Friday, December 21, 2007

Cranberry-Hazelnut Biscotti

I hadn't done any holiday baking yet this year, but I wanted to make something to share with my colleagues, so last night after I got home I pulled out cookbooks and searched online for something a little festive and special but not an all-out sugar splurge. I've never made biscotti before, but was drawn to a straight-forward-sounding but appealing recipe for cranberry-nut biscotti I found on the Good Housekeeping site.

I ran out to Just Food for a bag of organic dried cranberries and some hazelnuts, which they store in jars in a refrigerated case for optimum freshness. (The oils in nuts go bitter and rancid after a while when stored at room temperature, which accounts for the unpleasant taste you can get when you use nuts that have been in your pantry for several months; I learned my lesson on that score and now keep walnuts well-wrapped in the freezer, where they stay completely fresh and ready to use when I want them.)

Toasting hazelnuts, as required by this recipe, was a new process for me: you bake them in a jellyroll pan for a while, then pour them into a towel and rub them (and rub them and rub them) until most of the skins come off. The flavor of these toasted hazelnuts, long one of my favorite nuts, was amazing; I could have abandoned the project right there, happy with these delicious nuts, barely waiting until they were cool enough not to burn the tongue.

The biscotti dough is a very stiff one, with no shortening to soften it: just flour, sugar, baking powder, eggs, vanilla, and a tiny bit of water. After a little initial stirring, it's necessary to get in there with your hands and knead the dough to mix it. When the dough is well mixed, then you knead in the dried cranberries and coarsely chopped nuts until they are well distributed throughout the dough. It was quite a physical process!

You form the dough into several long logs and bake them, then slice them up and bake the slices some more. After they were cool I spread melted semi-sweet Ghirardelli chocolate on about half of them. They were deemed delicious at the office this morning, and I will definitely make them again.

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