- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2007

When friends drop by for dinner during the week and I find myself with no time to make dessert, I often sneak into my cluttered cupboard, pull out a sealed plastic bag filled with crisp, almond-studded biscotti and set out a plate of cookies for everyone to enjoy.

With a shelf life of anywhere from two weeks to six months, these twice-baked Italian treats have bailed me out more times than I care to recount.

I must thank not only the Italian bakers, but also cooks from countries as diverse as South Africa and Greece for this low-fat dessert. While they may vary in name, flavor and presentation, these globally popular double-baked sweets always retain their wonderful taste and crunch.

Elliot Glickman was raised in a kosher northeast Philadelphia household and can attest to the pleasure of mandelbrot, the Jewish twice-baked almond cookie. “Whenever my grandmother baked mandelbrot, I would walk into her house and be enveloped by the delicious scents of warm almonds and chocolate,” the Philadelphia social worker says.

Following the standard recipe for twice-baked products, his grandmother baked the mandelbrot once, allowed it to cool slightly, then sliced and baked it again.

Mr. Glickman’s family noshed on her efforts after dinner, dunking the cookies in hot tea and eating them alongside slices of apples and pears, grapes and occasionally ice cream.

Moscow native Leon Cherkassky also submerges his homeland’s version of a twice-baked cookie, sukhariki, into a cup of hot tea. He consumes it with yogurt or fruit at afternoon or evening tea. “Too simple” to be considered a Russian dessert, vanilla or poppy seed sukhariki is the quintessential tea bread, Mr. Cherkassky says.

These biscuits may be enjoyed straight from the plate but, as Mr. Glickman and Mr. Cherkassky indicate, they are commonly dipped and softened in such drinks as tea, coffee, milk or sweet wine.

Depending upon the region, serving methods will vary. South Africans and Germans slather their rusks and zwieback in fruit preserves and devour them at breakfast. Greek farmers frequently put a savory slant on their paximadia, soaking the slices in oil and garnishing with olives or cheese.

Occasionally a dinner guest will ponder why my mainstay dessert is so crunchy. Bad jokes about stale offerings invariably arise. Are these goodies firm? Yes. Stale? Never.

During medieval times, cooks discovered that by minimizing or even removing the fat content and baking the loaves of dough twice, they could remove the moisture from their baked goods. No moisture and little fat meant an almost endless storage life.

In times where food was scarce and travel meant traversing long, barren distances, twice-baked morsels were tough to beat. As a result, since the 13th century, this snack has served as a staple for sailors, soldiers and explorers of foreign lands. Today, it has become synonymous with travelers of another sort — those journeying to the coffee shop.

At Sweet Mosaic Inc. in Cleveland, Ohio, owner and pastry chef Heather Haviland creates a variety of scrumptious, miniature biscotti.

Sold at Luckys Cafe and the Shaker Square Farmers Market, as well as online and by telephone, her bite-size wonders come in such tempting flavors as spiced pecan, cornmeal and currant, chocolate hazelnut, cranberry-pistachio, and the traditional and best-selling almond.

Miss Haviland explains that she keeps the size small to allow for easier travel, to remove the risk of a biscotti breaking and to reduce concerns about overindulging. Two or three of her petite treats leave the peckish satisfied.

No matter the size, twice-baked cookies remain a wise choice for health-conscious eaters. “Biscotti are less of a guilty pleasure, for they’re low in sugar, low in fat and not a huge outlay of calories,” says J.C. Scharf-Deering, an administrator at Case Western Reserve University’s medical school who moonlights at Sweet Mosaic Inc.

Although the notion of baking something twice may sound too time consuming, after my first attempt, I saw how rewarding a little effort on my part could be. From setting out the ingredients to storing the cookies, I spent less than two hours in the kitchen.

By the end, I had stashed more than four dozen chocolate biscotti in my cabinet that would last, if housed correctly, at least six months.

Maria Buehler, proprietor of It’s All Greek to Me Pastries in Lancaster, Pa., suggests storing them in an airtight container and, if possible, withholding oil or butter. Those containing oil, such as her citrus and almond paximadia, will last longer when refrigerated.

When prepping for the second bake, Miss Buehler recommends placing the cookies upright so they cook evenly on the cut sides. Cookware stores and the Web sell grooved biscotti pans expressly for this purpose. However, I find that a regular sheet pan works just as well.

Miss Haviland advises home bakers to be patient. “Don’t worry about overmixing. And if you want the biscotti to last, don’t include ingredients high in moisture. If you do add things like cranberries and apricots, chop them really fine in order to reduce the moisture,” she says.

No matter which cookie I decide to purchase or make, the same holds true for each. Double-baked and delicious, these sweets satisfy for a very long time.

Chocolate-dipped hazelnut biscotti

Butter for greasing pans

2/3 cup hazelnuts

11/2 cups flour

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

3 large eggs

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces

FOR DIPPING:

1 12-ounce package semisweet chocolate chips

Grease two baking sheets. In another pan, lightly toast hazelnuts in preheated 325-degree oven until aromatic but not brown, 12 to 15 minutes, watching carefully to make sure they don’t burn.

