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Monday, October 1, 2012

Gingerbread Biscotti and a Nonconversation

 Gingerbread biscotti with molasses on my Mother's plate

Gingerbread Biscotti and a Nonconversation
by Victoria Challancin

The Italian word "biscotti" is double fun.  It is both the generic term for cookies (biscotto is the singular form), or biscuits as they are known in much of the world, and an amalgam of Latin parts for twice-cooked, bis being "twice" and cotti meaning "cooked."  Why twice-cooked?  Because biscotti are baked once as a flattish log of dough, sliced, and then cooked again as individual cookies.

Historically speaking, biscotti are often called biscotti de Prato, after the Italian city of Prato, where they are often said to have originated.  Being twice-baked, the cookies are dry, highly mold-resistant,  and can be stored, even without preservatives, for long periods of time.  In fact, Pliny the Elder, who died in 79 A.D., is said to have boasted that they would be edible for centuries!  As an almost nonperishable food, biscotti, hard tack, and other dried breads were particularly useful for long journeys and voyages, and in times of war, and hence were a staple food of the Roman Legion.

The first documented recipe for biscotti, which includes pine nuts and unskinned almonds,  comes from a centuries-old manuscript, where the cookies are described as being from Genoa.  Today in Italy, biscotti are called both biscotti di Prato and also cantuccini, especially in Tuscany.  Pine nuts and almonds are still commonly used, but countless modern variations exist, like the one I used here. 

A plate of biscotti

Cook's Notes:  Although it is hard to imagine improving these utterly delicious biscotti, I might just add a bit of candied ginger the next time I make them.  And I certainly will make them again and again.  They may, in fact, replace my standard Christmas staple of red and green biscotti full of dried cranberries and pistachios!  This recipe comes from the fantastic Joy of Baking blog which, if you click the link, provides weight measurements as well as American-style cups.  Also, I felt like a glaze might be gilding the lily, so I didn't use it.  I will, however, include it should you decide that gilding is in order.  I also just realized that I previously posted a recipe I made last Christmas for Ginger Biscotti with Candied Ginger, which is oddly out of alphabetical order!  And while it was good, I think this recipe is even better.

A Recipe:  Gingerbread Biscotti
(Recipe from

3/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped (can also use pecans or walnuts)
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs
1/4 cup unsulphured molasses
2 tablespoons light olive oil (or corn oil)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup dark or golden raisins

Glaze:  (optional)
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 to 3 tablespoons milk or light cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees CP and place the oven rack in the center of the oven.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place hazelnuts on a baking sheet and bake for approximately 15 minutes or until brown and fragrant and the skins are starting to peel.  Remove from the oven, place the warm hazelnuts in a clean dish towel, roll it up, and let the nuts "steam" for about five minutes.  Then briskly rub the nuts, while still in the towel, to remove most of their skins.  Set aside to let the nuts cool and then coarsely chop.  (Note:  to toast pecans, walnuts, or almonds, bake for about 8 to 10 minutes or until brown and fragrant.)

In a food processor, process 1/2 cup of the rolled oats until finely ground.

In the bowl of an electric mixer combine the 1/2 cup of finely ground oats, the remaining 1/2 cup of rolled oats, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and spices.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, molasses, oil, and vanilla extract.  With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients, and beat until combined.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Mix in the chopped hazelnuts and raisins and beat until just incorporated.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and divide the dough in half.  Take each half of dough and form it into a log, about 12 inches long and 2 inches wide.  Transfer the logs to the prepared baking sheet, spacing about 3 inches apart.  Bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown and firm to the touch.  Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C).  Transfer the logs to a cutting board and cut into 3/4-inch slices, on the diagonal.  Place the biscotti, cut side down, on the baking sheet.  Bake for about 6 to 8 minutes, turn slices over, and bake for another 6 to 8 minutes or until dry and firm.  Remove from oven and let cool.  Can be stored in an airtight container for several weeks.

(optional)  In a small bowl stir together the sugar, vanilla extract, and enough milk or cream to make a smooth, thick, yet pourable glaze.  Use a small spoon to drizzle several thin lines of the glaze over each biscotti.  Let the biscotti sit at room temperature until the glaze has completely dried.

 An even bigger plate of biscotti

A Nonconversation
You might think that a noncoversation isn't worth reporting, but in fact, some of my most delightful nonconversations have been linguistic highlights of various travels.  In India, for example, where I used travel in the second class women's carriages, I have had countless nonconversations, with no common languages involved, where communication was still happily achieved, almost effortlessly.  Once, outside of Hyderabad, I was waiting near an incense factory for some form of transportation to snag for a ride back into town, when a beautiful woman sporting a fascinating nose ring of intricate design and wearing a riot of colors, stood with me and chatted for a long while.  With no common language.  The conversation went something like this:

Blah blah blah blah blah blah?

