Welcome to Part 2 of my Christmas cookie bake-a-thon! (Part 1: Butterscotch Bars)
The thing about baking is that unless you’re a pasty chef, or exceptionally gifted in the kitchen, or happen to have memorized countless ratios of fat to sugar, you can’t really bake without a recipe. It’s different for savory dishes, like a stew or salad, whose recipes afford lots of room to add, subtract, or substitute ingredients according to your taste. That’s why baking recipes are still so important to me, why 90% of the recipe hunting I do in my life is geared toward cookies, pies, and cakes. It’s also why it’s so important to share the good recipes when we find them. Bakers must be a society of sharers.
Take this biscotti recipe, for example. It comes from a tiny little unassuming book called The Brown Bag Lunch, by Susan Epstein. You’d never guess it by the cover, but this book includes a great little chapter on cookies and bars, usually in small-sized batches. I’ve made several of them and they’re all big hits. But the biscotti is the reason I keep revisiting this book, and why I freak out if I can’t find it right away (it’s so small it sometimes gets hidden away behind the big beastly cookbooks on the shelf). What makes these biscotti better than others?
BUTTER. These have a stick of butter in them. This is rare in the biscotti world, and maybe it technically makes them some other breed (possibly Mandelbrot–that’s the Jewish biscotti-type of cookie that usually does include butter or oil). They’re still dry cookies, perfect for dunking in your favorite hot beverage, but they’re not crispy-dry. All that butter makes them much tenderer and, in my opinion, tastier than your typical, bony biscotti. These will crumble if manhandled, so treat them gently and pack them flat in the cookie box, if you can bear to part with them.
Be sure and use real orange zest here, not the dried stuff. Please. It takes about 4 oranges to get the 2 Tablespoons required, but they’ll be so much better. The original recipe calls for pine nuts, but I hate to buy a whole cupful of them. I go with pecans and they’re delicious. I’ve also included my own dough-shaping technique, which is done on parchment paper instead of a floured surface.
- ½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ¾ cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 Tablespoons fresh orange juice
- 2 Tablespoons grated orange zest (about 4 oranges)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
- Preheat the oven to 350.
- With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
- Add eggs, orange juice, orange zest, and vanilla; beat well.
- Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl, stirring well. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture; blend thoroughly. Add the nuts and mix well.
- On a clean work surface, place a sheet of parchment paper the size of your baking sheet. You're going to make two logs of dough, side by side, on this paper. With a big spoon, glop half the soft dough into a "row," then do the same with the remaining half of dough beside the first row. Leave a few inches in between them. Sprinkle the tops of the rows with flour, then flour your hands, and gently shape the rows into even, flat strips, 12" long by 2" wide and about 1½" high. Don't worry about the bottoms of the logs not being floured.
- Slide the paper onto the baking sheet, trimming the paper edges to fit if necessary. Bake until lightly browned, about 25 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet and gently slide the logs off the paper onto a clean cutting surface.
- Cut loaf diagonally, with a sharp knife, into slices about ½" thick. Lay the slices flat on the baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes; remove from oven. Turn the slices over and bake another 5 to 7 minutes, until lightly browned. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.