When we were in San Miniato the night before we were to begin our 150km journey through Tuscany, our host, Anna prepared our stomachs in the way the best way she could. This was with a huge three course meal she had cooked from scratch with all locally sourced ingredients. But of course, she wasn’t done. Just as the post-meal coma was beginning to set in and our pants had become just slightly too tight, she brought out her homemade chocolate biscotti, which I was suprised to see were shaped into rounds. She then proceeded to wrap a huge pile of them in a napkin (I half expected her to hoist it onto a stick and over her shoulder after that) for us to take with us the following day.
The next morning as we decided to take a break under the shade of some olive trees along the dirt path of the Via Francigena, we broke out the biscotti. At that moment, with a soft and crunchy bite of chocolate and nuts, there was nothing more delicious you could have possibly have given me. I firmly believe when the Tuscan sun is beating down and you’re terribly unfit and endeavouring to climb 20km through the hills, chocolate is the perfect antidote to your pain.
Biscotti come in all shapes and sizes, kind of like the people who eat them, from wafer thin to big and bulky. A plethora of flavours are only limited by your imagination and your star ingredient can go from almond to pistachio to as I’ve chosen, hazelnut. The beauty of this sweet treat and my favourite thing about most recipes is the sky’s the limit. You can really make your own mark and your very own version to pass down (or keep as a secret recipe if you want to be cheeky).
When it comes to this particular incarnation of the Italian favourite, I’m doing my own thing. For starters, I’m waging a war against the dry biscotti. I have never been a fan of the thin, dry biscotti that you get offered on the side of your teacup at a cafe or the hairdresser’s. My perfect biscotti and what I loved most about Anna’s was a nice crunch giving way to a chewy interior. It’s that beautiful balance of hard and soft that in my mind makes this so satisfying.
While this might be a little more fiddly than your traditional recipe, it’s worth it for the fact that you are making what could possibly be the love-child of biscotti and brownie.
Chocolate, Orange & Hazelnut Biscotti
90g unsalted butter, softened
2 cups plain flour, plus extra for rolling
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon bi-carb soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
one teaspoon vanilla paste or essence
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
zest of one orange
1 cup shelled hazelnuts
1/2 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius and line a baking tray with parchment.
In a medium bowl, mix together flour, cocoa powder, bi-carb soda and salt. In a separate bowl cream the butter and sugar until nice and fluffy using a stand mixer or hand held. One by one add your eggs, followed by the zest and vanilla while the mixer is still going on a low speed.
Turn off the mixer and scrape down sides of bowl if necessary. Add the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon to form a stiff (but rather sticky) dough. Stir in hazelnuts and chocolate chips.
Lightly flour your hands and bench and scrape the dough out of the bowl. Working quickly, shape your dough into a flattened sort of log that’s roughly around 30cm x 10cm.
Pop the dough on the prepared baking sheet and bake until slightly firm, about 25 – 30 minutes. Cool on a bench for about 15 minutes. Reduce the oven to 150 degrees.
Put the dough on the tray in the freezer for about 30 minutes to help it firm up. This will make it easier to cut, while keeping the interior slightly gooey.
Slice the log into 3cm pieces and put back on to a baking paper lined tray, cut side down.
Pop back in the oven for 20 minutes, then let cool completely before serving.
Goes well with a nice cup of tea and good conversation.