Saturday, April 22, 2017

Anise, Orange And Pignoli Biscotti

Susan Russo

Despite their centuries-old heritage, there is no one perfect way to make biscotti. Some recipes call for eggs only, which is the traditional method, while others swear by butter or oil. The choice is yours; just keep in mind that those made with butter or oil will have both a softer texture and a shorter shelf life.

Italian pignoli nuts, or pine nuts, are prized for their sweet flavor. They're available at Italian specialty markets as well as most supermarkets. Though made with sugar, these biscotti lean toward the savory side and make a tasty companion to Italian deli meats such as prosciutto and salami, and cheeses such as asiago and pecorino-romano.
Anise, Orange And Pignoli Biscotti
Susan Russo for NPR

Makes about 22 biscotti (3/4-inch-wide cookies)

1 cup unsalted pignoli nuts (pine nuts)

1 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 cups all-purpose flour

3 large eggs, plus 1 egg, lightly beaten, for brushing tops of loaves

1 tablespoon anise seed, crushed

1 tablespoon anise extract

Zest of 2 large oranges (1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons)

Position rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place pignoli nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast in the 350-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or until just golden and aromatic. Remove and set aside.

In a large bowl, hand mix toasted pignoli nuts, sugar, baking powder and flour.

In a small bowl, whisk eggs. Crush the anise seeds using a mortar and pestle. If you don't have one, then place anise seeds in a small Ziploc bag and seal. Place on the countertop and lightly roll over the bag with a rolling pin. Place crushed seed in a small nonstick skillet over low heat. Warm 3 minutes, or until just aromatic. Remove from heat and add to the eggs along with the anise extract and orange zest. Whisk until well blended. Add to the flour mixture. Stir a few times. Work the batter together with lightly floured hands. The mixture will be sticky, but persevere. Keep squeezing the batter with your hands until a dough starts to form. Once the dough is firm, form a ball. Divide the ball into 2 equal pieces.

On a lightly floured surface, place 1 piece of dough, and using your hands, roll into a log shape that is approximately 10 inches long, 3 inches wide, and 3/4 of an inch high. If it's sticky, simply dust your palms with more flour. Repeat with remaining piece of dough. Place both logs on the baking sheet. Brush loaves all over with lightly beaten egg.

Bake for 40 minutes, turning the pan around halfway through, or until the tops of the loaves are shiny and deep golden. Cool on a rack for about 20 minutes before slicing.

Place a loaf on a cutting board. Using a large serrated knife, cut 3/4-inch-thick slices, either straight or on the diagonal. Use a sawing motion to prevent crumbling. Each loaf should yield 10 to 12 cookies. If the cookie is crumbling, then let it cool a few more minutes. Don't let it rest too long, however, or it could become too hard to slice.

Place slices on their sides back onto the baking sheets. Reduce oven temperature to 200 degrees, and bake biscotti for 20 minutes, until toasted and crisp. If you desire, you can turn off the oven and let the biscotti stay for up to an hour. The longer they stay in the oven, the harder they will become. Remove from oven and cool completely before storing in an airtight container, preferably a tin, which helps keep them crisp. Stored properly, biscotti will last up to a month.

Baking And Storing Tips

Always preheat the oven. Check your oven temperature to ensure that it's correct. Position oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, and rotate sheets halfway through the baking process, to ensure evenly baked and browned biscotti.
Baking requires precision, so unless you're an old pro, it's best to use the exact ingredients specified in a recipe the first time you make it, rather than use too many substitutions that can adversely affect both texture and flavor. Keep in mind that variables such as different-sized eggs, varieties of flour and quality of extracts all affect biscotti. So try to use the best ingredients you can afford.
Be patient. When mixing the biscotti dough, you may find that it's dry and crumbly. Persevere. Use your hands to gently squeeze the batter until it begins to form a dough. If it's really dry, you may need to add an extra egg or some other liquid related to the recipe such as extract or liqueur. Conversely, if you find your batter to be really wet and sticky, then you will likely need to add more flour. Add it in small increments, and test the dough as you go. It's OK if the dough is slightly sticky. Just keep both the countertop and your hands lightly floured as you form the logs.
Place no more than two biscotti logs on a baking sheet, since they will spread as they bake.
Try not to bake on a humid day when biscotti (as well as many other cookies) spread more and are softer. If you have to, place the unbaked logs in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes before placing in the oven.
After biscotti are baked once, allow them to cool for about 20 minutes. Too much longer, and they will become too hard to slice. When slicing biscotti, always use a serrated knife in a sawing motion, which reduces crumbling.
Place sliced biscotti on their sides back on the pans for the second baking. Here you have options: You can bake them at the same temperature for 10 minutes; you can reduce the temperature to 200-300 degrees and bake for 20 minutes; or you can turn off the heat completely and place the biscotti in the still-warm oven anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. The longer they stay inside the oven, the harder and crisper they will become.
Let biscotti cool completely before garnishing with chocolate or icing.

For storing and freezing biscotti, keep these tips in mind:

Cool biscotti completely before storing, preferably in a metal tin, which will help maintain crispness.
If stored too quickly or placed inside of a paper or plastic bag, biscotti will visibly soften. In that case, place the cookies in a 300-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes to crisp again.
When storing decorated biscotti, place them between sheets of waxed or parchment paper to protect them from bumping against each other. Most biscotti, when properly stored, will last up to one month.