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Twice-baked

Firsts!  I did some things for the first time. Neither is about sex or drugs, but keep reading anyway. Go on.

Once-baked would just be, er, scotti?

Today I made biscotti! Never done that before. Today I also built a garden bed! Also never done that before, and, while satisfying, it was slightly less interesting than the biscotti. Although both lacked conflict and drama, and therefore the narrative structure for either is pretty weak. But the biscotti is pretty pretty! So there’s that. (There’s what?)

line 'em up!

Biscotti, in case you can’t be arsed looking it up on Wikipedia, means “twice baked” (from medieval Latin via modern Italian), and they are pretty fantastic. If you like crunchy biscuits, boy howdy are you going to love these babies. They can be really simple — these ones are flavoured with just lemon zest and chopped almonds — or really lush and decadent — I found plenty of double chocolate biscotti and chocolate-drizzled biscotti and so on. Man, people get carried away.  Biscotti seem very easy to make: you mix the wet, mix the dry; combine into a thick, tacky dough, then shape into two loaves and bake them. Cool, slice, then re-bake until they’re dry and hard. Ta-da! You just made biscotti! (In your mind. In real life you just read a sentence on a blog.)

crumb close-up, pre-second bake

Sifting through all the recipes for biscotti, you can’t help but notice people love to jump on board the Excess train to FlavourWorld. I always thought of biscotti as a pretty restrained kinda biscuit, with a few nuts or maybe some spices, but you really notice how many people run with the opportunity to add more flavourings.

I’m sympathetic: I know the itch to add more. But…c’mon guys.  It’s like a phobia of simplicity. Cake is fine, but it isn’t TRIPLE DECKER CHOCOLATE CAKE STUFFED WITH PRUNES STUFFED WITH MASCARPONE DRIZZLED WITH MAPLE SYRUP AND CRUMBLED HAM.  Cheesecake is just embarrassing unless you’ve made the base from Mars Bars and then poured peanut butter over the top and sprinkled it with caramel fudge pieces.  Chocolate chip biscuits? Ahem, don’t you mean TRIPLE FUDGE RIPPLE CHOCOMORES WITH TWO TYPES OF CHOCOLATE CHIPS? I mean, settle down, people. Not every recipe has to be cranked up to 11 on the flavour-ometer-tron. There’s deliciousness to be found in simplicity: consider the wonderful flavours of a perfectly ripe tomato, with basil and olive oil. Meditate, if you will, on the perfection of a strawberry, or a piece of warm bread with soft butter. What I’m trying to say here is that delicious, moreish treats are totally possible without adding mini M&Ms and chopped marshmallows and chocolate-covered pineapples. Just relax and keep it simple.

Now we're talking...bake two completed!

After baking my two loaves for about 45 minutes at a pretty low temperature, I let them cool completely on the bench before slicing. I mostly did this because I needed to put the bread in the oven before it overproofed, but it also made sure that the once-baked loaves were firm and hard, and that I could hold them steady while slicing (because frankly, there’s a fair bit of resistance: you’re going to need a big ol’ serrated bread knife). I think I want them in thinner slices, but that will come with practice. A lot of the recipes I found had really mondo uber-fat fingers of biscotti, waaaaay too chunky to dip into your espresso cup. Kind of moving towards a thick finger cookie, really.

Big ol' pile of yes please.

These are delicious. Really awesome.  Really hard, crunchy and dry and perfect for dipping in tea or coffee. Apparently the traditional recipe uses no fat or oils, relying on eggs to provide just enough moisture to bind the dough together.  Normally I love biscuits that are chewy and soft, so God only knows why these babies are rocking my casbah so hard, but I’m not one to ask the probing questions. Clicky for recipe: I used lemon zest instead of orange. I can see room for experimentation: I really like the idea of mixing in some anise or ginger, or maybe trying the apparently ubiquitous craisin-pistachio combo.  But that’s as zany as it’s going to get. None of this chocolate-bacon-caramel-and-froot-loop biscotti business around here, thank you very much.

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