The Ever Popular Biscotti

Cookies have taken the world by storm. These subtly sweet and crunchy biscuits can be found in several countries around the world, although they can be traced back to Italy as early as the 14th century. In fact, it is said that Christopher Columbus brought these biscuits on his travels because they were very resistant and their dryness prevented the problem of deterioration. The name biscuits can be translated as twice baked and actually describes how these tasty biscuits are prepared. By baking them twice, they lose excess moisture, which ensures a crispy, dry cookie that’s perfect for dipping. Since the biscuits are not very sweet, they are a perfect snack at any time of the day, whether enjoyed with a cup of coffee in the morning or dunked in a sweet dessert wine after dinner.

The cookies come in myriad flavor combinations, chock-full of almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, citron, raisins and even chocolate chunks. The traditional favorite biscuits in Italy have to be Biscotti di Prato, which are crunchy, dry almond biscuits named after the city of Prato and usually served alongside a glass of Vin Santo for dipping. Vin Santo is a Tuscan wine that varies from dry to sweet, with a golden brown color and an intensity of flavor that pairs perfectly with almond wafers. Another popular Italian biscuit is the anise biscuit, which appears to have been created to be eaten with a cup of caffe latte or coffee with hot milk. There are no set rules about what can and cannot be eaten with this crunchy treat, it is traditionally served with coffee or dessert wines in an Italian home. It can also be served with milk, tea and hot chocolate. The biscuit’s crunchy, dry texture makes it ideal for dipping into your favorite drink.

Today, Americans are giving biscuits a makeover, embracing this Italian dessert with such enthusiasm that biscuits can now be found in every coffee shop, bakery and grocery store. There’s a variety for every palate, low in fat or sugar, glazed, packed with nuts and dried fruit, or delicately flavored with lemon or spices. Biscuits can be easily prepared at home with good results if you follow some simple tips. They are quickly shaped into long logs, which are cooked. Then, after letting them cool for ten to fifteen minutes, they are cut into wafers, which are put back in the oven to crisp up. Most twice-baked cookie recipes can be divided into two categories. The former are those made with eggs as the only adhesive ingredient, the latter are those that also use butter or fat. Biscuits made with added fats tend to have a more delicate texture than those made with eggs alone. Other differences mainly concern the type of additives and flavorings used in the recipe. Cookies can be sinfully decadent or health conscious depending on the ingredients used. You can find my Biscuit Collection HERE or click on the links listed under the photo below.

Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind when making cookies!

* Recipes that use shortening or butter tend to produce a more shortbread-like texture and are softer in the center than those that use only eggs, especially when they are still warm from the oven. Biscuits should always be baked on a baking tray lined with baking paper or cling film to make them easier to remove.

* Mix the dough until it comes together. Do not over mix. Lining the pan with baking paper prevents sticking and makes cleanup much easier.

* Regular cookie dough may appear very dry and barely stick; avoid the temptation to add water to moisten the dough.

* Use a sharp, serrated knife to cut biscuits for second baking. Cutting the loaf at an angle allows you to get longer, gourmet-looking slices. The slices should be cooked until lightly browned. They will continue to harden and crisp as they cool, so don’t be tempted to overcook them to ensure crispiness.

* If your log loaf crumbles when you try to cut it into strips, wrap it tightly and place it in the freezer overnight before trying to cut it again. This method works well with cookie recipes that also include whole nuts or melted chocolate.

*Do not pile the biscuit slices on the baking tray for the second baking as they need hot air to circulate to crisp them up evenly.

* Store cookies in an airtight container. They will keep well for a few weeks. Frozen they will keep for months.

Check out some of my favorite cookie recipes!

Debora Mele

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