And thus comes my favourite season of the year. I took a stroll down Hill Road today and it was already festooned with Christmas baubles: candy canes, golden bells, scarlet poinsettias, tree-toppers and my favourite of all, snow-flaked pine cones. Men were spraying plastic Christmas trees with artificial snow from cans and the pavements were filled with sprightly stalls selling tiny trinkets and tree ornaments. Also, since this is the closest I can come to winter, I embrace the touch and go December chill while it lasts. For a baker like me, this season is the playing field. My freezer is stacked with prunes, dried apricots, almonds and candied orange peel. My kitchen perennially smells like a bakery, with undertones of rum and brandy of course.
This time of the year especially, there is no question of mincing ingredients, no question of adulteration, at least not for someone with an honest baking conscience. And no one indulges in wholesome ingredients like the Italians do. The lack of butter in their cuisine is compensated with whole nuts, eggs, dry fruits, sweet wines and fresh cream.
These almond and pistachio biscottis, also known as cantuccinis, are the perfect example of the rugged yet simple tapestry of Italian cuisine. Humble as they look, these Italian cookies are a symbol of celebration in Italian homes. Cups of cappucinos and espressos are almost always punctuated with a biscotti or two; for the Italians, bitterness is always at its best with a touch of sweetness. There is some amount of technique involved in baking these cookies. Once the cookie dough is prepared, they are shaped into logs and then baked. Once baked, the logs are completely cooled, cut into pieces and baked again. Nothing sets off the Christmas spirit like these rustic cookies; they are easy to make, even if you want to make them in large numbers and are also ideal for gifting.
Enough with my festive rambling now, have you soaked your fruits for the Christmas cake yet?
- 20 g all purpose flour
- 12 tbsp caster sugar
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 + 1/4 cup pistachios, chopped
- 1/2 + 1/4 cup whole almonds, chopped
- 3 eggs
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 50 g dark chocolate, melted (for the almond biscotti)
Makes 24 pistachio biscottis and 24 almond biscottis
The ingredients given are for 2 dozens of pistachio and almond biscottis. If you want to make either of them, halve the quantity.
- Preheat the oven to 170 C. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper. Set aside.
- Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and chopped pistachios in a bowl. Whisk together until combined. Repeat the same process, in a seperate bowl for almond biscotti.
- Break all the three eggs into a bowl and whisk until combined. Add the vanilla extract and whisk again.
- Now, carefully pour half the eggs mixture into the pistachio-flour mixture. Mix the ingredients together and knead the dough until the ingredients start coming together and you are able to form a dough. Set aside. Pour the remaining egg mixture into the almond-flour mixture and repeat the same instructions.
- Now, on a well-floured work surface, form a 10 inch log with each dough, by rolling and elongating them using both your palms. Each log should an inch high and 2 inches wide. Place the logs on the prepared baking tray and bake them for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, the logs should be firm and should have risen slightly. Cool the logs completely. Preheat the oven again to 170 C.
- Once cooled thoroughly, using a serrated knife, cut each log diagonally, into 1/4 inch pieces and place each piece back on the baking tray, cut side down. Bake the biscottis for 10-15 minutes until golden and crisp.
- Before serving, dribble over the melted chocolate on the almond biscottis.