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Bending Branches

Bite a Biscotti!

By Anne L. Desjardins

Biscotti! The first time my Italian friend Angelina unpacked her homemade biscotti on one of our paddling trips, I remember thinking "Oh my, how trendy. All we need now is a latte to go with them!" But Angelina's biscotti weren't sweet; they were flavored with red peppercorns and Parmesan cheese, and she served them up with tomato juice. It was a delicious snack… one more reason to thank Italians for a great food experience. Now I'm a believer, and I often pack along biscotti on my kayak trips.

Italian origins
The word biscotti originates from the Italian terms "bis" and "cotti", which literally means twice-cooked. The dough is first rolled into logs and baked once. Then they are sliced diagonally by hand while they are still slightly warm and baked a second time to remove all the moisture, making them firm and crunchy. Italians have been making biscotti for centuries now. It is said that the Roman Legions carried biscotti with them on their journeys. Christopher Columbus apparently relied on the special biscuits as a special treat on his long trips at sea. Since they were double baked until completely dry, they were resistant to mold and perfect for soldiers and sailors.

Biscotti may be centuries old, but the modern-day version can be traced back to one man: Antonio Mattei, a Tuscan pastry chef. He began selling biscotti from a shop he opened in Prato, just north of Florence, in 1858. You can still buy "Biscotti di Prato" from the same shop today. Note that if Italians perfected the biscotti, other cultures also had their own "twice-baked" breads. Eastern European Jews had mandelbrodt, a type of almond bread known as a dessert staple that kept well. Zwieback is a German crisp, sweetened bread that literally means twice-baked.

A good snack or dessert
My first reaction to Angelina's offering of biscotti on a paddling expedition was to think that it seemed to be a hollow treat, and that it wouldn't provide much in the way of nutrition. In fact, the average biscotti delivers about 120 calories, 4 grams of fat, 15 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber and 2 grams of protein. While the nutritional value of biscotti may not be that significant there are other reasons to consider taking them along as a snack on a paddling trip. Perhaps the most important for a paddler is its versatility in handling. Just store them in an airtight container, and biscotti will keep for weeks or longer. Christopher Columbus and other sailors had it right: they're easy to take along on a lengthy expedition. Add to that the fact that they can be a tasty treat during a short break or a full-on dessert after a meal and you'll see that biscotti can become a welcome addition to a paddler's pack.

Sweet or savory… the possibilities are endless
Biscotti are easy to prepare, and can be made to measure according to your taste. The classic Italian biscotti reinvented by chef Mattei was almond flavored, but the snack lends itself well to almost all flavors with the only limit being your imagination. Add cheddar or parmesan cheese, dried tomatoes, basil for a savory treat. Coat them with chocolate, add lemon rind, fennel or poppy seeds, fold in cranberries, currants, chocolate chips, almonds; the possibilities are almost endless! So the next time you're planning ahead for another expedition, consider taking along this convenience food!


Recipes for Paddlers

Classic almond biscotti
(this classic foregoes oil or butter)

    Ingredients
  • 3/4 cup roasted almonds, chopped coarsely
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Whisk together moist ingredients (eggs, vanilla and almond extract). In a larger bowl, whisk flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Stir in chopped almonds, then add egg mixture and form dough. Making two dough balls, roll each one on a lightly floured surface into a log that is about 6 inches long and 3 or 4 inches wide. Flatten each log slightly with the palm of the hand. Transfer onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake until firm, for 30-35 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.

Transfer onto a cutting board. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut logs diagonally into half-inch slices. Place biscotti back on baking sheet and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, turning them once at the halfway point. Once you have dried them to the texture you want, remove from the oven and let cool. Store in an airtight container.


Lemon biscotti
    Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup softened butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp milk
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside. Beat butter and sugar with a mixer. Add eggs and beat well. Add zest and juice. Stir. Stir in half the flour mixture. Add milk. Add remaining flour mixture and combine well.

Making two dough balls, roll each one on a lightly floured surface into a log that is about 6 inches long and 3 or 4 inches wide. Flatten each log slightly with the palm of the hand. Transfer onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake until firm, for 30-35 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.

Transfer onto a cutting board. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut logs diagonally into half-inch slices. Place biscotti back on baking sheet and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, turning them once at the halfway point. Once you have dried them to the texture you want, remove from the oven and let cool. Store in an airtight container



Cranberry- orange Biscotti
    Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup softened butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 2 tsp orange juice
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries, chopped
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside. Beat butter and sugar with a mixer. Add eggs and beat well. Add zest and juice. Stir. Stir in half the flour mixture. Add milk. Add remaining flour mixture and combine well. Stir in chopped cranberries.

Making two dough balls, roll each one on a lightly floured surface into a log that is about 6 inches long and 3 or 4 inches wide. Flatten each log slightly with the palm of the hand. Transfer onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake until firm, for 30-35 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.

Transfer onto a cutting board. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut logs diagonally into half-inch slices. Place biscotti back on baking sheet and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, turning them once at the halfway point. Once you have dried them to the texture you want, remove from the oven and let cool. Store in an airtight container.



Parmesan cheese biscotti with red peppercorn
    Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup softened butter
  • 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1 tbsp red peppercorn, freshly cracked
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside. Beat butter, sugar and cheese until well combined. Add eggs and beat well. Stir in half the flour mixture. Add milk and stir. Add remaining dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in cracked red peppercorn.

Making two dough balls, roll each one on a lightly floured surface into a log that is about 6 inches long and 3 or 4 inches wide. Flatten each log slightly with the palm of the hand. Transfer onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake until firm, for 30-35 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.

Transfer onto a cutting board. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut logs diagonally into half-inch slices. Place biscotti back on baking sheet and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, turning them once at the halfway point. Once you have dried them to the texture you want, remove from the oven and let cool. Store in an airtight container.




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