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Ciao Biscotti Giveaway

 Update March 15, 2015: The winner of the giveaway book “Ciao Biscotti” is Carolyn Immordino MacCleod.

Anytime my friend Domenica Marchetti writes a new cookbook, you can be assured it’s going to be good. Long a champion of Italian cooking, especially that of the Abruzzo region, her cookbooks are well researched and well written, apropos for a woman who worked as a newspaper journalist before moving to culinary writing. She has now published a new book – “Ciao Biscotti” – that will keep biscotti lovers happy for a very long time.
Some of the old classics are here, like almond or anise biscotti, but she’s also included some recipes for some not-so-traditional ones like browned butter and Toblerone, and cardamom-pecan. One chapter deals with the savory side of biscotti, such as crispy pancetta, or smoky gouda, giving you even more reason to uncork a nice bottle of wine and chill out with a biscotto or two.
The final chapter highlights a few cookies that aren’t biscotti, such as hazelnut meringues or Nutella sandwich cookies. The temptation to try out each of the recipes in the book is strong, but I had to limit myself to three for now —
olive oil and citrus, that I drizzled with a lemon glaze:
chocolate chunk with cherries:
 and chocolate-dipped toasted coconut:
It’s hard choosing a favorite, because they’re all so delicious, but if you were to peek inside my cookie tins, you’d find that someone’s been dipping into the chocolate-dipped coconut ones with a little more gusto than she should have. I can’t wait to try some of the other recipes in the weeks ahead.
 I’m including the recipe for the chocolate-covered coconut biscotti, but for others, you’ll just have to get the book.
You won’t be disappointed, although I have a different experience in freezing biscotti than Domenica, maybe because when I bake them a second time, I do so at a higher temperature than she does.
Let me add my nerd notes here: biscotti means twice baked, in case you didn’t already know. The prefix “bis” is used in several instances to indicate repetition of some sort or other. When you’re at the end of a performance in Italy and want the singer to perform one more song, you don’t yell “encore,” you yell “bis.” Also, while nonno is grandfather in Italian, bisnonno is a great grandfather, the same way that bisnipote is a great grandchild, or great nephew or niece.
Which brings me back to the second baking and freezing. For the second baking, I do leave them in the oven longer and at a higher temperature than Domenica suggests in the book, because I like them to be uncompromisingly hard and crunchy. I crank up the temperature of the oven to 400 degrees and leave them in for another ten to fifteen minutes or so, flipping them over halfway, until they’re golden on each side, and checking continually to make sure they don’t burn. That dries out any remaining moisture and makes them as crunchy and addictive as eating potato chips.
I find that the extra baking time and temperature means that they freeze well and never lose their crunch, even the frosted ones. But first try baking according to Domenica’s directions and see if that works best for you.
For those of you who live in the Philadelphia, Pa. area, Domenica will be at Fante’s fabulous kitchen store on 9th St., this Sat. March 7, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., so you can get a copy personally autographed by her. Free samples of biscotti too!
But I’d also like to give one of my readers a chance to own a copy, so I’m offering a giveaway here. All you have to do to win a copy of “Ciao Biscotti” is to leave a comment below (on the blog NOT in email, for those of you who receive updates via email). Domenica herself recently held a giveaway on her blog for a copy of the book and asked readers to leave a comment describing something sweet about Italy. I loved reading some of the comments, whether it was about a sweet Italian food, or a sweet memory of Italy — so I’m asking my readers to do the same. If you’ve never been to Italy, then describe what you love about Italian food, art or music. I’ll let the computer choose a winner with a randomly generated number. You don’t need to have a blog to enter, but if you don’t, please leave an email address so I can contact the winner. Grazie.



Chocolate-Dipped Toasted Coconut Biscotti
from “Ciao Biscotti” by Domenica Marchetti
printable recipe here

1 T. vegetable oil
2 1/4 cups/285 g. unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup/50 g. unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted
3/4 cup/150 g. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
1/2 cup/50 g. sliced honey-roasted almonds or sliced almonds, toasted (I used toasted pecans)
5 Tbsp/70 g. unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch/12 mm. pieces, at room temperature
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 oz./115 g. bittersweet chocolate, melted

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F/180 degrees C. Lightly coat an 11 by 17 inch/28 by 43 cm. rimmed baking sheet with the oil. (I used a Silpat silicone mat and you don’t need any greasing at all.)
Combine the flour, coconut, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix briefly on low speed. Add the almonds and mix briefly on low to combine.  Add the butter in pieces and mix on medium low speed until the mixture looks like damp sand. Pour in the eggs and mix on medium speed until a soft, slightly sticky dough has formed.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat it into a disk. Divide it in half. Lightly moisten your hands with water and gently roll one portion of dough into a rough oval. Place it lengthwise on one half of the baking sheet and use your hands and fingers to stretch and pat the dough into a log about 2 1/2 in/6 cm wide and 12 in/30 cm long. Shape the second piece of dough in the same way, moistening your hands as necessary. Press down on the logs to flatten them out a bit and make the tops oven.
Bake the logs for 25 minutes, or until the bottom edges are lightly browned and the tops are set — they should be springy to the touch and there should be cracks on the surface. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack. Gently slide an offset spatula under each log to loosen it from the baking sheet. Let the logs cool for 5 minutes, and them transfer them to the rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees F/150 degrees C. (I raised it to 400 degrees F./200 degrees C.)
Transfer the cooled logs to a cutting board and, using a Santoku knife or a serrated bread knife, cut them on the diagonal into 1/2 in/12 mm-thick slices. Arrange the slices, cut-side up, on the baking sheet (in batches if necessary) and bake for 10 minutes. Turn the slices over and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, until they are crisp and golden. Transfer the slices to the rack to cool completely.
Arrange the slices cut-side up on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Dip one end of each biscotto into the melted chocolate and set them on the wax paper. Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, or until the chocolate is set. Let the biscotti return to room temperature before serving.

