Episode two and our second week of the We Bake Things Bake Off concerns biscuits. We learn through a proper food historian that biscuits in England used to be a dreary, utilitarian affair, until one enterprising biscuit maker started making them fun, fluffy and more delicious. This started a ground war of biscuits that continues today. We chose biscotti, literally a twice-baked Italian cookie. Any type of biscotti, but we had to make 36 and they had to be as perfectly identical as possible.
The bake: Biscotti, any variety with any add-ins, toppings or frostings.
When Annemarie suggested biscotti, I was thrilled. Biscotti are one of my favorite sweet treats in the world. You take a cookie and dip it in either coffee or tea. I mean, what’s not to like? Since I make biscotti on a regular basis, I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and make Queen Nadiya’s Coconut, fennel and pistachio biscotti. Despite her struggling in the technical on this episode, I remember Paul and Mary being wowed by her biscotti. I love coconut, I love pistachios and I love fennel so, let’s do this.
First, I’ll admit that this recipe seems very “fiddly” (to borrow a word from Nadiya). You have to make coconut brittle, melt chocolate to dip your biscotti in, and toast all of your add-ins. But believe it or not, it goes together quicker than you’d think. I used a dry, non-stick pan and toasted my fennel. Then I dumped that into my food processor, and toasted my pistachios. Then I dumped those into the processor and blitzed until they were powdery but with some good nut chunks left in. Then I toasted all of the coconut (both for the biscotti and the brittle) and called it a damn day. The dough comes together very nice, but I did have to add a couple of tablespoons of milk because dry climate and altitude is no joke. Once I had the biscotti in the oven, for the first time, I threw the brittle on the stove. The butter, sugar and water mixture took about 30 minutes to come to 320F for me.
The results are holy crap. It’s not hyperbole when I say this is the best damn biscotti I’ve ever eaten. It’s sweet but not too sweet, and the fennel delivers a nice licorice flavor without being in-your-face. It has a nice crunch, the chocolate adds a nice richness to it, and while I worried that the brittle would taste like gilding the lily, it rounds it out nicely. I dirtied a lot of bowls, pans, and utensils making this, but it was 100% worth it. Not only will I make this again, it might be the only biscotti I make for awhile.
I’ll admit it. I was the one who chose biscotti. I had no desire to make the pastry arlettes nor a biscuit box of all things. Sheesh. Biscotti, with their endless array of flavor combinations, was the better and easier route to take. And I’d never attempted making them. I went with the delightfully named blog’s Fresh April Flours’ White Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti. She cautions against buying already shelled pistachios because they’re more than twice the cost of shelling them yourself. I was going to be fancy and go shelled, but when standing in the grocery store faced with spending $20 on pistachios, I couldn’t do it. To get 36 cookies, I’d need to triple the recipe and I could not justify the nut cost on this one. So my husband and I spent the first quarter of the Broncos season opener shelling pistachios and making a hell of a dusty mess on the couch.
Once the ingredients were assembled, my recipe took very little effort. Mix the wet ingredients, mix the dry ingredients (including nuts and chocolate), and pour wet into dry. Easy peasy. However, I had trouble getting the dough to come together. I ended up adding more butter (not mad) and almost a cup of water, but the mix finally transformed into dough. Even with triple the amount of dough, I opted to only divide the bake into two phases, which led to slightly thicker cookies that took longer to bake. It shouldn’t have surprised me that this entire process took approximately 3 hours, but it did. I believe my exact text to Brooke was “BISCOTTI TAKE A THOUSAND YEARS TO BAKE.”
But the results. Oh, the results. Vanilla scented and flavored, rich with chopped pistachios and white chocolate chunks, with a good, tender crunch. They were an unequivocal hit at the BBQ the next day, and we’ve been snacking on them every chance we get at home. I don’t want them to end, but they soon will and I will be sad. I will definitely make these again. Justin said they made the house smell like Christmas, and who doesn’t love that?
Brooke & Kelsey
If the walnut cake was enough to make us question our skills and our sanity, the biscotti was enough to assure us of both, even with some on the spot improvisations. Incapable of deciding on one recipe, we elected to make two. A whimsical funfetti number and a sophisticated dark chocolate orange take.
Funfetti was up first. This recipe took an inordinate amount of sprinkles. We used the whole of two mostly full bottles and the better part of a third in similar condition. The recipe warned us against using non-pareils, but by bottle number three that was all we had. The sky did not fall, nor did our biscotti. Our dough was a bit dry, which is to say as crumby as a streusel. But, a bit of milk and tenacity got that sorted. The end result was some lovely, simply flavored but sultry biscotti that stood up well to dunking.
The dark chocolate orange batch went similarly. Instead of sprinkle volume, we failed to anticipate the chill time associated with this dough, so our bakes were completed a day apart. This dough came together as expected. However, we were given very, very low bake temperatures by the recipe — 150 F. We gave this the old college try. It didn’t go well. Mostly things got melty. We cranked the heat up to 350 and actual baking happened. One side ended up a touch more toasted than desirable, but the end result is still quite pleasant. In baked form the orange is much more subtle than in dough form, but the almonds add a nice texture to break up the intense dark chocolate.
Biscotti is just one of those things I never would’ve considered baking before. I figured I should keep it basic and try one of Paul Hollywood’s recipes, Hazelnut and Orange Biscotti. My first omen should have been the Ralph’s employee who told me hazelnuts are a seasonal item, but thankfully, Trader Joe’s had their nut aisle together.
The recipe was simple itself; zesting an orange and pulverizing the nuts in a processor are about as complex as it gets. But the calculations are British in nature. I relied on Google to tell me how many cups 9oz of flour is since I don’t own scales. I had just enough flour for the dough and a pinch left over for the kneading process. What I produced, however, was the stickiest dough I have ever encountered in my life. There was no kneading or rolling that mess. It had to be scraped off the counter. And like any good baker who is confronted with an item that is not behaving properly, I just plowed on to the next steps. It was around that time that I started laughing at the creation I had begot.
The end product, if you can call it biscotti, lacked the distinctive crunch. They were pretty undercooked even though I baked them 3 times as directed (150C means 300F, right?). I had an irrational fear of making them totally inedible and losing a tooth, so I called it done deal. The pleasant surprise was that they weren’t too bad taste-wise. The orange and hazelnut create a light, refreshing flavor. I can only imagine how pleasant they might be dipped in tea without the fear of disintegration.
Next week we try our hands at quick bread, because no one has time to wait for carbs to rise. Read Week 1’s Walnut Cake results here.