I’d like to say that when we styled this veritable dolmen of biscotti for photographing by Tamara Staples my intention was to make the pile of tastiness call to mind the antiquity, the longevity (not to mention density) of this Italian baked good. But actually it was only after I started to read up on the history of the biscotto that I realised that they originated in ancient Rome where their long shelf like made them a perfect staple of the army rations of the Roman legions. Can’t you just picture Obelix of Gaul carting a massive almond infused boulder on his back, instead of his usual menhir?
The reason that biscotti make such a long-lasting soldier’s treat is that they are given a second go in the oven (the name biscotti, from the latin root biscoctus, literally means twice baked) making them extremely hard and dense. As a result that are especially delicious dipped into coffee or dessert wines. Apart from having to cut them and then put them in the oven a second time, these are extremely simple to make, no different from creating a basic cookie dough. You form the dough into a long, flat log like shape, bake until just starting to get hard, then slice into the typical, long oval shape and bake a second time. The secret to the perfect shape is simply to select only the long, elegant biscotti for your guests keeping the misshapen, but just as delicious morsels for yourself!
Generally, I am wary of any food that lasts too long. It’s almost always a sign of an excess of chemical preservatives. But its easy to see how in the days long before refrigeration, and with few natural preservatives, it was considered extremely attractive if one found food that would be, (according to Pliny the Elder) “edible for centuries” . It turns out that I can barely keep a batch around for even a week so I have no way to prove the validity of this impressive claim.
All the recipes I’ve used to date have been from epicurious.com, including the three great sweet biscotti pictured above–
Pistachio, Raspberry, and White Chocolate Biscotti, Double Chocolate Walnut Biscotti and Nonna’s Biscotti (a traditional almond biscotti, like my grandmother might have made if she were Italian and not instead Jewish and making blintzes). I also once tried this rather strange savory concoction that we served at our house-warming party a few years ago, and which tended mostly to surprise people who were expecting a sweet treat and instead got a mouthful of pepper – but was actually pretty tasty once you know what you were getting yourself into.
If you haven’t made biscotti before, I highly recommend it: its easy and people tend to be impressed by the results!