Today marks the seventh day of December and for today´s Virtual Advent Calendar, I chose a wonderful recipe for Gingerbread Biscotti as well as a bit of a historical background about those lovely Nutcrackers. Although nutcrackers in various shapes and sizes have been around for thousands of years, the nutcracker soldier known the world over – and immortalized by Tchaikovsky – is of German origin, as is the story on which the popular ballet is based.
The traditional toy soldier nutcracker comes from the Ore Mountains (or Erzgebirge in German) in the State of Saxony along the Czech-German border. Villages here developed alongside a booming mining industry after mineral resources were discovered in the mid-12th century. The miners in these villages would carve and whittle in their spare time, making toys and small items which they sold to peddlers. After the mining industry declined in the 17th century, these inventive craftsmen perfected their handicraft in order to earn their livelihoods.
One classic nutcracker is still made today after the 1870s original by Wilhelm Friedrich Füchtner. Known as the “father of the nutcracker,” Füchtner launched the first commercial production of these wooden figures, nevertheless, the creation of one nutcracker requires more than 100 steps, and it is assembled from about 60 individual pieces, before the finishing touches – fur, leather, and cords – are added.
Traditionally forms for the nutcrackers were figures of authority: soldiers, kings, policemen, and foresters. And of course, some nutcrackers also resemble miners, who are depicted with a crossed hammer and chisel on their hats.
Over the years, the nutcracker also took on new forms of identity such as German Chancellors and American Presidents as well as St. Nicholas and a variety of occupations became popular.
The ballet The Nutcracker is based on the story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" (Der Nussknacker und der Mauskönig), which was written by German author Ernst Theodor William Hoffmann (1776-1822) and published in 1816. This dark fairytale follows a young girl’s fantasy in a world of fairies and princes, where toy soldiers battle an army of mice. And in 1891-92, Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed the music for the ballet The Nutcracker.
Gingerbread Biscotti - Lebkuchen Biscotti
Ingredients for the Cookies
- 200 grams (7 ounces) whole almonds (feel free to use hazelnuts if you prefer)
- 250 grams ( 8.8 ounces/2 cups) plain/AP flour, plus extra for dusting
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 200 grams (7 ounces) super fine baking sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp of Gingerbread Spice Mix*
- a pinch of fine sea salt
- 1 vanilla pod, seeds only, you can substiute 1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla sugar
- 1 tbsp Amaretto
- 25 grams (0.8 ounce/2 tbsp) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 eggs (L), free range or organic
- 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, salt and vanilla 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 about thirty minutes and up to a day.
- Dust your work surface with some 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° C (350° F).
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (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 or a serrated 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.
- 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 Biscotti have completely cooled, place them in cookie tins with well fitting lids. If you store the cookie tins in a cool and dry place, they will keep well for a few weeks.
* If you cannot find Gingerbread Spice Mix in your store or online, you can prepare it using the following recipe:
Ingredients for the Gingerbread Spice Mix
2 tbsp ground Ceylon 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 or other recipes that call for Gingerbread spices.
Please make sure to drop by again tomorrow when we will open our eighth special surprise in my Virtual Advent Calendar! Make sure to put the kettle on...