Tis the season for drinks parties and catching up with friends and family. Every year I make a big batch of festive biscotti so that I have a ready supply of host gifts for parties or to give as little last minute Christmas gifts for friends. They are best dipped in tea, coffee or better yet a seasonal glass of Vin Santo.
Biscotti or cantuccini are traditional Italian almond biscuits, the word biscotti comes from the Latin biscoctus meaning ‘twice cooked’ and it is this double baking that gives biscotti their dry crispy texture; and also means that if you make them in mid December they will last well into the New Year.
The recipe I have given is really a base recipe and each year I add a different mixture of spices, dried fruit and nuts. You can add in whatever you have in your store cupboard as long as you roughly keep the same proportions of fruit, nuts and spices. This year I also made some middle eastern inspired biscotti for a Persian Supper Club. I added chopped dried apricots and dates, raisins, almonds, pistachios and a spice called mahleb (or mahlab) which is made from the dried seeds of the St Lucy’s cherry. The flavour of mahleb is rather like almonds and cherries with a hint of rose and vanilla.
This recipe make about 120 biscuits, which is plenty for ten generous gift bags with some left over to treat yourself.
700g plain flour, plus a bit extra for rolling out
4tsp baking powder
2tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp ground ginger, 1 tsp ground nutmeg, pinch of ground cloves, pinch of ground coriander
500g caster sugar
6 eggs, beaten
coarsely grated zest of 2 oranges
150g dried cranberries
150g white chocolate, chopped into 1cm chunks
100g whole almonds
50g roasted hazelnuts
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius (fan) – I like to use the fan setting on my oven for this recipe as, like when you are making meringues, you want a really dry heat for the bake. Line three baking trays with baking parchment.
Sieve the flour and baking powder into a bowl, add the spices and sugar and mix well.
Add in the lightly beaten eggs and orange zest and mix until it starts to come together, then using your hands bring the mixture together and lightly knead the dough until no floury patches remain.
Add in the dried cranberries, white chocolate and nuts and knead until they are evenly distributed through the whole dough.
Divide the dough into six pieces. On a lightly floured surface roll each piece into a sausage shape about 30 cm long. Place two of the rolls of dough on each of your pre-lined baking trays, very well-spaced as they will spread and rise. Put in the oven and bake for 25 minutes until risen and firm to the touch but still very pale. They will get their golden colour on the second bake!
Turn the oven down to 130 degrees Celsius (fan).
Remove the rolls from the oven and rest for a couple of minutes on a wire rack until cool enough to handle. Use a bread knife to cut the rolls on an angle into slices about 1cm thick. Lay out the slices on the baking trays (that should still be lined with baking parchment, no need for new baking parchment).
Put the biscotti back in the oven for about 12 minutes until golden and then flip over all the biscuits and bake for another 12 minutes, until golden on the other side too. If you have an enormous oven, then firstly I’m very jealous and secondly you will probably be able to bake all the biscotti in one batch. I have to do this second bake in two batches.
Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Finally, put in an airtight container or in some pretty little tins or cellophane bags with some festive ribbon to give as gifts. They keep well for weeks, in a sealed container.