Biscotti are fine Italian biscuits used to make very delicious and unique desserts, such as tiramisu with mascarpone. Famously known as Biscotti di Prato and cantuccini, they are popular and loved around the world. Biscotti are twice-baked biscuits prepared from eggs, flour and ground nuts.
They were made for the 1st time in Italian cuisine, in the Italian city of Prato. By definition they are elongated almond biscuits baked till dry and crunchy. They are cut from a large piece of baked dough, while it's still hot.
An interesting fact is that biscotti is the only traditional Italian name that's the plural of biscotto. The etymology of the name comes from the Medieval Latin word biscoctus, meaning twice-baked. This term designates twice oven-baked foods that come out very dry with the aim of extending their shelf life.
According to Pliny the Elder, such foods can be eaten even after centuries have passed. Even if this claim is doubtful, long-lasting foods prepared this way were especially useful for long journeys and wars. In ages past, the Roman legions ate twice-baked bread.
History of Biscotti
The 1st written recipe for biscotti comes from a manuscript several centuries old, preserved with care in the city of Prato. It was found by scholar Amadio Baldanzi in the 18th century.
Biscotti from Prato or Biscotti di Prato in modern Italian are more commonly known as cantuccini. These terms are also related to other similar local Italian products. Cantuccini, "small edges", are traditionally made in Tuscany nowadays. Initially, this name referred to the variations of the traditional recipe, characterized by differences in the yeast, citric acid and spices that made them not so dry. By definition, cantuccini are large biscuits made from dough with olive oil and anise.
The leading biscuit manufacturer in Prato is the still functioning Biscottificio Antonio Mattei. Its old logo is written right under the name of the store.
The logo has remained unchanged and with time the term "edges" caught on for innovative cakes, typical of Sardinia and Sicily. The recipe was rediscovered in the 19th century by chef Antonio Mattei. Today, his version is considered the traditional recipe for biscotti. Mattei participated in the International Exposition of 1867 in Paris with his biscotti and won a special prize.
Composition of Biscotti
Choosing and Storing Biscotti
Buy biscotti with packaging that has clearly printed information about the manufacturer and date of expiration. Store biscotti in a cool and dry area and cakes made with biscotti in the refrigerator.
Culinary Use of Biscotti
As a final product, biscotti are used in the composition of many other sweet temptations. Even though it can be made without them, tiramisu in its authentic form requires biscotti. These delicious Italian biscuits serve as the basis for layers of all kinds of cakes and pastries, as well as a garnish for delicious creams and mousses.
The original mixture for the biscotti recipe consists of flour, sugar, eggs, pine nuts and unpeeled, raw almonds. The traditional recipe does not include yeast or oils, butter of any sort or milk. The slightly moist dough that's characteristic for biscotti is baked twice - once as a flat and elongated form and a 2nd time after it is cut into separate biscotti. The 2nd baking also determines how hard the biscotti will be.
Traditionally, in Italy, Biscotti di Prato are served with another sweet specialty from Prato - bruttiboni. These are served after dessert, usually with orange juice. Pignoli are also a type of biscotti, with added pine nuts instead of almonds.
Today's variations of the original biscotti recipe more closely resemble that of cantuccini, a popular biscotti variation. Many of today's recipes contain nuts - usually almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pine nuts, as well as spices such as anise or cinnamon.
An enormous percentage of today's recipes include leavening agents, such as baking soda, and spices added to the flour. As a rule, almonds and hazelnuts are always added unroasted and unpeeled. The eggs need to be beaten separately, then the liquid essences, such as almond or liqueur extract, are added. This must always happen before they are added to the dry ingredients. After the 2nd baking, the biscotti can optionally be dipped in a glaze, such as chocolate.
Recipe for Homemade Biscotti (about 20)
Ingredients: 3 eggs, 1/3 cup flour, 2/5 cup powdered sugar.
Preparation: Separate the egg yolks from the whites. Beat the whites to hard snow with half the sugar, beat the yolks into a fluffy cream with the remaining sugar. Gradually add the beaten whites and sifted flour to the yolk cream. Stir carefully until you get a homogenous, smooth mixture. Fill the mixture into a pastry bag with a suitable tip.
Spray the biscotti onto baking paper with spaces between them. Sprinkle generously with 2 layers of powdered sugar. Put them to bake in a preheated 392°F (200 °C) oven until reddened. Take out the homemade biscotti and sprinkle with powdered sugar once again.
Recipe for Cantuccini with Chocolate and Cherries (about 10)
Ingredients: 1 large egg, 3 1/3 tbsp sliced almonds, 2/3 cup flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1 pinch salt, 1 tbsp rum essence, 1 handful dried cherries, 1/2 cup chocolate chips or crumbled dark chocolate.
Preparation: Toast the sliced almonds briefly in a dry pan and let them cool. Beat the egg with the sugar, salt and essence to a smooth cream. Sift the flour and baking powder on top and stir gently so the mixture doesn't deflate. Finally, add the almonds, cherries and crumbled chocolate and stir carefully. If the mixture for the cantuccini seems too thick, add 1-2 tbsp milk.
The mixture becomes sticky, lay it out in a thin and long roll in a tray with baking paper. Put the roll to bake for 30 min. in a preheated 356°F (180 °C). Leave the baked roll to cool for 5 min. and cut out cantuccini about 1" thick. Arrange the cut out biscotti in the tray again and put them back in the oven for 10-15 min. Leave the ready cantuccini with chocolate and cherries to cool on a grill.
Check out our other delicious desserts with biscotti ideas.