BISCOTTI FOR A BABY SHOWER!

Biscotti Baby ShowerToday I have a special post for you!  We are throwing a virtual baby shower for a great food blogger I got to know through the Secret Recipe Club, Tara,  from Tara’s Multicultural Table. We are all baking biscotti for this party. Why biscotti, you may ask? Well, it is her second baby, and these are twice baked cookies: a natural choice!  Wanna see what I came up with? Here they are:

MapleWalnutBiscotti

I was quite excited to participate, because – believe it or not – I’d never made biscotti from scratch. But first, let me share a story. My first time enjoying biscotti was in 1991, during a visit to Italy. The best possible place to get acquainted with this delicacy, if you ask me.  I had given a seminar in a big vaccine biotech company, and they took me out for a fantastic dinner later that evening. After dinner, where vino was flowing freely, someone insisted that we should all head to a bar so that I could try biscotti dunked in grappa. I knew nothing about either entity, but quickly realized that they complement each other perfectly. The biscotti are hard, but the grappa softens it. And the sweetness of the biscotti masks quite well – maybe too well –  the alcohol in the grappa. Of course, after dunking, you’re supposed to drink the leftover grappa with the little tiny bits of biscotti that found their way to the bottom of the glass. Great food, vino, grappa, all framed by the beauty of Tuscany! Good thing I had already given my talk at that point, and was in full “dolce far niente” mode. At any rate, it was a magical evening. I remember a complete sense of awe as I walked back to my hotel under the most amazing full moon shining over the streets of Siena.  One of those perfect moments that stay with you forever. Since biscotti are so dear to my heart, I spent quite a bit of time debating which kind to bake for Tara’s baby shower. Of course, keeping it all baby-friendly, I’ll ask you to skip that dunking in grappa.  Unless there’s a full moon outside, then all bets are off… 😉

tray

MAPLE WALNUT BISCOTTI
(from Susan Russo, for NPR)

Makes about 36 biscotti

for the biscotti:
2 cups unsalted walnuts
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, plus 1 egg, lightly beaten, for brushing tops of loaves
3 tablespoons maple extract

for the icing:
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons maple syrup

Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Place walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast in the 350-degree oven for 10 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and coarsely chop. Set aside.

In a large bowl, hand mix toasted walnuts, sugars, cinnamon, baking powder and flour. In a small bowl, whisk eggs. Add maple extract and whisk until well blended. Add to the flour mixture. Stir a few times. Work the batter together with lightly floured hands. Keep squeezing the batter with your hands, until a dough starts to form. Shape as a ball and divide it into 4 equal pieces.

On a lightly floured surface, place one piece of dough, and using your hands, roll into a log shape that is approximately 8 inches long, 2 inches wide, and 3/4 of an inch high. If it’s sticky, simply dust your palms with more flour. Repeat with remaining three pieces of dough. Brush loaves all over with 1 lightly beaten egg.

Bake for 40 minutes, rotating pans halfway through, or until the tops of the loaves are shiny and deep golden. Cool on a rack for about 20 minutes before slicing, using a large serrated knife. Cut 3/4-inch-thick slices, using a sawing motion to prevent crumbling. Each loaf should yield 9 to 11 cookies.

Place slices on their sides back on to the baking sheets; place in the still warm oven with the temperature off and the door closed for 30 to 60 minutes. The longer they stay in the oven, the harder they will become. Remove from oven and cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

To make the maple icing, mix the confectioners’ sugar and maple syrup in a small bowl and whisk briskly until the icing is smooth and opaque and clings to the back of a spoon. Dip a teaspoon into the icing and drizzle the spoon back-and-forth over the biscotti. Allow to dry completely before storing. Store biscotti in an airtight container, preferably a tin, which helps keep them crisp.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

composite1

Comments: I was a bit nervous about this baking adventure, because I know that biscotti can be tricky to make, and that very few things are worse than bad biscotti, right?  I fell in love with the flavors of this recipe because anything with maple makes me all warm inside, and walnuts only make it better.  I suppose most people go crazy for chocolate, but I usually opt for other flavors in sweets.  The recipe called for maple extract, because it has a more concentrated flavor, so I was “forced” to place an order for some. It smells amazing!

composite2
One of the tricky things about biscotti is slicing them after the first bake. You are supposed to wait for 20 minutes, and use a good quality serrated knife for the job. Worked great, I had no problems. By the way, I made half the recipe, and ended up with 18 biscotti, some quite small, cut from the edges. They are also called “sacrificial biscotti”. Honest. Not making that up.

