Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti

I can't think of a better antidote to holiday stress than baking. It's hard for worries to intrude when you're focused on measuring flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and trying to remember where you hid the vanilla. My angst-abatement project earlier this week was to turn out some goodies that might travel 3,000 miles and still be tasty when the recipient--my husband's brother Jez and his family in Atlanta--opened presents on Christmas Day.

As I've discovered, not all cookies are created equal, especially when it comes to long-distance shipping.  An example is one of my favorites, rugelach, a traditional rolled crescent-shaped cookie made of cream cheese dough wrapped around a filling of jam, nuts and chocolate. I usually turn out a batch of these delectable little pastries for Hanukkah, which this year is already a distant memory. Rugelach are never quite as flaky and fresh as the day they're made and definitely do not improve with age, so clearly they're not a candidate for the mail. Biscotti, on the other hand, are hard, dry cookies that, if wrapped well in an air-tight container, seem like they might survive a trip to the moon, that is if a hungry astronaut didn't dig into them first!

A foolproof biscotti recipe that has already become a holiday staple at my house is one I first heard about a year ago on "The Leonard Lopate Show," a WNYC (New York) podcast I often listen to while cooking and baking. The recipe is a little unusual in that instead of butter, it calls for olive oil, though not a large amount. I believe the oil adds a subtle flavor note that blends well with the pistachios, cranberries and vanilla and almond extracts. I dipped or drizzled some of the cookies in melted white chocolate just to add a bit of holiday pizzazz, but other than this, the recipe sticks fairly close to the original. I suggest some other possible variations at the end, but I'm sure the options are limited only by your imagination. Happy stress-free baking!

Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti

1/4 cup mild extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups unsifted unbleached flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 1/2 cups unsalted shelled pistachios

Mixing in dried cranberries and pistachios

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a cookie sheet with nonstick baking spray or cover the bottom with parchment paper (I did the latter, spraying the paper with a bit of oil).

2.  In a large bowl, beat the olive oil and sugar together. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and eggs, beating until the mixture is completely blended.

3. In a small bowl, mix together the flour, salt and baking powder with a hand whisk. 

4. On low speed (or by hand), gradually add the flour mixture to the egg mixture.*

5. Carefully fold in the cranberries and pistachios.

6. Divide the dough in half and form into two logs. (The recipe suggests these will be 12 inches long by 2 inches wide. However, mine were about 15 by 3!) Wetting your hands in cool water before shaping makes the process much easier, as the dough does tend to stick otherwise.

Cutting biscotti on a slight diagonal 

7. Bake for about 30 minutes, turning the cookie sheet halfway through the process to make sure the cookies are evenly browning. 

8. Remove from the oven, cool for at least 15 minutes on the cookie sheet. Then, using a sharp knife, cut the cookies at a slight angle into slices that are about 3/4-inch thick.

9. Spread out the cookies on the cookie sheet and bake for about 15 minutes, flipping them midway through. Cookies should be slightly golden on the sides, but not overly brown. After removing from the oven, cool on a wire rack.
Biscotti cooling after second baking

*I did all the prep work for these cookies this by hand, but you could also use a hand or stand mixer. However, adding in the flour mixture should be done with care, making sure not to overwork the dough.

Optional: If dipping the cookies in white chocolate, melt about 6 to 8 ounces of white chocolate chips in a double boiler (or in a pan over another pan with a couple of inches of water in the bottom, as I did), stirring until melted. Add about a teaspoon of canola or other flavorless oil to thin out the chips a bit. Dip cookies into the melted mixture to get the half-dipped look, or drizzle liquid over the cookies in squiggly patterns. Place the cookies on a parchment-covered cookie tray or dish and refrigerate for about a half hour so that the white chocolate will harden.
Biscotto taking a white chocolate dip

More Options:

1. Instead of white chocolate, dip or drizzle in melted semi-sweet chocolate.

2. Substitute dried cherries and chopped, toasted hazelnuts for the cranberries and pistachios. Walnuts and mini chocolate chips would be another winning combination, I think.

3. Add other dried fruit, such as raisins, currants or chopped dried apricots, drop the almond flavoring and add a tablespoon of orange juice and a teaspoon of orange zest.

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