Wednesday, November 29, 2017

4:  Let There Be Spice

After the battles I had creating The Citrus and My Hazelnut, I should have been wary about what would happen with the third of the three biscotti I envisioned.  I wasn’t.  I can’t say with any certainty why I wasn’t, but I suspect it was the focus I had on what was becoming my “family” of cookies.  I knew my first two children.  I would learn to know them better, but I didn’t know how much I had yet to learn about them so I was filled with confidence.

And my imagination was bursting with what I envisioned the final biscotto to be.  It would have a base much like that of The Citrus with flour and almond flour and white chocolate.  But it would be a spice cookie at heart, a spice cookie in the European tradition.  It would have the cocoa My Hazelnut had rejected, it would have spices, it would get the more flowery Tahitian vanilla and dark rum.  And it would be studded with macadamias.  

It had taken shape perfectly in my mind.  All that remained was to bring it to life and to give it a name.  

And so, I sketched out the ingredients.  I mixed, shaped and baked.  I rested the loaf, sliced then dried the slices.  Then tasted.  And my third biscotti was almost there.  The blending of the spices was ever so close.  All it took was a slight adjustment for the second test.  I never needed a third.

I gave it the name Trade Winds to reflect the spices and Tahitian vanilla, the cocoa and macadamias and rum - all flavors of the trade route.

It was the easy child.  It had come together quickly.  It was less finicky in the bake than The Citrus but not quite as easygoing as My Hazelnut.  It filled out the flavors I wanted to make.  It completed the “family” of biscotti.

Oh, there would be tiny changes to all the three biscotti as I found the right temperature, the right way to mix, the right balance of flour and egg, adjusted the temperature to the adjusted texture then made more small changes.  These small changes occurred over the course of a few years as I worked to get more uniformity from each bake.  This is what happened as my children “grew up”.  

Now they are grown.  Now the only change is the slight adjustment of the amount of egg used to compensate for the weather and seasons of the year - the heat, the cold, the damp or dry conditions - what would be half-a-teaspoon or less for a single loaf you might make at home.

And now, the only thing that can keep my biscotti from being the beautiful cookies they grew into is the arrogance, foolishness or plain stupidity of the baker.  It’s what we humans are heir to.

I’ll tell you some of the foolishness I’ve experienced and lessons learned as this writing continues in the weeks and months to come.  

I hope you’ll follow my blog and give me your feedback.  When you buy my biscotti, I know my baking is making your tastebuds  happy.  When you follow my writing, I know my words are satisfying your mind.

Best wishes,


Monday, November 20, 2017

3:  The Second Sibling:

When introducing people to my biscotti, they often ask, “Which one is your favorite?” I answer, “How can I choose?  They are my children.”

And three very different children they turned out to be.

The Citrus was the first child.  She turned out to be my teacher, even though I had no idea this was to be part of her personality.  I understood the biscotti would have different flavors…and slightly different textures from the differences in ingredients, but I had no sense of how different their personalities could be.

If The Citrus was my teacher, the hazelnut biscotti was the stubborn child and a good deal more after we came to terms.

The problem began with the belief I was going to make was a cocoa-hazelnut biscotti.  I could imagine the flavor combination.  The biscotti couldn’t.

The hazelnut and cocoa didn’t want to be friends.  They both wanted to be king.  When hazelnut ruled, the cocoa faded away.  Let cocoa reign and hazelnut retreated into a corner.  Even using small amounts to barely change the balance, cutting the change in half then in half again didn’t get the hazelnut and cocoa to a common ground.

My preconceived vision had been beautiful.  And beautifully wrong.  If I was going to make a hazelnut biscotti, hazelnut demanded top billing.  He was to be the star.  Cocoa needed to find someplace else to hang out.  But hazelnut now needed a proper supporting cast.

I gave it extra low notes to compliment the richness of toasted hazelnuts and hazelnut oil and soften the higher notes of the hazelnut flour.  Large doses of dark rum and Madagascar vanilla were paired with only a hint of spices and a dash of orange zest and oil.  It became what it had demanded to be, a biscotto which has a butterscotch undertone that melds with roasted hazelnuts.  It became “My Hazelnut” and my second “child”.  

