One of the things I remember most about baking for the holidays with my mother was the early preparation she did to eliminate the mad-rush to get everything done for Christmas. Some cookies were started as early as the second week following Thanksgiving and certainly, her fruitcakes would be made before December even crept in. So, now that I'm home again, my thoughts turn to those memories as I begin my holiday baking.
Biscotti is a perfect cookie to consider for baking ahead. This cookie, or as they were originally known as, biscotti di Prato, for the Italian city of origin, has become one of the most popular treats found in coffee shops. This twice-baked biscuit not only freezes well (up to 6 weeks) but can easily be stored for up to 3 weeks in an airtight container in a cool, dry environment. Furthermore, they travel well, which for me when I'm shipping cookies to family, is an important factor.
Today, I chose dried cherries and pistachios with a touch of lemon zest, but the combinations are endless when it comes to creating a favorite.
Although the original biscotti contained no yeast, fat (butter or oil) or milk, I typically bake an American version that does have butter or oil in combination with eggs. Some of the popular additions to the dough are nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, or pistachios), dried fruit (cherries, cranberries, blueberries, currants), bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate bits or chunks, and of course cocoa, substituted for some of the flour. The first biscotti I ever had was flavored lightly with anise and orange zest, which is still a favorite for me to bake.
Holiday Pistachio~Dried Cherry Biscotti
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut in small 1/2-inch cubes to soften
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. lemon zest
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1 cup pistachios, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup dried cherries, softened and coarsely chopped
Preheat oven to 350F-degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
Soak the dried cherries in boiling water for 15 to 30 minutes. Drain and coarsely chop. Coarsely chop the pistachios and set both aside.
In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar and lemon zest. Beat in eggs, one at a time, scraping the sides bowl in between. Add the vanilla and salt. Whisk the flour and baking powder together in a separate bowl, then, add to the creamed mixture, beating on low just until blended. Stir in the pistachios and cherries.
Form the dough into a 16-inch x 3-inch log. Wet hands to smooth the dough. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes until golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 15 to 20 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 325F-degrees.
Transfer the baked log, using the parchment paper under it, to a cutting board.
Using a sharp, serrated knife, cut the log diagonally into 3/4-inch thick slices. Arrange the biscotti on the same baking sheet, covered with a new sheet of parchment, and bake for an additional 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before transferring to a rack to cool completely.
Additionally, you can melt 12-ounces of white chocolate over a double-boiler to dip half of the cooled biscotti into. Shake off the excess chocolate and place on a baking sheet until the chocolate sets. You can refrigerate the biscotti for about 35 minutes to speed up the process.
As panic sets in, as the holiday draws near, having a little help of baking ahead certainly calms me. It will be one less last minute thing to be done before our grandson arrives for a visit. Let the baking begin--Enjoy!