May 3, 2011

Idyllic wanderings

I have a thing for biscotti. If you haven't been counting, there are four recipes for biscotti on this site, and now five with this post. Maybe I should have called the blog a latte and biscotti or a latte, biscotti, and me or something along those lines. I'm not Italian, but I am definitely a fan of Italian foods (and espresso) and the restaurants and bakeries in North Beach. If you're ever able to visit San Francisco, you must visit North Beach for the food. Just about every other business on each street is a cafe or a purveyor of food of some sort. I would love to visit Italy someday, for the scenery, for the sights, and for the food: fresh pasta, gelato in a multitude of flavors, baby artichokes . . . tasty, tasty stuff. And the espresso. The most recent issue of Bon Appétit (the Italy issue) may or may not have something to do with these recent daydreams about rambling the streets of Rome (and other locations).

In the meantime, I must content myself with baking batches of biscotti--favorites, variations, and new recipes--and perhaps tackling basic pasta and sauce techniques. As I'm not feeling up to making it myself, fresh pasta will have to wait.

Every year for Easter, my large family converges upon my great aunt and uncle's home for an Easter egg hunt, before which all of the grandchildren are corralled for a photo session, then an expansive spread everyone contributes to and which always includes a turkey (the Taylors don't have Easter ham; we have turkey), an egg toss, and finally a dessert of fresh strawberries and homemade vanilla ice cream. That last bit is the best part, if you ask me. My grandfather has several brothers and sisters, each of whom have at least a few children--some more than that--and most of them have children, hence the large number of grandchildren in total shared by my grandpa and his siblings, hence the above mentioned egg hunt and traditional picture taking every single year. As many of those photos as I have been in, I have yet to see a single one. Any way, at some point many, many years ago this gathering of all of the Taylors became the tradition for an Easter celebration. I couldn't tell you how it started, or when, but it's a nice time to come together and share a holiday. The entire family is too large to gather together very often, so this is the only time it's done. One year about sixty people showed up, and that wasn't including everyone who could have been there.

I have many memories of spending Easter on my great aunt and uncle's farm, hunting eggs with too many cousins to even remember who is who, although that never seemed to matter too much. We're all a pretty laid back bunch. Now that I'm older and better at knowing everyone to some degree (and also knowing that every year could be the last--things like this don't last forever), I thought it was high time that I contributed something to the table. It's kind of strange that I never have before, as much as I'm into food. It probably never occurred to me because there was always plenty to eat, with so many bringing something. However, this year, for my first contribution, I decided on amplifying dessert.

There isn't much that can really improve homemade ice cream and some of the first strawberries of the season, but Bon Appétit just happened to have a recipe for biscotti that looked intriguing enough, with nuts and dried cherries and orange zest, so I just thought, why not? I wasn't sure how well the biscotti would be received, because typically the other items on the dessert table consist of brownies and angel food cake, pretty tame stuff, but my fears were unfounded, because everyone who tried them raved about them, and some even kept snitching bites before the ice cream was brought out, including myself. I should have known. Who doesn't like biscotti?

This recipe now rivals my favorite, the anise biscotti. With orange and lemon zest and both vanilla and almond extracts, it's got a mouthful of flavor that is surprisingly not overpowering but rather addictive. I know I use that word a lot, but it captures how good certain baked goods can be. The orange stands out the most, and they're toasty, thanks to the sliced almonds and slightly longer baking time. The dried cherries add some chew and tart contrast. I'm torn for deciding on a favorite now. That they're also excellent dipped in a latte only adds to the dilemma.

Almond & Dried Cherry Biscotti
Adapted from Karen DeMasco, via Bon Appétit, May 2011

Be careful when slicing the logs--they're rather crumbly, and the sawing action of a bread knife helps to keep the sliced edges clean and smooth. Cutting straight down will result in jagged sides.

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup old-fashioned oats
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. kosher salt
2 large eggs
6 Tbsp. safflower oil
1 Tbsp. orange zest
2 tsp. lemon zest
1½ tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. almond extract
1 cup dried cherries
1 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk together the flour, sugar, oats, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, safflower oil, orange and lemon zests, and both extracts. Add egg mixture to flour mixture and beat until combined. Carefully fold in cherries and sliced almonds.

Transfer dough to a floured surface and divide in half. Using floured hands (it's really sticky), shape each dough half into a 16-inch-long log. Brush off excess flour and transfer logs to prepared sheet, spaced 5 inches apart. Flatten each log into a 2-inch-wide strip. Bake, rotating sheet halfway through, until browned and set, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool for 15 minutes. Reduce oven to 250° and arrange 1 rack in top third of oven and 1 rack in bottom third.

Line a second baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer biscotti to a work surface. Using a serrated knife, cut each strip diagonally into ½-inch-thick slices. Arrange slices, cut side down, on baking sheets.

Bake biscotti, rotating baking sheets halfway through, until crisp, about 40 minutes. Transfer baking sheets to racks and let cool.

Makes about 4 dozen.

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