Rewind to three summers ago, when I was a naïve schoolgirl fresh out of high school, with the academic calendar sitting in my lap, pencil in hand, trying for the life of me to pick those first five university courses of my undergraduate career. So many choices, and I’m notorious for not being able to make a choice! However, I ended up taking Beginner’s Italian as one of my electives. Why Italian? I can’t really say, but I knew that with my love for Italian food, Italian films, and thinking that the Italian language is probably one of the most romantic ones out there, I knew I couldn’t go wrong.
Fast forward to present time: I’m now taking Advanced Italian, although to be quite honest, I think my skills in the Italian language is still that of a beginner. My vocabulary is none existent, the grammar rules are getting too complex for my pea of a brain (Hello! There’s a reason why I stopped taking French after 10th grade.), and it seems to be harder for me to get a solid A in each of my assignments and tests. Despite that, Italian remains to be one of my favourite classes, mostly because it’s so small and intimate that you get to know everyone really well, unlike some of my other classes. What’s even better is that our grammar lessons will very often digress into long discussions about Italian culture (including food!), and I often love hearing the stories from my friends who are of Italian heritage.
If there was another heritage I could choose to be, Italian would be it: their food culture is just as rich as China’s own food culture. And what is NOT to love about Italian cuisine (which is my favourite type of food!): fresh pasta in refreshing tomato or rich cream sauces, thin crust pizza, prosciutto, ricotta…need I go on? However, despite the hundreds of Italian dishes that are out there, waiting to be tried, I’d like to introduce to you all to the biscotto.
Biscotto: A long, thin, hard (usually twice-baked) biscuit, typically served with a hot drink, into which it is dipped; plur. biscotti (Oxford English Dictionary). Being the avid baker that I am and having an affinity for sweet things myself, I made my first biscotti four years ago. I always thought that biscotti were complex to make. I mean, they serve it at fancy coffee shops, so of course they must be difficult to make! However, searching through recipes one day for a new cookie recipe, I saw a few recipes for biscotti, and reading over the instructions, I thought to myself, “Hey, I can do this!” It’s pretty much the same concept as making drop cookies, with the exception of dropping them onto a cookie sheet, you shape them into logs, bake them, cut them, and bake them again.
The recipe I chose featured toasted almonds and orange zest, and it was an absolute delight! Everyone who tried them couldn’t get enough of them. I made them as gifts during the holidays and gave them away. People were always badgering me about the recipe. It was pretty much my go-to recipe for biscotti. I have tried several other biscotti recipes in the past: chocolate espresso (while tasty, was much harder to munch on in comparison to my other biscotti), cherry-hazelnut (too hard and somehow I did not like the combination of flavours) and anise (which was too problematic and thus, a failure). While the authentic biscotti typically has a crunchy hard texture to it, perfect for dipping into a hot, frothy cappuccino or a glass of vin santo, I like mine to not break my teeth if I just eat them by themselves. But my go-to biscotti were just perfect: they held their shape beautifully, but when you bit them, they didn’t break your teeth!
However, after four years of making and serving my oh-so-trusted biscotti, I decided a few days ago that I’ve had enough. It was time to find a new biscotti recipe to add to my repertoire, one that was a definite keeper and that would bring more variety to my cookie platter in the future. I searched high and low for days, doing a thorough research of MANY different biscotti recipes before I narrowed it down to one that seemed plausible and tempting: Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti. I never really was a big fan of cranberries. I never really liked that slightly bitter aftertaste you’d always get in your mouth after eating them (or after drinking cranberry juice, which I also dislike). However, my recent rediscovery of my love for pistachios made me ignore the fact that I’d be forced to use cranberries. I headed over to Bulk Barn, bought a bag of pistachios and dried cranberries (along with a lot of other baking crap that I can never seem to NOT buy) and hunkered down Saturday evening to bake some biscotti.
Boy, am I glad I got fed up of baking my old biscotti recipe, because I think I found a new favourite. Not only were these absolutely delicious, but they also had a lovely texture (not too hard yet not too crumbly either) and they look absolutely GORGEOUS! I almost felt tempted to lug out our mini Christmas tree (uh…more like Christmas bush) from the storage room and celebrate Christmas all over again. The sprinkling of the green pistachios and the red cranberries throughout the cookie made the biscotti look super attractive and super sexy. Who would have thought that just a mere cookie could add so much colour into our drab grey student apartment? I also dipped one side of them in some melted Belgium white chocolate, and then drizzled some melted Belgium milk chocolate on top, making them look every prettier and more special.
Tested them out on some willing guinea pigs tonight and they loved it, so this recipe will definitely be added to my cookie repertoire!
Interesting side note for those of you who don’t know already: biscotti means “twice-baked” in Italian, and while we North Americans tend to consider biscotti as that delightful Italian cookie that’s thin and long, and lovely when dipped in an espresso or cappuccino, biscotti refers to cookies in the generic sense in Italy. So if you find yourself in Italy and desiring a biscotti, ask for a cantucci.
Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti
adapted from the original recipe found here
Makes about 2 to 3 dozen (depending on how big you cut them)
- 1/4 cup light olive oil
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 2 eggs
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 to 2/3 cup dried cranberries
- 1/2 to 2/3 cup pistachio nuts (preferably raw, unsalted; if using salted, you should omit the salt!)
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C).
In a large bowl, mix together oil and sugar until well blended. Mix in the vanilla and almond extracts, then beat in the eggs. Combine flour, salt, and baking powder; gradually stir into egg mixture. Mix in cranberries and nuts by hand.
Divide dough in half. Form two logs (12x2 inches) on a cookie sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. Dough may be sticky; wet hands with cool water to handle dough more easily.
Bake for 35 minutes in the preheated oven, or until logs are light brown. Remove from oven, and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 275 degrees F (135 degrees C).
Cut logs on diagonal into 3/4 inch thick slices. Lay on sides on
parchment covered cookie sheet. Bake approximately 8 to 10 minutes, or until dry; cool.
(N.B. I didn't reduce the oven heat for the second bake, but it all depends on your oven. If your oven runs hot, then you might want to consider reducing the heat. And it always helps to keep an eye on your biscotti during the second baking.)