This year, in a burst of delusional optimism, I determined to get ahead of my holiday baking by making one batch of cookie dough each night and freezing it. My Pollyannish enthusiasm lasted about four glorious days, on one of which I actually made two batches of dough. Then family commitments, work-related travel, and sheer weariness did my best intentions in. To date I have completed two batches of almond biscotti, one batch each of shortbread and chocolate-ginger cookies, about three pounds of peppermint bark, and a large mess of dog biscuits (yes, even the dogs get cookies around here).
In other words, I am behind the eight ball. With six days till Christmas, and family, neighbors, co-workers, and assorted critical service providers–acupuncturist, hairdresser, mailman–to gift with goodies, I need a lot of dough.
So, instead of baking, I’m sitting here with a glass of wine and writing bad puns and recipes.
The above-mentioned biscotti is a favorite, and, while the recipe is not too difficult, the result is impressive. In fact, these cookies are better than most of the biscotti you can get in a bakery (with the exception of Scialo Bros. on Providence’s Federal Hill). And you made them yourself. I got the recipe from the wonderful cookbook We Called It Macaroni by Nancy Verde Barr, Julia Child’s executive chef. Barr grew up in Providence, RI and writes about Italian-American traditions and food, which are of course tightly intertwined. For somebody like me, who reads cookbooks like novels and is fascinated by family food traditions, the book is the best of all possible worlds. The biscotti could, quite possibly, be even better.
Biscotti di Mandorle
3/4 pound whole almonds
3/4 cup sugar (I use organic cane sugar, which is light caramel in color)
2 cups unbleached white flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup light brown sugar
3 tablespoons safflower oil
3-4 large eggs
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Weigh your almonds and scoop out 3/4 cup. Spread the rest on a baking sheet an toast in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until lightly browned and fragrant. Set aside to cool.
Put the reserved 3/4 cup of almonds and 1/4 sugar in a food processor fitted with the metal blade and process until fine, like flour. Chop the toasted almonds coarsely, into about thirds.
Sift the flour, remaining sugar, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Add the chopped nuts and gently combine. Add the brown sugar and reserved nut sugar and combine.
Add the oil and continue to gently mix the ingredients. Beat 3 eggs and add all but about a tablespoon to the batter. Reserve the tablespoon of egg to brush on top of the cookies before baking. Mix in the eggs to form a homogeneous but not sticky dough. If the dough is too dry, beat the fourth egg and add part or all of it to achieve the right texture.
On a lightly floured surface, turn out the dough and knead a few times until it comes together. Divide the dough into two pieces and roll each on the floured surface under your palms to form a log about 12 inches long. Place the logs at least four inches apart on a lined baking sheet (I use a Silpat mat with great success, or you could use parchment). Form each log into a shape about 1 inch high and 3 inches wide. Brush the top with the reserved egg. Bake for about 35 minutes, checking to be sure the bottom does not burn.
Remove the pan from the oven and turn the temperature down to 300 degrees. With a sharp (not serrated) knife, cut the logs crosswise at an angle, into slices about 3/4 inch wide. Each slice should be roughly 3 inches long. Separate the slices a bit and return the baking sheet to the oven. Bake another 15-20 minutes, until the cookies are dry. Cool on the pan and store in a tightly sealed cookie tin.
Makes about 24 cookies.
This is my own recipe and, while beyond easy, it seems to delight and impress the recipient. It produces about 40 2-3 inch square pieces of bark. This makes a nice addition to a cookie box, or you can package some bark in cellophane bags tied with a ribbon. You can pretend you slaved over it.
2 pounds good-quality semisweet chocolate (I used Valrhona)
1 pound white chocolate
12 candy canes, crushed to smithereens
Line two baking sheets the approximate width of your freezer shelves with parchment paper and set aside.
In a large uncovered bowl, melt the semisweet chocolate in the microwave. Heat one minute at a time, stirring in between, just until melted (about 3 minutes total). Stir until smooth. Spread half of the chocolate onto each of the two baking sheets and smooth in an even layer about 1/4 inch thick. Pop in the freezer to set up.
In another bowl, melt the white chocolate just until melted. Watch carefully, as white chocolate burns easily. It may take less time to melt than the semisweet chocolate. Stir until smooth and add about 2/3 of the crushed candy canes. Stir to combine. Set aside.
When the semisweet chocolate sheets are completely set, remove them from the freezer and spread the white chocolate evenly over the top. Sprinkle with the remaining crushed candy canes and press lightly to be sure the candy canes adhere to the chocolate. Return the baking sheets to the freezer until completely set. Break or cut the bark into pieces.