Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Blood Orange & Fennel Biscotti

The flavors of Sicily are robust and intense. Olives, citrus, capers, tomatoes, peppers, wild herbs, anchovies, sardines, and tuna are all major players – and surprisingly refreshing in those stark surrounds. This recipe hails from there, where fennel and citrus serve as pungent restoratives against the scorching Mediterranean sun. I’ve also added a little crushed red chile for an occasional fleck of color and spice.

The term “biscotti” literally means “twice baked.” The dough is first baked in loaves and then sliced and baked again to achieve the dry, crumbly texture. Soldiers, sailors, and fisherman carried biscotti for centuries because of the biscuits’ low moisture and long shelf life.

But biscotti are said to have originated as an end-of-meal accompaniment to Vin Santo, the stunningly sweet and spiritous dessert wine. The wine and biscuits are still served together at the end of many Italian meals, and the two seem to bring out the best in each other. The syrupy wine and the barely-sweet biscotti are never far apart in our house, and this is one of my favorite desserts to serve friends. I encourage them to dip the long biscuits into their wine, which is what biscotti seem shaped for, after all.

The biscuits keep in an airtight container for 6 months at least but for much longer in the freezer. If they become too hard, just wrap in foil and heat in a low oven for 15 minutes before serving.

Makes about 60 biscotti

2 – 3 tbsp fennel seed, depending on desired strength
grated zest of 3 blood oranges (or regular oranges, or whatever citrus is in season)
8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
4 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
3 tbsp Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
2 tsp good vanilla extract
good pinch crushed red chili flakes
4 large eggs

Crush the fennel seed in a mortar and pestle to release the flavors, mix with the orange zest, and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and the sugar until they are light in color. Meanwhile, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl, and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

When the butter and sugar are fluffy, beat in the Grand Marnier, vanilla extract, and red chile flakes. Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating to combine, then the fennel and prange, and finally the dry ingredients until just combined. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and chill until slightly firm – about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Divide the dough in half and roll each piece into a log about 2 – 3 inches wide. Transfer the logs to the prepared baking sheets, press down to flatten slightly, and bake until firm to the touch – about 40 minutes. Cool very slightly, and reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.

Using a very sharp or serrated knife and being careful not to burn yourself, slice the logs on a slight diagonal into ½ inch wide biscotti. Arrange the slices, cut side down, on the baking sheets. Bake until dry – about 20 minutes. Remember that the biscuits will continue to harden as they cool on racks.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really like the idea of using chile in something sweet! Can't wait to try this.

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