Wednesday, November 30, 2022
Nov. 30, 2022

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Hit the trail in Clark County or beyond with biscotti

Delicious snacks are pretty easy, fun to make and great to go

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
3 Photos
With a plethora of pretty mix-ins, these crunchy Trail Mix Biscotti will keep for weeks.
With a plethora of pretty mix-ins, these crunchy Trail Mix Biscotti will keep for weeks. (Monika Spykerman/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Our family is about to leave for a weeklong vacation. We’ll be traveling by car on several days and it’s always nice to have snacks for the road. We usually pack sliced apples and pears, crackers, grapes and dried fruit. This time, I thought I’d make something special for our trip and also to give to a friend we’re seeing en route to our destination. I did a quick search to see which cookies travel well and keep the longest. Shortbread and biscotti topped the list. I made shortbread not too long ago but I’ve never made biscotti, even though I’m quite fond of the tough, crumbly little biscuits. They’re not too sweet, feature interesting mix-ins and taste delicious when dipped in strong coffee.

I’ve been intimidated because traditional almond biscotti recipes involve almond flour and a twice-baked method that seems complicated. You might think I’m an ambitious cook but it’s hard to overstate how much I loathe anything that involves excessive effort (or even moderate effort, for that matter). However, I found plenty of recipes that use regular unbleached flour and common ingredients. After reading closely, I concluded that some biscotti only require about the same level of exertion as, say, sugar-cookie cut-outs, which I almost always ruin because I roll them out unevenly and bend the shapes out of whack when arranging them on the cookie sheet. I decided that if I can ruin sugar cookies, I can just as effectively ruin biscotti, so I might as well give them a try.

I heated the oven to 300 degrees and used a hand mixer to thoroughly blend ¼ cup olive oil with ½ cup loosely packed brown sugar and ¼ cup granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon almond extract, 1 teaspoon dried orange zest and 2 eggs. I used extra-virgin olive oil because that’s what I had on hand, but the strong olive flavor can overwhelm the other flavors so you’ll likely want to use a milder oil. I was just pretending to be a young Italian girl whipping up some biscotti in the sunny kitchen of my Tuscan villa surrounded by olive groves and fig orchards. It could happen, except for the young part.

In my real life, I didn’t have time to go to the store and we don’t have any fig orchards, although my kitchen is relatively sunny and has decent southern exposure. I pulled everything out of the pantry to see what kinds of things might possibly taste good in biscotti, or if not good, then at least adequate. I needed a total of 2 cups of mix-ins. Here’s what I found: banana chips and dried blueberries from the no-bake cereal bars I made recently, plus raisins and mini chocolate chips. I discovered about 2 tablespoons of pecans at the bottom of a bag lodged behind some boxes of macaroni and cheese. I also had three small packets from salad kits that contained toasted pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries and almonds. There was one additional packet of small nut pieces, but even after tasting them, I couldn’t tell what they were. Walnuts, perhaps? Or hazelnuts? At any rate, they weren’t stale, so into the biscotti they went!

In another bowl, I whisked together 1¾ cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon allspice. I added the flour mixture a little bit at a time to the mixture of oil, sugar and eggs. It got a little stiff but my mixer was able to handle it on low; I imagine it would work just as well with a wooden spoon. Then I added my 2 cups of dried fruit, nuts and chocolate chips and stirred until everything was evenly distributed in the dough.

Trail Mix Biscotti

Makes 24-30 biscotti

¼ cup olive or other oil

½ cup loosely packed brown sugar

¼ cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 teaspoon dried orange zest

2 eggs

1¾ cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon allspice

2 cups total of any or several of the following: dried cranberries or blueberries, raisins, crushed banana chips, mini chocolate chips, toasted pumpkin seeds, pecan pieces, walnut pieces and almond slices or slivers. Also try dried cherries, pistachios, coconut flakes, crystallized ginger or pineapple and butterscotch chips.

Set oven to 300 degrees. Mix oil, sugar, vanilla and almond extract, orange zest and eggs. In separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and allspice. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir until incorporated. Mix in dried fruit and nuts. Form dough into two loaf shapes 12 inches long and 4 inches wide on large cookie sheet. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and reduce temperature to 275 degrees. Allow loaves to cool on cookie sheet for 10 minutes then carefully transfer to cutting board. Use a serrated knife to cut into ½- to ¾-inch slices. Arrange pieces sideways on baking sheet and bake for an additional 15 minutes. Allow to cool completely. Makes 24-30 biscotti.

I divided the dough in half by running a firm spatula through the middle; two portions of dough will be necessary to make two loaves on the baking sheet. A warning to first-time biscotti makers like me: This dough is as sticky as a preschooler at a birthday party. Run your hands under the faucet to make them nice and damp so you’ll be able to handle the dough better. I scooped out half the dough and slapped it onto one side of a large, well-greased cookie sheet. I used my wet hands to push, pull and squash it into a rough log shape about a foot long and 4 inches wide. I did the same thing with the other half of the dough on the other side of the baking sheet. I used a metal spatula to scrape under the logs and neaten the edges, and I got the ends of each log into a more-or-less square shape.

I baked them for 25 minutes and turned the oven down to 275 degrees in preparation for the second baking. The dough was light brown and the loaves were about halfway between soft and hard. I let them cool right on the pan for 10 minutes, then slid them very carefully onto a wooden cutting board. This was a little difficult because they were somewhat pliant and bendy, but I just kept supporting their delicate undersides until I had them exactly where I wanted them.

I used a serrated steak knife to gently but firmly cut each loaf into ½- to ¾-inch slices. Occasionally the knife would get hung up on a nut or a banana chip, or a small piece of dough would crumble off, but I kept my nerve until I had sliced all the way through both logs. Unfortunately, I forgot to count the total number of biscotti (and now I can’t count the total because we have eaten so many) but I think it’s somewhere between 24 and 30.

I laid the slices on their sides (that is, the flat, cut sides down) and baked them for 15 more minutes at 275 degrees. They were not appreciably browner when I removed them from the oven, but they were definitely harder, though their centers were still slightly soft to the touch. After 10 or 15 minutes of cooling on the pan, however, they had achieved the crunchy texture of traditional biscotti. They were a far sight better than the titanium-hard, tooth-chipping biscotti I usually encounter in coffee shops because the homemade biscotti retained a little tenderness. I could confidently bite into a biscotti without needing to use my dental insurance. I served them for dessert with vanilla ice cream and then enjoyed another one this morning, dunked into hot black coffee. I could almost imagine I was in Tuscany.

These babies can be stored for up to two weeks and frozen for several months. It turns out that they’re pretty easy and even fun to make and they’re a great way to use up the random tidbits that tend to accumulate in the darker corners of the pantry. I might even make these for Christmas this year instead of those dastardly sugar cookies.

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