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Cookies with Nuts
 Italian almond biscotti
Mary's Almond Biscotti alla Toscana (Hard-style biscotti, using roasted almonds, pistachios, orange and lemon zest)
Originated from: Tuscany, Italy
Occasion: Any time & special times
Contributed by: Mary Melfi

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2 cups all-purpose white flour (preferably "Red Rose")
1 cup sugar
3 "large" eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon "Magic" baking powder
3/4 cup roasted whole almonds with skin
1/4 cup peeled, whole pistachios****
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Finely grated zest of 1 small orange (about 1/2 tablespoon) mixed with 1 teaspoon sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 small lemon (about 1/2 tablespoon) mixed with 1 teaspoon sugar

Extra flour for flouring hands and wooden board

For egg wash
1 egg yolk, beaten
1 tablespoon milk

Equipment needed
1 "Dollar Shop" aluminum baking pan (about 12 X 18 X 1 1/4-inches)
Parchment paper
a very SHARP knife

**** Slivered (blanched, roasted) almonds, dried cranberries or currants can be substituted for the pistachio nuts.

YIELD: about 2 dozen biscotti



Roast raw natural almonds with skin to a nice golden color (one can roast them at 325 F. degrees; depending on the oven it can take anywhere from 12 minutes to 18 minutes). One has to keep an eye -- check to see what is happening as almonds can easily get burnt (Need to cut an almond in half to see the color of the interior of the nut, for that's what counts). Unfortunately if they are not well roasted they lack flavor. However, as they will continue to roast even once they are out of the oven (The heat will do that) it's best to remove them when they are not yet fully roasted.

Roast blanched slivered almonds to a nice golden color.

If one opts to use dried fruit (or blanched, slivered roasted almonds) rather than pistachio nuts now is the time to measure it.

Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place oven rack towards the top of the oven (second to last). Placing the rack too close to the bottom of the oven can easily result in bisoctti that are burnt.

In a small bowl mix 1 large egg yolk with milk. Keep aside.

Grate orange rind. Using your fingertips mix finely grated orange zest with sugar. Keep aside.

Grate lemon rind. Mix with sugar. Keep aside. (N.B. Lemon and/or orange zest produces a very pleasant flavor, but the zest can get watery and that can soften the biscotti log, making it harder to shape. The best thing to do is to grate the fruit just a minute or two prior to making the biscotti batter, as the fresher the grated zest is, the less watery it is.)

To make the biscotti

Pre-heat the oven to 350 F. degrees.

Sift the flour, salt and baking powder together (Don't use more baking powder than recommended as it can make the logs split open while baking.).

Add the orange zest and using your fingertips mix with the flour mixture.

Add the lemon zest and using your fingertips mix with the flour mixture.

Using an electric beater, in a clean bowl, beat eggs and vanilla extract (about 1 minute).

Add sugar and beat well (Do NOT cream the mixture) -- about 1 minute.

Add almond extract and beat (about half a minute).

Add about 1/2 of the flour mixture to the egg mixture and beat at medium speed until it is nicely mixed -- about 1 minute.

Add the rest of the flour mixture and mix at low speed until you have a soft, crumbly dough -- about 1 minute.

Turn off the electric beater.

Keeping the dough in the same bowl it was mixed in, using a fork, mix in the nuts into the dough, making sure the nuts are evenly distributed.

Divide the dough into two portions.

Form the portions quickly into balls and dust them lightly with flour (prior to removing from the bowl).

Take one portion of the dough and place it on the baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper.

Flour the palms of your hands and then shape the dough into an average-sized, cylinder biscotti log -- about 2 1/2 inches wide, 1 inch high and 8 inches long (The length of the log does not matter, but the width does as it will determine the size of the biscotti slices.).

Flatten the log a little but not much (It should regain its rounded shape while baking.).

Repeat the steps for the other portion of dough, making sure that the two logs are placed far apart.

Using a pastry brush, brush off any excess flour from the tops and sides of the logs.

Brush the tops and sides of the log with the egg yolk and milk mixture.

Bake until done -- the logs should be a deep golden color and the inside should be completely cooked -- around 24 to 34 minutes.

Remove the biscotti from the oven.

Cool for about 2 minutes (The biscotti logs should still be warm when they are cut into slices as the nuts are softer when they are hot, and so are easier to cut through.).

On a wooden board using a very sharp knife cut slices -- about 1/2 inch wide (The sharpness of the knife is very important as if the knife does not cut through the nuts, the biscotti will break into small pieces.).

There are two different ways one can re-bake the biscotti: one can either place the biscotti slices straight up (the same way they were baked) with some space between the slices, and then re-bake in the oven at 350 F. degrees for about 5 minutes, OR, one can place the biscotti slices flat side down and then turn on the broiler and roast them on both sides until they are a nice golden color -- takes about a minute or so. Traditionally, Tuscan-style biscotti are re-baked at 350 F. degrees until crispy, but some home cooks find using the broiler easier to do (I am one such individual).

After the the biscotti are re-baked, remove from oven.


