Posts Tagged ‘Biscotti’


Gingerbread Biscotti

Gingerbread Biscotti

How the heck did ginger become the featured holiday season flavor, huh? Why, all of the sudden, I am reaching for powdered ginger, crystallized ginger, and molasses?

I’ll bet it’s because of our British friends and their propensity towards brandied, flaming, steamed puddings. Ginger comes from tropical locales all around the globe, many of these locales were British colonies at one time or another, and ginger has food preservation properties. There is some logic that can somehow be extrapolated from this regarding ginger’s Christmastime prevalence…but I haven’t figured it out. Yet.

I read that one year Martha Stewart made steamed Christmas puddings and gave them as gifts. I think if you are gift exchanging buddies with Martha Stewart and she gives you a steamed pudding for Christmas you should also get a lovely pima cotton t-shirt hand screened with the words, “I am Martha Stewart’s buddy and all I got for Christmas was a steamed pudding. And this lovely t-shirt.” I suppose you could add the words, “You should see what I gave her” but that sounds dirty. (While we’re on the subject of holiday-themed double entendres, last week someone complimented me on my Christmas globes. I replied, “No, those are all year ‘round.” Okay I’m done.)

While I prefer the charms of chocolate on any holiday, I would not like to leave you with the impression that I am immune to ginger’s charms. I am a fan: in fact I even created the Gingerdoodle cookie as a way of waking up those rather flabby, sleepy Snickerdoodles that inevitably appear at holiday cookie swaps.

The Gingerdoodle is a soft cookie, and it is that soft, slightly spicy quality that makes it an easy cookie in which you can overindulge. I am by nature a fan of crunchy cookies, including Chocolate Chip cookies, much to the chagrin of Mrs. Field’s fans when I bake my top secret, unpublished Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe.

This holiday season I thought it might be fun to bake a crunchy biscotti that would bring together the best of gingerbread, gingerdoodles, and Ginger from Gilligan’s Island into one crunchy treat. Two outta three aint bad. (Ginger—actress Tina Louise—did not return our phone calls, although we did receive a lovely holiday message from her attorneys with the words “cease” and “desist”.)

To keep things interesting I thought it might be fun to use the ginger flavor in a way that is slightly different than the Gingerdoodle—perhaps make it less “rich” and emphasize the gingerbread instead of the ginger. I am not too proud to admit that a stroll through the cookie aisle of my local supermarket reminded me of Carr’s Ginger Lemon creams. I love these although they veer a bit too much into the sweet lane of traffic. Indeed, they are very sweet. But the pairing of lemon and ginger? Perfect and easily emulated.

I had more or less perfected the level of crunch in my biscotti some years ago at the prompting of my late Auntie Esther. At the time she was living way out west in a dude ranch / retirement community. (Okay, not so much. I made up the dude ranch part because she was in a rather sandy suburb of Las Vegas.) I used to send her biscotti—mandel bread, actually—and she would call me and ask me to toast them a bit less next time. This went on for several batches until she finally exclaimed, “We’re old! They’re too hard! You’re gonna break our teeth!”

Good grief. Nonagenarians can be so testy!

So the hunt was on for a mild crunch that wouldn’t challenge fragile dental work—and Auntie Esther, hello, I’m now at an age where I understand completely. Just like the search for any magic cure, the answer was found as serendipitously as the discovery of penicillin. (And yes, I have a suit picked out to wear when I accept the Nobel Prize for this discovery.) You see—and stop me if this is too much information—I went through a cornmeal phase. Yes, I know: who hasn’t? Everything had to be dusted, dredged, coated, and submerged in cornmeal. But I survived because that’s what I do.

The one great thing that came out of this period was learning to substitute a bit of cornmeal for the flour in my biscotti recipes. Cornmeal gives the biscotti a slightly sandy quality that emulates crunch even if you don’t toast the slices. Once toasted—even briefly—you get the perfect level of crunch and your dentist not be making emergency repairs to your choppers.

I did add some minutely diced crystallized ginger. You can vary the amount up or down depending upon your desire for heat in the spice. I glazed a few of the biscotti with a lemon glaze, but this proved to be unnecessary: too much gilt on the lily. Feel free if you want that citrusy sweetness, but the grated lemon zest in the cookies is really all you need.


