Biscotti is an Italian biscuit or cookie. The word originates from the medieval Latin word biscoctus, meaning “twice-cooked.” It defined oven baked goods that were baked twice, so they were very dry and could be stored for long periods of time. Since they are very dry, biscotti traditionally are served with a drink, into which they may be dunked. In Italy, they are typically served as an after-dinner dessert with a Tuscan fortified wine called vin santo. Outside of Italy, they more frequently accompany coffee, including cappuccinos and lattes, or black tea.
Michelle grew up in an Italian family, where the kitchen was always the hub of activity – “it’s where everyone gathered to talk, eat and share life while amazing food was being created.” Her grandmother was the center of the kitchen and hub of the family. Within the kitchen, she made her traditional biscotti for decades for her family. As a grandchild, Michelle shares a story remembering her grandmother and a recipe of this delicious treat.
“My grandma baked by feel; her hands knew when dough was ready and she never second-guessed herself.”
“Most of my grandma’s recipes are written like stereotypical grandma-style recipes. There are a list of ingredients and if you’re lucky, most of them will have quantities next to them, but inevitably, some do not. Since my grandma passed away a little over two years ago, my mom and I have taken turns going through her stack of recipes. Her biscotti recipe, in particular, was treasured by everyone in our family. Growing up, I don’t think there was ever a time that I went to her house and her ceramic cookie jar wasn’t filled to the brim with biscotti. If you just so happened to reach in and grab the last one, not to worry… Grandma would tell you to “go over there on the steps and grab the big tin, there are more in there.”
“Because, of course there were. That’s how Italian grandma’s roll.”
“Unfortunately, none of us ever baked right alongside my grandma when she made her biscotti (they always magically appeared!), and her recipe was rather cryptic – no amount of flour, no oven time, no flavoring amount. Last Christmas, my mom and I tackled the trial and error project of getting the recipe as close as we could. After a few different batches, a lot of dough-feeling and experimenting with flavorings, we finally nailed it!”
“One of the unique things that my grandma did with her biscotti was to use butternut flavoring as opposed to the traditional anise. I personally love anise, but my extended family is split at best on it, and I think more people than not dislike it. Since she always aimed to please, my grandma stopped using anise and adopted the vanilla butternut flavoring, which became her signature biscotti flavor.
“The other thing the family had always been split on was nuts. Some loved chopped walnuts in the biscotti, while others wouldn’t touch them if they had nuts. Again wanting everyone to be happy, my grandma would make half of her batches with nuts and the other half without.”
“When I was younger, I would often pour myself a half cup of coffee, then sit at the table and dunk, dunk, dunk. I’ve never been a coffee drinker, but to me, there is no better way to enjoy a good biscotti than by dunking it in a cup of coffee.”
1½ cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
¼ cup milk
1 tablespoon butternut flavoring
8 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups chopped walnuts (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.
2. Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar on medium speed until the mixture is pale yellow, about 3 minutes. Add the oil, milk, and butternut flavoring, and mix for an additional 1 to 2 minutes until completely combined. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour and baking powder, mixing only until just combined. Give the mixture a final stir with a rubber spatula, and fold in the walnuts (if using).
3. Divide the dough into four equal pieces and shape each into a log about 9 inches long by 3 inches wide. Place two on each sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and place the pans on cooling racks for 10 to 15 minutes, or until you can handle the biscotti easily.
4. Increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees F.
5. Using a sharp knife, slice each log on the diagonal into ½-inch slices. Arrange the slices cut side-up on the baking sheets and return to the oven for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown, flipping them halfway through. Allow the biscotti to cool on the baking sheets, then store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 month.
Photography: Brown-Eyed Baker