During the holidays, after a long shopping excursion, Millie and I stopped at our local crêperie/bakery/coffee shop, Cafe Javasti. I can’t remember what Millie got, but I remember exactly what I had: the best decaf cafe latte, and the best almond biscotti ever! Normally I would always choose some sort of flaky pastry or cinnamon-y coffee cake over a biscotti, but for some reason, this time I went for the hard Italian cookie. Wow. Was I surprised! It was so light and crispy, kind of melt-in-your-mouth, not tooth-breakingly hard, and paired with some of the best coffee around, I was in heaven! So of course when I got home, I immediately started looking at recipes.
After a bit of searching, I found this recipe, Anise-Almond Biscotti, by Janet Mercuri. All the reviews were fantastic, so I gave it a try. I only barely tweaked a few things: like adding a tad more salt, and adding more ground anise seed, which I ground myself using my mortar and pestle. The fragrance that is released when doing this is intoxicating.
I also found a great trick for how to make the dough easier to handle. Normally you have to form logs out of sticky soft dough, and then transfer it to the baking sheets, which can be difficult, even with floured hands.
After reading more recipes (you have to read a lot of recipes to get everyone’s wonderful tips), I found a great method: scoop large spoonfuls of dough in a row onto the cookie sheet, and then form into logs with floured hands. This works perfectly.
One of the great things about these cookies is that they just keep getting better and better. In fact, when I first made them, I tried one shortly after they had cooled, and I was underwhelmed. I didn’t know that biscotti become more flavorful and delicious after a few days, and I didn’t know that they would still be wonderful after a month! Which is fantastic, because I made them just before Christmas, when we were all feeling completely sugared out, so they sat in jars on the kitchen counter being ignored for quite a while before I felt like trying one again. Even Matthew likes them, and he doesn’t like biscotti.
(Adapted, just barely, from Janet Mercuri’s recipe)
- 3 1/4 cups (14.75 ounces) all purpose flour
- 1 Tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 10 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 3 large eggs at room temperature
- 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 Tablespoon anise seed, ground
- 1 cup whole raw almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
- 1 large egg white
- Preheat oven to 350°
- Place 1 cup of whole raw almonds on baking sheet and toast in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Chop coarsely once cooled.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
- In a large bowl, mix together the sugar, melted butter (lukewarm, not hot!), eggs, vanilla, and ground anise seed with a wooden spoon.
- Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and stir with wooden spoon, just until the flour is incorporated. Do not over mix.
- Stir in the chopped almonds.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and with a large serving spoon, place dollops of dough in two rows on your baking sheet. There should be about 4 inches of space between the rows.
- With floured hands, form dough into logs about 2 1/2 inches wide and almost as long as the cookie sheet. The logs might be about 1 inch tall. (At this point, you can put the logs into the refrigerator to chill for a half hour – optional! – to firm up the dough. This means your dough will not spread as much when baking, making for shorter, wider biscotti. You decide.)
- Whisk the egg white until foamy, then brush the tops and sides of the dough with it.
- Bake on center rack of oven for 30 minutes.
- Place the baking sheet on a cooling rack, and allow the cookie logs to cool on the sheet for 25 minutes.
- Carefully place the cooled logs on a cutting board (discard parchment paper). Using a sharp serrated bread knife, slice on the diagonal into 1/2″ thick slices (mine are 5/8″) – use a sawing back and forth motion. Don’t fret if some of the biscotti crumble a bit.
- Place slices cut side down on the baking sheet and bake for about 12 minutes. Flip the biscotti and bake for another 8 minutes. If you prefer your biscotti less toasted, try 10 minutes on the first side, and 6 minutes on the second side.
- Remove from cookie sheet and let cool completely on cooling rack. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Stored properly, these will stay fresh for a month. Makes about 36 biscotti.
Note: I wanted to mention why I might just be a little obsessed with these cookies, and why I have been making them for a month now, aside from the fact that I needed to find the perfect recipe… Having grown up in St. Louis, I have so many fond memories of “The Hill”, which is the Italian section of St. Louis: blocks and blocks of modest older brick homes, and at the center, the best Italian restaurants, grocery stores, bakeries and cafés you could ever wish to find. When I was a kid, my mom used to take us to Viviano & Sons grocery store on the Hill. As soon as you walked into the place, you were hit with the pungent aroma of olives, olive oil, strong cheese, freshly baked bread, and yes, anise seed. So I might just bliss out when I am making these cookies. I hope you will too.