LA DOLCE VITA - eating biscotti all day
Clément, my blog site cameraman and webmaster, disappeared yesterday at about the time that the first batch of biscotti came out of the oven and Johey’s incredibly adorable two-and-a-half-month old daughter Klara started screaming hysterically and inconsolably, so I couldn’t finish this installment before I went off to bed. I have wrangled my son into getting involved with this project as 1) I have no idea how to put all this stuff on a blogsite, take photos of what I cook or do almost any of the technical stuff, and 2) after getting his high school diploma (Literary Baccalaureat for someone who doesn’t like to read with a Cinema/Audiovisual Option) and getting off to a brilliant start on an award-studded career in animation, he decided last year to come home, “relax” and rethink his options. So what better way to spend his days than helping mom create a food blog? And soon he will be guest chef here, creating his extasy-inducing World’s Best Tiramisu for us.
I love biscotti! Dunked into my hot, mid-morning or mid-afternoon coffee. I know that there is a Jewish version - Mandelbrot, Almond Bread - but I first discovered biscotti in Italy in the form of Cantucci, small almond biscotti served at the end of a meal with a glass of Vino Santo (Holy Wine !?!) for dipping. In fact, they are sold in grocery stores all over Italy in gift-like boxes, a sack of cantucci and a half bottle of Vino Santo, cutely decorated with pictures of the cookies and with a convenient carry handle. In fact, I recently read in Claudia Roden’s amazing The Book of Jewish Food that mandelbrot are also traditionally served with a glass of sweet wine, as well, but who would have known that coming from where I grew up? Sweet wine with cookies after dinner? Too cosmopolitan!
I usually make two different biscotti at the same time, one butter-free-thus-guilt-free, studded with jade-green pistachios and ruby-red dried cranberries, and one butter-rich with mini chocolate chips and whole skinned almonds for the persnickety one who wants only to eat things with chocolate chips.
My recipes come from the Joy of Baking website (love it) and the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion (more like a best friend) with a bit of playing around, increasing the added goodies, replacing shortening - I would have no idea how to go about finding a replacement for Crisco in France - with butter and other flavorings with cinnamon. The first recipe calls for coarsely chopping the pistachios, but I leave them whole. Ditto the almonds in the second recipe. I also find that sprinkling the surface of the loaves with cinnamon sugar before the first baking gives a wonderful homey, fragrant touch.
CRANBERRY PISTACHIO BISCOTTI
2/3 cup (135 grams) sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups (245 grams) flour
3/4 cup shelled, unsalted pistachios
1 cup dried cranberries (can be replaced with dried cherries)
Cinnamon and sugar for sprinkling (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C) and place the oven rack in the center of the oven. I find lining the baking sheets with parchment paper makes life soooo much easier.
Beat the sugar and eggs together in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until thick, pale yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla extract.
Blend together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the egg mixture and blend or beat until combined. Fold in the pistachios and the cranberries.
Transfer the dough to the parchment-lined baking sheet. Form into on loaf or log, about 12 inches long, or two smaller loaves. I prefer two smaller loaves as the biscotti turn out shorter and easier to handle and eat - and the one larger loaf tends not to always cook through. Keep your hands lightly floured as the dough is quite sticky. If making two loaves, leave enough space around each for them to expand. Sprinkle the tops of the loaves with sugar and cinnamon.
Bake for about 25 minutes, or until firm to the tough and lightly golden. Remove from the oven to a rack and let cool for about 10 minutes.
Now for what makes them biscotti - twice baked - transfer to a cutting board and slice the loaves on the diagonal - after slicing off the ends and eating them - making 3/4-inch (2 cm) slices. Line these slices up on your parchment-lined baking sheet and pop back into the oven. Bake for 10 minutes them flip all the cookies and bake for an additional 8 to 10 minutes until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and cool on racks, continuing the process if you couldn’t fit all the biscotti in the oven at once. Biscotti stored in metal cookie tins last forever!
CHOCOLATE CHIP ALMOND BISCOTTI
I must say that I thought that this was the recipe I’ve made before, but as I make it now for the blog, I wonder. They are quite tasty, but I find them rather floury and a bit too crumbly. I added 2 1/2 cups of the flour.
8 tablespoons (1/2 cup, 120 grams) unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 - 3 cups flour
1 cup whole blanched almonds
1/2 - 1 cup chocolate chips or chunks
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter with the sugar until blended and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing after each until well blended, scraping down the sides as necessary. Beat in the vanilla extract, the baking powder, the salt and the cinnamon. Beat or mix in the flour, one cup at a time, until you have a cohesive, well-blended but sticky dough. Add the nuts and chocolate and blend until well distributed.
Divide the dough into two or three equal pieces and, on the parchment paper with lightly floured hands, form into loaves about 4 inches wide. Leave enough space around the loaves for them to expand.
Bake the loaves for 20 to 25 minutes until the center is firm to the touch and they start to brown around the edges. Remove from the oven to a rack and let cool for about 10 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 300°F (150°C).
