Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Apricot-Almond Biscotti

 Biscotti-- those lovely crisp slices that make a cup of coffee an event-- I love them!  They seem so straightforward too:  a hard cookie with fruit and/or nuts baked in.  How difficult can that be?  Well, if you've ever tried to make them at home, you know!  For one thing, recipes for "biscotti" can result in everything from a soft, rich pastry like cookie (delicious, but hardly up to a dunk into a cup of expresso!) to a tooth-cracking dog biscuit (for people!)!  I've tried all kinds of mixtures with all kinds of results.  To me, biscotti is a fairly hard cookie with pronounced flavor and a texture that is rather coarse, but definitely not crumbly.  It needs to stay intact after soaking up some coffee, not fall apart into crumbs throughout your drink-- ick.  Anyway, this is a recipe from an old "Gourmet" magazine.  Wow!  Now that was a magazine for cooks-- but don't get me started.  "Gourmet" isn't around anymore, but thanks to the Internet, a lot of their recipes are.  To me, this recipe makes the perfect biscotti.  It's very adaptable also, that is, you can vary the fruits and nuts, make the biscotti plain, or vary the flavorings.  They can be dipped in chocolate or white chocolate (fancy!), and they survive mailing very well-- Christmas gift!  Biscotti are kind of pricey at the store, so making them is economical also.  Here are some tips to making any biscotti recipe.
1.  If the recipe calls for a large proportion of butter to flour (like 1 cup butter to 2-3 cups flour), the biscotti are going to be softer and more cookie-like.  This isn't bad, and they'll taste good.  It's just something to know if you are expecting the traditional type.
2.  Use chopped nuts, not whole ones.  The whole ones look great in cross-section, but it is really difficult to slice through these large pieces cleanly. 
3.  Toast the nuts for 7-8 minutes at 350F before using them.  It makes a difference.
4.  Slice the biscotti with a sharp chef's knife.  Slice straight down with conviction-- don't use a sawing motion or you'll have crumbled edges.
5.  No biscotti recipe I've ever made makes the amount the recipe claims.  If fact, you'll get only about 1/2 the amount, so plan accordingly!
Now, here's the recipe!
Apricot-Almond Biscotti (makes about 2.5 dozen cookies-- really!)
2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 whole large egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup chopped almonds (5 1/2 oz), toasted and cooled
1 cup dried apricots (6 oz), quartered
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water for egg wash

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.  Tear off two sections of Saran wrap, about 15 inches long.
In a stand mixer, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together.  Add the butter and mix on low until the mixture looks crumbly.  Add the egg, milk, vanilla and almond extracts.  Mix well.  Add the almonds and mix.  Add a few more drops of milk if the mixture is too dry to come together into a dough.
Divide the dough in two and put one section on each piece of Saran wrap.  Fold some Saran over the dough and pat it into a disk about 5-6 inches in diameter.  Place 1/2 of the apricots on the dough and fold it over, sandwiching the apricots between the dough.  Fold the Saran over the dough and work / roll it into a log about 14 inches long.  Try to get the ends as thick as the middle of the log, but don't worry if it's not like that.  Pick up the log with the Saran and then unwrap it onto one side of the baking sheet.  Repeat with the other portion of dough and put that log on the other side of the baking sheet.  They won't rise much, but you want them to be far enough apart so they don't touch and bake evenly. 
Brush the logs with the egg wash.  Bake them for 20 minutes, or until they seem dry and cracks appear all over the logs.  They should feel firm.  If your logs are a little thicker than specified, just bake a little longer.
Remove the logs from the oven and allow them to sit for 20 minutes.  Reduce the oven temperature to 300F.
Carefully lift one log onto a cutting board (don't worry if it breaks-- you're going to cut them up anyway!).  Cut the biscotti into about 1/2-inch slices and put them on the same parchment baking sheet, curved sides up.  Repeat with the other log.
Bake the biscotti for 30 minutes.  Remove them from the oven and allow to cool.  They will crisp up even more. 
Store air tight at room temperature, or freeze!  Yum!

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