Italian Gals Cookie Exchange

Over the years, I’ve whittled my Christmas cookie baking to two or three types. Fortunately, I know I can count on my father’s wife to bring me a tin of pizzelle and my friend Lilli to bake me some of her almond paste cookies. But this year, I can add three more types of cookies to my cookie tray, thanks to a cookie exchange with three of my favorite Italian food bloggers, – Adri, Domenica and Marie.
We started our first annual “Italian Gals Cookie Exchange,” baking cookies and shipping them to each other at our homes across the United States – from  California and Illinois to Virginia and New Jersey.  Who says you have to live in the same town to have a cookie exchange?
The arrivals were greatly anticipated and felt like an early Christmas present.  The first two arrived on the same day, including Domenica’s delicious cranberry hazelnut biscotti, one of the recipes that will be included in the newest cookbook she’s written, about to be released in March, called “Ciao Biscotti.”
 Adri’s heavenly three-nut fingers came in a tin beautifully lined in striped tissue paper, with each pair of cookies individually delicately wrapped inside its own waxed paper envelope. The buttery cookies, with almonds, hazelnuts and pecans, just melted in the mouth.
And the reputation for Marie’s legendary cucidati preceded the actual cookies. I’ve been reading about them for years, since she makes hundreds of them each Christmas and I’ve been so anxious to try them. They were every bit as delicious as what I had expected and brought back memories of Christmases with my late husband’s Aunt Jenny, who baked a similar version.
 My contribution were these chocolate-y, spicy cookies that my mother made each Christmas when I was growing up. She called them “brownies” but they’re nothing like American brownies, except for the chocolate. In addition to the cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, there’s another unexpected spice that gives them a zing. For me, they’re a taste of my childhood and it wouldn’t be Christmas without them. The recipe, adapted from Alfred Portale, is listed below, but you can see step by step photos of how to make them on a post I wrote here, shortly after I started the blog in 2008. They’re actually based on a Sicilian cookie called either “tutu” or “toto,” according to reports I received from readers. Sometimes they’re even referred to as “Meatball cookies.” I think you can see why.
 Also included on the plate below are a couple of “intorchiate,” a cookie I wrote about in my last blog post.
I hope we four bloggers continue to maintain this tradition each year, and that we have inspired you to start your own cookie exchange, whether you live close to your friends, or far away. Just make sure to bake cookies that aren’t too fragile so they won’t break during shipment, and to keep it to a maximum of two dozen cookies and four people. Otherwise, you’ll spend a lot on shipping and you’ll be baking until la Befana comes home on January 6.
In the meantime, Buon Natale and best wishes for a wonderful 2015 to all my readers. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog through the year and for those of you who leave comments, an extra bacione.



Cocoa Christmas Cookies
or Italian “Brownies”


printable recipe here
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa
4 1/2 tsps. baking powder
2 tsps. cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. black pepper
3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup apricot jam
1/4 cup milk
2 cups chocolate chips

If using raisins and walnuts as Portale did, add 1 1/2 cups of each

glaze:
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, salt, black pepper. Combine and set aside.
2. With a heavy duty mixer, beat butter and sugar together until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating on medium speed for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in vanilla, jam, and milk. Set mixer to low and gradually add flour mixture, beating only until it is incorporated. Add the chocolate chips. The batter will be extremely stiff.
3. Place a large piece of waxed paper or parchment paper on the counter and flour it generously. Take a large spoon and scoop out a couple of heaping cups of the stiff batter onto the floured surface. Use a spoon to release it if needed. Flour your hands well and begin to shape the batter into a log shape, about an inch in diameter, rolling it back and forth on the floured surface. Use the paper to help mold it. Place the “logs” into the refrigerator for a couple of hours.
4. Remove from refrigerator and cut into sections about 1 1/2 inches wide. You can leave it this shape, or roll it between the palms of your hand into a flattened ball, which is the traditional shape.
5. Place balls on a parchment-lined or greased and floured cookie sheet, about 1 inch apart. Bake for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees. The tops will crack – this is normal. Transfer cookies to a rack and let cool. Cover with the glaze when completely cooled.
For the glaze:

Mix sifted confectioner’s sugar and lemon juice with a spoon until the desired consistency. I make mine almost like a frosting rather than a glaze, which means you’ll need to add more sugar. If you prefer yours to be more of a drizzle, adjust with more lemon juice.

This recipe makes about 6 to 7 dozen cookies and they freeze well. Just make sure the glaze is dry before putting them in the freezer. They will get hard if you leave them at for more than a week.