September 17, 2010

Of September

I am so ready for fall. Ready and eager. There couldn't possibly be a better time of year. It's when the best strolls are taken, when the best apples come into season, and when one wants to start making soups and actually cook something again. It's also when that insatiable urge hits to purchase a new sweater, one comfy and cozy, one that just says fall.

Of course, the eagerness for the season always hits me long before it finally arrives, but at least this weekend promises fall-like weather with rain and temperatures slowly dropping into the high 70s, if only briefly, so that's an improvement. Tomorrow morning Michael and I are planning on a stroll through the farmer's market in Chico, to eye everything that looks good and tempting. Going there in late September and through November you consistently see several stalls piled high with all sorts of apples every weekend (even more at the Davis market), so much so that you want to buy a big bag every time, whether or not you've got plans for them. Certain areas bordering the northern valley here in California are prime real estate for apple orchards. It's fantastic living on the west coast for food-related purposes.

With all of this apple talk, I hope you're not disappointed with a recipe not involving apples, however good that sounds. They aren't quite ready yet. Neither is fall, apparently. So, in anticipation of the cooler weeks to come, we have biscotti, nutty and full of aniseed. Last year about this time, I posted a different cookie recipe with both anise and almonds, so there must be something about September that prompts me to want to combine them again. Whatever it is, biscotti makes me happy. Dip one in a latte, in your tea, or (for those milk-lovers out there) in a glass of ice cold milk, it tends to make everyone happy, whatever your beverage of choice happens to be.

Very similar to the biscotti posted over a year ago, this batch was made with chopped toasted almonds and almond extract alongside the aniseed.  To get the best anise flavor, try to purchase whole seeds and grind them right before baking, either in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, if you're able to. The pre-ground stuff can lose its freshness and potency while sitting on the shelf, so grinding whole seeds releases the pungent licorice notes and ensures a more distinguished taste of anise. Although the pecan version is still my favorite, the almond extract makes a nice complement for a change. Variety, on occasion, keeps thing from becoming dull, I suppose.

If you want, you can make an egg wash by whisking one egg white until frothy and brushing over the formed logs before the first baking. It's completely optional. Feeling impatient for some much needed biscotti, I left that step out to save (a little) time.

Anise-Almond Biscotti
Adapted from Bon Appétit, December 1999

3 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
10 Tbsp (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter, melted
3 large eggs
2 tsp almond extract
2 tsp aniseed, ground
1 cup whole almonds, toasted, coarsely chopped

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350° F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Sift flour and baking powder into medium bowl. Mix sugar, melted butter, eggs, almond extract, and ground aniseed in a large bowl. Add flour mixture to egg mixture and stir with wooden spoon until well blended. Mix in almonds.

Divide dough in half. Using floured hands, shape each dough half into 13 ½-inch-long, 2 ½-inch-wide logs. Transfer both logs to prepared baking sheet, spacing apart.

Bake logs until golden brown (logs will spread), about 30 minutes. Cool logs completely on sheet on rack, about 25 minutes. Maintain oven temperature.

Transfer logs to work surface; discard parchment paper. Using serrated knife, cut logs on diagonal into ½-inch-wide slices. Arrange slices, cut side down, on same baking sheet. Bake for 12 minutes, then turn biscotti over, and bake until just beginning to color, about 8 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool.

Makes about 3 dozen biscotti.

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