Traditionally biscotti are placed in tin containers or in cellophone bags. This keeps them crisp.

For those who like their biscotti soft (I am one such individual) one can place them in plastic bags and tie them with a twist.

Keep in the fridge until needed.

Serve at room temperature.


If anyone tells you making biscotti is easy, they are out of their minds. Making biscotti is not easy. It takes a lot of time and a lot of patience. I have the time, but I don't always have the patience. It takes a lot of patience to cut perfectly even slices out of a log filled with loads of impossible-to-cut nuts. Also, re-baking the slices so that they get a nice golden color rather than an ugly burnt one is no easy thing as one has to almost open the oven door every ten seconds. Timing is everything in comedy, but so it is when it comes to making biscotti. A few seconds off, and you have biscotti you can't offer to guests. Sure they're edible, but if they're not pleasing to the eye, all that time and effort into making them seems kind of wasted. It is much easier to buy them at a good Italian pastry shop, unfortunately, they're pricey. I would never buy them. I will buy pastries, things I could never myself imagine doing, but biscotti simply require a little patience, and with a lot of self-control anyone can muster some up -- well, enough to make one batch of biscotti. If I could do it, anyone can.... I have had the pleasure of eating many friends' and relatives' biscotti, and while I loved them all, when I tried to do their recipes, I failed miserably. Most of the recipes they use incorporate a lot of almonds, and while the almonds taste really nice, it is also hard to mix them into the unbaked dough. It's also hard to slice biscotti logs that use a large quantity of nuts. When I complain about this, those who made the biscotti, say -- "Well, it must be that your knife is not sharp enough." Or they say, "The biscotti logs have to be cut while they are warm." Well, my knife is pretty sharp, and I found that it doesn't make all that much difference if the logs are hot or cold -- in fact, it's hard to cut a hot biscotti log without burning one's fingers. It's easier to cut while it is cooled a little. Still, I had to be doing something wrong 'cause they had success with their recipes and I didn't. Possibly it's because my friends and relatives have lots of patience, and I don't. Basically, I am a lazy cook (Though I am not a lazy person, I do work hard, but not in the kitchen!). As a lazy cook, I like things easy -- real easy. Fast and easy. So I decided to come up with my own variation on the Tuscan-style biscotti recipe so that even a lazy cook like myself could get it right. Just because I don't like to fuss in the kitchen, doesn't mean I don't like to eat well. I don't eat all that much, and what I do eat, I want it to taste good, and yes, I want it to be home made. I dislike store-bought stuff, even high-end restaurant stuff doesn't give me pleasure. I rather cook than eat -- and for someone who has no patience that can be a recipe for disaster. Oh well, life is full of contradictions. Too much information.... Back to the recipe in this entry -- as I said I enjoyed many home-made biscotti, I studied the recipes used and tried to figure a way how to make them a little bit easier to do. I found that by combining whole almonds with pistachio nuts (or combining them with slivered almonds) I got a biscotti log that was easier to slice. Personally I prefer a biscotti that only has almonds in it, but pistachio nuts do add color and make the biscotti more attractive. And that's a plus if one is selling them at a school or church bake sale. One can substitute the pistachio nuts with dried cranberries or currants, that also adds color (and decreases the cost of the biscotti), but using dried fruit does take away from lovely flavor of the almonds. I myself don't like the use of dried fruit so I don't myself use it, but lots of people do like it, and it can be used in almost any biscotti recipe, including this one. Most of the time I flavor the biscotti with orange zest and lemon zest because those are my favorite flavors, but that complicates matters as the zest can get watery. If one decides to use only one kind of zest, I think orange zest is the better choice; it seems to blend in better with this style of cookie. That said, I like the combination of orange and lemon, and have tried other home cooks' biscotti that use both flavors, and they seem to work quite well together. Also, there are quite a few biscotti recipes from other regions in Italy, including Puglia and Campania, that ask for lemon zest, not orange zest, so it all depends on what one likes (One has to experiment -- that's the only way one gets to figure out what one prefers because in cooking, what sounds appealing on paper, might not necessarily be appealing in real life.). Almond biscotti recipes from other regions are included on this website in this category -- see the recipes: "Almond Biscotti alla Lucani," soft-style twice-baked biscotti from Basilicata, "Almond Biscotti alla Pugliese," hard-style twice-baked biscotti from Puglia, and "Almond Biscotti alla Abruzzesi," hard-style twice baked biscotti from Abruzzo. All these recipes are traditional and were published in Italy in a variety of cookbooks long before they made their way to North America..... In any case, almonds cost a fortune (Well, they do for those of us living in Montreal, Quebec), if one makes a recipe with almonds in it and it doesn't turn out right, it's kind of annoying to say the least, so if one has to cut corners (use less almonds), there is no reason why one shouldn't. If one adds flavorings such as orange zest and lemon zest, then the amount of almonds doesn't really matter so much, as the flavor comes from the zest as well as the almonds. Adding vanilla extract to cookies always enhances their flavor, but too much can be over-powering ("Pure" vanilla is more potent than artificial one, so one has to use less if one