What’s cooking today: Biscotti
Italian Grandma Gina Petitti’s YouTube channel, Buon-a-Petitti, is a great way to learn to cook something as thoroughly Italian as the hard, super crunchy biscuits we call biscotti. I gave it a go.
“Now you gorra purra back in l’oven, make-a cronchee, make-a dry, dry,” Gina Petitti, 85, is urging me as I work at my kitchen table, interrupting my whisking and stirring to pause-and-play her YouTube video on my phone. I’m making biscotti, not for the first time, but it’s been a while, and it’s always best to consult an expert.
There’s a lot of pause-and-play involved if you don’t want to end up adding “bacon powder” into the mix, and the batter has to be just right, “it gorra be a liddle hard, not too soft”. Best is to watch her hands and do exactly what she does, as much as listening to her instructions. Getting that firm consistency in the biscotti batter, which must not be runny at all, is absolutely key to getting it right. Just as much as the two bakes are, and knowing when to trust yourself to take it outta the oven after the second bake and leave it the hell alone. Because, even though they will seem way too soft when they come out, once they’ve cooled they’ll be super hard and have a noisy, crunchy bite. If you’ve got it right.
If. Such a big word in baking, but be strong.
I made biscotti two ways, as I had almonds, dates and sultanas and I’d been given a packet of dried strawberries at a local farmers’ market. Here’s how it went for me, but first, Gina’s video…
4 jumbo eggs
1 cup/ 250 ml white sugar
1 cup/ 250 ml brown sugar
¾ cup/ 170 g butter (1 ½ sticks in the US terminology, Gina Petitti being resident there)
1 tsp vanilla essence
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda/bicarbonate of soda
2 cups flour
1 cup almonds, sliced
60 g dried strawberries or dried cranberries
120 g chopped sultanas and dates, mixed
Whisk the white sugar, brown sugar and eggs together to combine thoroughly.
Whisk the butter in, then add the vanilla essence and lemon juice and zest. “You turn again the machine,” says Gina. So whisk it some more.
Then you add “the bacon powder” (baking powder) and bicarbonate of soda to 2 cups flour, being very careful to note that it is 1 tsp of the bicarb. I once put a Tbsp in and the batter spread over the entire oven pan.
Whisk flour mixture in a little at a time. Scrape down the sides of the bowl so you don’t lose anything.
This is where my recipe departs from Nonna Gina’s: Divide the batter into two parts in separate bowls, putting two thirds in one bowl and one third in the other.
Mix the almonds and dried fruit into the larger quantity of batter, and the strawberries or cranberries into the other.
Now add in extra flour a Tbsp at a time until you have the right consistency. “The dough gorra be a liddle hard, not too soft,” remember. I counted, and Gina seemed to add in about 6 Tbsp more, but it’s not about counting, it’s about that consistency. I made this note: the batter needs to fall from the spoon reluctantly.
Flour two lengths of an oven pan. Spoon a third of the dough on the flour to make a long log, just like Gina does in the video, and smoothe and even it out with the back of a tablespoon. It looks a bit like a Christmas cake batter. Repeat on the other strip of flour, reserving the final third of batter for a second bake in a clean, floured pan.
Put it into the oven at 190℃ for 25 minutes or until golden brown. But check after 20 minutes. Gina’s, you’ll note, cooked for a couple of minutes more than 20. This is the first cook.
Remove from the oven and use two spatulas to loosen each of the logs along each side, and lift onto a wooden board.
Slice each log diagonally and arrange each slice on the oven tray. (Eat the end bits.)
This is when Nina urges: “Now you gorra purra back in l’oven, make-a cronchee, make-a dry, dry.”
I found that 10 minutes in the oven for the second bake was more than enough. I didn’t find it necessary to turn them during this second bake, they were crunchy everywhere. Leave them in the cool autumn kitchen air to cool and harden.
Meanwhile lay out the next batch and have it ready for its two bakes. Buon appetito. DM/TGIFood
To enquire about Tony Jackman’s book, foodSTUFF (Human & Rousseau) please email him at [email protected]
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