For many of us, the daily monotony of our working lives can often be tolerated because we choose to indulge in re-living pleasant memories of past travels. Of course, there are times when our love of adventure and the need for joyful experience cannot be fulfilled and we must, begrudgingly, well, stay home. During these periods many of us will rely on those precious memories of our visits to those far flung places to remind ourselves of the excitement and sense of adventure we felt. We may evoke memories of the heady aromas of exotic souks in Morocco, or recall the sound of the waves as they formed on white sandy beaches along the coast of Western Australia, and perhaps we remember the sensation of a cool breeze on our hot skin as it danced over the Mediterranean Sea and swirled around the island of Salina.
For me, when life feels a little hum drum, I heed the advice from my wise mum and I “close my eyes and think of Sicily”. We all have those special places that we return to again and again, those magical lands that have captured our hearts. When we can’t return in person, at least we can daydream of all those wonderful destinations and the delicious local food. I’m lucky enough to visit Sicily often, however, when I can’t be there I simply close my eyes and imagine all of those intoxicating tastes and aromas: the sweet smell of citrus trees, the earthiness of the Sicilian almond, the creaminess of those pistachios from Bronte, and most of all the richness of the decadent chocolate from the eastern side of the island which is laden with exotic ingredients such as ginger, chilli, citrus fruits and coffee.
As a tribute to my favourite flavours of Sicily I have made a delicious biscotti recipe laced with orange zest, toasted almonds, pistachios and vanilla and dipped in chocolate and nuts. For those of you who enjoyed my last Fig and Pistachio Biscotti recipe, this new combination of flavours will show you how easy it is to modify a simple biscuit batter with a myriad of flavours to suit your taste.
Ingredients – makes approx. 20 biscotti
- 1 cup whole almonds
- ¼ cup pistachios
- 2 cups + 1 Tablespoon (258g) all-purpose plain flour
- 1 cup (200g) loosely packed brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Zest of 1 orange
- 1-2 tablespoons orange juice
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup (60g) unsalted butter, cold and cubed
- 3 large eggs
- 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- egg wash:1 large egg beaten with 1 Tablespoon (15ml) milk
- 200g semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
Preheat oven to 150°C (300°F). Line two large baking sheets with baking paper. Spread almonds on one sheet (keep the other one set aside) and toast for 10 minutes, stirring once during that time. Remove toasted almonds from the oven and turn the oven up to 180°C (350°F). Wipe off the one baking sheet so you can use it again for the biscotti.
Pulse the toasted almonds and pistachios (you can use only almonds if you prefer, simply omit the pistachios and add an extra ¼ cup of almonds) in a food processor or blender until very coarsely chopped. Set 1 cup of chopped nuts aside. Pulse the remaining chopped nuts until they are a little more fine. These will be what you sprinkle on top of the chocolate. Set them aside too.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk flour, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, orange zest, and salt together. Using fingers, pinch in the butter until the mixture is crumbly. Gently toss in the 1 cup of coarsely chopped nuts. Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, oil, orange juice, and vanilla together. Pour into the flour/butter mixture and gently mix with a large wooden spoon or rubber spatula until everything is just barely moistened.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and with floured hands, knead lightly until the dough is soft and slightly sticky, about 8-10 times. If it’s uncontrollably sticky, knead 1-2 more Tablespoon(s) of flour into the dough. With floured hands, divide the dough in two and place each half onto a baking sheet. Shape each half into an 8-9 inch long roll, patting down until each is about 1/2 inch thick. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the top and sides of each biscotti slab with egg wash.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the top and sides of the biscotti slabs are lightly browned. Remove from the oven, but do not turn off the heat. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Once the slabs are cool enough to handle, using a sharp bread knife, cut each into 1 inch thick slices. Take your time cutting the slices as the slab is quite delicate and can crumble easily at this stage. I prefer to hold the slab at the sides with one hand pushing inwards as I cut. Set slices cut sides upright, ¼ inch apart, on the baking sheets. Return to the oven to continue baking for 9 minutes. Turn biscotti over and bake other side for 9 minutes. The cookies will be slightly soft in the centres with harder edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet. Then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before dipping in chocolate. As the biscotti cools, it becomes crunchy. Save the baking sheets for the next step.
Melt the chocolate in a medium bowl in the microwave (or use a double boiler). The key to melting chocolate in the microwave is to do it in small bursts and stir frequently. Chocolate seizes so fast, so easily. Melt in 15 second increments, stirring vigorously with a spoon after each increment, until completely melted and smooth. Dip one side of each biscotti cookie in the melted chocolate and immediately sprinkle with the remaining toasted almond crumbs. I do this over the sink to avoid a mess! Place the dipped biscotti back onto the baking sheets and allow chocolate to set in the refrigerator or at room temperature, about 30-45 minutes. Or, like me, make an espresso immediately and eat one or two biscotti immediately while dripping chocolate everywhere!
To keep your biscotti fresh and crispy, store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks. Ha! Two weeks….mine usually get devoured within four days.