I went for a double type of icing, the maple called for in the recipe, and then a drizzle of chocolate for cosmetic purposes.  But, after tasting them, I do think the chocolate drizzle did more than beautify them. The taste complements the maple and walnuts quite well.

dunking

Now that I am older, not necessarily wiser, I dunk my biscotti into a steaming hot cup of cappuccino… Great way to start any day!

Tara, I hope this virtual Baby Shower brought a big smile to your face, we certainly had a great time planning and making sure it was kept secret until today…

And here I share  the collection of biscotti from all virtual secreters who joined this party:

Biscotti Bites from Nicole at I am a Honey Bee

Blueberry Pecan Biscotti from Renee at Magnolia Days

Cinnamon Biscotti from Lauren at Sew You Think You Can Cook

Cranberry Pistachio biscotti from Stacy at Food Lust People Love

Dark Chocolate Orange Biscotti from Amy at Amy’s Cooking Adventures

Green Tea Biscotti Cookies from Rebekah at Making Miracles

Jam-Filled Mandelbrot from Kelly at Passion Kneaded

Maple Walnut Biscotti from Sally at Bewitching Kitchen

Nut-Free Anise Biscotti with Chocolate Chips from Susan at The Wimpy Vegetarian

Orange and Dark Chocolate Biscotti from Lynsey at Lynsey Lou’s

Orange, Date, and Almond Biscotti from Karen at Karen’s Kitchen Stories

Parmesan-Peppercorn Biscotti from Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla

Spa Water from of Dorothy at Shockingly Delicious

Biscotti Baby Shower

ONE YEAR AGO: Barley Risotto with Peas

TWO YEARS AGO: Oatmeal Fudge Bars

THREE YEARS AGO: Cauliflower Steaks

FOUR YEARS AGO: Soft Spot for Chevre

FIVE YEARS AGO: Quick sun-dried Tomato Crostini

STAR-SHAPED CHOCOLATE BRIOCHE BREAD

Every once in a while I fall in love with a recipe, and cannot wait to make it. Last week I logged into Facebook, and by pure chance there on the top of the Artisan Bread Bakers page I saw a gorgeous bread, worthy of the cover of a Breads Illustrated Swimsuit Issue – if there was such a thing. Except that, contrary to what seems to be the case for many supermodels, no Photoshop tweaking was involved. The bread was naturally stunning. I wasn’t sure I would be able to make it, as it involved a shaping technique I had never seen before. But, it all worked well. It’s bread after all, not cake.  😉

Star-Shaped Brioche1

STAR-SHAPED CHOCOLATE BRIOCHE BREAD
(from  Lindarose at Instructables)

for the dough:
500g all-purpose flour
2 eggs
60g sugar
180ml room temperature milk (3/4 cup)
80g room temperature butter
7g active dry yeast
8g salt
peel from one orange

for the chocolate cream:
35g cocoa powder
75g sugar
250g ricotta ( about 1 cup)
30g hazelnuts

Put the flour in the mixer and add the yeast, milk, sugar and eggs. Start mixing on low, as the ingredients start to incorporate, add the butter in small pieces, the salt, and the orange peel.  Keep mixing until very smooth (about 5 minutes on a Kitchen Aid type mixer). Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface and finish kneading it by hand, to make sure all butter is uniformly distributed. The dough should be slightly tacky, resist the urge to add more flour. Form a ball, and let it rise in a bowl in a warm spot until double in size, about 2 hours, depending on the temperature of your kitchen.

While you wait for your dough to rise, prepare the chocolate cream.

In a food processor, mix the sugar and hazelnuts together until you obtain a powder. It’s ok if there are still some big pieces in it. Transfer to a bowl, and sift the cocoa powder on top of it.   Add the ricotta and mix everything together with a hand mixer until your mixture becomes a cream.

Once your dough has risen, divide it in 4 equal pieces and make 4 separate balls. Make a disc with each of the 4 balls using a rolling-pin. The most important thing is that the discs are all the same size.

Place the first disc on a piece of parchment paper and spread some chocolate cream on it, making sure to leave about half an inch of free border all around. Lay the second disc on the first one and press the border with your fingers to join them together. Now spread some other chocolate cream on the second disc (always leaving a free border), add the third disc and close it with your fingers. Do the same on the third disc and close it with the last disc, but don’t spread the chocolate on it this time. The 4th disc is the top of the bread.

