This past weekend, Peter and I bought our Christmas tree and finished decorating our house for the holiday season. I also started my Christmas cookie baking. Every year, I send homemade cookies to a few family members and friends. I started this tradition several years ago and it’s my favorite holiday activity during the Christmas season. I start planning and preparing in November–I print out my list of cookie recipients, buy cookie tins and shipping boxes, stock up on ingredients, and make my (ambitious) list of cookie recipes I want to bake. I like to bake different cookies every year to keep my gift tins varied. This year, my gift tins are going to include these cranberry pistachio biscotti.
Biscotti are typically associated with the region of Toscana, but the origins of this cookie date back to ancient Rome, where they were an ideal food for the soldiers of the Roman Legion to bring on long journeys. The word biscotti means twice (“bis”) cooked (“cotti”), and refers to the baking process of cooking the dough first in a solid loaf shape, and then cutting the cooled loaf into long, angled slices and baking them again until they are golden brown and crisp. This double baking process draws out the moisture from the dough, giving biscotti their characteristic dry, crunchy texture and long shelf life.
Cranberries and pistachios are a classic holiday combination for biscotti, although not exactly traditional for these Italian treats. Typically, biscotti are studded with coarsely chopped unsalted almonds, but the beauty of this crunchy cookie is that the dough is a blank canvas for a variety of flavors and textures, so have fun experimenting! Cranberry pistachio biscotti are the perfect cookie to send off in a package because they’re sturdy and will arrive looking just as pretty as they did when they first came out of the oven. It’s also a great cookie to make if you are baking big batches–one recipe will yield about three dozen biscotti. Their long, slender shape makes them the perfect dunking cookie, whether it’s into a glass of cold milk, a steaming cup of caffé latte, or the traditional vin santo, a Tuscan dessert wine.
Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Best-Ever Christmas Cookies by Cook’s Illustrated
Makes approximately 36 cookies
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar, divided
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons orange juice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs, at room temperature
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup shelled raw pistachios, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped
Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set them aside.
In a medium size bowl, whisk together the flour, ½ cup sugar, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
Place the dried cranberries and orange juice in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave them for 45 seconds, or until very warm, making sure not to burn or boil the mixture. Set it aside to cool completely. Note: If you do not have a microwave, place the cranberries and orange juice in a small sauce pot and heat the ingredients over medium-low heat until warm. Set aside to cool completely.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and remaining ½ cup sugar over medium speed until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs one at a time, incorporating them completely into the mixture after each addition. Add in the vanilla extract and mix to incorporate. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add in the flour mixture, mixing it until just incorporated. Add in the cranberry mixture and pistachios and mix until the ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the dough.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured board (the dough will be sticky), and divide it evenly in half. Transfer the halves to one of the baking sheets and form each portion into a loaf measuring roughly 12 inches long and 2 inches wide. Keep the loaves of dough about 3 inches apart on the baking sheet. Bake the loaves for 30-35 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through baking, until the loaves are light golden and slightly cracked on top. Remove the loaves from the oven and let them cool on the baking sheet for 15-20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°.
Transfer the cooled loaves to a cutting board and using a serrated knife, cut both loaves diagonally into 2-inch thick slices.
Note: If the log breaks easily when you are cutting the slices, let it cool a while longer.
Space the slices evenly on freshly-lined baking sheets and bake the biscotti for 15-20 minutes until light golden, flipping the slices halfway through baking. Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack and cool completely before serving.
Storage: Biscotti will keep for 2-3 weeks in a tightly sealed container.