December 22, 2007

Christmas Packages Part 1

There is not a strong Christmas cookie tradition in my family - when we were young my sister and I would cut and decorate the requisite sugar cookies, but by the time we reached our teens we mostly abandoned this particular tradition. The culprit - no one in our immediate family really likes sugar cookies.

This doesn't mean that food doesn't play a large part in our family traditions - Mom makes caramels, turtles, chocolate-covered peanuts, and old-fashioned chocolate fudge. My mother does not actually make fudge most years because my maternal grandmother makes fudge for each of her sons and son-in-laws every Christmas and each of her grandchildren that is out on their own (quite a few of us now), requiring so much cream she should invest in a dairy.

Last year, however, I began the search for at least one cookie recipe that could become a new family tradition. I found browned-butter spoon cookies, which were very popular (one friend even specifically requested them about four months ago). This year I have expanded upon the tradition. I made several cookies and candies to give to my co-workers in colorful take-out style boxes, and I am going to blog about several of the successes (I know it's a little late for many people to try these out before Christmas this year, but maybe these will inspire bouts of cookie experimentation next year).

The first recipe I'm posting about is my first attempt at biscotti. I'm not usually a biscotti fan, but these were well received and I even liked them. The recipe is greatly adapted from a recipe in the Des Moines Register, given to me by a co-worker. I will be numbering these posts and starting each one with the same top photo.

In the future I would make a few changes from this first attempt. I used dried, unsweetened bing cherries, which were fine, but they are very dark. Dried sour cherries would be more festive and probably work better with the pistachios. I realized too late that I did not have any light olive oil, so I mixed a neutral oil with some good olive oil and I think that worked well. I am able to purchase shelled, unsalted pistachios. If you can only buy salted pistachios in the shell that is fine, but you need a cup, shelled and you should reduce or cut the salt from the dough completely. Also, my mother says the biscotti would be even better dipped in chocolate.

Pistachio and Cherry Biscotti
Makes about 20 biscotti (minus the broken ones and knobby end pieces)

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup light olive oil (or as I used 1/8 cup olive oil and 1/8 cup grapeseed oil)
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon real almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup pistachios
1 cup dried cherries (bing are usually a little bigger than sour, so you may want to cut them in half)

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Put the oil, eggs, sugar, and extracts in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Add the salt, if using, and stir.

Sift the flour and baking soda into the bowl and mix well. Stir the pistachios and cherries into the dough to evenly distribute.

Lightly flour the counter and scrape the dough out. It may be slightly sticky so shift a small amount of flour over the dough to help keep it from sticking to you or the counter. Halve the dough and shape each half into a long log and transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Flatten to about 3 inches wide and make sure that the logs are about 3 inches apart.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until the logs start the brown lightly on top. Remove from the oven a set on a baking rack to cool for 15 minutes. Transfer one log to a cutting board. Using a serrate knife cut each log on the diagonal into about 1 inch slices. Move each slice to a parchment-lined baking sheet and repeat with the second log.

Bake the slices for about 20 minutes or until the biscotti are dry and lightly browned. Transfer the biscotti to a cooling rack to cool completely. Dip in melted dark chocolate if desired, or place immediately into a tin or air-tight container until ready to serve or gift.

No comments: