Abandon all hard, twice-baked, coffeehouse biscotti, ye who enter here. I propose a softer, gentler biscotti—just like my Sicilian grandmother and mother used to bake. Are they a lot of work? Sì, sì. Are they worth it? Assolutamente! These delicious cookies, unfrosted, freeze beautifully, so you can prepare them in advance. When you’re ready to serve them, thaw them and frost them the day before you’re ready to serve. Or frost them the day you bake them, as soon as they’ve cooled. Or don’t frost them at all. I guarantee you’ll love them. (And if you enjoy them with coffee, remember: it’s all right to dunk.)
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—Makes approximately 14 dozen cookies
Two sticks unsalted butter, softened
Two-and-a-half cups sugar
One-and-a-half cups milk
Three tablespoons baking powder
One teaspoon vanilla*
Eight cups unsifted flour (more might be needed)
*Some people prefer anise flavoring, or even lemon. I’m not one of those people.
STEP ONE: Cream sugar and shortening in a stand mixer using the paddle attachment. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.
Here’s how the dough should look after all six eggs have been incorporated into the batter.
STEP TWO: Combine vanilla and milk. Add baking powder to five cups of the flour. Add some of the vanilla/milk, and alternate with some of the enhanced flour. Beat after each addition and continue to alternate liquid with dry ingredients until the five cups of enhanced flour have been used up.
Here’s how the dough should look after the vanilla/milk mixture and five cups of flour (with baking powder incorporated) have been added.
STEP THREE: Add remaining three cups of flour a small amount at a time, beating after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl. At this point we begin to bake the way my grandmother did; she spoke very little English, and never wrote out her recipes—my mother was her scribe. You will absolutely have to add more flour—I can’t really say how much, because, like my grandmother, at this point I work by instinct. Just know that you’ll know you’ve hit the sweet spot when you pull apart a small amount of dough and it begins to hold shape and no longer feels sticky. You’ll also find, shortly before reaching this point, that the mixer has given you its all and it’s time to add the additional flour by hand, stirring well. At this stage you’ll want to use either a heavy spoon, or what I like to call a culinary carpet beater. If you’ve ever read my recipe for spätzle, you’ll recognize this utensil.
Time to switch out the mixer and use some elbow grease, along with either a heavy spoon or a utensil like the one depicted here. I also find it helpful to transfer the dough into a larger bowl.
STEP FOUR: You deserve a break after using the carpet beater. You’ll also have used your hands to knead the dough. Note that I’ve transferred the dough to a larger bowl for easier handling. Top the dough closely with wax paper so that no air gets to it, Put plastic wrap over the entire bowl, and refrigerate it while you grab some lunch or a cup of coffee.
Here’s what the finished dough should look like. It’s now ready for a brief sojourn in the refrigerator while you put your feet up.
STEP FIVE: Remove the dough from the refrigerator and prepare your work area. I like to use a large cutting board at my dining room table. (I’m careful to spread a heavy-duty vinyl table cloth on it first.) You’ll also need extra flour to dust the board, plenty of greased cookie sheets, and a knife for cutting the dough.
Roll the dough, by hand, into desired shapes—I like to make braided wreaths, straight braids, S-shapes, and coils. This photo gallery will show you the process for making a braided wreath.
Place the shaped biscotti on greased cookie sheets, and bake at 400-degrees for 10 to 12 minutes, or until they are very lightly browned on top. Do not overbake. Once they have cooled, they are ready for frosting.
—Makes enough frosting for about 10 dozen biscotti
One stick unsalted butter, softened
One teaspoon vanilla extract
One pound Confectioner’s sugar (no need to sift)
Three to four tablespoons milk
Using the whisk attachment of a stand mixer, cream butter with extract. Gradually add Confectioner’s sugar, beating thoroughly after each addition. Stir in milk and beat until frosting is of spreading consistency.
I find it helpful to prepare my workspace ahead of time, spreading my trusty tablecloth on the dining table, using freezer paper as a way station for the unfrosted biscotti and a finishing room for the ones I’ve already frosted. You’ll want to let the frosted cookies sit out in the air for several hours so the icing hardens up and makes it easier to transfer them to either a serving platter or a Tupperware storage container, using waxed paper to line the layers of cookies. Once frosted, these should keep for about a week if kept in an airtight container. No need to refrigerate them.
One final note: if you find yourself intimidated by the amount of work these take, do what I do and make them once or twice a year only during holiday seasons. I recently made a large batch for my future daughter-in-law’s bridal shower, and shaped a few longer braids into hearts.