It also became the most forgiving of the three biscotti.  The hazelnut oil gives it a different elasticity.  It handles better, comes together more quickly, stretches more easily, takes to shaping with less effort and maintains it through the bake.  As I slice, dry then package, it reminds me of what the biscotti should look like, most consistently producing a graceful arch.* 

My Hazelnut is not without its simple demands.  The hazelnuts must be sorted, particularly after toasting.  Shrunken, shriveled, oily looking ones and those that have darkened excessively must be discarded.  It also asks me to remember to follow the recipe - remember to get the ingredients in, to add them in proper order, to take the time to fully mix them, to scrape the bowl and beater as needed, get the temperatures and times right - to be a proper baker.

It’s not a lot to ask when coming from such a well-behaved child.


* The oil also makes “My Hazelnut” the most susceptible to humidity.  For me, that means packaging can’t be put off.  For you, it means keeping the unused biscotti in a zip-type bag gets an asterisk, particularly in muggy weather.  If the biscotti stay out too long and lose their snap, re-crisp on a wire rack at 200 degrees for seven to ten minutes.  Remove from the oven.  Allow to cool before storing airtight.

Monday, November 6, 2017

2: Finding My Teacher

I don’t know how it is for others when they adapt and create recipes.  For me, it comes down to focus.  

You concentrate on what your taste buds have to tell you.  You wait for the little flavors to appear below and behind the dominant ones.  You hold onto the aromas until they almost disappear.  You smell to learn the way they change.  You do it again and again.  

You spend the time. 

Somewhere in the back of your brain is the biscotti you imagine you’re going to make.  The scents, the tastes tell you where you are.  They point you toward your imaginary destination.  Sometimes they lead you down a dead end and you have to backtrack.  But they always lead you onward.

What The Citrus had to be was ‘burstingly’ citrus.  What she wouldn’t become was citrusy enough using lemon and orange juices.  They give lovely notes.  But they were lovely modest notes.  They had to dominate.

In her brilliant book, “In the Sweet Kitchen”, Dana Regan praised citrus oils for their ability to impart flavor and aroma - to give a citrusy ‘oomph’.  As an amateur baker, I’d never played with lemon or orange oil.  They’re not commonly offered in groceries.  You have to go looking.  I did.  What a revelation.

I tried the oils, using ¼ tsp per cup of liquid.  Wherever that advice came from, it was short.*  But the flavor was zesty and bright even though it was not insistent.  I tripled the amount, something Chef Regan recommends as a general rule in baking.  

This was the birth of the The Citrus.  It finally had a bold enough flavor and aroma of lemon and orange to play with other flavorings - the accents that add interest and subtle complexity.  Orange juice gave the biscotti a flavor similar to “Dreamsicles”.  It thrilled my mother-in-law.  I liked it too.  But it didn’t match my imagined creation.  It dimmed the brightness.  Cognac didn’t.  It lifted and accentuated the citrus.  And spices with higher notes like cardamom and ginger contributed to the flavor rather than competing.  From there, it came down to balancing the flavors, adjusting them to hone in on the compromise of what my imagination had begun with and what The Citrus was becoming.

This was the actual beginning of Bob’s Biscotti - learning to let it tell me what it was capable of being. The Citrus was my teacher.  She remains so, more demanding in the mixing, more finicky in the baking, more exacting in the drying.  Even after ten years, The Citrus is always ready to remind me how human and fallible I am.  And you have to love a wonderful teacher.

Thanks for being here.  I hope you’ll take the time to comment and give my biscotti a review if you’d like.  I look forward to your being here again.


• Boyajian, the maker of the oils I now use recommends adding another ½ tsp per cup of dry ingredients.  If I’d had their recommendation at the start, I would have begun closer to the needed amount.  But the process I went through was what it was and led to the biscotti I make.