Have you ever enjoyed biscotti, the intensely crunchy cookie, dipped in coffee or sweet wine? Developed by the early Romans as a convenience food for travelers, biscotti are unleavened, finger-shaped wafers. The word biscotto is derived from “bis,” which means twice in Latin, and “coctum” or baked (which became “cotto” or cooked.)
These tasty treats are first baked to cook them, then baked a second time to completely dry them out, making them study and durable enough for travel and nourishment for long journeys. Biscotti were a staple in the diet of the Roman Legions as they went about their conquests. Sadly, the art of preparing these cookies was lost during the Dark Ages as people did their best just to survive.
During the Renaissance, when cuisine and good eating again flourished, biscotti re-emerged in Tuscany where a local baker served them up with a regional sweet wine. Their dry, crunchy texture was deemed the perfect medium to soak up wine, espresso and other beverages.
The search for a gluten-free snack and an abundance of slivered almonds inspired me to create the recipe for Almond Biscotti. For this preparation, I ground the slivered almonds in my Vitamix; pulsing the mixture frequently and being careful not to create an almond butter. Then after mixing the ground nuts with sugar and a touch of baking soda and baking powder, I incorporated soft butter and egg and almond extract.
The dough is shaped by hand into loaves, each about 1 inch high, and baked. Because the dough spreads when baking, be sure to make your loaves high, and quite compact. After the first baking, cool the loaf, then slice into finger shaped pieces, and bake until dry and nicely crunchy in a 250-degree oven.
Variations for biscotti abound; some are filled with whole nuts or dried fruits, others dipped in chocolate. Variations of flavoring including lemon, anise and amaretto. If stored in an airtight container, the cookie will keep … well, almost forever. Culinary legend has it that Christopher Columbus stowed biscotti in the hull of one of his three sailing ships on his journey to the Americas.
I’m interested to try this recipe with other nuts and seeds, as they create a nutritionally dense package of convenience that can be eaten most any time or any place.
No Vitamix? Try a food processor. Nut meals may be purchased at your local co-op or health food store. Nut flours also will probably work, but the dough may need additional moisture to shape well.
Perhaps, as we emerge from the current “Dark Ages,” now might be the time to try baking some biscotti!
Cheryl Wixson lives and cooks in Stonington. She welcomes food-related questions and comments at [email protected]
Makes 24 biscotti
Enjoy these gluten-free, intensely crunchy cookies as a snack dipping in your favorite beverage.
1 lb. almonds, finely ground (about 4 cups) or 4 cups almond flour
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. baking powder
½ cup sugar
1 large egg
½ cup butter, softened
½ tsp. almond extract
Assemble ingredients and tools. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
In the bowl of your electric mixer, add the ground almonds, baking soda, baking powder and sugar. Whisk until well mixed.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, almond extract and soft butter.
Add this mixture to the nut mixture and fold the ingredients together until well combined and the mixture makes a ball.
Turn the dough out onto a surface dusted with ground almonds. Divide into two sections. Using your hands, form two rectangular loaves, each about 1 inch in size and place on the parchment-lined pan.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown. Remove to a rack and let cool for 15 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 250 degrees F.
Slice the cooled loaves into ½-inch pieces, place on parchment-lined paper and bake until crispy, about 20 to 25 more minutes.
Remove from oven and cool completely. Store in a tin. Keeps well for up to 4 weeks.
Nutritional analysis per biscotti: 193 calories, 4 grams protein, 12 grams carbohydrates, 14 grams fat, 16 mg. sodium, 2 grams fiber.