Biscotti are the perfect homemade Christmas gift as they keep well for a couple of weeks thanks to their being twice baked. This means you can make them a little ahead of time or send them off in the post without fear of them going stale. This is especially good at Christmas when people are more likely to be inundated with food, most of which has to be eaten straight away and so can run the risk of it being overlooked. Once the turkey has gone and the mince pies gobbled up, the little packet of biscotti will still be there to savour and munch on with a well earned cup of tea/coffee. That being said don’t let this fool you into thinking biscotti are dry and dull, they are anything but. Biscotti are crisp with a light open texture and are ideal for dunking into a hot drink or a glass of sweet dessert wine. They are often packed full of chunks of almonds, chocolate chips, candied peel or dried fruits meaning they are anything but boring.
When I decided to make biscotti this year I wanted one that would incorporate a little festive flavouring and this recipe hit just the right note. It’s studded with chunks of almonds, raisins, chewy dried blueberries and creamy pistachios. The dough includes hints of orange and mixed spice which give it a very warming flavour and aroma. The colour of the fruit and nuts and the mix of chewy fruits and nuggets of almond all encased in a crisp and crunchy biscotti make for one tasty biscuit.
I used lightly salted pistachios in my biscotti, mainly because I couldn’t find unsalted ones, and this resulted in a faint salty note every time I bite into one, which may sound odd and unpleasant in a sweet biscuit, but it actually worked really well against the sweet chewy fruits.
Traditional Italian biscotti (like this one) do not contain any butter, making them extra crisp, but if you prefer your biscotti with a slightly softer bite there are plenty of American style biscotti recipes around that do contain butter.
Once baked, sliced and baked again, my biscotti were packed into little cellophane bags and given little labels. I think this makes them look just as good as anything you can buy from shops or delis and ideal gifts for those hard-to-buy-for friends. Plus you can also change the add-ins to whatever suits the recipient, meaning they are bound to please.
Spiced Christmas Biscotti with Raisins, Dried Blueberries, Almonds & Pistachios
(Recipe adapted from BBC Good Food Magazine, 2008)
350g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp mixed spice
250g caster sugar
Zest of 1 orange
50g dried blueberries
50g blanched almonds
50g shelled lightly salted pistachios (80g shell on)
Preheat the oven to 180C and line a large baking tray with greaseproof paper or a silicone sheet.
Put the flour, baking powder, mixed spice and sugar in a large bowl and stir together to mix.
Chop the almonds in half and lightly beat the eggs until broken. Add to the dry mix along with the zest of the orange, fruits and shelled pistachios.
Stir the mixture together with a wooden spoon until it starts to form into clumps, then use your hands to bring it together to form a dough. It may appear quite dry and first but do not be tempted to add any extra liquid as it does come together.
Turn the onto a lightly floured surface and kneed gently until no flour streaks remain. Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a round log shape, about 30cm long. Place the dough logs onto the prepared baking tray, leaving as much room between each one as possible to allow for spreading during baking.
Bake for 35-40 minutes until the dough has turned lightly golden brown and feels relatively firm when lightly pressed in the centre.
Remove from the oven and transfer the biscotti logs to a rack to cool for several minutes before slicing. Dampen two sheets of kitchen paper and lay these over the top of the biscotti logs to keep the top crusts soft – this prevents them from crumbling when you come to slice them.
Meanwhile, reduce the oven temperature to 150C.
After 5 minutes, place a biscotti log onto a chopping board and use a bread knife to cut it into 1cm slices, at a slight diagonal to give long thin biscotti.
Lay the biscotti slices on their side back on the baking tray. Bake for 10 minutes before flipping the slices over and baking for a further 5 minutes. (You will probably only fit one lot of biscotti on the baking tray at once).
Once baked, immediately transfer the biscotti to a wire rack to cool and repeat with the remaining log.
Once cool, store in an airtight container for up to two weeks or package into small boxes or bags to give as gifts.
Makes 40-50 biscotti