Click here for the recipe for Gingerbread Biscotti

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Chocolate Almond Biscotti

Chocolate Almond Biscotti

When I was in high school we lived in a very charming old New England town just outside of Boston. There was even a town green which, as part of a charming tradition, was the location of our high school graduation ceremony. (We wore white dinner jackets instead of caps and gowns. Very picturesque.) It was a town full of charming areas to hike, a wonderful, progressive high school (it had a smoking lounge for the students), and some families could actually trace themselves back to relatives who came over on the Mayflower.

The one thing it didn’t have was a lot of Jewish folk. This was quite a change from the city we lived in prior, where you were either Irish or Italian Catholic or Jewish. WASPs? No.

That’s why I was taken by surprise when a friend invited me to a party at her house where my eyes and nose spied her Mother in the kitchen baking Mandel Bread. For all intents and purposes that was the same as waving a banner that said, “We speak Jewish.”

While I have never defined myself by my religion, it is an inescapable fact of being human that we are drawn to the familiar. I think it may be related to the reason we enjoy watching the same movies every Christmas, and listen to the same songs over and over again. There’s comfort in the familiar.

That’s also why you can call them Biscotti all you like, but they’ll always be Mandel Bread to me. And yes, I do have my high school friend’s Mom’s Mandel Bread recipe.

However, semantics betray me. Mandel Bread actually refers to a twice baked almond slice cookie. (Mandel=Almond) Most of the Mandel Bread I bake have never been near an almond. The one at the top of my blog that serves as a link to the subscription page is Cranberry Orange Cornmeal.

Admittedly my biscotti / mandelein are a rustic affair. The basic drill for baking this type of cookie is to mix the batter, shape it into a very flat loaf and bake it. Then you slice the loaves and return the slices to the oven to toast. There have been times when I may have gone overboard with the toasting and ended up with very hard cookies. Great for dunking, but perhaps not so great for eating as is.

I used to send these to an elderly aunt who lived in a nursing home. She called me and after effusive thanks mentioned that the cookies were a touch too hard, and asked if I couldn’t make them a touch less hard. I was happy to comply, but after another round of cookies produced the same request I was forced to ask her to clarify, which she did by explaining, “We’re old. You’re gonna break our teeth.”

I’ve always struggled with the toasting part. Too much or too little, it never seems as though I get it exactly right. Just what is exactly right?

A couple of weeks ago I was eating dinner with a couple of friends to whom I have forgotten to send a “Thank You” note for the dinner. (Thank you!) At the end of the delicious meal the waiter deposited a small plate of biscotti on the table and the rest of the world (for me) disappeared as the biscotti absorbed me. They were notable for being crispy, not crunchy, and not hard, but not soft either. They were, in a word or two, just right. (Goldilocks would have loved them.) There was also the faintest hint of almond. Hmmm.

This past weekend I was in the baking aisle of my local supermarket where I spied a box of Almond Paste. Just under the words “Almond Paste” on the front of the box was a picture of biscotti. And on the back of the box was a recipe for Double Almond Biscotti. Ah. Light bulb moment.

Let’s start with the Almond Paste / Marzipan question. Not the same thing. Marzipan is a kind of almond paste, but not vice-versa. Marzipan has more sugar and is often used for modeling into shapes. Almond paste is kind of like a very sweet vegetable shortening. (Very sweet. It’s about half sugar with slightly less fat per gram than shortening or butter.) Did I mention that it makes the best biscotti (and now, truly Mandel Bread) I have ever baked?

I followed the recipe as written (with the exception of substituting chocolate for sliced almonds—wouldn’t you?). As a test I slightly over-toasted them in the second baking. Instead of becoming forbiddingly hard they remained engagingly crisp, yet dunkers would still be very pleased.

They are, uh, were, the most perfect biscotti / mandel bread I have ever baked. I haven’t tried it yet but I suspect that you could substitute your preferred gluten-free flour (like my favorite, Cup4Cup) without sinking the ship.

I’ll be making these again.


Here’s the Chocolate Almond Biscotti recipe


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Pity the Poor Lightweight

Pity the poor lightweight. You’ve seen us at parties, bars, and all sort of social gatherings. You recognize us by what we’re drinking: club soda, wedge of lime. We figure most folks will assume we’re holding a gin and tonic or vodka and soda, but deep down, we know we’re not fooling anyone. We know what everyone knows: we’re stone cold sober, and often nodding and smiling like we’re having fun, but off in the front corner of our mind we are thinking about the episode of “Summer Wipeout” we’re missing.

This is the opposite of being a wallflower, for there is no discomfort or reticence that causes our abstemiousness, simply a lack of taste buds that enjoy alcohol.

