This was my second year judging the biscotti competition at the San Mateo County Fair. Last year’s entries were good, but this year’s were even better. There were classic anise-flavored biscotti, two chocolate versions, two ginger-flavored versions, a couple with raisins and dried cranberries, a full-blown peanut butter, and a rosemary-pistachio. (Apologies for any that I forgot.) Before the judging begins, we take a walk around and give each entry a once over. My first reaction to the winning cookie was that it would be a hard one to beat. It looked like a Stella D’Oro biscotti—perfectly sliced, evenly browned, with a precise amount of chocolate drizzled on each. The winner was a cinnamon-hazelnut biscotti with chocolate.
One aspect of the judging process is to check the recipe for accuracy. And being that this is an amateur competition, invariably there are some faults. I end up taking the longest out of all the judges because I love to examine the recipes and give suggestions. My only complaint with the winning biscotti was that the contestant left the hazelnuts whole. Otherwise, I didn’t have anything else to say other than job well done.
I find biscotti such an interesting cookie because there are so many variations. Texture change considerably when a fat is used and often the amount of egg is balanced by the right amount of flour. It’s pretty apparent when a recipe has gone wrong and a biscotti is either tooth-breaking hard or too soft for dunking. I prefer a little fat in my biscotti and like them nicely toasted or twice-baked to a golden brown. Below is a biscotti recipe that recently created and it has a good balance of flavor, fruit, and nuts (which are chopped).
Feel free to save the brandy for another recipe or enjoy as an after dinner treat with the biscotti.
1 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup brandy
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg white
1 tsp. vanilla
1. Heat raisins and brandy in a microwave-safe bowl in microwave for 1 minute. Remove, cover, and allow to sit for at least 1/2 hour.
2. Place hazelnuts on a cookie sheet and toast in a 325° oven for 10 minutes, or until fragrant. Remove from oven and place hazelnuts on a clean dish towel. Fold towel over nuts and vigorously rub them together so that most of the skins are removed. Chop nuts and set aside.
3. Mix together flours, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon; set aside.
4. In a standing mixer, beat butter until fluffy; add sugars and continue to beat. Add eggs and egg white, one at a time, until incorporated; add vanilla.
5. With mixer running, add flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. Add nuts and strained raisins, reserving brandy for another use.
6. Turn dough onto cookie sheet and form three logs, running perpendicular to length of pan, each 4” by 10”. Smooth tops of each log.
7. In a 350° oven, bake for 30 minutes. Remove pan and cool logs for 5 minutes. One at a time, remove logs and slice each into 1/2” cookies, and place back on cookie sheet.
8. Reduce oven temperature to 325° and place cookies back in oven for 15 minutes, or until cookies are lightly toasted.
9. Remove from oven, cool, and store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.