Sunday, September 23, 2012

Orange, Date & Almond Biscotti

It's funny how quickly you can adapt to a new situation.

Just 3 weeks ago I was roaming the sweaty streets of Bangkok and eating incredibly delicious noodle soups (!dirt cheap!) next to incredibly smelly garbage bins in an alleyway with nothing more than a 7 kg backpack in my possession. Household ovens are almost non-existent because using an oven in a tropical country is just, kind of ... stupid.

Now I'm settling in the very developed city of Sydney, Australia, and trying to get used to spending $20 on pad thai and nasi lemak (I don't think I can do it!). All of the sudden I need to buy things like a hair dryer, round brush and non-waterproof mascara. The best part about travelling really hot countries is that you somehow stop caring about how "neat" you look because 20 seconds of being outside will induce Monica in Bermuda hair and upper lip sweat. Sometimes deodorant isn't even enough and armpit sweat rings are the norm. My skin could seriously become a salt mine. Did I paint a pretty picture? Gross.

But now that I've been reunited with an oven, baking is back in my life in full force and I'm on a major biscotti kick.

They're just so versatile and entirely durable. They pretty much make a perfect snack for a Saturday afternoon shopping day, a Sunday morning market run or a movie theater treat (I totally sneak in my own snacks every time I go to the cinema... I dare you to check my purse ticketman. that was me who cracked open that can of Coke during the previews).

They're crunchy and sweet, and not too heavy. It's a perfect balance of texture and taste that is enough to keep me satisfied and happy when the grumps act up after 2 hours of window shopping. Two hours is more than enough time to go by before I get hangry all over again.

Biscotti translates to "twice cooked" in Italian because they really are baked twice: once as a big log and then again after the log has been sliced. This second baking time serves to dry them out and make them crisp. My ideal biscotti are crunchy but not hard. I'd really hate anyone to break a tooth on my cookies and I solve that with a bit of butter which helps to shorten the texture - that's just the way my mamacita taught me how to make them. (Mama Marsigliese bakes up a mean batch of biscotti boy!) Obviously butter adds incredible flavour as well, but I don't think I need to convince you of that.

In the North of Italy it is very common to make biscotti with butter, like how it is common to cook with butter in place of olive oil sometimes. In the south, biscotti recipes tend to leave out any fat other than that provided by egg yolks, but these ones definitely need a good cup of Joe to soften them up.

Today I'm bringing you a crazy combo of dates, orange and almonds. 
Dates. Orange. Almonds. I seriously think those three words just make sense together and man did they ever make a killer batch of biscotti!

Have you ever made biscotti with dates? Get on it! Really. It's unreal. Their chewy, soft sweetness against the crumbly crunchy cookies is banging.

Pack these in your pack and don't look back! 

Orange, Date & Almond Biscotti
makes about 24 biscotti

2 cups minus 2 tbsp (270 g) all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
3.5 oz/100 g whole almonds (about 2/3 cup)
1/4 cup (75 g) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 tbsp finely grated orange zest (the zest of about 1 orange)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
¾ cup (150 g) granulated sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
½ tsp pure almond extract
3 oz/85 g dried dates, diced
1 large egg, well beaten

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in almonds; set aside.

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter with orange zest to infuse it with the citrus flavour and set aside to cool slightly.

In a medium bowl, whisk eggs to blend evenly. Gradually add sugar while whisking until smooth. Slowly whisk in melted butter, vanilla extract and almond extract. Pour this mixture into the flour mixture and stir until most of the flour is absorbed. Add dates and stir until a soft, sticky dough forms and the dates are evenly distributed.

Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, divide it in half and roll each half into an 11-inch long log. Transfer logs to prepared baking sheet and flatten with your hands to form a log that is 12 inches long and about 3 inches wide. Brush tops and sides with beaten egg and bake until golden brown and slightly cracked at the surface, 20-25 minutes.

Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack and let biscotti logs cool on pan for about 10 minutes, or until cool enough to handle. Reduce oven temperature to 300°F.

Transfer each log to a cutting board and use a serrated knife to slice it diagonally into ¾-inch-thick slices with a gentle sawing motion. Place cookies, cut-side-down, back on the baking sheet and bake until very lightly golden, dry and crisp, about 7 minutes per side. 
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