Embrace the sweet, slow pace of summer with the food that symbolizes it all.
Italy holds the reigning flag of slow food. It is, afterall, the movement’s official birthplace, dating back to 1986 in Piedmont, Italy. As one of the country’s northern most regions, encircled by the Alps and directly touching France and Switzerland, it’s no wonder a love for food and nature collided into an international movement here—where wine pours from vines and where you can graze for breakfast on meadows of rice and corn.
Travel south some 200 miles to Tuscany, and you’ll meet an even older articulation of slow food—cantucci—most commonly known to us foreigners, as biscotti. The twice-baked crunchy cookie is reported to have been a survivalist food (think modern day granola bar), munched by travelers and Roman warriors along their journeys. With the heralding of the Renaissance, biscotti found life again in the perfect pairing—dipped into a glass of vin santo, Italian dessert wine, for just the right sweetness and crunch. It became something to gather around, to celebrate and to luxuriate in, slowly.
Years ago though, long after the Renaissance, I lived and studied in Florence, Italy. And the aromas wafting from bakeries is what I remember most. (Well, that and spoonfuls of creamy gelato.) Biscotti were the staple among those delectable bakery delights, filled with fruits, nuts, chocolate and varieties between. Now that I dine vegan (and gluten-free—no easy Italian feat), I often wonder what my next trip to Italy will taste like. I may fall off the vegan wagon. Or, I may just pack my own dolce for the journey. Like biscotti, the kind that keeps.
Since no trip is tangibly in store, I’m transporting myself to Tuscany for the summer with bites of biscotti. I started out in my kitchen with a chocolate almond variety and then moved to something more seasonal, cherry hazelnut biscotti. Both provide just the right amount of sweetness, but there’s something about cherries that make June tastebuds sing. Maybe that’s because these summer fruits are reported to protect you from cancer, enhance your memory and help you sleep better at night, thanks to the antioxidant anthocyanin and the nutrient melatonin, respectively. If it ensures the journey is slow and sweet, I’ll take it.
The Original – Chocolate Almond Biscotti
from Joy of Baking
• ¾ cup blanched whole almonds
• 2/3 cup granulated white sugar
• 2 large eggs
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 ¾ cups all purpose flour
• 2/3 cup semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate
The Vegan & Gluten-Free Version – Cherry Hazelnut Biscotti
Makes approximately 16 biscotti
• ¾ cup lightly toasted hazelnuts (or almonds)
• 2/3 cup granulated, unrefined sugar
• 2 egg substitutes (I blended 2 tablespoon ground flax seeds with 6 tablespoons warm water)
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I mixed vanilla extract and almond extract for a traditional almond biscotti essence)
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 ¾ cup flour – follow the following gluten-free flour blend:
• (¾ cup sorghum flour)
• (½ cupbrown rice flour)
• (¼ cup white rice flour)
• (1/8 cup tapioca flour)
• (1/8 cup almond flour)
• (½ teaspoon xanthan gum)
• 2/3 cup dried, unsweetened cherries
1. Preheat oven to 350°F
2. Toast hazelnuts, almonds or another choice of nuts for 8-10 minutes or until lightly brown and fragrant. Let cool, and then coarsely chop and set aside.
3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
4. In a large bowl, beat the sugar and egg substitute with a stand mixer, a hand mixer or simply a whisk with vigorous arms. Beat until thick, pale and fluffy. Add in the vanilla (and/or almond) extract and beat until mixed.
5. In a separate, medium bowl, mix together the flours, baking soda and salt. Add to the egg mixture and mix together until fully combined.
6. Add the cherries and toasted, chopped hazelnuts (or almonds) to the mix and combine.
7. Transfer the dough to a well floured surface or, if not too sticky, to parchment paper. Roll into a log shape about 12” long and 3 ½” wide.
8. Place on your prepared baking sheet, and bake for about 25 minutes, or until firm to the touch. Remove from the oven, and let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
9. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.
10. Transfer the biscotti log to a cutting board and cut, on the diagonal, into ½” thick pieces.
11. Place the biscotti, cut side down, on to the parchment-lined baking sheet, and bake for 8-10 minutes. Turn over, and bake the other side for about 8-10 minutes, until lightly brown.
12. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container.
Note: Experiment with different varieties, mixing in different fruits, nuts, spices and chocolates. Once you have the dough down, there’s no end to the biscotti bliss.
La dolce vita!