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They were nearing the end of their shelf life, so I decided to save them with a batch of almond-anise biscotti. It might be my all-time favorite cookie: simple, lean, relatively low in sugar, and just begging for a dunk in a cup of strong coffee. Sure, biscotti traditionally make use of whole, un-blanched almonds, in order to take advantage of their flavorful skins, but in the name of thrift, almost anything goes.
But that isn't to say I flout tradition altogether.
As with old-school Italian recipes, my cookies don't contain any fat aside from what's found in the almonds themselves and in the eggs that bind the dough. This keeps the biscotti sturdy and dry, giving them an epic shelf life and the capacity to soak up everything from espresso to Vin Santo without crumbling apart.
My favorite almond biscotti are spiked with a little anise—not so much that they become a licorice-fest, but enough to add a hint of intrigue and elevate the almond aroma.
Because of their sprinkle-like shape, anise seeds have a way of remaining rather distinct in the dough, so that its flavor seems plain until a whole seed finds its way in between your teeth. So, to get a better flavor in the dough, I like to give the seeds a rough chop.
The broken pieces leach some of their essential oil into the dough, gently flavoring it throughout instead of giving you isolated bites of anise intensity. It's a subtle move, but it shifts the biscotti from "almond, plus sometimes anise" to truly almond-anise.
Likewise, I give the whole toasted almonds a rough chop. As with chopped chocolate in my chocolate chip cookies, chopping almonds produces a mix of chunks, shards, and fine, mealy bits, adding variable flavor and texture to the dough. Again, whole almonds are perfect for the occasion, but blanched will do the trick, and create a more delicate flavor and appearance overall.
With the mix-ins prepared, all you have to do is toss all the ingredients into a bowl and combine them to form a soft dough. I use a stand mixer for convenience, but hand-mixing works just as well.
When the dough comes together, I scrape it onto a lightly floured surface and shape it into a rough log, short enough to be easily transferred to a baking sheet.
Once the dough is positioned on a parchment-lined half-sheet pan, I continue rolling the log until it meets the full length of the pan. From there, I gently pat it out until it's about four inches wide and half an inch thick.
The dimensions here aren't essential to follow—biscotti can be formed to just about any size—but the size and shape will affect baking time and yield. If you prefer mini biscotti, try making two logs instead. If you want longer, thinner pieces, try a shorter, wider log. In either case, throw the suggested timetable from my recipe out the window, and use visual cues to guide you instead.
However I've shaped the dough, I always take a moment to dust any excess flour off its surface, before baking the log or logs until they're puffed, firm, and just barely starting to brown around the edges.
I let the half-baked dough cool for about five minutes, then transfer it to a cutting board, where I let it cool five minutes more. The initial cooling phase ensures the hot dough won't break in half when lifted, and the second cooling phase lets the biscotti develop enough structure to be sliced with ease, while avoiding the hardened crust that will form when the dough has fully cooled.
Once the biscotti log is cool enough to handle comfortably, but still rather warm, loosen it from the parchment, and slice it into half-inch pieces with a thin, serrated knife. You can read more in our review of serrated knives, but this $16 Tojiro is what I have at home. Thicker, heavier blades (especially those that have dulled over time) can really tear up the fragile dough, so having a lightweight blade will go further than good technique for producing clean slices of biscotti.
I return the sliced biscotti to the oven and bake until they're dry to the touch and very lightly browned (about 12 minutes at 350°F/180°C for half-inch-thick slices), then flip the slices over and continue baking them on the other side.
The biscotti will be slightly soft while hot, crisping only as they cool, so give them plenty of time before sneaking a bite. Once cool, they're ready to enjoy, whether on their own or dunked in your beverage of choice.
Or, you can cave to peer pressure and dip them in tempered dark chocolate. This flies in the face of my less-is-more biscotti philosophy, but I'm helpless to deny its crowd-pleasing effect, especially around the holidays.
If you do go this route, be sure to brush the crumbs from each piece before dipping, to keep the chocolate as pristine as possible.
After the tempered chocolate has set, dipped biscotti can be stored in the exact same way as the plain variety: for up to three months in an airtight container at cool room temperature.
It's that phenomenal keeping quality that makes biscotti so grand—an ideal option for giving as a gift, shipping, or keeping on hand for a mid-afternoon snack.
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