Biscotti. They’re those hard, stale things you get at Starbucks for a buck and a half, right?
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No, they’re not. Biscotti are delicious little twice-baked cookies you can make yourself in many flavors, and they are neither hard nor stale. Filomena Scalia and Eleanor Stein, sisters and volunteer instructors at the Oreste Pandola Learning Center in Little Italy, will show you how, and it’s fun.
Filomena and Eleanor presided over the last class of the Italian baking class, spring session, and showed how one batch of dough can be baked into crisp little biscotti or pretty little cookies like you see at Italian bakeries.
Making the cookies is as easy as rolling a rope of dough.
The recipe makes a lot of dough, so if you don’t need a massive amount of biscotti and cookies, consider halving the recipe.
1-1/4 cups sugar
5 drops lemon juice, plus the lemon zest (optional)
1 tsp. vanilla (or any flavoring you desire, like anise or almond extract). “Be careful with the almond,” advises Filomena. “It’s got a bite to it.”
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp. butter or shortening, melted and cooled down
Flour, as much as it takes to make a soft, pliable dough—4-6 cups “depending on the weather.”
Beat the eggs well. Gradually add the sugar a little at a time and mix well.
Add the shortening a little at a time and mix well.
Add the flavorings.
Add the flour about a cup at a time. When you get to cup number four, mix the baking powder in the flour and then add the mixture to the dough.
The resulting dough will be soft and a little bit sticky—keep flouring your hands to handle the dough.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Tear off about a half pound of dough and roll it into a rope a little shorter than the length of your cookie sheet and about two inches in diameter. Place on the cookie sheet—you should be able to fit three ropes on the sheet because they do not spread during baking.
Flatten the ropes till they are about a half-inch thick and about three inches wide on the sheet.
Bake for 15-20 minutes. Beat another egg, add a tablespoon or so of water to make an egg wash, and brush over the dough on the sheet. Bake for another 5-10 minutes till the egg is dry.
Remove from the oven and allow the baked dough to cool slightly, about 5-10 minutes. Turn the oven up to 400 degrees.
Take a serrated knife and cut the dough on the diagonal into slices about a half-inch thick. Since they are cut on a diagonal, the slices will be about four inches wide.
Lay the slices flat on the sheet and bake at 400 degrees for another 10-15 minutes.
Remove from the oven, let them cool, dunk and eat. Filomena suggests tea; Anna Brotto, another instructor, suggests vermouth, and gives a wink.
There will be another round of Italian baking classes in the fall. Check the Oreste Pandola Learning Center website at www.pandola.baltimore.md.us for details.
by Jacqueline Watts