Most of us misbegotten souls find solace in bar snacks. I wish I had a five dollar bill for every time a dish of Japanese Rice Crackers have gotten me through a bar-centric occasion. MSG never tasted so good. (Five dollar bill? Not a nickel? Yeah. Inflation.)

The other day I was in the bar of a very groovy, of-the-moment, downtown restaurant where the sole bar snack was Wasabi Peanuts. There isn’t enough club soda in the universe to douse that flame. Would someone mind explaining to me the fascination the folks who sell bar food have with Japanese snacks? The core Japanese diet may on the whole be healthier than our core diet, but have you ever looked at the list of ingredients in their snack foods? Downright toxic.

Of course there are many examples of bar snacks that reflect thought, sophistication, and a restrained touch. The nuts at Union Square Café come to mind, a lightly salty, slightly sweet roast of nuts, tinted with the evergreen fragrance of rosemary. A meal unto itself, and for us lightweights an oasis of charm in an otherwise greasy sea.

Parties at home are not immune. Imagine your typical backyard barbecue. A cooler with bottles of beer. Have you noticed that beer drinkers are still provided with the charm of hoisting a cold, glass bottle containing their beverage, yet, pity the poor lightweight who must make do with the charm of a plastic cup? Why don’t soft drink companies recognize this and sell more of their product in glass bottles (at least during the summer) so that I can enjoy my backyard beverage the same way? Yes, they make cans of soda, but you are denied the aesthetic pleasure of seeing the fizz and clarity of what you are drinking.

Ah, but we were talking about bar snacks. I should clarify: I’m not asking to be served dinner; Just a little something that will keep me amused.

Cheese and crackers are nice, but interestingly enough, after a bite or two of cheese I tend to gravitate toward the crackers alone. I love cheese, but the crackers call my name. This makes me self-conscious as I feel like I am “stealing” crackers from folks who want to put them to their rightful purpose as cheese carriers. (This, as my Mother would say, should be my biggest regret.)

Last year I wrote about cake salée, the savory cake that has become so popular in France as a “little something” to serve with wine before a meal. These cakes are often flavored with a combination of cheese and cured meat, like gruyere and prosciutto. I like that practice: a few bites of something with a little substance to keep me interested until the fish hits the pan. Cake salée is also self-contained: I won’t drip it on my shirt.

But during the hot weather the menu changes a bit, and along with it, folks’ choice of wine. I was watching TV the other day and saw an entire segment about Rosé wine. Rosé is one of those wines that cycles up and down in popularity. About a dozen years ago when everyone was calling it White Zinfandel purists considered it a step above Kool-Aid. (That’s one great advantage about being a lightweight: you can’t be a wine snob.)

Now they are calling it Rosé, and it seems to have gained the slightest foothold as a legit summer beverage. Perhaps because it is best served chilled, and tends to have a lower price tag? Perhaps.

I was pondering the hypothetical question of what to serve with a chilled glass of wine on a hot summer night. Cake salée came to mind, but while I was hunting the supermarket cheese aisle for inspiration I happened to see a tub of Port Wine Cheese. I may have been in college the last time I had a swipe of Port Wine Cheese on a cracker. If you have forgotten, Port Wine Cheese was a spreadable extra sharp cheddar cheese with “Port Wine” swirled through it. I placed Port Wine in quotation marks because it was unlikely that any actual Port Wine was harmed in the production of the cheese.

But there it is: my inspiration. I could have flavored a cake salée to mimic this, but I thought people might enjoy something with a little crunch: biscotti.

I took my standard biscotti base recipe, subtracted most of the sugar, added a generous wedge of the sharpest cheddar I could find, and used dried cranberries to mimic the port wine sweetness. The result is a mellow, slightly sweet, cheese cracker that will surprise folks expecting something salty. Each slice is somewhat rich, so meager portions will hold even the most ravenous guest until dinner is served.

And yes, that includes lightweights.


Click here for my recipe for “Port Wine” Cheese Biscotti


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Fontainebleau Fantasy

Miami Mandel Bread

Where do the poinsettias go after the holidays are over? During the holidays they seem to decorate every surface that hasn’t otherwise been claimed by things green, red or ersatz-snowy. Here in New York, discarded Christmas trees are still lining the streets—the delay in the mulching trucks collecting them is due to the abundance of real snow this year. All over the world, Christmas lights have long ago been wrapped on a spool and stored way in the back on the top shelf of the closet until next year. Tree ornaments have been safely tucked away in their boxes.