My name is Vicki?  What is yours?

Blah blah blah blah. [Note:  you might think that after I had asked Chandra, who worked a few hours a week for me in Bahrain where I lived, to teach me some common Hindi expressions before I left for a couple months in the south of India, that I could communicate at least a little.  He dutifully did, of course, and I arrived feeling confident that I could at least meet and greet people with a few courtesies.  And I certainly could, in the southern state of Kerala, that is. You see, Chandra taught me some niceties in his own language, Malayalam, the language of his home.  But I digress.  Clearly Malayalam wasn't going to work here].

Our conversation continued and covered where I was from, if I was married, what I was doing in Hyderabad, where I was going, and what I was going to do with my recent purchase of incense.  For my part, I learned her name, how many kids she had, what village she lived in, and that conversation is meant to be shared, even when you don't speak the same language.

 Oaxacan tamales wrapped and steamed in banana leaves

Here in Mexico, I occasionally continue my practice of nonconversations.  Meeting my best friend in the Saturday Organic Market in San Miguel this week, I chose a Oaxacan-style chicken tamal bathed in a rich, dark mole sauce for my breakfast.  The woman selling it was from the southern state of Oaxaca, home of the best regional food in all of Mexico and which is populated by a number of indigenous peoples who speak a variety of languages of which Spanish is not always one.  In perfectly good Spanish, being the friendly sort, I launched into a conversation with her.  Or tried to.

Me:  (in Spanish) I am so happy to see you selling Oaxacan tamales here.  I love them.  In fact, I once attended a food festival in Oaxaca where I took a class to learn how to make them!

My new nonfriend:  (pointing at a container full of tamales)  Para llevar.  (literally "to go")

Me:  (not giving up, but clearly hoping to have a nonconversation conversation since my Spanish didn't seem to be working)  Did you make these? (again in Spanish, or so I thought)  What is the filling?  What kind of sauce do you use?

My new nonfriend:  (pointing to an empty cup wrapped in aluminum foil)  Propina.  ("tip")

Clearly this was a nonconversation that at least I understood perfectly.

 My partner in the nonconversation with her cup for tips (note the loving kids in the background)

 The glorious tamal, drizzled with delicious mole sauce, proving that really, no words were necessary

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Like life, recipes are meant to be shared, but please ask permission before using text or photos.  Thanks! 


Joan Nova said...

I had a fun time with this post. First, biscotti is my favorite sweet treat but I've never seen gingerbread ones. Must smell and taste delicious. Seems perfect for the upcoming holidays.

And, about that non-conversation with the woman from Oaxaca, I was laughing out loud. Glad you shared it!

Victoria at Flavors of the Sun said...

This truly is a good biscotti, Joan. It won't disappoint. Neither will nonconversations with local people when you come to visit. I promise! Our paths will cross one day not just in cyberspace. said...

Wow Victoria it is an unusual recipe because you have used ginger and oats, and that is also the reason I like it. I have had many non conversations while travelling. Hands and faces can express a lot without proper words.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Hehe I can relate, I think we've all had similar non conversations! :D I've never made biscotti but I love it dipped in a cup of tea :)

Eha said...

Hmm: but rarely do I go back to my roots at Christmas and make 'piparkoogid': spice or ginger cookies, at Yuletide. They are brown and flat and pressed out in various shapes. Do smell heavenly and no two people make them alike! Well, this is such an interesting recipe, all things fair and equal may substitute them for my 'inherited' ones :) ! Non-conversations - yes, have had heaps, but usually 'talking' with hands, knees and facial expressions, so to speak :D !

Victoria at Flavors of the Sun said...

Eha, are piparkoogid anything like springerle? In looks, I mean. Must Google these.

Eha said...

No, Victoria! Have to confess I had to google springerle [knew the name, but :) !] I think you might enjoy the 'piparkoogid' recipe tho'! Go > a blog called 'Nami-Nami', written by a rather popular Estonian lass called Pille - lovely, lovely spicy recipe there :) ! I googled 'piparkoogid' first to get straight > recipe. Meanwhile I am filing your biscotti one - the double cooking quite intrigues me!!

Hotly Spiced said...

I love the look of your biscotti and with the ginger in it you're making me think that it must be time to start the Christmas baking. I bet it smelled heavenly as it was baking. And those tamales look great in the banana leaves - what a great way to cook xx

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

The gingerbread biscotti sound great without gilding. I have had many a non conversation when gave me a smile with your examples.

Victoria at Flavors of the Sun said...

Eha, I'll check it out right away. I love using spices in baking. Lots of spices :-)

Nancy said...

I truly enjoy your writing. This is another great post and recipe. Now I know what biscotti means.

I've been on both sides of the nonconversation. It's always fun to imagine what was actually said:)

Minnie(@thelady8home) said...

Loved it. They look so tempting. :-D Loved the combination you used.