Remove from heat, cool and roughly chop. Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl.

In a medium bowl, beat together eggs, sugar and vanilla until mixture is light-colored and frothy, 3 to 5 minutes. Pour liquid into flour and stir to combine. Add 1/2 cup chocolate chips, chopped bittersweet chocolate and nuts, once again stirring to combine.

Either in the bowl or on a clean surface, shape dough into a large ball. From this ball, make 3 loaves about 2 inches in diameter. Place 2 loaves on one baking sheet and remaining loaf on the other.

Place sheets in oven and bake until golden, about 35 minutes. Remove baking sheets from oven and reduce temperature to 275 degrees.

Using a spatula, remove loaves from sheets and place them on a wooden cutting board to cool for about 5 minutes. Once cooled, take a sharp, serrated knife and cut loaves on a diagonal into 1/2-inch thick slices.

Place the cookies upright — as they were in the first baking — on cleaned, greased baking sheets and return sheets to oven. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until tops of cookies are firm to the touch and sides are golden. Remove cookies from pan and cool on a wire rack.

In a medium glass bowl, microwave 12 ounces of chocolate chips, stirring occasionally until melted, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Dip top portion of each biscotti into melted chocolate, making sure to cover entire top. Using a knife or flat side of a spoon, smooth out or remove any excess chocolate on cookies.

Place cookies upright on a wire rack on kitchen counter or on a baking sheet in refrigerator and allow chocolate to harden. Store cookies in an airtight container. Makes about 3 dozen.

White chocolate-almond mandelbrot

Butter for greasing pans

2/3 cup blanched almonds

3 cups flour

11/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 large eggs

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon almond extract

3/4 cup white chocolate chips

Grease two baking sheets. In another pan, in a preheated 350-degree oven or on top of the stove, lightly toast almonds until they are aromatic but not browned, stirring frequently so they don’t burn. (This takes only a few minutes, so watch carefully.) Remove from heat, cool and roughly chop.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. In a medium bowl, beat together eggs, oil, sugar and almond extract until mixture is light-colored and frothy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Pour liquid into flour and stir to combine.

At this stage, dough will appear crumbly in texture. Add chocolate chips and almonds, once again stirring to combine.

Either in the bowl or on a clean surface, shape dough into a large ball. From this ball, make 4 loaves about 2 inches in diameter. Place 2 loaves on each baking sheet, leaving space between.

Place baking sheets in preheated 350-degree oven and bake until golden, about 35 minutes. Remove baking sheets and reduce oven temperature to 275 degrees.

Using a spatula, remove loaves from sheets and place on a wooden cutting board to cool for about 5 minutes. Once cooled, take a sharp, serrated knife and cut loaves on a diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices.

Place cookies upright on cleaned, greased baking sheets and return to oven. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until tops of cookies are firm to the touch and sides are golden.

Remove cookies from pan and cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Paximadia

The recipe that follows is from Susanna Hoffman’s “The Olive and the Caper” (Workman). Paximadia differs from its twice-baked brethren in that it is created from bread, not cookie dough, and spends 6 to 8 hours in the oven during the second baking.

Two of the ingredients in this recipe, mastic and mahlepi, are available at Greek food shops, online and through mail-order catalogs. These cookies are delicious solo, with fruit or with a custard or creme brulee.

Olive oil for coating baking sheets and dough

11/2 cups milk, scalded and cooled to lukewarm, divided

1 1/4-ounce package active dry yeast

1 cup sugar, divided

71/2 cups (about) unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon powdered mastic

11/2 teaspoons ground mahlepi

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, cut in small pieces, room temperature

4 large eggs, beaten until frothy

Water

Lightly grease two baking sheets with olive oil. Pour 3/4 cup milk into a bowl. Add yeast, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 cup flour. Stir to combine. Place in a warm spot until slightly spongy all the way through, about 30 minutes.

Sift remaining sugar, 5 cups flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add mastic, mahlepi and butter. Mix ingredients together with your fingers, then make a well in the center.

Add beaten eggs, yeast mixture and remaining 3/4 cup milk to well. Knead mixture together until a ball forms, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Dust a work surface with some of remaining flour. Place dough on surface and knead until smooth, elastic and no longer sticky, about 10 minutes.

Shape dough into a ball then lightly coat it with olive oil. Place dough in a clean bowl, cover and place bowl in a warm place until dough has doubled in size, about 2 hours. Punch dough down and shape into 2 loaves, each 18 inches long and 4 inches wide.

Liberally brush tops of dough loaves with water. Place loaves on greased baking sheets. Bake in preheated 400-degree oven until loaves have formed a light brown crust but are not fully baked, 20 to 25 minutes. Leaving bread on baking sheets, cut loaves into 11/2- to 2-inch-thick slices. Cool completely on sheets.

Reduce oven temperature to 175 degrees. Place slices, cut side down and without touching, on ungreased baking sheets. Bake until completely dry and hard all the way through, about 6 to 8 hours. Eat immediately or store in airtight containers for up to 6 months.

Makes about 31/2 dozen.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide