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Biscotti

Biscotti MD

I am rather partial to a biscuit with my tea or coffee.  My problem is that I cannot just stop at one.  The solution is not to buy them and this generally works well.  The only trouble is that I live with someone who is also partial to a biscuit.  Even more partial to a full biscuit barrel but these are rare objects, especially in our house.

Dunking biscuits are my real love, and for me, the biscotti is the Rolls Royce of dunkers.  Best described as a hard, golden, nut-filled biscuit with a crunch, they should not be eaten in their undunked state by those who are teeth-challenged.

If we do have them in the house they won’t last long.  So they are avoided.  Until a few weeks ago when we were both shopping in Terroni of Clerkenwell.  While I was at the counter ordering cheese and salami, Tom disappeared only to reappear with a large bag of biscotti, which I was only too happy to add to the shopping.

When we returned home we indulged in a couple to accompany our coffees.  We were both slightly smug in congratulating each other at how restrained we were in just having two.

My only thought was that when he was out of the way there would be all the more for me.  The next day when I was alone I started to think about those biscottis and how nice they would be with my cup of coffee.  Before I knew it, I was looking for a place to hide the empty packaging.

When Tom returned and made us both coffee I could hear him opening cupboards and drawers – I knew what he was searching for but, instead of owning up, I clung on to the hope that he had forgotten them.  He hadn’t and knew exactly who had had the lot.

So, to make up for my disgraceful greed I have made two batches and, in doing so, I have awakened my addiction for a biscotti with my morning and afternoon coffee.  The shop bought ones were nice but home-made takes them to another level.

Biscotti

Ingredients

90-150g / 3 1/2 oz blanched almonds

(I have put 90-150g of blanched almonds because the recipe can take the lower end of almonds or the upper end its personal choice – plus it depends on the amount of almonds I have, I hate leaving twenty almonds in the bottom of a packet).

250g/9 oz plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

250g/9 oz caster sugar

2 eggs beaten

1 egg yolk

1 tsp vanilla extract

Method

Set oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4.  Scatter the blanched almonds onto a baking tray and bake for 10 minutes making sure that they don’t catch or burn.

Remove from the oven, cool for a couple of minutes and then roughly chop.  The almonds being warm from the oven cut very easily so don’t wait for them to cool too much.

Put the chopped almonds, flour, baking powder, caster sugar, eggs, egg yolk and vanilla extract into a bowl.  Mix to form a dough.

Turn out onto a floured board and knead for about 5 minutes, the dough will be very sticky.

When the dough is well combined, form into a 12″ log and place onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

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Bake for 40 minutes.  The dough will have slightly risen and be a beautiful golden colour.

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Put onto a wire rack and allow to cool.

Turn the oven down to 140C/275/Gas mark 1.

With a bread knife carefully slice the log into 1 cm slices.  Place the slices flat side down onto a baking sheet  and return to the oven for 20-25 minutes, turning once during this time.

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Cool on wire rack.

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Kourabiethes are a Greek biscuit, made at Christmas, Easter and Weddings.  The texture is very much like shortbread with the addition of brandy and almonds. These biscuits have been made for generations and there are so many variations of the recipe.

I use my great grandmother’s recipe.  I like the thought that a hundred years on I am re-creating her recipes, which no doubt she took from her mother, and so it continues.  I don’t think when she was writing the recipes down, she would ever imagine that her book would be read and treasured and her recipes cooked in an English kitchen.  What she wouldn’t know is how much I struggled with translating her writing and in places her lack of instruction!  I am guilty myself of writing the recipe down in a shorthand style.

In the picture the Kourabiethes sit on her plates and so without too much imagination I can guess that those plates have seen kourabiethes many times in the past.  What we eat is so important to keep us alive and healthy but it has many facets, the saying food for the soul is a very true phrase.  These biscuits are for me food for my soul and a thin golden thread that links me into a past and a tradition.

The biscuits are normally made in a small domed bun shape or a crescent shape.  I have read somewhere that is this is because during the Turkish occupation of Greece, the Turks insisted that the biscuits be cut in a crescent to represent their flag.  I just don’t know if this is true .

I have made some changes to the original recipe.  Firstly I didn’t soak the almonds in cold water overnight and I didn’t beat the butter and sugar for 2 hours.  What I did do is use the K beater on the Kenwood.  Is it any wonder these biscuits were saved for extra special occasions, there must have been some pretty strong biceps around!

Kourabiethes

Ingredients

300 gms/ 10 oz unsalted butter at room temperature

110 gms/ 3oz Icing sugar

120 gms/ 4 oz almonds skinned and chopped.  For a better flavour either roast them in the oven or in a pan, I prefer the pan method, toss them in a dry frying pan until they start to take on some colour, remove and leave to cool.

25 gms/  2floz/56ml Brandy (this is optional, you can use vanilla extract or even orange juice)

600 gms/ 1 lb 5 oz  plain flour

½ tablespoon baking powder

Method

Put the softened butter into a bowl (if possible a Kenwood or similar) and add the icing sugar, beat for 20 minutes, the longer you beat the crisper the biscuit.

After 20 minutes the butter will have become very pale and creamy, add the brandy, then add the flour, ground almonds and baking powder and mix slowly until a dough has been formed.  When touched it should not stick to your hand if it does continue to mix a little longer.

Taking a spoonful at a time, roll in your hands lightly into a ball and place onto a lined baking tray flattening them a little.  To make sure all the biscuits cook evenly  weigh each ball as you form the biscuits  (30gms per biscuit is fine – I made mine 35 gms).

Place in the middle of the oven Gas mark 3/160 for 20-30 minutes (in my oven I cooked the biscuits for 35 mins) until they just start to take on some colour.

When cooked remove the biscuits and cool.  To serve either put icing sugar in a bowl and toss biscuits in until completely covered or sprinkle icing sugar on with a sieve.  These biscuits keep really well in an airtight container but leave the icing until they are ready to serve.  Saying that all the biscuits I have had made for me and sent in the post have all been coated in icing and taste lovely – its up to you.

The rumour is that kept in an airtight container they can last up to three months, I have never managed to keep them more than two weeks, they get eaten.

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