My younger brother just turned twenty-two. What do you give a strapping Italian male who acts like he’s eighty and desperately tries to subvert his birthday each year? Why, you give him biscotti.
Well, first you stalk him until he gives you his new address. You say that he’s only making it harder on himself. That he’s prolonging the inevitable. That he might as well just give up, give out the goods, and get it over with. (And then you promise that you won’t mail anything too ridiculous.)
Sending something edible tends to be a good idea in a delicate scenario such as this one. I have had these cookies on my “t0-make” list. But I pictured a giant eye roll at the sight of a box of snickerdoodles. So I settled in on biscotti.
And I’ll be honest. I wasn’t sold on these guys when I first made them. I had to bake them for so much longer than the recipe said, such a long time that I thought I sent the poor souls to an early grave.
But the next morning, I noticed an almost breakfast toast quality to them. Like a piece buttered and scattered with cinnamon sugar. With a little more of a snap.
The toasted sugars from the second baking, once cooled, deepened the cookie and mellowed its spices. And, when dunked into a cup of coffee with a little cream, it offered about as much comfort as any cookie can. So much so, that I made another batch this weekend.
This time, I just halved the hazelnuts and chopped the figs by hand, instead of blending some of the fruit and nuts in a food processor as the recipe originally suggested. It resulted in a sliced cookie that was a little shaggier, a bit homier, but with a fig and hazelnut flavor that was more pronounced. Either way, they promise a toasty gingersnap presence that will warm the souls of cranky old men.
So, little brother, I hope you didn’t give out a decoy address. And if you did, I wish whoever is living in apartment 11C to be as old-souled as you are. Make your birthdays be filled with biscotti for years and years to come.
Hazelnut Fig Biscotti
1 cup of whole hazelnuts
8 large Turkish (dried) figs, cut into small bite-sized pieces
¾ stick unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup granulated sugar, plus a few extra tbsp for dusting the dough
¼ cup plus 2 tbsp dark brown sugar, lightly packed
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp almond extract
grated zest of a medium-sized orange
1¾ cup plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cloves
3-4 cardamom pods, smashed, shelled removed, and seeds ground (a scant ¼ tsp ground)
dash of ground ginger
1 egg white
To prepare the hazelnuts
Before you do anything, you’ll want to remove the skins of the hazelnuts. (I suppose you could leave them on, but a birthday is as good a reason as any to spend the extra time and skin them.) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the hazelnuts on an ungreased cookie sheet and toast them until you can smell them and their skins start to crack. Remove the skins by placing the hot nuts in a dish towel and rubbing them together. You’ll get about eighty percent of the skins off and will have to spend a little time removing the rest (it’s okay if you can’t get the final few off, just leave them out). Then slice the hazelnuts in half.
To make the biscotti
In a bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy; add the eggs, one at a time. Add in the extracts and grated zest and stir with a rubber spatula until well incorporated.
In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Slowly beat the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, until the majority of the flour has been well incorporated. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and add in the fig pieces and sliced hazelnuts and stir until well combined (there should not be any flour still visible). The dough will be fairly firm and will be heavily studded with nuts and fruit. Wrap it in plastic wrap and chill it until firm (about an hour).
After about 45 minutes, preheat the oven to 325 degrees and grease a cookie sheet with butter. Whip an egg white with a wire whisk until foamy. When the dough is ready, roll the dough out on a floured surface until it is roughly the length of your cookie sheet and about five inches wide (you can do this gently with your hands). Place the dough log on your cookie sheet, brush it with the egg white (you’ll have some leftover), and then scatter generously with sugar. Bake for 20-45 minutes (the recipe said 20, but it seems to need a bit longer: for me it was closer to 45 minutes). Once the log turns golden brown, is firm to the touch, and starts to crack: it’s ready.
Let it fully cool and then slice the biscotti on a bias into roughly ½ inch slices. Lay the slices sideways on the cookie sheet and cook them at 250 degrees until they turn a deeper brown, crisp up, become completely dried out. (This took me about an hour.) You’ll probably want to start checking after 30 minutes and turn the cookies over from time to time so that they brown evenly on both sides. Allow them to cool fully, ideally overnight.
Makes 15-20 cookies
-I’ve already eaten
five six since last
night (oops). Technically, they'll keep at least a week in a ziplock bag or airtight container.