Historically, biscotti has been known as a twice-baked Italian almond biscuit, typically served with coffee for breakfast. As with most Italian foods, America has made a perversion of it, turning it into something sweeter, softer (read: mo’ BUTTAH, bitches), and more dessert-like than it’s brittle, traditional counterpart; I don’t really see a problem with this. In the good ol’ US of A, we breed a philosophy of go big or go home, and if that means coating biscotti in a milk-based fondant, then so be it.
My fellow foodie friends may venture to disagree with me, but I have to hand it to America– we do a good job of taking simple fare with foreign origins, injecting it with a healthy dose of fat and sassiness, and ultimately yielding a new and improved product that makes your taste receptors do it Gangnam Style.
Take, for instance, pizza. Pizza became a “thing” in the late 19th century in Naples, Italy. Since then, it’s spread like a raging case of herpes throughout the first, second, and even third worlds.
Since I currently reside in the Windy City, I’ll pander to my Chicago constituency and focus on deep-dish Chicago-style pies. Aside from the basic ingredient foundation of crust, cheese, and tomato sauce, our Chicago-style goods bear little resemblance to their thin, delicate Italian granddaddy. Instead of leaving you pleasantly full, dining at Chicago pizza joints like Lou Malnati’s, Giordano’s, and Gino’s East makes you feel disconcertingly like a foie gras goose right after a good gavage. Overwhelming lethargy and pains comparable to those you feel after a Thanksgiving binge are both symptomatic of a Chicago pizza outing, for which the only antidote is sleeping it off. BUT THAT IS THE BEAUTY OF IT.
Straddling the line between pain and pleasure is the American way.
Okay, now back to biscotti. Admittedly, the first time I ever enjoyed biscotti dates back only to 2007. My family and I had just finished one of the most incredible meals of our lives at Imágo, a Michelin starred restaurant on the panoramic sixth floor of the Hassler Hotel, situated at the top of the Spanish Steps in Rome. We’re talking, avocado foam (not mousse– FOAM) and an intermezzo, among a host of other exquisite dining details that exist exclusively in the fancy/fabulous restaurant bag of tricks. Along with a sizable bill came two delicate take-out boxes filled to their respective brims with anise and allspice bite-sized biscotti. We passed the boxes around, reveling in the simple pleasure of extending our gastronomic escapades beyond the dessert we had already ordered and devoured. For the rest of our time in Rome, what remained of the biscotti became more coveted than any and every flavor of gelato from one of the multitudes of gelaterias speckling the cobblestone Roman streets.
The Italians did it SO right. Color me an egocentric American… but I think I just did it better.
Iced Crystallized Ginger Biscotti
For the biscotti (makes 22-28)
2 1/4 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon molasses
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup crystallized ginger (I used GingerPeople brand)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon allspice
For the glaze (not an exact science. I didn’t measure at all, so feel free to play around ’til you get the consistency you want!)
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1/4 cup whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract
1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F and grease a baking sheet
2. Blend white and brown sugars, butter, eggs, molasses and vanilla and a mixer
3. Stift in flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, ground ginger, cloves and allspice until fully incorporated
4. Stir crystallized ginger into dough with a wooden spoon
5. Roll/spread dough out on a baking sheet to a thickness of about 1/2 inch
6. Use a butter knife to create perforations in the dough
8. Allow biscotti to cool, and separate completely along perforations
9. Pour confectioner’s sugar, milk, and almond extract into a mixing bowl and mix with a handheld mixer (add more sugar/milk until desired consistency is reached!)
10. Drizzle a thick layer of glaze over each cookie and top with bits of crystallized ginger.
11. Store in freezer to stay fresh, but biscotti are best served at room temperature!