Lest you think my running of at the mouth about the evils of dieting meant that I was going to spend this month in the pursuit of only earnest foods, let me set that straight right now: all weekend, I craved a cookie and by Sunday, I’d had enough. No, I wasn’t going to break out the piping bags or the heavy cream ganaches, but when I need something sweet, I have learned that it’s better to have one and move on than to snack on twent-five other odd ends instead, oh, and still crave a cookie.
As far as my cookie demands went, biscotti seemed a perfect compromise. A little less rich, sweet and heavy than most cookies, they go better with tea, coffee or your morning yogurt (guilty as charged) than they do wtih a platter of even more indulgent desserts. I’d had this recipe from Gina DePalma, pastry chef at Babbo, bookmarked for years, and seeing as I am still wading through pounds of nuts and had some sorry-looking figs in the pantry, it seemed like perfect timing.
Biscotti fall into two categories: those that contain butter and those that do not. The former are closer to a cookie, and what we’re used to seeing in this country. I can’t say I’d dip them in anything, but then again, I’m not much of a dipper (I imagine little oily spots at the top of my coffee… ghuh). The latter — the butter free type — are so crunchy that they beg to be dipped in warm wine. Now, people who consider themselves biscotti purists will tell you that biscotti should never contain butter, and if they do, they’re not biscotti. But when I ran that by an Italian cook, he noted that the word biscotti is derived from Latin (biscoctus) which means twice-baked, and that therefore this twice-baking, and not the ingredients, are the definition of biscotti. He also said that Italian cooking is full of people who like to tell you that the other half of people are doing it wrong and I laughed because I think you could apply that to cooking anywhere.
Me, I step aside from authenticity challenges. I just like what I like. And I really like these, and think you will too.
Fig and Walnut Biscotti
Adapted from Gina DePalma, The Babbo Cookbook
I hadn’t realized how fragrant these would turn out; our apartment is a cloud of orange and spice. They’re crazy tasty too, they have a good crunch but have small spots of softness from the figs, and a little crackle from the fig seeds.
This is a half-recipe; the original yielded double but this seemed like plenty.
Makes approximately 24 biscotti
1 cup walnut pieces
1 cup dried Turkish or Calimyrna figs, quartered
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons or 3 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
6 tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Grated zest of 1/2 a large orange (I used a clementine)
1 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (or 2 cups minus 2 tablespoons) unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon. ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast for 5 to 7 minutes, or until golden brown and fragrant. Allow the walnuts to cool completely
2. Place the walnuts and dried figs in a food processor and process until they are finely chopped.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula occasionally. Beat in the vanilla and the orange zest.
4. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Beat the dry ingredients into the butter mixture to form a somewhat firm dough. Add the walnuts and figs and beat until thoroughly combined. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic and chill 35 to 40 minutes or until completely firm.
5. When the dough has chilled, lightly grease a baking sheet. On a floured board, use your palms to roll the piece of dough into a log the length of the baking sheet. Place the log on the baking sheet.
6. In a small bowl, beat the egg white with a fork until frothy. With a pastry brush, glaze the log with some egg white and sprinkle it with granulated sugar. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes (this took longer in my oven, but everything seems to these days), or until the log is lightly golden brown, firm to the touch and just beginning to crack slightly.
7. Allow the log to cool on the cookie sheet until cool to the touch, about 40 minutes. With a serrated knife, slice the biscotti, slightly on the bias, into 1/2-inch slices. Lay the slices on the cookie sheet in single layer (I always end up needing a second baking sheet in this step, as they have a lot more surface area); Return the biscotti to the oven and cook for 20 more minutes, or until the biscotti are toasted and crisp.
Store the biscotti in an airtight container. They will keep up to about 2 weeks.