Sunday, December 28, 2008

biscotti making

Every x-mas, I make biscotti. Like, for at least the past ten years. It is a holiday ritual involving a good two days of labor, but one that yields the most satisfying of results. Biscotti, anise cookies, the ultimate cookie, call them what you will, they are my favorite cookie. Maybe you have not had the cookie I'm thinking about. Or you think you have, but are really imagining one of those rock hard biscotti-shaped things that ruin folks experience of the real deal. These, are the real deal, and if you have the hand and forearm strength to give them a try, I implore you to do so. You will be most pleased.

Unless you have access to a professional kitchen with an industrial mixer, you'll be making these completely by hand. In order for the dough to be the right consistency it must be extremely tough to mix. Try it in a Kitchen Aid or similar home kitchen model and by the time you have all the ingredients together, the motor will come to an abrupt stop. Really. (I strongly advise against even trying it, so please trust me here.) Using a wooden spoon yields similar results and chances are you'll break it if you insist on using it. This recipe is so old school that you don't even need a bowl to mix it all in. Think: pasta making where you add the eggs to a well in the flour already on the bread board. When all is thoroughly mixed, toss it in the fridge. Then, ideally, forget about it for anywhere between two and five days.

When you remember, (or have achieved aged dough perfection, however you choose to view it) remove it from the ice box and split it into thirds. If it is your first time attempting these, shape only one piece into a loaf for the first baking so you can see how the dough behaves, looking for how much rising and spreading the loaf will do and keeping it from browning too much. After the first baking, make sure to cool it until room temp on a rack. Now cut it at a slight angle with a thickness ranging from between 21/64ths to 29/64ths of an inch. Don't worry too much about precision here, after a few sheets of varying thicknesses you'll figure out the fine balance between enough strength and too thick. Place these pieces side down on the sheet, filling it most of the way. Now here comes the art of this cookie: bake them about 6-7 minutes per side, flipping them each time and rotating cookies and multiple sheets if needed to compensate for inconsistencies in your oven. Compensate for inconsistencies in your brain too I suppose. (If you've ever baked cookies in a late 1920's Wedgewood, or tried baking while using my brain, you know what I'm talking about.) Anyway, pay close attention, because burning cookies that are baked twice is easily 200% easier to do.

Oh, and back to that hand and forearm thing. If you've never made these, one batch is tough. If you end up liking the recipe and think about making even more, doubling it is nearly out of the question unless you have the enormous hands of an NBA center to achieve mixing the resulting, huge-tastic doughball. I recommend making one batch a day for successive days. (I do anywhere from two to four of these each year.) Making two batches in one day can be done if needed, but will result in certain hand fatigue, noticed primarily the following day when you reach for a doorknob or squeeze something in your fist. Or reach for your 8th cookie of the morning. Because, like the picture shows, there are always a broken few that need immediate gastric recycling.

So make sure you are nice and fortified before you attempt making these biscotti. Maybe do some carbo loading the day before. Come to think of it, this year I ate several of these sandwiches the couple days before embarking on my workout plan. I guess after years of making the cookies, I just do this naturally. I'm pretty sure the deep dish pizza I made was full of carbs. Overall though, it was a nice balanced snack with the cream cheese and salmon placed in the middle, panini style. Ahhhh, the things you have to do to achieve hand and forearm fitness.......


measure and set aside:
2T anise seeds
1 & 1/3c chopped walnuts

4 large eggs (let come to room temperature)

sift together 3 times:
5c all-purpose flour
1 & 2/3c granulated sugar
2t baking powder
1/2t salt

in a measuring cup combine together:
2/3c melted butter
1/3c salad oil (like safflower, canola, etc.)
2t anise extract
2t vanilla extract

make a well in the dry ingredients and add the (slightly beaten) eggs. mix with your hands until the egg is well incorporated then add the measuring cup of the remaining wet ingredients and mix until you need to rest. now make it even more difficult and painful, by adding the anise seeds and walnuts and mixing until they are nicely distributed. put into a large bowl and cover, then place in the fridge, at the very least overnight. from one to five days later, remove from the fridge and cut into thirds. shape one portion into a log. mash down with your hands into a low profile loaf, about 2 1/2 inches wide and nearly and inch tall. this will likely stretch most of the way across your cookie sheet (unless you are using a larger pan like a standard 1/2 sheet.) bake this loaf at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes until it has risen some and turned a light golden color. remove from the oven and cool on a cookie sheet until it has reached room temperature. slice on a diagonal about 3/8ths inch thick and lay on their sides back on the cookie sheet. bake at 350 again, about 6-7 minutes per side, flipping each time. by the second flip (nearing 15 minutes) they should be about done. cool on a rack and then start eating. dip in coffee, dip in wine, ice cream, chocolate, chili, whatever pleases you. and make sure to admire those strong hands and popeye-like forearms you just worked on and think: "I don't need no stinkin' mixer!"


K and S said...

wow these do sound like a lot of work, but I'm sure they are worth every minute and beads of sweat for them.

cookiecrumb said...

"between 21/64ths to 29/64ths of an inch"... Funny.

Maybe I can get Michael Phelps to come over and do the mixing.

Monkey Wrangler said...

Kat: Most indeed! But I forgot to mention a plus side of making them: the butter and oil that you mix by hand works as a great moisturizer leaving your hands looking good!

Cookie: Thanks, I was hoping someone would catch that one. Give Mike a call, he has huge hands and I hear he doesn't start training for the 2012 games for a few more weeks.

mr.sound and mrs.sound said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Farmer Jo said...

It looks worth all the hard work! I love anything with anise in it.

Monkey Wrangler said...

Farmer Jo: If you love anise, you simply must make these. Thanks for dropping by!