Biscotti is one of those treats that I can’t get enough of but I always forget how time consuming it is. I’ll walk past a packet of biscotti in a supermarket or a deli and think to myself ‘Six dollars a packet? That’s ridiculous!’ I’m frugal by nature but also quite lazy, so every few years I’ll bake up a batch. And that’s when I remember what a pain in the arse baking can be.
The word biscotti comes from the latin for ‘twice baked’ and this is the time consuming part. After mixing up a dough, forming it into two logs and baking them for nearly an hour, the logs are thinly sliced and then each slice needs to be dried out in the oven.
Biscotti are slender brittle fingers of biscuit with chunks of nuts in them, perfect to dunk in coffee. They are crunchy and addictive with a slight egg taste as the dough is made with eggs, flour and sugar (no milk or butter). Although time consuming, this recipe makes a large batch. If you slice them finely, you will get around one hundred biscotti.
This recipe has been in my recipe folder for ages, so I assume that like most of my baking recipes from my teenage years its from an Australian Women’s Weekly cookbook. Unfortunately I can’t remember the specific cookbook. The original recipe had a cup of hazelnuts, my additions were chocolate and lemon zest, making half the biscotti hazelnut chocolate and the other half hazelnut and lemon. I also roasted the hazelnuts to intensify the flavour and make the skins easier to remove, making them less bitter.
Hazelnut Biscotti two ways (adapted from AWW)
1 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2½ cups plain flour
½ cup self raising flour
1½ cups hazelnuts (that’s about how much was in the packet I bought)
½ cup chocolate slivers (I chopped some 50% cocoa lindt as its nice and thin and not too dark)
The zest of half a lemon
In a hot oven roast the hazelnuts for about 15 minutes or until fragrant and brown. Leave to cool for half an hour. As the nuts cool they will shrink slightly and their skins will become loose. When cool, rub the skins off with a tea towel.
Turn the oven down to 160°c. Whisk sugar, eggs and vanilla essence together in a large bowl. Stir in flours to a sticky dough.
Divide the dough and put half in another bowl. Add 1 cup of roasted hazelnuts and the lemon zest to one bowl and ½ cup roasted hazelnuts and half a cup of chocolate shards in the other bowl. Mix in the chunks and form the dough into two logs, one of each flavour. Place on a paper-lined baking tray and bake for 45 minutes.
Allow to cool until just warm, slice thinly into 90-100 pieces. Spread the slices on baking trays and bake for 5-10 minutes each until dried out. Cool and serve.
It’s no secret that Christmas is all about eating, and not just the day of. People often make (or buy) and give treats as gifts, anything from shortbread to jam; rich, wintery foods that will keep for months but when you think abou it, make little sense in the context of an Australian (summer) Christmas. Let’s face it, there are only so many chutneys and flavoured oils you can fit in your pantry. I never really understood why people would make food to give on the most food-laden day of the year. It’s certainly not something I could be bothered doing.
That said, I’m totally in favour of tasting the fruits of someone else’s labour, especially baked goods. Christmas baking is a tradition that many hold dear, including my friend Gina who spent her spare time this week baking fruit mince pies and the traditional Italian Christmas treat paneforte, kind of a distilled, nutty fruitcake.
I took great delight in photographing the ‘pan-for-day’ (as we say in a broad Aussie accent) and all its preparations. Neither Gina nor I could pronounce its name to the satisfaction of her Italian housemate, who took the piss out of us incessantly. That was fine by me. I was taking home a mini paneforte for lunch!
Gina had to ring her parents numerous times to get the correct recipe as although it was written down originally, it has undergone endless metamorphoses and adaptations to become what it is today. So this post is significant in that the recipe is finally written down. Next year Gina will have it on hand, and so will anyone else who wants to make it…
Paneforte is quite flexible. You can use any glacé fruit and any nuts you like, just make sure you have the right amounts. If you don’t feel like chopping nuts, you can leave them whole for an ‘extra chunky’ paneforte or pulse them (briefly) in the food processor. If you can only find dried fruit, not glacé you can use it but keep in mind the paneforte will be drier. Gina’s best tip? Buy peeled hazelnuts. Peeling hazelnuts is a pain in the arse. And the Aussie twist? Glacé pineapple.
The Tarantos’ Paneforte
125g peeled hazelnuts
125g blanched almonds
60g glacé apricot
60g glacé pineapple
60g chopped mixed peel
2/3 cup plain flour
2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
60g dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup sugar
½ cup honey
Preheat oven to 160°c.
Roast the almonds and hazelnuts in a baking dish. Once cooled, coarsly chop the nuts, along with the glacé fruit.
Sift flour, cocoa and cinnamon together. Stir to combine. Stir nuts and fruit into dry ingredients.
Melt honey and sugar together on a low heat. Bring almost to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes or until thick and syrupy. Take off the heat, let cool for 5-10 minutes and then stir through chocolate until melted.
Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir until completely combined. This will take a lot of elbow grease!
Line a 20cm loose-bottomed round quiche tine with baking paper. This is essential – if you just grease the tin the paneforte is sure to stick. Dollop the mixture onto it and cover with a second sheet of baking paper. Press the mixture down to flatten it, right to the edges, to get rid of any air bubbles. Cut off excess paper.
Bake for around 35 minutes or until the paneforte has just lost its sheen. If you overcook it or even burn it, just leave it in an airtight container for a couple of days before serving. This will soften it. Lasts 3 months if not exposed to air.
What dish do you most look forward to at Christmas?
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