For my December Alberta at Noon column on CBC Radio One today, I’ll share two recipes for those that would like to add a homemade touch to their gift giving this season. I’ll post some fun gift ideas you can buy in other posts this week.
The first D-I-Y gift is called Spiced Apples and you can find that recipe and step-by-step instructions here.
The second recipe is for something I consider truly scrumptious – my Holiday Biscotti – and you’ll find all the information you need to make them in this post.
I started making biscotti in 1991 when I lived in Boston and my dear friend Claire shared her love of this Italian cookie with me. Claire is half Italian and half Irish. She and her Italian Nonna had always made biscotti and since Claire and I were both working over the holidays and could not get home to our families she invited me into her kitchen to teach me what her Nonna had taught her.
I could not have asked for a better cookie mentor. We chopped chocolate, zested oranges,toasted almonds and as we shaped, baked, cut and baked again those Cioccolato Paradiso biscotti, the kitchen windows began to steam. We threw some stuffed pasta shells in the oven in between batches of cookies and my husband showed up after he got off work with a bottle of wine and some fresh bread.
Boston is a great city but it can be a tough nut to crack in terms of making friends with the natives. They have a Puritanical work ethic that leaves them little time to socialize. Bonding with my friend Claire, who was also “from away”, made a stark cold New England city seem suddenly a cozy and welcoming place after all.
The following Christmas, Claire gifted me with Lou Seibert Pappas’s cookbook Biscotti.
It has become one of my most beloved cookbooks and it instantly connects me with my happy memories and times with Claire. As I put the finishing touches on this blog post I realize how much I miss her. I’m going to go and call her now. She lives in Toronto now and she’ll know in an instant what prompted me to call. She’ll say, have you started making your biscotti again? I’m pretty sentimental and she loves that about me.
I hope you enjoy making these recipes and that they enhance the holidays for you and your friends. Maybe, there’s someone you know, whose far from home this Christmas who might just like to come over and help you. You might end up being life long friends like me and Claire. There’s no better present you could give.
Friends, holiday traditions and delicious homemade treats – Savour it all.
Notes to the Cook
Biscotti means twice-baked in Italian and though baking these cookies twice is a bit more work they have half the fat of most cookies and they last for ages in a sealed container. They are worth the effort – especially because they taste and look so fantastic. Scroll down to the end of the recipe for some helpful tips and techniques I’ve learned after making hundreds of batches of these over the years.
You can double this recipe and it works out well but that is not true for all biscotti recipes so don’t take it as a general rule.
2 ¼ c flour
1 ½ t baking powder
¼ t salt
6 T butter, room temperature
¾ c sugar
2 large eggs
zest of 1 lemon
1 ½ t fennel seed
½ c dried sweetened cranberries
¾ c chopped white chocolate for cookie dough
½ c chopped pistachios
1 to 1 ½ c white chocolate for dipping or drizzling
Preheat the oven to 350ºF and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper
Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl, whisk to blend and set aside.
Put the sugar and butter in a stand mixer and beat until fluffy.
Add the eggs one at a time and then the lemon zest,fennel seeds and vanilla.
Lower the speed and add the flour mixture until well blended.
Fold in the cranberries, chocolate and nuts and until evenly distributed.
Divide the dough in half and shape into 2 logs.
Place the logs on the parchment paper and flatten them to 4 inch wide by 12-inch long logs, leaving at least 3 – 4 inches between them.
Bake for 35 minutes or until golden.
(Note – I have a convection oven and I bake a double batch on two racks on convection at 350ºF for 15 minutes)
Remove these flattened logs from the oven and let them rest on the cookie sheet for at least 10 minutes.
Cut the parchment in two and slide one log to a cutting board, carefully sliding its parchment out from under it.
Cut the log into 1 inch wide slices with a serrated knife. Use one definitive slice straight down over the cookie to avoid shearing and tearing.
Return these slices to the cookie sheet and repeat the process with the other log.
Distribute all the slices over the cookie sheet with room between each.
Return the slices to the oven for 5 more minutes, checking that they are drying but not getting too dark or crisp.
Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and cool completely.
Melt the dipping or drizzling white chocolate in a double boiler on a low simmer (or in the microwave on 50% power for about two minutes).
Decorate the slices in one of two ways – either dip one end of the individual cookies into the bowl of melted chocolate and set the slices up to dry on waxed paper or line the cookies up closely together on their wire rack and using spoonfuls of melted chocolate gently drizzle the rows of cookies back and forth until a nice criss cross pattern develops.
Store in an airtight container for immediate use or make ahead and freeze for one to two months.
What to do with the little bits that inevitably break off?
There you have it.
If you made it this far, you’ll see a bonus gift idea in the photo below.
My friend and CBC colleague John Gilchrist and his lovely wife and editor Catherine Caldwell have just put the finishing touches on their 8th book about John’s favourite restaurants in Southern Alberta. I hope Santa stuffs your stocking with one. I’ve got my copy (top secret – I’m one of Santa’s elves – No not really, I just run into John a lot and find it easier to look him in the eye if I’ve bought his book). It’s a great thing to read a restaurant review where a person stands behind their words by attaching their name to it. I respect that. John’s a great eater and a great example. Cheers to your generosity and success, John and Catherine, for this holiday season and for many years to come.
P.S. All books sold in the month of December will see 20% of sales going to the CBC’s Food Bank Drive. The books are widely available but its always fun to pop into the CBC and meet the friendly food bank volunteers who’ll be more than happy to sell you one.