Bravo for biscotti

They’re dippable, dunkable, crunchable and ever so munchable

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photoThere’s a lot to love about spicy biscotti with nuts.

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Twice baked is twice as nice.

The first baking gives biscotti its shape, the second baking its marvelous crunch. This dippable, dunkable Italian biscuit is exactly what its name says: Bis means twice and cotto means cooked.

That first baking is crucial to the cookie’s final appearance.

“I learned the hard way that underbaking results in an unattractive dough line in the cookies,” said Cindy Mushet, author of “The Art & Soul of Baking” (Andrews McMeel, $40) and an instructor at Tante Marie’s Cooking School in San Francisco.

“When I first began baking biscotti, I experienced this problem several times in a row. I was sure I could tell when the biscotti logs were done by their color, but I was wrong. My oven ran hot and the logs browned before they were fully baked.

“Before you remove them from the oven,” said Mushet, “the top of the biscotti logs should feel firm to the touch when gently pressed.”

The second baking is why many home cooks shy away from making biscotti. They see this extra step as an added hassle, but it’s a lot less work than tending to tray after tray of drop cookies. Bake the dough early in the day, then slice and bake a second time at your convenience.

“In general, the logs should be lukewarm before slicing—too hot and the slices squash; too cold and they may crack,” said Mushet in an e-mail. “This can vary depending on the texture of the biscotti dough, so follow the directions in each recipe.”

All the cookies here were allowed to cool completely before slicing. They sliced beautifully, even the ones that contained whole almonds. A sharp serrated knife and Mushet’s advice — “slice the logs into cookies using as few motions as possible” — made easy work of this step.

Spread the slices on parchment-lined trays — reuse parchment paper from the first baking — and bake until slightly browned along the edges and the nuts smell toasted. It’s better to underbake the slices because the cookies continue to dry and crisp as they cool. Follow the suggested baking time, but also taste the smaller pieces and decide if the rest of the batch needs more baking.

There’s a lot to love about biscotti.

The dough is easily mixed by hand — the dough requires the use of both hands to create a thick paste that keeps its shape. Squeeze and squish to incorporate all the flour.

Biscotti can be made without butter and eggs, a definite plus in this economy.

“Biscotti dough can be varied endlessly by adding/changing the spices, extract, citrus zest, nuts or dried fruit. It’s always a good idea to make the recipe exactly as written before embarking on changes,” said Mushet. “And when you create that perfect version, write your changes directly on the recipe so you don’t forget them.

Here are a few more tips:

Invest in parchment paper. It makes for less work because there’s no greasing of the pan and ensures perfectly browned cookies without burning. Parchment paper also allows you to lift the baked log and transfer it to a cutting board for cutting.

Bake biscotti in the upper third of the oven. The bigger the log, the longer it will take for the first baking. Use the suggested baking time as a guide, and increase the baking time in five-minute increments, pressing the log with your fingertip until it’s firm. Don’t underbake the logs, or the cookies will have a heavy core after slicing and rebaking.

Spicy Almond Biscotti

Makes about 60 biscotti

This recipe is from “The Modern Baker,” by Nick Malgieri (DK Publishing, $35). The original recipe calls for hazelnuts. These were made with almonds and almond meal. You can grind nuts yourself and make almond meal or buy almond meal. Bobs Red Mill Finely Ground Almond Meal is perfect in these cookies.

¾ cup sugar

1¼ cups whole natural almonds

2 cups all-purpose flour

1¼ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1½ teaspoons ground ginger

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon coriander

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

2 cups whole natural almonds

⅓ cup honey

⅓ cup water

1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest

Set rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 350 F. Combine sugar and 1¼ cups almonds in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and grind to a fine powder.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the ground almonds, baking powder and soda, salt and spices. Stir in crushed almonds. Stir water, honey and orange zest together and add to bowl and mix until it holds together. Scrape dough onto a floured work surface and squeeze together. Divide in half and roll each half into a cylinder, slightly shorter than one of your baking pans. Transfer logs to pan, keeping them well apart from one another and the sides of the pan.

Bake the logs until they have puffed and spread and feel firm when pressed with a fingertip, about 30 minutes. Cool, then slice into ¼- or ½-inch thick slices with serrated knife. Bake the biscotti until slightly toasted, 20 to 25 minutes.

Crisp Chocolate Biscotti

Makes about 4 dozen

This recipe is from “Chocolate: From Simple Cookies to Extravagant Showstoppers,” by Nick Malgieri (Harper Collins, $42.50, 1998).

1¾ cups all-purpose flour

⅔ cup Dutch process cocoa powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

Pinch salt

1¼ cups sugar

1½ cups walnuts

4 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Set rack at the middle level of the oven and preheat to 325 F. Mix flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt and sift into a mixing bowl. Stir in sugar and nuts. Whisk eggs and vanilla and stir into flour mixture to form dough. On a lightly floured surface, press dough together. Divide dough in half and roll each half into a log the length of your pan. Place each log on the pan and flatten slightly. Bake for about 30 minutes, until well risen and firm. Cool logs in the pan.

Cut into ½-inch thick slices with a sharp serrated knife. Replace, cut side down, on paper-lined pans and bake again for 20 minutes, until dry and crisp.

Cornmeal and Walnut Biscotti

Makes about 60 biscotti

This recipe is from “The Modern Baker,” by Nick Malgieri (DK Publishing, $35).

1½ cups all-purpose flour

1 cup stone ground yellow cornmeal (we used fine grind)

½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

10 tablespoons (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces

¾ cup walnuts

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest

Set rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 350 F.

Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse several times to mix. Add the butter and pulse repeatedly until the butter is completely mixed in but the mixture remains cool and powdery.

Remove blade and pour mixture into a medium bowl. Stir in walnuts.

Whisk the eggs with the vanilla and lemon zest and stir this into the corn bread mixture. Continue mixing until a soft dough forms.

Scrape dough onto a floured work surface and squeeze together. Divide dough in half and roll each half into a cylinder. Transfer logs to baking pans, keeping them well apart from each other and the sides of the pan. Flatten logs slightly.

Bake until the dough has puffed, spread and feels firm to the fingertip, about 30minutes.

Carefully slice logs 1/3- to a ½-inch thick using a sharp serrated knife. Return slices to pan and bake until they are slightly toasted, 20 to 25 minutes.