Thursday, 17 February 2011

Bella Biscoctus

How we relate to food, and who eats what when, has changes a lot over the centuries. Queen Elizabeth 1st  drank strong, dark ale, for breakfast (no protein shake for this monarch), George W. Bush banned broccoli from the White House, and biscotti used to be the staple food for the Roman Legion. Not because this dry cookie went so well with their flask of latte, but because it had a long storage life. Still has. Biscotti is Italian for “baked twice”, and that is exactly what you do. First you bake it as a loaf, and then you slice it up and bake it again. It’s delicious, scrumptious, and you can tweak the recipe to add almost any flavour you like. Guess which one I adore the most?

Chocolate-Honey-Lavender Biscotti

You didn’t expect that! You thought it would be a pure chocolate galore fest. But no, I like to use other flavours as well. After I discovered lavender sugar at Waitrose, I’ve been looking for any excuse to use it. It’s great for shortbread, but that is another recipe. Now on to our Roman treats.

Note: if you don’t have lavender sugar, just add some dried lavender blossoms.

2 ¼ cups white flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup lavender sugar 
3 large eggs
3 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoon pine nuts
½ cup toasted almond flakes
½ vanilla extract
100 g dark chocolate

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Put on your apron and your Dean Martin CD, and let the baking begin.

Whisk together all the dry stuff except for the sugar, and set aside. This includes the nuts and the almonds as well.

In a big bowl, whisk together the sugar and the eggs. Then you stir in the honey and vanilla. Sprinkle the dry ingredients into the bowl, and fold the two mixes together until just combined. This batter may appear sticky, but resist the temptation to add more flour. We want a light and crisp result, not dense and heavy.

Put the dough on the table and divide it in half.  Put the halves on a lined baking tray, and quickly shape the dough into loafs. Make sure your hands are coated with flour; it will help with the stickiness. Or, use a rubber spatula. In either case, you want the lovely loafs to be approximately 12 x 2 inches each. 
Put the tray in the oven and bake for 35 minutes, or until they appear golden and begin to crack at the top.

Take the tray out of the oven and let the loafs cool for 10 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 325. When the 10 minutes are up, use a wide metal spatula to transfer the loafs on to a cutting board. With a serrated knife cut both loafs diagonally into thin slices. They should be thinner than a slice of bread, but wider than a cracker. One time I forgot to slice diagonally and just sliced away in a straight line. The biscotti ended up looking so plain and dull; the diagonal cut really adds something. Anyways.

Lay the slices on a baking tray and bake for 7 minutes. Turn them over and bake for another 7 minutes. When done baking, transfer them to a wire wrack and let them cool.

Melt dark chocolate and pour it into an icing bag. A plain zip-lock back will also do. Cut a tiny slit in one corner of the bag so the chocolate will come out in a thin line.
Create a zigzag pattern on each biscotti, or draw any pattern you prefer. This one is just so easy, and quick to do with this many cookies.

If you can handle the wait, don’t eat the biscotti until the chocolate has hardened. If you can’t wait, don’t burn yourself on the hot chocolate.

Biscotti can be stored in an airtight container for about a month, but I seriously don’t think there will be a need for that.

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