Happy National Biscotti Day! This year, I am finally jumping on the food holiday bandwagon. In all the years I have been reading food blogs, I’ve always enjoyed reading posts celebrating a food holiday, so I figured I would get in on the fun too! To my delight, there are many Italian-themed food holidays as well as those that can easily be adapted to Italian recipes, and I’ve penciled them all into my editorial calendar to share with you throughout the year. I can’t think of a better food holiday to kick off this new tradition on Flavia’s Flavors than National Biscotti Day. Who doesn’t love biscotti with their stout, tapered shape, and crunchy bite? They are unmistakably Italian. I decided to use this occasion to indulge my love of savory baking and made these Asiago cheese and almond biscotti from one of my favorite cookbooks, Ciao Biscotti by my food blogging friend, Domenica Marchetti.
The word biscotti is derived from the Latin biscotus and means twice (bis) baked (cotti). In Italian, the word biscotti is also a generic term for cookies of all types, so it’s no wonder there is sometimes confusion with this word among non-Italian speakers. The twice-baked variety of this cookie dates back to ancient Rome, where the biscotus was a common food eaten by soldiers in the Roman Legion. Baking the dough twice ensured that all of the moisture was cooked out all of the dough, giving the unleavened cookies a long shelf-life. After the collapse of the Roman empire, the biscotus disappeared until the Renaissance when culinary development began to flourish. The 14th century saw the reappearance of biscotti in the city of Prato in Toscana, and were made with almonds which grew plentifully in hillsides of the area. As with the soldiers of the Roman Legion, biscotti quickly became a favorite provision of sailors, including Christopher Columbus. Fast forward to 1858 to the bakery of Antonio Mattei in Prato where he perfected his own recipe for almond biscotti based on a centuries-old recipe. Antonio’s biscotti became the classic treat more commonly known today as biscotti di Prato or cantucci di Prato. The word cantucci and its diminutive form, cantuccini simply refer to the end pieces cut from a loaf of biscotti dough, which are smaller than the pieces cut from the middle. To this day, Biscottificio Antonio Mattei continues to make Antonio’s original recipe packaged in their signature cobalt blue paper bag tied with blue string.
Making biscotti takes some time, but it’s an easy and fun baking project. Making the dough follows the same method as that of fresh pasta: dry ingredients are combined, after which the wet ingredients are incorporated until a dough forms. This can be done on a large wooden board, but the dough comes together just as successfully in a stand mixer, my preferred method. Shaping the dough can be tricky for anyone new to making biscotti, but with some practice and attention to detail, it’s a quick technique to master. Biscotti dough can be sticky which sometimes makes it difficult to handle, so moistening your hands lightly with water is the secret to shaping the dough into logs before baking. Depending on the recipe or your personal preference, the logs of dough can be shaped wider for larger biscotti, or narrower for smaller ones.
Knowing what to look for when baking biscotti is important in turning out a successful batch. Most biscotti recipes will instruct you to bake the logs of dough at a higher temperature than when you bake the sliced dough. The first bake cooks the dough completely through and lightly browns the exterior. You will know they are fully cooked when there are cracks on the surface of the dough and it springs back when pressed. The second bake at a lower oven temperature dries out the biscotti without browning them too much. It’s during the second bake that biscotti develop their signature crunch and crumbly texture. As the biscotti cool, they become even crunchier.
Most people are familiar with sweet biscotti studded with ingredients like chocolate chips, dried fruits, and aromatic seeds and spices. Savory biscotti are not as common but no less delicious. In this recipe, sharp Asiago cheese from the Veneto region is combined with black pepper and sliced almonds to make biscotti that are fragrant, buttery, and crisp, and are a perfect savory nibble with a glass of chilled Prosecco or a refreshing Aperol Spritz.Print
Adapted from Ciao Biscotti by Domenica Marchetti
- 2 cups (287 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
- 1 cup (100 grams) grated Asiago cheese
- ½ cup (56 grams) sliced almonds
- 6 Tablespoons (80 grams) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch (12-mm) pieces, at cool room temperature
- 2 large eggs, well-beaten
- 2-4 Tablespoons whole milk
- Heat the oven to 350℉ (180℃). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set it aside.
- In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper. Mix briefly on low speed.
- Add in the Asiago cheese and almonds and mix briefly on low speed to incorporate them throughout the flour.
- Add in the pieces of butter and mix on medium-low speed until the mixture looks crumbly.
- Place 1 Tablespoon of the beaten eggs into a small bowl and set aside.
- Combine the remaining beaten eggs with 2 Tablespoons of milk and pour the mixture into the work bowl. Mix on medium speed until the dough comes together. Note: If there are still dry ingredients that have not incorporated into the dough, add in 1-2 more Tablespoons of milk.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and shape the dough into a disk.
- Cut the disk of dough evenly in half and shape each half into a rough oval shape.
- Transfer each dough oval to the parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Moisten your hands lightly with water and use your fingers to stretch and shape each dough oval into a log measuring 2 ½ inches (6 cm) wide and 12 inches (30 cm) long.
- Press down on each log to flatten the tops evenly.
- Brush the tops of each dough log with the reserved 1 Tablespoon of beaten egg.
- Bake the logs for 25-30 minutes, or until they are lightly browned and cracked on top. The dough should spring back when you press on it lightly.
- Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack for 5 minutes.
- Carefully transfer the logs off of the baking sheet and onto the cooling rack and let the logs cool for 20 minutes.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 300℉ (150℃).
- Transfer the cooled logs to a cutting board and use a serrated or Santoku knife to cut the logs on the diagonal into ½-inch (13 mm) slices.
- Place the slices cut side up on the parchment-lined baking sheet (use a second baking sheet if necessary) and bake for 20 minutes.
- Turn the slices over and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes, or until they are crisp and light golden.
- Transfer the biscotti to a cooling rack to cool completely.
Storage: Store the biscotti in a tightly sealed container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.