uses it). Almond extract is good too.... The fact is a lot of the recipes for biscotti that my friends and relatives gave me call for a lot less flour than what I seemed to need to form a biscotti log. And now I know why!!!!!! -- I used to beat the eggs and then put in the sugar, and make the mixture creamy, A BIG MISTAKE. One can make the mixture a bit frothy, but not creamy. Also, the amount of flour depends on the size of the eggs -- sometimes what are presented in a package as "large" eggs are really "extra large eggs" or "medium" eggs, so one has to adjust the amount of flour used. Sometimes if the dough is a bit firm I add a tablespoon of butter. The biscotti slice is softer if one uses butter, but it doesn't look as nice or as smooth. Besides, Tuscan biscotti are supposed to be made without shortening (and with almonds alone!) -- that's the traditional way. Nowadays, many of these biscotti include dried fruits, this style of biscotti is popular in Italy as well, but they are not from Tuscany, but other regions. But now I am sounding like anything goes and that doesn't always work (though it can work sometimes).... Everyone (including me) wants exact measurements and are unhappy with those old Italian recipes that include those dreaded words: "as much as needed." As an acquaintance once told me, "When I was younger I used to follow recipes to the letter but now that I'm older, I find I am not doing that any more. I'm cooking like my mother used to -- by eye." All that matters in this particular recipe is that one has a dough that is not too hard, and not too soft -- it has to be malleable so that one can form an average-sized biscotti log. Forming the log is important as it gives the biscotti slices that rounded pretty look. Still, Tuscan style biscotti have a hard texture, they're supposed to be hard -- some even call them jawbreakers! Personally, I prefer soft-style biscotti and that style of biscotti are made in Molise (my birthplace). Biscotti alla Molisana are beautifully crispy (Not soft, soft, but soft enough) and they can easily be eaten on their own -- they don't have to be dunked in coffee for them to be edible (Or require a warning -- "Eat at your own peril -- teeth at risk!") . Soft-style Molisani biscotti use a thick batter rather than a soft dough. Molisani biscotti don't have to be made into logs. They are supposed to be baked in a pan. There are recipes for the Molisani version of almond biscotti on this website in this category -- unlike Tuscan biscotti which don't include butter or oil, Molisani recipes do use it. Generally, most North American recipes for Molisani biscotti include all-purpose vegetable oil as that's how those from this region now make these cookies in this part of the world. In Italy, back in the 1930s, home cooks used olive oil as that was all that was locally available. It seems Molisani immigrants switched to all-purpose vegetable oil as soon as they set foot in North America, not necessarily because of the cost factor, but because it seems most individuals preferred the lighter taste of the all-purpose vegetable oil. More can be said on the differences between how things were done then and how they are baked today but that would take an entire book, and this is not a book (Am writing too fast, making too many errors....). In any case, soft-style Molisani biscotti are not popular in this part of the world, fat-free Tuscan biscotti are (Starbucks and 2nd Cup must think Tuscan biscotti are worth they're weight in gold, as the price of their biscotti does seem to suggest this!). In the past, because I preferred (and still prefer) biscotti alla Molisana to any other kind of biscotti, I avoided doing my own take on the Tuscan variety. But as they say, never say never. So here is my take on the ever-popular Tuscan biscotti. I won't say my recipe is "easy" to do, because no biscotti or cookie recipe is every easy to do, but this recipe, I believe, is certainly easier to do than most other other Tuscan biscotti recipes -- well, at least, those I myself tried. But that's just my opinion. Actually (If I am honest about it) my recipe is not all that different from my friends' and relatives' recipes, and if they think I copied theirs, I might have, though I made a few variations (The use of orange and lemon zest was inspired by "Maria's mother-in-law's" recipe; for that recipe see Italy Revisited/Cookies with Nuts -- "Papatelle Molisana."). Basically, all the recipes for Tuscan almond biscotti are similar. The flavorings may differ a little, the amount of sugar may differ a little and the amount of flour may differ a little. Call them variations on a theme. Hopefully, if anyone ever tries my particular recipe, he or she will attest to the fact that it is as I say it is -- easy, cheap (relatively speaking) and the results pleasant to the palate. Mind you, the biscotti made with this recipe are hard, though they're not any harder than biscotti one generally gets with other recipes. Tuscan-style biscotti are meant to be dunked in coffee or wine. One eats them only after one dips them in the liquid to soften them up. How this came to be -- who knows? Molisani-style biscotti can be eaten without peril -- they're neither too hard or too soft -- crispy, I guess. They can be eaten without dipping them into any kind of liquid. Possibly, one day North Americans will discover the special edible sweet delicacies of Molise and learn to do them. On the other hand, there is something to be said about Tuscan biscotti, they won't have become so popular if they weren't appealing. When they're dunked in coffee they are truly delightful, heavenly almost. Hopefully this recipe for these Tuscan sweets will do them justice. Nothing hurts a home cook as much as being told that her or his recipe doesn't work. Nothing makes a home cook feel good, real good, than being told that his or recipe is truly delicious. All is vanity -- even in the kitchen..... Comments and photo: Mary Melfi.

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