I tend to get 20 cookies to a log.