These hard Italian cookies called Biscotti were traditionally made with hazelnuts and aniseed but today are flavored with a wide variety of nuts, dried fruits, chocolate and lemon or orange rind. They are hard and crunchy because they are twice-cooked (‘bis’ is Italian for twice and ‘cotti’ for cooked). This makes them ideal for dipping into dessert wine or coffee, especially espresso. Recipes for Biscotti date back as far as the 13th century in Italy. Since the flavor of these twice-baked Italian cookies deepens over time, you can make them in advance and store them for a few weeks in cookies tins in a cool and dry place.
The Biscotti are oblong-shaped almond cookies or biscuits, made dry and crunchy through cutting the loaf of dough while still hot and fresh from baking in the oven. They are also known widely by the name Cantuccini.
For this recipe, I wanted to add a festive twist and substituted the usual spices with a Gingerbread Spice Mix (Lebkuchengewürzmischung). These Biscotti smell wonderful while baking and are the perfect treat at this time of year as they are not overly sweet and do not contain a lot of butter. They are studded with delicious and healthy almonds and have a delicate Christmassy flavor that pairs oh so well with an afternoon hot beverage of your choice.
Recipe for the Gingerbread Biscottis
Ingredients for the Cookies
- 200 grams (7 ounces) whole almonds but do feel free to use hazelnuts if you prefer or other nuts
- 250 grams ( 8.8 ounces/2 cups) plain/AP flour, plus extra for dusting
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 200 grams (7 ounces) super fine white baking sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp of Gingerbread Spice Mix (Lebkuchengewürzmischung)*
- 1 vanilla pod, seeds only
- 1 tbsp Amaretto
- 25 grams (0.8 ounce/2 tbsp) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 eggs (L), free range or organic
Preparation of the Cookies
- If you prefer to have the skins off the almonds, place the almonds in a pot of boiling water, boil for about one minute, carefully pour them through a sieve, place them on a kitchen towel and squeeze the almonds out of their skins. As a matter of personal preference, I always leave the skins on the almonds when baking Biscottis.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar, Gingerbread Spice Mix and vanilla seeds until well combined.
- Transfer the dry ingredients to the bowl of your mixer and add the Amaretto, butter and eggs then beat the wet ingredients into the flour mixture until the mixture is well combined and comes together as a dough.
- Add the whole almonds and combine well. Divide the dough into four equal parts.
- Wrap each dough piece in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for abut thirty minutes and up to a day. If you leave the dough in the refrigerator for a longer period of time, the spices will definitely loose some of their “punch”.
- Dust your work surface with the remaining flour. Take the first batch of dough out of the refrigerator and using the palms of your hands, roll the Biscotti dough into a cylinder shape on the dusted surface. Flatten the dough a little to form an oval cylinder if you wish. Repeat with the three remaining parts of the dough.
- Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (unbleached if possible or use Silpat baking mats).
- Transfer two logs of the dough to a baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes, or until the logs have spread and doubled in size. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool a bit.Repeat with the remaining two logs of dough.
- When the logs have cooled but are still warm, slice each about 1cm (½ inches) thick, you should cut on the diagonal, using a very sharp knife.
- Place each Biscotti slice onto a baking sheet or onto cooling racks that you place onto the baking sheets thereby allowing for the hot air to circulate around each Biscotti cookie slice and return the baking sheets to the oven for a further 10 to 15 minutes, or until crisp, golden-brown and cooked through.
- Transfer to cooling racks and cool completely.
- When the Biscottis have completely cooled down, place them in cookie tins, they keep well for quite some time and they make superb gifts! And since they are the perfect crunchy companion to a cup of coffee, why not give some Biscottti together with a bag of your very favorite (maybe locally roasted) coffee beans as a gift this year
If you cannot find Gingerbread Spice Mix (Lebkuchengewürzmischung) in you stores or online, you can prepare it using the following recipe:
Ingredients for the Gingerbread Spice Mix
- 2 tbsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp ground allspice
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp ground anise seed
- 1/2 tsp ground star anise
Preparation of the Spice Mix
- Sift the ground spices through a fine sieve to remove any lumps.
- Mix them together thoroughly and place in an airtight container to store.
NOTE: you will end up with about 3 1/3 tbsp Gingerbread Spice Mix,so you can use it also for baking delicious Gingerbread!
Gingerbread Spice Mix (Lebkuchengewürzmischung) is called for in many German recipes. Similar to some spice mixes in the US, like Apple Pie Spice or Pumpkin Pie Spice, the Gingerbread Spice Mix is a combination of baking spices that are very familiar. Cinnamon, cloves, allspice and nutmeg, but also coriander and cardamom, which are not common in American spice mixes. This mix of spices is what makes many baked treats found in Germany at Christmastime so memorable.
Have a wonderful Advent with lots of wonderful Christmas cookies! - Eine schöne Adventszeit mit vielen wunderbaren Weihnachtskeksen!