It's just two weeks into the Great British Bake Off and they're already busting out a technical challenge that no one has ever heard of (and we include ourselves in that: what ARE arlettes?!). Who's got time to make puff pastry anyway, let alone in reverse?
The real star of the show is biscotti. These twice-baked Italian almond biscuits are quietly sophisticated and a match for coffee, dessert wine or liqueur. The name biscotti just means "biscuits" in Italian, but these dry, crunchy biscuits are more of an after dinner experience. Don't even try to eat them on their own straight from the tin. Plus, they keep for a month, so they also make a fabulous edible gift that you can make ahead.
In the test kitchen, we've made them before - in several variations. There's our classic almond and chocolate biscotti recipe or we've mixed it up with chocolate and pistachio biscotti, made with a chocolate mixture. Our orange, pecan and cranberry biscotti have Christmas written all over them. But what's the best way to make biscotti? This is what we've learnt.
1. Get your logs right
Biscotti are made from baking one or two large ‘logs', then cutting them into slices to create the signature oblong biscuits, which are then baked again to dry them out, giving them that dry, crunchy texture. Mix and knead the dough so that it just comes together. Don't overdo it. Your dough will be sticky! Lightly dust the work surface and your hands with flour before you begin, as this will make it easier to handle the dough. Or you could try with oiled hands, if your dough is particularly wet and sticky.
2. Give the logs space
Don't place them too close to each other on the baking tray, or you may end up with one giant log... Put them on baking paper and make a pleat in the middle to help separate them.
3. Bake on the middle shelf
The bottom shelf = more chance of them burning.
4. Don't rush cooling
After the first bake, it's important to leave the logs to cool for at least 15 minutes so that they firm up and will be easier to slice without crumbling.
5. Use a serrated knife
Don't rush this! Cut even slices, straight down and each with a 1cm thickness so that they all bake at the same rate second time round. Take care when cutting through whole nuts as this is what will give the biscotti their distinctive look.
7. Go for crunch
In the second bake, you're looking to dry out the biscotti to give them that characteristic crunch. All ovens vary, so if your biscotti aren't dry enough after the second bake, keep going - but keep a close eye on them so they don't burn.
8. Don't be afraid to experiment
You don't have to stick to sweet flavours. Why not try fennel seeds, Parmesan and pine nut? Or cardamom and pistachio? Try different flavour combinations, but make sure you stick to the proportions in the original recipe for best results.
9. Store them in an airtight container
After two bakes, you don't want a bite to go to waste. Store biscotti in a cake tin or airtight container for up to a month (if you can resist eating them for that long).
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