Transfer to a cutting board and slice the loaves on the diagonal - after slicing off the ends and eating them - making 3/4-inch (2 cm) slices. Line these slices up on your parchment-lined baking sheet and pop back into the oven. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes them flip all the cookies and bake for an additional 15 - 20 minutes until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and cool on racks, continuing the process if you couldn’t fit all the biscotti in the oven at once. Biscotti stored in metal cookie tins last forever!
Enjoy biscotti with a cup of coffee or a cold glass of milk. Okay, you could try them with a glass of dessert wine after dinner if you like.
CONFESSIONS II or Food For Thought....
My husband thinks that I suffer from Gourmand Syndrome.
Snuggled up in bed with a good book, my husband beside me catching up on the day’s news, Herald Tribune in hand, I hear him make a strangled noise and then the paper is shoved in my direction. “This is what you have, I am sure of it,” he says, more seriously than maybe was called for. The article, which appeared sometime last year, was about Gourmand Syndrome. Most foodies are familiar with Marianne Regard and Theodor Landis’s accidental discovery of this strange and fascinating condition of the food obsessed, and most people who are, like me, passionate about food would be thrilled to consider themselves sufferers. I had rather assumed that my husband was joking, simply pointing out that he felt my obsession had gone beyond the reasonable. But curiously, the more I thought about it, as I read the article and mulled it over a bit, both the cause and the symptoms seem to fit. Enthusiasm, passion doesn’t begin to touch upon my relationship to food. Regard describes this “ consuming passion for food, an inordinate interest in” flavors and eating; but the fervor touches everything food-related : shopping for ingredients, discovering, preparing, cooking, baking, serving and sharing, talking, writing and reading about it as well. I live and breath it, it consumes my thoughts, it is what drives me, what I think and talk about all the time, my normalcy. And he’s wrong, you know. I don’t suffer; I enjoy every minute of it.
Intrigued by the possibilty that we could actually have stumbled upon something, I thought that a bit more research was called for. But unsuspectingly, a distant memory was brought to the surface, and both my husband and I were finally, truly convinced. Regard explains that sudden-onset damage, very often occurring in childhood, to the frontal lobe of the brain such as a stroke, tumor or a trauma - a good knock on the head - seems to cause the transformation into a “gustatory hedonist”, the development of a preoccupation with fine food.
I remember the day when I fell off my new “big” bike at age 8. A couple of the popular guys from my third-grade class challenged me to a race after school. I usually don’t do such things, but either I didn’t want to look like a coward in front of these third-grade cuties or I wanted to prove that my new bike was worth everything that I had claimed it was. Off we went at top speed. Then I lost control of the handlebars, they locked and I flew over them onto my head. I must have passed out briefly, because when I looked up everyone had disappeared, the streets were deserted, and I was left to drag this oversized bike, which I now hated, front wheel locked askew, with a growing lump on my forehead, a mile home. The fact that my mother, to all appearances unconcerned about the very visible damage to my head, then left me with the neighbor while she went out probably did not contribute to my Gourmand Syndrome, but to my 8-year old mind it was the Cherry on top of the Crisis Cake.
I find the coincidence rather curious and, in fact, rather liberating. After all, my cravings for everything food related may simply be out of my control. A medical fact. Why pretend that it doesn’t exist? I know that it is not acceptable in certain company, not always understood by those who love you. But now, proudly wearing my label, my extraordinary obsession now explained, I no longer feel that I have to hide. I can now give free reign to every desire, every whim, succumb to the pleasure of food, without excuses, without embarrassment. My husband still thinks I’m crazy, though he now accepts my need to talk about food, that I start thinking of the next meal before the dishes are even removed from the table, spend days looking for restaurants, markets, specialties while planning a trip - he is in charge of the museum visits - that spending hours in the kitchen mixing, blending, kneading, pouring is my therapy, it soothes and calms, it is sensual and fortifying, my joy, my pleasure.
Don’t get me wrong; I am certainly not trying to impress. My bike accident was certainly nothing to brag about. But what else besides a good thump on the head could have caused my unusual relationship with food? I didn’t come from a home filled with epicurean delights, no mouth-watering odors wafting from the kitchen when we slammed in after a long day at school leading us to a table piled high with homemade treats, no gourmet restaurants lined highway A1A to introduce us to the latest designer cuisine. My mother was no happy homemaker spending her days at the stove thumbing through a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, no culinary enthusiast regaling her husband and four hungry kids with Lucullan feasts. And although I was absolutely fascinated by the Galloping Gourmet - who didn’t think that Graham Kerr wasn’t just the sexiest man on 60’s tv between that British accent and the cooking? - I don’t remember mom once sitting down to watch it with me. Desserts were either prepackaged or came from a mix and sitting down at our dinner table was a lottery; would it be overcooked? watered down? or would it be some scrumptious concoction from a box? On the surface, there seems no rational reason why a girl growing up in the milieu that I did would have been as fascinated with food as I; some mysterious, alien forces must have been at work.