THE FOODIE FILES: Cookie Crumbles

By on December 15, 2015

Biscotti with coffee, biscotti with milk, biscotti with wine — have a biscotti with everything.

 Left: Savory Biscotti di Vino, made with red wine and olive oil, are perfect with cheese. Middle: Chocolate and almond biscotti get a generous topping of coarse sugar for a nice crunch. Right: Orange-flavored chocolate and almond biscotti make a nice light breakfast. (Photo: annie fenn, md)

Left: Savory Biscotti di Vino, made with red wine and olive oil, are perfect with cheese. Middle: Chocolate and almond biscotti get a generous topping of coarse sugar for a nice crunch. Right: Orange-flavored chocolate and almond biscotti make a nice light breakfast. (Photo: annie fenn, md)

Jackson Hole, WY – The first time I ever had cookies for breakfast was at my grandmother’s apartment in Rochester, New York. I thought my Nonna was just indulging me — after all, I was the youngest grandchild and the only one who liked to hang out in the kitchen while she cooked. I didn’t know that back in her native Sicily, a few biscotti dunked in caffé latte was a typical light breakfast.

My Nonna was not a baker so the biscotti I cut my teeth on were always from Stella’s Italian Bakery down the street. The almond-flecked nubs of cookie were hard as a rock, perfect for dunking and for soothing teething babies.

The word “biscotti” has a double meaning. The root name stems from “bis,” which means “more than one” and “cotto,” which means “cooking” in Italian. To make typical biscotti, the cookie dough is formed into logs and baked once; then the baked logs are sliced diagonally and returned to the oven for a second baking.

The name “biscotti” is also a generic term for all the various types of Italian cookies. Italians love their cookies and give them wonderful names: “brutti ma buoni” (ugly but good), “baci di dama” (lady’s kisses), “bocche di lupe” (wolve’s mouths). They have them for breakfast, as a midmorning snack with coffee and as a little treat with cheese at the end of the midday meal. They are often served again after supper, this time dunked in wine or Vin Santo, the local sweet wine of Tuscany.

Nostalgic grandma time aside, if I had to pick a favorite cookie it would have to be a biscotto. (Biscotto = one cookie; biscotti = more than one cookie.)  And just like the Italians, if given a steady supply of homemade biscotti, I’d eat them all day long.

I make my own biscotti year-round but production definitely ramps up in December. A small bag of biscotti makes the perfect gift, especially with a bottle of Vin Santo for dunking or a bag of good coffee beans. They pack well into tins or Mason jars and stand up to holiday shipping and schlepping without breaking into pieces.

I like biscotti that aren’t too sweet and have some texture and substance. I am partial to a cookie fragrant with citrus and almond, packed with nuts and sometimes chocolate. Tucked into my backcountry pack, biscotti like this are a great snack to have while skiing. Biscotti al Cioccolato e Arancia are my go-to biscotti of this sort.

Not all biscotti are sweet. There is a whole world of savory biscotti enjoyed by those ingenious Italians who have figured out how to eat cookies all day. I like to make Biscotti di Vino, made with red wine and olive oil, to serve with cheese and wine over the holidays. Other savory biscotti I have come across are made with rosemary, peppercorns, walnuts and cornmeal, and packed with cheeses like Parmigiano Reggiano, Gouda, and Gorgonzola.

Biscotti al Cioccolato e Mandorle are the ultimate Italian cookies for chocoholics. Made with good quality cocoa powder, toasted almonds and mini chocolate chips, these biscotti have intense chocolate flavor. Whenever I am able to shop at Tony Caputo’s Market and Deli in Salt Lake City, I stock up on Valrhona dark chocolate powder just for this recipe.

The advantage of making your own biscotti is that you can make them as crispy or as soft as you want. I don’t really care for those rock hard cookies of my youth. I prefer biscotti that will stand up to hot coffee, but won’t make me feel like I’m going to break a tooth. You can even skip the second round of baking for a softer cookie, but I like to bake them twice until crispy on the outside and still a bit chewy on the inside.

Cookies can be tricky to bake at high altitude but biscotti are pretty forgiving with a few minor adjustments. To keep the logs from spreading while baking, I raise the oven temperature by 25 degrees, increase the flour, decrease the sugar and reduce the leavening agent. Since baked goods dry out easily at high altitude, I add a bit more liquid to the cookie dough in the form of water, milk, or an extract.

I’ve been tweaking my favorite biscotti recipes over the years so that they are now perfect for living at 6,500 feet. All you will need to make these cookies is a few baking sheets, some parchment paper and a long, serrated bread knife. I also find a dough scraper to be useful to shape the logs into neat rectangles, but a ruler would work fine.

Once I got into baking biscotti on a regular basis, I invested in a pan just for that. My biscotti pan, made by USA Pans, is the perfect size for baking a double log of biscotti with sides shaped perfectly for straight edges.

Your homemade biscotti will keep for up to two weeks. So pour yourself a glass of Vin Santo — or a good cup of coffee — and dunk away like the Italians. Salut!

Find recipes for Biscotti di Vino and Biscotti al Cioccolato e Arancia at jacksonholefoodie.com.

Biscotti al Cioccolato e Mandorle recipe

Makes about 50 cookies

Adapted for altitude from David Lebovitz’s recipe

Biscotti ingredients

2 cups flour

¾ cups natural or Dutch process cocoa powder

¾ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

3 large eggs at room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

2 teaspoons water

1 cup raw almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped

¾ cups mini semisweet chocolate chips

Glaze ingredients

1 egg

2 tablespoons coarse or crystal sugar (such as Sugar in the Raw or Demurara sugar)

      Preheat oven to 370 degrees.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.

In a large mixing bowl, or the bowl of a standing mixer, beat together three eggs, sugar, vanilla and almond extracts. Gradually add the dry ingredients, nuts and chocolate. Mix just until the dough holds together.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Divide dough in half onto a surface lightly dusted with flour. Using a rolling pin or your hands, flatten each half of dough out into a rectangular log almost as long as the baking pan. Each log should be 3-4 inches wide and 1 inch tall.

Gently flatten the tops of the logs.

Prepare the glaze by beating an egg in a cup with a fork. Use a brush to coat the logs with the egg. Sprinkle the tops with coarse sugar.

Bake for 25 minutes or until the dough is firm to the touch.

Remove the pans from the oven and cool for 15 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees.

Carefully transfer the logs to a cutting board. Using a serrated bread knife, cut the cookies diagonally into ½-inch slices.

Transfer the cookie slices back to the baking pans and place cut side down. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes until the cookies are as crispy as you like.

Cool completely and store in an airtight container for up to two weeks. PJH

After delivering babies and practicing gynecology for 20 years in Jackson, Annie traded her life as a doctor to pursue her other passion: writing about food, health, sustainability and the local food scene. Follow her snippets of mountain life, with recipes, at www.jacksonholefoodie.com and on Instagram       @jacksonholefoodie.


About Annie Fenn, MD

After delivering babies and practicing gynecology for 20 years in Jackson, Annie traded her life as a doctor to pursue her other passion: writing about food, health, sustainability and the local food scene. Follow her snippets of mountain life, with recipes, at www.jacksonholefoodie.com and on Instagram @jacksonholefoodie.

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