I was sure they would be knocking at the door any minute.
That they didn’t was one of three pleasant surprises this day.
We had quite a party going after all. Clouds of flour dust everywhere. Eggshells strewn about. Laughter and bickering over rights to the mixer blades. Welcome to biscotti baking day at my house. Of course my biscotti recipe always includes Sinatra, Martin and Louie Prima crooning on the sound system. Loud is good.
And on this particular biscotti making and baking day, the two sisters were in town. Let’s call them Em and Zee. Nine and eight years old respectively. Being thespians in residence, they are a traveling party all unto themselves.
They are my two Southern California granddaughters. They call me Popi.
The second pleasant surprise was receiving my very first “new to me” Kitchen Aid Heavy Duty Mixer. After having used wooden spoons and burning out hand mixers through the years making biscotti, I had always wanted to get a Kitchen Aid. Upon learning of my need, a friend “gifted” one to me. A win-win for both of us. I have the mixer, she has lifetime biscotti. Here’s a BIG thank you, my friend.
And here’s the third surprise. I had a chance to exchange “heart thoughts” with the girls from So Cal. We all know that food is a language. It soothes and comforts; it accents our celebrations and it expresses our affections for one another. In our house, biscotti is its own regional dialect. Making biscotti for me is an experience where baking, eating, talking, singing and dancing can all take place. Sometimes profound thoughts emerge.
So amidst singing ear splitting strains of “Oh, mamma zooma zooma baccala'” with Louie Prima, Zee looks up at me and asks a totally out of the blue question.
“Popi, did you like my daddy when you first met him?”
Out of the blue. I met her daddy in Costa Rica when he was first dating our oldest daughter. Both were studying abroad at that time in San Jose when we visited. You know, fathers intuitively hesitate to embrace a daughter’s new boyfriend, for indeed it is like one entrusting a Stradivarius violin to a guerilla. But I was fond of him.
“Yes sweetie. I did like your daddy when I first met him. Very much. He is a very likeable guy”, I answered.
She looked at the cookie dough left on the mixer blade that she held and said,
“I liked him too when I first met him.”
Biscotti spoken here.
They say the origins of this cookie go back to Roman times when the Roman Legions would take it with them on their campaigns. Through the years it became a staple for travelers who could count on it not spoiling quickly. Christopher Columbus reportedly never left home without it, making it a favorite while on his new world jaunts.
"Biscotto" in Italian means biscuit or cookie. “Biscotti” is the plural. So it acts as a more generic word there. Here, it means those wonderful dipping cookies we like. The word appears to have come from the Latin word 'bis coctum', meaning “twice baked”; once to cook them and once to dry them out. Hence, the perfect traveling cookie for plundering armies.
My own recipe was originally adapted from somewhere. It has evolved according to my tastes and responses from friends and family. I like a softer cookie that doesn't break your teeth. This biscotti eats well alone, or dunked in coffee or dipped in red wine. Immerse the cookie in a moscato. Like a baptism. Enjoy.
1 Cup Butter
1 ½ Cups Cacao Nibs
1 ½ Cups Sugar
6 Tsp Baking Powder
2 Cups Toasted Sliced Almonds
6 Cups Unbleached All Purpose Flour
2 Tbls Anise Seed
2 Tbls Almond Extract
2 Tbls Vanilla Extract
A little Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Nestlé’s Toll House Chocolate Chips
Heat Oven to 330 degrees
Get the mood right. Make sure you have a “Martini Lounge” mix playing that includes Sinatra and Louis Prima.
Toast Almonds in a frying pan with butter. Throw in a handful of Brown Sugar until caramelized. Set aside to cool. You are making enough to snack on while cooking, so be generous.
Cream chilled butter and sugar until light and fluffy
*Beat in eggs
(You’ve heard of Free Range Chickens? Well, what about Free Barrio Chickens? A friend of mine houses about 30 chickens who all started from 11 stray hens and an overactive rooster. They were running wild in the industrial barrio until caught and penned. We used their eggs. Mille Fleur eggs. They are smaller and have harder shells. The girls had a great time cracking them)
Add flavoring and cacao nibs
(Here’s a secret. Keep it on the down low. Anise seed is expensive. In the baking section, at least. I go to the Mexican Food section of our grocery store. There you can find anise seed in packages and at a bargain)
Add baking powder, almonds and flour. Mix until a dough forms.
Lightly knead on a floured board and separate into two loaves.
Take the olive oil, pour some into your hands and rub the loaves.
Roll loaves to shape and until about ¾ thick.
Place on a cookie sheet with parchment paper
Bake for about 30 minutes. Check them periodically.
Remove from oven and cut into finger shapes. Don’t cut the fingers.
Return to oven and continue to bake now at 200 degrees for about 20 minutes until lightly browned.
After cooled, ice with melted chocolate.
Servings: It makes a lot
Note: Thanks to my wife who really cleans up after I “clean” up.
And all photos taken by the 2 sisters. Watercolor is my original.