Using a knife, divide the dough in 4 with 4 cuts. It’s  crucial for the shaping that you don’t cut the center of the disc (see pictures). Now make other 4 cuts between the others, for a total of 8, always leaving the center free. Finally, make 8 cuts between the ones you already made, just like the others. You will have a total of 16 sections now.

Consider 2 sections that are next to each other: lift one with one hand and the other with the other hand and twist each of them towards the outside. This means that the piece you are holding with your right hand will be twisted to the right and the one you are holding with your left hand will be twisted to the left. Do this for all the sections. Your bread will look like a snowflake. Put it in the baking sheet with the help of the parchment paper (don’t remove it) and let it rest and rise for another hour. As the bread rises, turn your oven to 350 F.

Bake at 350°F (180°C) for 25 to 30 minutes. Let it cool on a rack.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

balls-checker

I woke up very early on Labor Day to bake this bread. Long before sunrise. Mixed the dough and went for a run with Phil, while the streets were still completely dark. Come to think of it, “with Phil” is not a correct statement. Let’s say we start together and within five minutes I am begging for mercy,  slow down my pace and see him move farther and farther ahead.  The sun started to rise midway through our run, in such a magical experience, the subtle change in light, slow and beautiful. By far my favorite kind of run. A day that started so perfectly had  to be a good baking day. And indeed it was.

hazelnutpowder

This dough is wonderful to work with.  As you can see in the instructions, the most important thing to keep in mind is dividing the dough in equal parts – use a scale, don’t just eye-ball it.  Once the dough is divided, it rolls out very nicely, use just a little bit of flour on top of the parchment paper so that you can release it easily. I rolled all four balls of dough, but if you prefer, roll one at a time, spread the chocolate cream, move to the next one. Before you cover the bread with the last disk of dough, wash your hands of any chocolate to keep the surface of the bread clean.

shaped

Slicing the dough in 16 sections and twisting the sections for the final shaping is not as hard as it may seem.  I have a lot of trouble with spacing things regularly, and was a bit nervous handling the knife, but even if my cutting was not perfectly uniform,  the bread turned out ok.  Maybe not worthy of the cover of Breads Illustrated, but not bad for a first time.

This star-shaped bread reminded me of the classic Chocolate Babka, which I’ve never made, but saw Peter Reinhart demonstrate in a lecture in Dallas many years ago. In fact, my friend Marilyn said this bread looked like “Babka’s wealthy cousin”.  I suppose that defines it quite well.

The filling can be anything you like. Some bakers from the Facebook group used pesto and cheese, others used cinnamon cream, or a mixture of different nuts with chocolate. Pretty much anything goes with the exact same dough and shaping.  Be creative and impress your friends and family, it is a show-stopper of a bread.

Sliced

I am submitting this post to Susan’s Yeastspotting event…

ONE YEAR AGO: Blueberry-Banana Bread 

TWO YEARS AGO: Into the Light Again

THREE YEARS AGO: Five Grain Sourdough Bread

FOUR YEARS AGO: The Nano-Kitchen

FIVE YEARS AGO: Kaiser Rolls

SOUR CHERRY SORBET: A LABOR OF LOVE

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY MOM!

Far away in Brazil, today she celebrates her 91st Birthday!
We are not there for the occasion, but I share a photo taken one year ago.

 PSMomSee you in November…. countdown started!

 On my last In My Kitchen post, I mentioned we got to pick sour cherries from a friend’s tree. It was a first time for me, and I admit that it surprised me how much work was involved. Of course, picking the fruit requires that you climb up a ladder carrying a basket, and spend quite some time in a daze-inducing repetitive activity. Nothing wrong with that, except that all that Zen might make one less careful. It is tempting to stretch the body just a little more to reach that great looking cherry winking at you, maybe a tad too far.  Thankfully, it all had a happy ending, no falls, no broken bones. We went home with a load of fruit ready for the next step: sorting.  The basic goal is to get rid of the cherries that have worms inside. That information was not conveyed to me BEFORE we picked the fruit. I wasn’t thrilled, and made sure my beloved husband got the message loud and clear during our drive home. The thought that I had my hands on stuff potentially hiding slimy creatures was unbearable. Unfortunately, it was too late, I had already been exposed to danger. So how do you sort the cherries? You dump them all in a container with water. The ones that float very likely have worms. The ones that sink to the bottom better be worm-free because next comes pitting. Finding a worm together with the pit would be extremely no bueno. No bueno as the end of me.

