Tuesday, May 23, 2006

How Sweet It Is: Limoncello Biscotti

Springs gifts was the excuse I came up with for the nearly 30 bottles of limoncello crammed on a counter in my kitchen this April. I want to be one of those people who bestows little jars of fig jam and rhubarb confit on her friends when the season so inspires. But when I started giving the bottles away, they seemed lonely. A bottle of limoncello is nice, but it would be nicer if it had something to go with it. Biscotti—no doubt because it’s Italian—was the first treat that came to mind.

I hopped online and did my favorite thing when it comes to seeking out new recipes: Googled. Going for the obvious, I typed limoncello and biscotti. I’m not sure what I thought would come up. A website devoted solely to biscotti recipes intended to complement Italian lemon liqueur, I suppose. What I found was better. A recipe on recipegoldmine.com and aaa-recipes.com for Limoncello-Pine Nut Biscotti.

Biscotti is one of those treats that looks as if it requires expertise to make. Maybe it’s the way it’s usually packaged in coffee shops and bakeries, in elegant individual wrappers tied with grosgrain ribbon or clustered in pretty glass jars. Or maybe it’s the distinctive shape, unlike most generically round cookies. I gave myself plenty of time—an entire evening—to attempt my first batch. Ten minutes after I started mixing the ingredients, my biscotti was baking in the oven. I had cut it and baked it once again when my sister walked into the kitchen, did a double take at the baking sheet, and gave it the ultimate compliment: “Wow, that actually looks like biscotti.”

This recipe is so easy and so good. Its caramely pine nut sweetness is perfect with the limoncello, which is underscored by the tart of lemon and bite of alcohol. I modified the recipe slightly, but credit is due to the websites I mention above. Along with pairing it with limoncello, it is also good the traditional way, dunked in a cup of coffee.

(P.S. My limoncello has now been tested in Seattle and Paso Robles, and the raves were unanimous. You must to make some. You can order the small bottles in the photograph from specialtybottle.com.)

Limoncello-Pine Nut Biscotti

- 1 cup all-purpose flour (I also tried this recipe with whole wheat flour, which gives the biscotti a heartier flavor. I like the whole wheat version better)
- ½ cup granulated organic sugar, plus a bit extra to sprinkle on top
- a generous pinch of good sea salt
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 3 Tbsp cold, unsalted butter, cut into tiny pieces, plus extra for buttering the pan
- 1 large egg
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- zest of 2 large lemons (if you can pick the lemons yourself, that’s the best)
- 2 Tbsp limoncello
- ¾ cup toasted pine nuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a cookie sheet.

1. Place the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor and pulse briefly to blend.
2. Add the chopped butter and pulse briefly a few times, until the butter is broken down into very tiny bits.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, vanilla extract, lemon zest and limoncello. Add this and the pine nuts to the food processor and pulse very briefly, just to blend. The mixture should be moist but crumbly.
4. Turn it out onto a flat surface and press it together. Press the dough away from you using the palm of you hand once or twice so everything is well moistened.
5. Form the dough into a ball. Cut the dough in half and roll each section into a 1-inch-thick rope. I made mine a little bigger, because I wanted larger pieces. Keep in mind, though, that the dough is going to expand in the oven. If the dough seems too sticky, dust your hands with flour while rolling it.
6. Place the two ropes on the baking sheet a few inches apart. Flatten the tops slightly.
7. Sprinkle lightly with sugar and bake until lightly golden, about 30 minutes.
8. Remove from the oven and let sit for about 5 minutes to cool slightly. If the logs are too hot when you try to slice them, they can break.

Cutting the biscotti:

When the two ropes are cool enough to remove from the sheet pan without breaking, place them on a flat surface and cut into approximately ½-inch slices, cutting on an angle using a quick, clean stroke with a sharp chef's knife. A sawing motion may cause the biscotti to break. Don’t worry if they feel a bit crumbly. If you handle them gently, they will be fine.

Place the cut biscotti, cut side up, back on the sheet pan, and bake for about 10 minutes longer, or until they are lightly browned.

When cool, store in a covered container. They will keep about one week.