But the poinsettias just mysteriously disappear…hmmm.

Another holiday item has been hanging around my kitchen and until a few days ago it seemed it had no intention of leaving. I’m referring to a little crate of clementines that Santa (or one of his elves) left for me. They’re delicious but for a while there I had the spooky feeling they were magically replacing themselves as I ate them: the crate just never seemed to get empty.

Well, now I can finally see the wood slats on the bottom of the crate, and it feels like a race: can I finish the clementines before they go bad? Should I be suspicious that they don’t seem to have aged a bit? Perhaps there’s a portrait of them in an attic somewhere in which they have become dried and wrinkled?

I have no answers to these questions, merely recognition that clementines are not merely a holiday treat, they are actually in season all winter, the bounty of millions of Spanish citrus trees. I was staring at them the other day and asked them (politely), “Is there anything I can do with you other than peel and eat?”

This conversation dovetailed nicely with the fact that January (a/k/a “The Monday Morning of The Year”) is drawing to a close. I’ve been a good boy and now I deserve a cookie. (By “good” I mean I ate well in an effort to reform bad habits collected during the holidays.) (By “cookie” I mean…cookie.)

Mind you, I’m not looking to dive back into the gluttony pool; I just need a little something sweet (but not too), and crunchy (very). If I can perhaps fulfill this requirement without straying too far from my current healthy habits, well, yahoo.

My first thoughts went to Angel Food Cake. While it has no fat, in this case it also has one great downfall: it’s not crunchy. Good material, wrong fit. But while my mind was on Angel Food Cake I remembered the old advice about day-old Angel Food Cake: slices of it are great toasted.

It should come as no surprise that I am a fan of the biscotti – one even serves above as the button for the Butter Flour Eggs subscription form. Biscotti also go by the name Mandel Bread, especially when referring to the almond (mandel) variety. Biscotti or mandel bread usually refers to an eggy, slightly rich batter baked in a loaf, then sliced and toasted. Some folks refer to this as a twice-baked cookie.

I’m sure you’re way ahead of me here. Why not toast skinny slices of Angel Food Cake into skinny blonde biscotti? Nifty idea, thanks!

So here’s what I did: I made a small recipe of Angel Food Cake batter and mixed in some toasted, sliced almonds. As I was about to pour the batter into a loaf pan I spied the clementines waiting patiently on my kitchen counter. In a (relatively) thrilling flash of inspiration (okay, you had to be there) I applied the working side of my microplane to three of the ever-youthful clementines. Folding the batter carefully (so as to not leave a crease) I distributed the rind evenly.

After cooling the loaf thoroughly I sliced it into slices less than ¼” thick and toasted them on a rack in a 300 degree oven.

I won’t lie to you here: I’m not a paragon of self-control.  So I’ll admit that there weren’t a lot of these left to share with friends, family, or co-workers because I inhaled them. They are like Clementine-scented, almond-studded crack. But I’ve given them the unlikely-but-eminently-more-evocative name of “Miami Mandel Bread.”

I think it has something to do with the fact that in my imagination I can see a frilly-capped, apron-ed waitress throwing these on the table with the coffee at the Fontainebleau Hotel back in 1965—when the place was hot, but long, long before it was cool (not that I’d remember.) My big, blonde, and quite imaginary Aunt Sylvia would’ve passed me one and explained, “They’re good…and dietetic too!”

They’re skinny, the Clementine rind make little “pops” of citrus in your mouth as you chew, and they remind me of losing weight so you can go to Miami and lie in the sun. And the writer in me likes the alliteration of Miami and Mandel. Yes, the almonds add back some of the fat that the lack of egg yolk and butter deducted. But it is healthy fat along with a fistful of minerals that you know you need. Gracious, these are practically health food. (Yeah, yeah, I know…)

What can I tell you? This has been a really cold winter. Can you blame me for having Miami Beach on my mind?

C’mon down!


Click here for the recipe for Miami Mandel Bread.


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The Name Game

Meyer Lemon Rosemary Biscotti

Meyer Lemon Rosemary Biscotti

Remember Rosemary Focaccia? No, she wasn’t that friend of your Mom’s with the big hair. I baked it last week and wrote about it here. Well, I‘ve barely used any of the big hunk of rosemary (the herb, not the woman with the scary baby.) The rest has been sitting on my kitchen shelf, waiting for its next assignment. Every day as I walked by it I thought, “Don’t want to waste that, gotta use it in something.” I swear the rosemary kept eyeing me anxiously, like a Little Leaguer waiting on the bench for the coach to send her in to play shortstop.

