Sunday, May 6, 2007

My twist on an Italian favorite

I don't have a sweet tooth; I have sweet teeth. I don't know if other people are affected by this problem, but it weighs heavily on my life. I remember when I was a little girl on family vacations and my parents would let my sister and I order a dessert instead of dinner at nice restaurants. Since then, I can't seem to satisfy my need for sugar, but I am completely content in this. Sweet over savory any day. With that said, I do eat normal food, and often cook it as well, but the fun lies in the desserts. Unfortunately, I find myself away from my kitchen, luckily in Barcelona, but nonetheless missing my Kitchen Aid mixer, my tart molds, my springform pans, my counter space, my Mexican vanilla extract, my cookbooks, and most of all, my oven. I currently live in an ovenless apartment, which is quite a blow to an amateur pastry chef (chef meaning one who loves cooking, although she may or may not be good at it), to which an oven is a necessary appliance. Since coming to Spain, I’ve been able to mooch off my friends and use their ovens…as long as I promise them some of the results.

A few weeks ago my friend Ben was having a dinner party, which he decided to throw together at the last minute, informing me on the day of and asking me if I could make a dessert. I’m not one to refuse, but I did have a time problem between the request and the dinner with my classes. Recently I had gone to a bar in Barceloneta that offered wine out of wooden barrels lining the walls to be sold to go. All you have to do is bring in your own container, and straight out of the tap from the antique barrels appears your wine. Did I mention how cheap it is? Some are about half a euro for a litre. And they have sweet wine, so I thought why not try some barrel-sweet wine and make some biscotti to dip in it. I quickly searched through my most reliable recipe source while I am away from my own collection, and found a recipe for hazelnut biscotti. I love anything that strays from the typical, for example, almond biscotti slightly bettered by replacing the nuts with hazelnuts. Although biscotti takes two cookings, as the name implies (bi=two, cotti=cooked), the preparation is fast and easy, and I was able to do my second baking at Ben’s. However, I didn’t have enough time to make it to the bar in Barceloneta for the sweet wine, but instead stopped into a regular store and got some moscatel, which worked just fine, once again, twisting the typical Tuscan “biscotti and vin santo” to include moscatel with hazelnut biscotti.

Unfortunately I don’t have pictures from this event, or anything up until now because I am waiting to replace my camera that was stolen (I really do live in Barcelona), so until that day, I regret to inform that I don’t have pictures of anything I’ve done so far. However, I think my mooching doesn’t have to stop at ovens, but can be extended to temporarily stealing my friends’ cameras as well, and I plan to make this again and will then post pictures of the Spanish take on biscotti and vin santo. Until then, I will post a view from Ben's apartment and biscotti that isn't mine.

Hazelnut and Orange Zest Biscotti

Adapted from

1 1/2 cups hazelnuts
3/4 cup sugar (plus extra for finishing)
2 cups self-rising cake flour (if you don’t have it, add a little baking powder)
3 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (not necessary, the orange zest adds flavor as well)
Orange zest from one orange (or as much as you like…I used two blood oranges)

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. I bought already toasted and skinned hazelnuts, but if you don’t, then toast hazelnuts in a shallow baking pan until lightly colored and skins are blistered, 10 to 15 minutes. (Leave oven on.) Wrap nuts in a kitchen towel and let steam 1 minute, then rub off any loose skins in towel while nuts are still warm (don't worry about skins that don't come off). Cool nuts completely, then chop them, leaving some in larger pieces and some finer. Mix with sugar well, then add flour and combine everything together with a fork. Add 2 eggs and vanilla (although I didn’t have vanilla, I think the orange zest makes up for it and adds an interesting flavor) and mix until dough forms. Finally add the orange zest and mix with fork or by hand until everything is incorporated.

Halve the dough and roll each into a log (recipe says 10x2x1 inches but I made one giant log, which made for quite large biscotti, which tasted good but took much longer to cook all the way through). Put the logs onto the parchment paper on the baking sheet. Crack 1 egg in a bowl and beat with a fork to make an egg wash. Brush on top of each log (not too much or you’ll end up with biscotti covered in scrambled egg…as I almost did), then dribble a small handful of sugar over the top of each log.

Bake until golden and set but still soft and a little springy, about 25 to 30 minutes (longer if your biscotti is larger like mine was). Cool logs for 10 minutes on baking rack.

Using a serrated knife, cut logs into ½ inch thick slices at an angle. You know you’ve cooked them enough when they are like well-cooked cake in the middle—not soggy at all, cooked all the way through, but still a bit spongy. Arrange slices on their sides in one layer on a baking sheet. Bake slices, turning over once, until golden and crisp for 20 to 25 minutes (although once again I had to do mine a bit longer, which caused some of my edges to almost blacken, but remember biscotti is supposed to be very crunchy and we mended it with a knife, scraping some parts off. And don’t forget you can do this last step a bit later, if needs be, as I did in the oven during the dinner party). Finally, cool the biscotti on a cooling rack. Eat, dipping into moscatel, or whatever sweet wine tickles your fancy.

Should be enough for 6 people, depending on hunger and sweet teeth….


d anything said...

These sound all right I reckon. Any other plans for variations on the biscotti theme?

lorelei said...

looks good, court. but i have to take exception to the comment "unfortunately I find myself in Spain....."; i mean, c'mon.

weeeeee said...

mmmm, mexican vanilla. i miss that too.