IMG_4994(on the left, Apricot-Passion Fruit Sorbet; on the right, Sour Cherry)

SOUR CHERRY SORBET
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

4 cups worm-free, pitted sour cherries
1 ripe banana
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
3/4  cup sugar (you can add more)
1 cup water
2 Tablespoons vodka

Add the cherries, and the banana to the bowl of a food processor.  Process until smooth, cleaning the sides of the bowl a couple of times. Add the lemon juice, the sugar, and the water, and process everything together until fully smooth. Taste and adjust the sugar level, adding more if you like.  Add the vodka, give it a final mix.

Keep the base in the fridge overnight or for at least 4 hours to cool completely.

Place the mixture in your ice cream maker and churn it according to the instructions of the manufacturer.

Scoop into a freezer-safe container.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

 

PittingAdventure

Comments:  All credit for the sorbets featured in the blog in the past couple of years should go to Phil, even if he fooled me into handling worm-containing fruit. He comes up with all sorts of flavors, each and every one of his concoctions turns out great!  The only fruit he cooks down before churning is apricot, all others go in fresh.  He always includes a ripe banana, and in his latest versions a tablespoon or so of some type of alcohol, usually vodka or rum. They give the sorbet a creamier  consistency when frozen, and you will not taste any alcohol.

Once more I should add that we like our sorbets with very little sugar, you might find that our versions are too tart for your taste. Adjust accordingly, tasting the base before you churn it.

stored
As  you can see, it often takes me a little time to go from making a recipe to blogging about it, but better late than never, I wanted to get this post out before summer is over.  Summer and over is never a good combination. Oh, the pain, the incredible cruelty of what lays ahead for me…  Autumn first, then misery.

ONE YEAR AGO: In My Kitchen – September 2013

TWO YEARS AGO: Raspberry Sorbet at Summer’s End

THREE YEARS AGO: When three is better than two 

FOUR YEARS AGO: Grating Tomatoes (and loving it!)

FIVE YEARS AGO: A Peachy Salad for a Sunny Day

LEMON PISTACHIO LOAF

Where is that “PLEASE MAKE ME” folder when I need it so badly?  This recipe from  Homesick Texan is fabulous. Lisa calls it Lemon Bread, I took some liberties with her recipe and decided to change it to loaf. To me, bread immediately brings the thought of yeast, and a drier crumb.  This is very moist and tender.  I also used pistachios instead of pecans, because one of our graduate students is nuts about pistachios (sorry, lousy pun). We like to keep our students happy, because happy students do great experiments. Or so we hope… 😉

LemonPistachioLoaf1

(made on May 18th – blogged on August 17th)

LEMON PISTACHIO LOAF
(slightly adapted from Homesick Texan)

for the loaf:
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 + 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup pistachios, chopped coarsely

for the glaze:
6 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
3/4 cups granulated sugar

Heat the oven to 350°F and grease and flour a 9×5 bread pan, lining the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.

Stir together the buttermilk and the baking soda and set it aside. Cream together the butter and sugar. Beat together the eggs and slowly add to the creamed butter. Stir in the buttermilk and then slowly add the flour. Mix until a smooth batter is formed. Stir in the lemon zest and the pistachios.

Pour in the batter and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Cool the loaf in the pan on a rack for 30 minutes.

As the bread is cooling, mix together the lemon juice and sugar for the glaze. To apply the glaze, tear out a sheet of foil large enough to contain the loaf when wrapped. Remove the loaf from the pan by running a knife along the edges and gently tapping it out onto the sheet of foil.

Spread the glaze evenly over the top of the loaf and on the sides. The glaze will be runny, just make sure to contain it all when you wrap the bread with the foil.

Place in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours. Serve cold.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

 LemonLoafEdited

I am sure Lisa’s original version is amazing too, but when I saw the bright yellow-green color of the cut pistachios in the loaf, and how well their taste combined with the acidity of the lemon flavor, I was glad I used them.  Of course, for weeks I’d seen packages of shelled pistachios at the grocery store, but they disappeared the moment I wanted to make this recipe.  I had to buy whole pistachios and shell them, one by one.  A labor of love, but worth it.

This would be perfect for brunch, to take to a potluck, or to brighten up the morning of your co-workers.

ONE YEAR AGO: Roast Beef French Dip Sandwich with Green Pea Pesto

TWO YEARS AGO: Asparagus Pesto

THREE YEARS AGO: Chocolate and Chestnut Terrine

FOUR YEARS AGO: Under the spell of lemongrass

FIVE YEARS AGO: Greens + Grapefruit + Shrimp = Great Salad!