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When researching Italian desserts in search of inspiration for my entry to the #TuscanyNowCookOff Challenge, I was unable to prevent myself from being irresistibly drawn towards the traditional Christmas pastries, such as panettone and panforte. It’s that time of year, I guess. Loads of spices and dried fruits seemed to be in demand.
And suddenly I had the happiest thought. Why not take panforte, an ancient Tuscan confection simply bursting with spices, dried fruits, and nuts, and work it into a recipe for that most quintessential of Italian cookies, biscotti?
With that decided, all that remained was for me to choose exactly which spices, nuts, etc., I would use. No easy task, for, as is the case with most recipes that are over eight centuries old, bakers have had plenty of time to play around with panforte, and no two recipes matched up exactly.
There is a tradition, however, that calls for using seventeen ingredients in panforte, representing the seventeen contrade (city wards) of Siena, the Tuscan town most associated with the spicy confection. (The town possesses the earliest known written records of panforte, so even though we can’t know for certain that the recipe actually originated there, Siena at least has the best argument in its favour!)
I also was intrigued by the variation of the recipe known as panforte nero, and eagerly jumped at the chance to work some chocolate into the recipe, because—well, because I like chocolate. (Which you might have guessed when you saw the photograph I use for my blog header.)
I used cocoa powder in the actual cookie dough, but then dipped the finished biscotti in tempered chocolate to provide further flavour, as well as a rich, dark sheen for an appropriately luxurious and festive appearance.
And I just realized at the last minute that I can submit these biscotti to The Spice Trail challenge hosted by Vanesther over at Bangers and Mash. The theme was black pepper, so I wasn’t expecting to be able to link up a sweet recipe . . . but as panforte is also known as panpepato or “pepper bread” due to the inclusion of black pepper in the spice mixture, it works a charm!
Update: December 1st, 2014
I have learned that the theme for the November/December Cooking with Herbs challenge hosted by Karen of Lavender and Lovage is “Sugar and Spice.” I can’t imagine a more perfect theme for these biscotti!
I did it! Almonds, pine nuts, cocoa, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, black pepper, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, figs, dates, cherries, lemon, orange, vanilla—a grand total of seventeen!
Ingredients:¾ cup (120 g.) whole almonds (skin on) ¼ cup (30 g.) pine nuts 3 cups (435 g.) all-purpose flour ¼ cup (25 g.) cocoa powder 1 ¼ teaspoons cinnamon ½ teaspoon ground ginger ¼ teaspoon cloves ¼ teaspoon nutmeg ¼ teaspoon black pepper ¼ teaspoon salt ¾ teaspoon baking powder ¼ teaspoon baking soda ½ cup (110 g.) unsalted butter, at room temperature ½ cup (170 g.) honey ¼ cup (55 g.) brown sugar 2 eggs 1 teaspoon vanilla extract ½ cup (90 g.) dried figs, diced ½ cup (90 g.) dates, diced ½ cup (110 g.) glace cherries, finely chopped ¼ cup (45 g.) mixed citron ½ ball stem ginger, very finely diced ½ teaspoon lemon zest Tempered chocolate for dipping (see the Coconut Easter Egg Candy recipe for instructions on tempering chocolate)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Grease a large baking sheet.
- In a dry skillet over medium-high heat, toast the almonds until they are fragrant and the skin is darkened in spots, 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent the nuts from scorching.
- Transfer the almonds to a cutting board and chop them roughly.
- Now place the pine nuts in the skillet and toast them, stirring frequently, until fragrant and patched with gold, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside. (Don’t leave them in the skillet, as they will continue to cook even if you have turned off the heat.)
- In a large bowl, sift together the flour and cocoa powder. Whisk in the spices, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Set dry mixture aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter, honey, and brown sugar until the mixture is light and creamy.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and stir in the vanilla extra.
- With the machine running on low speed, gradually mix in the dry ingredients. As soon as the dry mixture has been incorporated, raise the speed slightly and beat until a smooth dough forms. Scrape down the bowl.
- Stir in the dried figs, dates, glace cherries, citron, stem ginger, and lemon zest.
- Once these ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the dough, add the chopped almonds and pine nuts and mix briefly, just to combine. You don’t want to mix too long, as the paddle can break up the nuts and then they won’t look as impressive in the finished product!
- Divide the dough into two equal portions. Roll into fat logs, about 10 inches in length.
- Place the logs on the greased baking sheet, spacing them well apart from each other, and flatten them down into 1-inch-thick rectangles. Once they have been flattened, the logs should be 3 inches wide and approximately 12 inches long.
- Bake until the logs are just firm to the touch in the centre, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the baking sheet to a wire rack and let the logs cool on the pan for 5 minutes.
- Carefully loosen the biscotti logs from the pan and slide them onto a cutting board. Be very careful, as the logs will be fragile and still quite moist in the centre. Turn the oven temperature down to 300°F/150°C.
- Use a sharp serrated knife to slice the logs into ½-inch-thick wedges, cutting on a diagonal to produce biscotti with the traditional angled look.
- Transfer the sliced biscotti back onto the baking sheet, standing them up so that both cut sides are exposed (this saves you from having to flip them over halfway through the second baking).
- Return to the oven and bake until the biscotti are dry and firm to the touch, 25 to 45 minutes. (Due to the high percentage of fruit in the dough, these biscotti take a long time to dry; however, this time will vary depending on the moisture content of your fruits, as well as the humidity in the air. This is why there is such a large time range given for this step.)
- Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack. The biscotti will continue to crisp up as they cool.
- Once the biscotti have fully cooled, dip them halfway into the tempered chocolate and then set aside on a piece of wax paper to let the chocolate set.
- Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.
Yield: 3 dozen biscotti