Sunday, March 2, 2014

cranberry-pistachio biscotti





Any kind of travel originating from our house equals a cooking frenzy prior to take-off. Doesn't matter if take-off actually includes flight or only a road-trip, we travel like royalty. By that I mean we take our own 'plate' and 'linen' or at least our own food. The days of loving fast-food junk and gas-stop snacks are so far in the distant past as to be impossible to recall, and airport fare is only to be ingested to stave off imminent starvation - real starvation, not just the I'm-dying-of-hunger feeling that hits about 4 hours post-dining. So the day or two before we (or in this particular case David) leave I bust out the bowls and pans, make a terrible mess and a wonderful aroma, ending the day with a triumphant feeling of accomplishment and a bunch of travel-friendly eats.

When the destination is Japan our bags always include gifts for friends and colleagues there. Every trip we deliberate over what to take - the problem being that in our minds every cool thing that anyone could want comes from Japan so what could possibly be a welcome gift? And every trip we arrive at the same conclusion: everyone eats so .... something delicious. Here is where problem 2 raises its ugly head - what is delicious to one may not be delicious to another, especially (but not exclusively) when there are culture gaps. For example, the Japanese find many of our sweet treats cloyingly sweet and very unappealing while we North Americans need to train our palates to appreciate the subtleties of their very excellent deep dark chocolate. Then of course, it must travel well and arrive not only fresh but pretty, or at least not a melted mess or a pile of crumbs. Happily I have happened upon a few options that are now tried and true to the point of being eagerly anticipated by the recipients. One of the stops David makes every trip is the office he headed while we lived in Tokyo. The staff there have a particular fondness for this biscotti and have requested the recipe. This post is for the "office ladies" at COFI Japan.

This recipe is a long-time favourite at our house. I started making biscotti when I happened on the intriguing recipe in an adorable little cookbook of cookie recipes by Mary Engelbreit (1998). The first batch was a big hit and as the process is fast, super simple, and yields a nice amount for the work a household star was born. David loves these crunchy, dunkable cookies at least as much as the COFI staff. I have tried a few other options for the add-ins (most recently cacao nibs, dark chocolate, and tart dried cherries - a combination I thought most promising but David prefers the cranberry-pistachio duo). I was interested to find a recipe that promised to be the penultimate biscotti recipe published in Chatelaine magazine before Christmas 2013. That recipe was only grains away from the one I had been using but even so, I wondered if those grains would be the difference between .... I don't know what?! Naturally I tried the Chatelaine recipe and wouldn't you know it? those grains did make all the difference. I keep the sweet little M.E. cookbook but won't be looking back for the biscotti recipe. The only change I make to the Chatelaine recipe is to add a smidgeon of almond extract.

Although the recipe was published as a Christmas cookie, we have liberated it to whole-year status. The red and green of the cranberries and pistachio does make a lovely statement wholly in keeping with a Christmas theme but I ignore that element and celebrate the nutritional goodness of both add-ins as daily requirements. To be sure, these are not to be eaten for your health but mental health is important too, right?

Just have to say that although I don't love the actual trip, I do wish I was in Japan with David right now. 

cranberry-pistachio biscotti
(from Chatelaine magazine)

2 1/4 cups all-purpose white flour*
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 cup chopped pistachios
1 cup dried cranberries

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and heat your oven to 325 F. Stir the flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl.

Beat the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until very creamy - about 5 minutes. Beat the eggs in 1 at a time, then add the vanilla and almond extracts. Stir in the flour mixture and then the pistachios and cranberries. The mixture will be a bit dry but should hold together. Gather the dough together and divide into two. Using your hands shape the portions into logs that are roughly 1" high x 2" wide on the parchment lined baking sheet. If the dough sticks to your hands (and makes you a bit crazy) you can dampen your hands with cold water - just don't use too much water, dampen is the key. The logs should be about 3 inches apart.

Bake until the tops are firm and golden - about 30-35 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool until you can handle them (about 10 minutes). Using a serrated knife cut into diagonal slices about 1/2" thick. The next bit is a little like playing dominoes - stand the slices on their edges with space between them on the baking sheet. Return to the oven and continue baking for 20-30 minutes more.

These keep very well. If they have a chance :)

* Gluten-free flour mix works very successfully here. Another option that I like is to use 1 cup of cornmeal and 1 1/4 cups flour or gluten-free flour mix. I have a particular love for the crunch of cornmeal.


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