When Tony Fortuna, the owner of Lenox, one of my favorite restaurants in New York City, gave me this recipe for his biscotti, I stopped making any other almond biscotti and started making these in double batches — twice a week. They are perfect — crunchy but not rock solid, dippable, dunkable and eminently munchable, as good with breakfast cafe au lait as with late-night herbal tea. They're great with ice cream, fruit salad, mousses and puddings, too. Mille grazie, Tony.
These lend themselves to many variations, and additions (see Playing Around).
Makes about 30 cookies
SERVING: These are good with just about anything — including themselves. Eat one, and you'll want another.
STORING: Because they are dry and they're fine if they get even drier, the biscotti will keep at room temperature, covered or not, for about a week. They can be frozen, but I rarely store them that way — mostly because they rarely last long enough to get wrapped up for long-term storage.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract
3/4 cup sliced almonds, blanched or unblanched
GETTING READY: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.
Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together. Add the cornmeal and whisk again to blend.
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together at medium speed for 3 minutes, until very smooth. Add the eggs and continue to beat, scraping down the bowl as needed, for another 2 minutes, or until the mixture is light, smooth and creamy. Beat in the almond extract. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are incorporated. You'll have a soft, stick-to-your-fingers dough that will ball up around the paddle or beaters. Scrape down the paddle and bowl, toss in the almonds and mix just to blend.
Scrape half the dough onto one side of the baking sheet. Using your fingers and a rubber spatula or scraper, work the dough into a log about 12 inches long and 1 1¿2 inches wide. The log will be more rectangular than domed, and bumpy, rough and uneven. Form a second log with the remaining dough on the other side of the baking sheet.
Bake for 15 minutes, or until the logs are lightly golden but still soft and springy to the touch. Transfer the baking sheet to a rack and cool the logs on the baking sheet for 30 minutes.
If you turned off the oven, bring it back up to 350 degrees F.
Using a wide metal spatula, transfer the logs to a cutting board and, with a long serrated knife, trim the ends and cut the logs into 3/4-inch-thick slices. Return the slices to the baking sheet — this time standing them up like a marching band — and slide the sheet back into the oven.
Bake the biscotti for another 15 minutes, or until they are golden and firm. Transfer them to racks and cool to room temperature.
PLAYING AROUND: I'll get you started with some suggestions for varying these biscotti, but I know you'll have several of your own — just look in your cupboard for ideas.
DRIED FRUIT BISCOTTI: Add about 1/3 cup dried fruit, such as raisins, dried cherries, cranberries, apricots (chopped) or currants, to the dough. If you'd like an extra shot of flavor, flame the fruit with port, kirsch, dark rum or amaretto.
SPICED BISCOTTI: Whisk some spice into the flour mixture: ground cinnamon, ginger, cardamom or even black pepper. For cinnamon and ginger, use 1/2 to 1 teaspoon; for cardamom, 1/2 teaspoon; and for black pepper, 1/2 to 1 teaspoon. Start with the lesser amount, then make to-taste adjustments on the next batch. If you choose to add ginger, you could also add very small pieces of stem ginger in syrup (available at Asian markets and in the Asian foods sections of some supermarkets).
ANISETTE BISCOTTI: Many traditional biscotti are flavored with anise, and these can be, too. For the best results, grind the aniseed (start with 1 1/2 teaspoons and, if you want, increase or decrease the amount in your next batch) in a food processor or blender with the sugar.
NUTTY BISCOTTI: Substitute walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts or chopped macadamia nuts for the almonds or, following the theory that more is merrier, make the biscotti with a combination of nuts.
LEMON OR ORANGE BISCOTTI: Rub the grated zest of 2 lemons or 1 orange into the sugar before beating the butter and sugar together.