When I was growing up, my childhood home was full of mouthwatering smells wafting through the halls, luring us like a siren song to my mom’s kitchen.
There, you could count on something yummy being cooked up seven days a week. My mother, Domenica, practically lived in her kitchen. And I honestly don’t know how she did it—being on her feet all day long, with the exception of the two hours she took off to watch her soap operas.
On any particular day she could be whipping up fresh bread, Sicilian pizza, lasagna or a simple veal Milanese. But for our everyday snacking needs, nothing compared to her biscotti. They were the perfect after-school treat to tide us over until dinner time, although they were so good we often crossed the line between tiding over and spoiling our appetite for dinner.
Her biscotti were delicious on their own or with a glass of milk. In the mornings, we would dunk the biscotti in our coffee. My mom made her version of a coffee eggnog using one beaten egg yolk and one teaspoon of sugar with hot coffee poured over it.
She made her biscotti in three different flavors depending on her mood. My personal favorite version used Anise extract, which is derived from a Mediterranean flower by the same name. The flavor and aroma of its seeds have similarities with some other spices, such as fennel or liquorice. It is widely cultivated and used to flavor food, candy, and alcoholic drinks. She also made lemon and orange flavors.
I was browsing through the book of her recipes we put together long ago as a gift for her 80th birthday and ran across her biscotti recipe. It occurred to me that it had been years since I had tasted them, mostly because my mom is gone and the thought of baking anything terrifies me. I am not certain why, given that baking is such an exact science. All you need to do is follow instructions, right? Somehow, in my experience, it’s not that simple. So, I invited my older sister, Rosemarie to come over and show me how it’s done. It ended up being surprisingly easy to make. It took less than an hour to make. And they were absolutely delicious, just like I remembered.
-2.5 cups of flour
-2 tsp baking powder
-3 whole eggs (set aside the white of one egg)
-1 cup of sugar
-2/3 cups of vegetable oil (I use avocado or grape seed, but you can also use sunflower or canola)
-1/2 cup of slivered blanched almonds (or you can also used crushed almonds)
-One of the following depending which flavor you want to make:
1. 1 tsp of anise extract (you can buy this where you normally find vanilla extract in the grocery store).
2. grated rind of one lemon together with 2 tsp of lemon juice, 1 tsp of almond extract and 1 tsp of vanilla extract
3. grated rind of one orange together with 2 tsp of orange juice, one tsp of almond extract and 1 tsp of vanilla extract. When making the orange-flavored biscotti, you can cut down slightly on the sugar, because the orange juice provides considerable natural sweetness.
This recipe makes approximately 30 to 34 biscotti (depending on the width and length of the dough strips and how wide you slice the biscotti).
In a bowl stir together the flour and the baking powder. In a separate large Mixmaster bowl, beat the three eggs together with the sugar until well beaten. Add the oil and beat some more. Then add one of Domenica’s three flavor essences (either anise, lemon or orange). To this mixture alternatively add the flour mixture and the almonds until well mixed. At this point the mixture is very thick and doughy. You will need a spatula to remove the biscotti dough from the sides of the bowl and from the mixer attachments.
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Grease one large rectangular cookie sheet with shortening. It may be necessary to handle the dough with one’s hands. Before doing so, it is a good idea to lightly oil one’s hands so as to better handle and shape the dough. Spoon the dough onto the cookie sheet making two strips of dough along the length of the pan. Each strip of dough should be about 3 inches wide and 1 high. Each of the strips should be separated from the other strip of dough by about 2 inches. Slightly beat the reserved egg white and pat it onto the surface of the two dough strips. Place the pan in the middle rack of the oven. Bake about 22 minutes or until golden. (Varies from oven to oven).
At the end of the baking period, do not turn off the oven. Remove cookie sheet from the oven (but leave the oven on at 350°) and carefully slice each strip in a diagonal direction about ¾ inches in width. With a metal spatula, loosen the sliced biscotti from the cookie sheet and carefully turn each biscotto on its side. Here you will need an additional cookie sheet in order to spread out all the cut up biscotti. (You don’t need to oil the cookie sheets.) Once each biscotto is placed on its side, put both cookie sheets inside the oven and bake for an additional 5 or 6 minutes and at the end of this period, without opening the oven door, turn off the oven and leave the biscotti in the oven for an additional 15 minutes in order to get dry and crisp. After the 15 minutes, remove the cookie sheets from the oven and place on a cooling rack, allowing the biscotti to cool.