See that gorgeous toasted coconut biscotti in the photo? Ask for “biscotti” in Italy, and you might not get one of those “fancy nut-filled, chocolate-drizzled cookies that we see today, artfully arranged in curvy glass jars at pasticcerie throughout Italy and a bakeries and coffee shops around the world.”
That’s how Domenica Marchetti introduces us to “Italy’s favorite cookie” in her latest of six cookbooks, Ciao Biscotti (Chronicle Books, 2015).
In Italy, “biscotti” just means “cookies.” Fascinating, eh?
According to Marchetti, “What we call biscotti in America are actually cantucci.” The original cantucci de Prato contained just four ingredients: flour, sugar, eggs, and nuts (typically pine nuts or almonds).
Marchetti puts a spin on this classic cookie with 38 variations in five categories: Classic Flavors, Chocolate and Spice, Biscotti with Fruit, Fantasy Flavors, and The Savory Side. She adds a bonus Beyond Biscotti category including six more recipes, such as tantalizing Nutella Sandwich Cookies.
While biscotti look intimidating, the recipes themselves are presented in such a way that they’re actually quite simple to execute. A few key elements Marchetti shares have contributed to the success of several of the recipes in my own kitchen:
1. Recipes are conveyed in clear, concise language that help the home baker visualize the process.
2. Biscotti are forgiving when it comes to making substitutions.
3. Marchetti includes Metric and Imperial units for weight and measure.
Yet this balabusta of biscotti revealed in a recent interview with me that she initially resisted the idea of writing the book on the twice-baked treats. (A shandah!) In fact, her publisher, Chronicle Books, requested she author the book as a replacement for a retired biscotti recipe tome. Inspiration for unique recipes such as Green Tea with White Chocolate Glaze and Crispy Pancetta were the result of “brainstorming flavor combinations I like” while others “come out of the blue. One savory idea led to another.”
While her imagination runs free during the recipe development process, consistency is an essential part of testing recipes prior to making them part of her manuscript. A recipe gets the green light if it works for Marchetti at least three times. Remember that no matter how well a recipe works in one kitchen, factors can differ in another with regard to oven temperature fluctuations, humidity, egg sizes, measuring vs. weight of flour and other dry ingredients, and more.
The more-accurate metric measurements provided for each recipe are probably the most important guidelines to follow when recreating one of these recipes in your own kitchen. Particularly with flour, accuracy is important for success. (Visit this simple tutorial on measuring flour from King Arthur Flour for some quick guidance.)
Success. We talked quite a bit about it at the dining table adjacent to Marchetti’s enviable kitchen. If you follow her on Instagram, you know about the beautiful light she gets on the marble countertops flanked by the bright green tile backsplash. I imagine this well-appointed and laid-out kitchen is a productive and peaceful place to work. (Perhaps the tile *is* greener on the other side – literally.)
Back to success. I asked Marchetti about what that word means to her. From the outside, it looks like she has “made it” in her career, that she’s at the top of her game.
“I’ve been doing this a long time,” Marchetti revealed. “But sometimes I still feel like a beginner. I’ve published a number of books, and that denotes a certain amount of success.”
She continued, “I love what I do, and the fact that I’ve been able to do it for a decade now – my first book was published in 2006 – is my personal success.”
As we’re both mothers of two, I asked about the elusive work-life balance. Alas, there is no silver bullet. As mothers, we “cobble together what you can and do what you do to get through the day,” she said. While raising her now-teenage children, Marchetti’s kids ate what she was testing at the time.
You see, my friends? Cookbook authors: they’re human, just like us. Every one of us is a work in progress. There’s always more to learn and ways to improve.
Each of us must define success in our own terms. Love who you are. Love who you’re with. Love what you do. Love who you feed. Find a way to celebrate others’ victories – big and small. This life is not a race.
DISCLOSURE: I ate two of the biscotti pictured above, offered to me by Marchetti. Wait, you want to know if she gave me a copy of her book for free? Nope. I purchased my copy of Ciao Biscotti. Views expressed in the article are my own.
As I noted earlier, these recipes are forgiving when it comes to substitutions and modifications. This recipe includes my changes.
- 2 ¾ cups/340 g unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 8 Tbsp/115 g unsalted butter
- ½ cup/125 g sugar
- 1 Tbsp sherry
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 large eggs
- one 3.52-oz./100-g Toblerone bar, cut into small pieces
- vegetable oil
- 4 oz./115 g semisweet chocolate, melted
- Combine he flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk until well incorporated. Set aside.
- In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Continue to cook the butter, stirring continuously until it foams, turns clear, and then turns a deep brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from the heat immediately and pour it into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Let the butter cool for 5 to 10 minutes, until it’s no longer hot.
- Pour the sugar, sherry (or brandy), vanilla, and almond extract (optional) into the bowl and beat on low speed until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until combined. Dump in the flour mixture and beat on low speed until a soft, sticky dough has formed. Toss in the chopped Toblerone bar and mix on low just until incorporated. Using a spatula, scrape the dough onto a sheet of wax paper or plastic wrap. Pat it into a disk, wrap, and set in the refrigerator to chill for 30 to 60 minutes.
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly coat a baking sheet with oil or lay a baking mat on the pan.
- Divide the chilled dough in half. Place one portion on one half of the baking sheet and use your hands to roll, stretch, and pat the dough into a log about 4 in/10 cm wide and 10 in/25 cm long. Shape the second piece of dough in the same way. Press down on the logs to flatten out a bit and make the tops even.
- Bake the logs for 25 minutes, or until they are just set – they should be springy to the touch and there should be cracks on the surface. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack. Gently slide a spatula (offset, if you have one) under each log to loosen it from the baking sheet. Let the logs cool for 5 minutes, and then transfer them to the rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees.
- Transfer the cooled logs to a cutting board, and using a Santoku knife, cut them on the diagonal into ½-in-/12-mm-thick slices. Arrange the slices, cut side up, on the baking sheet (in batches, if necessary) and bake for 8 minutes. Turn the slices over and bake for another 8 minutes, until they are crisp and golden brown. Transfer the slices to the rack to cool completely.
- Arrange the slices cut-side up on a baking sheet lined with wax paper Dip a fork into the melted chocolate and wave it back and forth over the biscotti to create drizzles and droplets. Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator for 30 minutes for the chocolate to set. Let the biscotti return to room temperature before serving. The biscotti will keep for up to 10 days in an airtight container stored at room temperature. (Marchetti does not recommend freezing any biscotti, as they tend to lose their crunch.)