Saturday, May 11, 2013

Quaresimali (biscotti)

Picture with my iPhone 4S in my homemade lightbox
      I grew up in an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn, called Carroll Gardens. It's a beautiful, old neighborhood with brownstones and gardens that are spotted with Catholic statues of the Madonna. Nowadays, it is overrun by ex-patriots from Manhattan, and city people looking for a "friendlier" place to raise their avante garde children, who they name Apple, Pear, and Reindeer. 
      This might sound crazy, but growing up in Brooklyn, the world felt like a small place. Each neighborhood is layered with tightly woven fibers of nationalities and classes that seamlessly function independently of each other. Everybody minds their own business, and every once in awhile if you take a gasp of air you can poke your head into somebody else's life for a brief moment, before slipping back into your usual fast paced stride. Loyalties abound in my neighborhood- with four grocery stores on my block alone, you develop personal relationships with store owners (whether they know it or not).
Beautiful Nashville roses from this morning. I can't not share this! May 2013.
 There are two Italian pastry shops in my neighborhood, and we have loyalties to both. We get our cheesecake and biscotti from Court Pastry, and our rainbow cookies, grain pies, and cannolis from Monteleone's. I have memories of sitting on a swivel chair in my dad's basement workshop with a white paper bag filled with biscotti in my lap. I would giddily swing my feet and and listen to my dad tell one of his many stories/mathematical theorems, and quietly open the bag and inhale the delicate, fragrant aroma of almonds. I needed nothing more at that moment to feel perfectly fulfilled- I had everything I needed. Wonderful Daddy? Check. Delicious biscotti? Check. Life was simple.   
Toasted almonds- highly recommend for a fragrant, nutty aroma in your house.
       This is the closest recipe I could find to my precious biscotti of yore. They come from David Liebovitz, who is one of the foremost food authorities in the blogosphere. The man is a genius, and I adore him very much. These are crunchy cookies that need to be enjoyed with hot tea or coffee (if you value your teeth). 
To get your eggs to room temperature before mixing, put them in a bowl of warm water for five minutes!  Et voila! 
 I made several changes to make these more diabetic-friendly: I used sprouted whole wheat flour instead of regular flour, and as an experiment used sucralose instead of sugar. All I will say about sucralose is that it is a new experiment, and that the taste was surprisingly good. Use sugar by all means for this recipe, but if you are curious about more diabetic-friendly options it wouldn't be a terrible way to go. I also prefer these with an egg glaze (I tried half with the glaze and half without). The sheen is a good look for these cookies.
Top loaf- unglazed, bottom loaf- glazed. The glazed bar won out for aesthetics!

Lemon quaresimali cookies/biscotti 
From David Lebovitz's "Ready for Dessert", via the LA Times dining section
1-3/4 cups (245 g) sprouted whole wheat flour* 
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, plus 1 large egg for glazing
1-1/3 cups (265 g) sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Grated zest of 2 lemons, preferably organic
1-1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup (250 g) almonds, toasted**

* Let's be real- any flour you have. Just keep in mind the texture will be a little nuttier/grainier with whole wheat flours. You could start with all-purpose, or half all purpose and half wheat... the possibilities are endless! A good compromise is King Arthur's White Wheat flour- nutty taste, and more delicate texture! 

**To toast almonds, place in a layer on a baking sheet and bake at 350F for about 10 minutes, until fragrant and slightly toasted. Keep an eye on them, they'll burn quickly! 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the 2 eggs, sugar, vanilla, lemon zest and lemon juice. Add the dry ingredients and mix, then add the almonds.
Divide the dough in half and place each half on a prepared baking sheet. Using dampened hands, shape each half into a 13 by 2-1/2 inch log.
In a small bowl, whisk the remaining egg. Brush the logs with egg wash with a brush (didn't have a brush so I used my hands), then brush them again.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the logs are golden brown (They will flatten out during baking). Rotate the pans halfway during baking to ensure an even brown.
Remove the baking sheets from the oven and lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees F. Let the logs cool on the baking sheets for 10 to 15 minutes. Patience! 
Carefully move the logs to a cutting board, and with a serrated bread knife, slice each log crosswise into 1-inch bars. Place the cookies, on their sides, in a single layer on the baking sheets and bake for 20 minutes. Let cool completely.
Store in an airtight container. I wouldn't know how long these last... Enjoy with a cup of coffee or tea, and share with friends! 

One more Nashville flower pic to leave you with! Nashville, May 2013. 

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