Finally, I stopped and looked at the rosemary, and smelled its turpentine-soaked perfume for inspiration. Dubiously I thought, “Chicken?” Even the rosemary rolled its proverbial eyes at that one. I guess the world doesn’t need yet another take on Rosemary Chicken (the entrée, not your Dad’s prom date.)

Okay, I need to explain why I’ve been indulging myself here in cheap, vulgar word play which you tired of after the first instance. I have a friend who over the years has gotten me hooked on something we call “The Name Game.” I think you’ve gotten the unfortunate drift of how it works. I believe it started one day when he and a family member were assembling a piece of Ikea furniture. Stopping to decipher the instructions, they realized that the little tool that you use to assemble Ikea furniture had gone missing. Returning to the store they asked for a little replacement tool and the clerk answered, “Oh you mean an Allen wrench?”

I wasn’t there, but I’d love to have been a fly on the wall to see the clerk’s reaction when my friend replied, “Allen Wrench? I went to high school with him.” I imagine the clerk’s reaction was exactly the same as yours.

In the years since, my world has become populated by the likes of Chuck Steak, Bob Forapples, and the distinguished Count Yourchange.

The game is addictive, but I’ll stop and address the question at hand: what should I do with rosemary? (Now I’m restraining myself at great pain.)

I got to thinking that after January (my month of virtuous eating) I have been avoiding my best mate, the cookie. I’ve missed him so. That was all the inspiration I needed. My challenge was to make a cookie using rosemary, a somewhat grassy herb with a raucous perfume that is usually more at home as a savory note. An even better challenge, I thought, was to access my inner Alice Waters, and use whatever was fresh today at the market.

Since it is winter, the market wasn’t offering me any inspiration. So I wondered what would happen if I stole a page out of the chicken cookbook and made a Lemon Rosemary Cookie. I was intrigued but unconvinced. Just then, I spotted Meyer Lemons. (Okay, I’ll restrain myself, but c’mon, doesn’t that sound like a character Woody Allen would have played in one of his early movies?)

Rosemary; Meyer Lemon

Rosemary; Meyer Lemon

I rarely see Meyer Lemons here in New York as they are not really the stuff of mainstream supermarkets. Meyer Lemons are delightfully odd in that they are a cross between lemons and oranges. They look like an orange, taste like a lemon, have strong undertones of lime, but lack a lot of the sourness of lemons.

Meyer Lemon Rosemary Biscotti would just hit the spot. I thought biscotti would be better than cookies because you can dip them in wine, taking advantage of the savory notes being sung by the rosemary.

I think a lot of folks who like to bake don’t realize that biscotti are really easy to make, and the flavor combinations are limited only by your imagination. And yes, even some of the sweet varieties are wonderful dipped in wine. A simple, light dessert? Biscotti dipped in a sweet dessert wine. Granted, not great for kids.

As biscotti doughs tend to be rich in eggs I knew that the aggressiveness of the Meyer Lemon and rosemary would be muted, resulting in a cookie that is just mildly sweet. My target was not to make the cookie equivalent of a Starburst candy.

Of course, if Starbursts are your cup of tea, you can drizzle the biscotti with a Meyer Lemon glaze that gives the cookies an almost drippy citrus zing. Meyer Lemon glaze has two ingredients. Does it get any easier? (No.)

The resulting biscotti were exactly as I imagined. They have a challenging crunch, and a vanilla heartiness that is merely “influenced” by the Meyer Lemon and Rosemary. The resident Butter Flour Eggs Oenologist (a/k/a my friend Marnee) recommends dipping them in the nectary sweetness of Mezzacorona Moscato – a more restrained Moscato than the “raisin-y” varieties that may be familiar to you.

If you prefer your fruit of the vine to be much less sweet, she also recommends the flowery Trader Joe Honeymoon Viognier or even the oaky darkness of Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot. I think the latter is where the Meyer Lemon Rosemary biscotti will shine.

All that’s left now is to set out a plate of the biscotti, uncork the wine, and enjoy a few relaxing moments with my friends Eileen Dover and her brother Ben.

Sorry. Couldn’t resist.


Click here for the Meyer Lemon Rosemary Biscotti recipe.


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