We’ve been looking for a no-butter recipe for biscotti for a while and finally found one that was too tempting to pass up. The addition of dried cherries is my own — the original recipe uses walnuts. The tang of tart cherries against the backdrop of dark chocolate brings to mind one of my favorite desserts — Black Forest Cake, the only thing missing is the whipped cream...mmmmm. These crisp, rich tasting cookies are equally heavenly with a cup of hot black coffee in the morning as with a post-prandial glass of tawny port, or even to polish off the last of your California merlot after a meal.
I prefer biscotti dry — that is, with no chocolate or other coating. But for gifts, the biscotti can receive some extra special treatment: a dip in bittersweet chocolate! For the first batch, I tried a ganache-type dip I usually use for the aniseed-almond biscotti I usually make for the holidays. The anise biscotti have both butter and whole eggs in their recipe and can stand up to the high fat content of the cream and butter in the ganache, but these meringue style cocoa biscotti came out chewy rather than crisp once they were coated in ganache.
The original recipe for these biscotti (with walnuts instead of cherries, and with no chocolate dip) are said to average about 40 calories per cookie since they have neither butter nor egg yolks. I’m not a dietician, but I’m guessing that substituting high-sugar dried fruit for high-calorie nuts comes out about even. Although I subscribe to the theory that homemade cookies eaten in the month of December have no calories, I know that not everyone else believes this (I’m guessing they don’t believe in Santa either). At less than 50 calories per cookie (minus the chocolate dip) and with their incredible chocolate flavor, these cookies are a treat that the calorie-conscious on any gift list will especially appreciate!
Nut Horns and the still growing number of cookie recipes from around the globe at Susan’s "Eat Christmas Cookies" event at Food Blogga. Susan’s third annual cookie round-up has already produced some really novel cookies, including ones with saffron and tofu, with cranberry relish, with buttermilk, and even with maple bacon and chocolate chips (that last one we’re going to try this week). You can check them all out, then submit your own until December 20th.
Happy Baking, Everyone!
** On the U.S. Mainland, we find dried tart cherries at Trader Joe’s, which is also a great source for baking goods including all kinds of nuts, organic powdered sugar, cocoa powder, Belgian chocolate and non-aluminum baking powder.If tart dried cherries are hard to find, you could substitute sweet bing cherries but I’ve found that the flavor of sweet cherries tends to get lost when paired with dark chocolate.
COCOA CHERRY BISCOTTI
(Adapted from “Italian Cocoa Biscotti” by Nick Maglieri in Perfect Light Desserts: Fabulous Cakes, et al. Made with Real Butter, Sugar, Flour, and Eggs, All Under 300 Calories per Generous Serving)
Makes about 50 cookies
1 3/4 cup (175g) flour
2/3 cup (65g) Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 1/4 cup (240g) raw sugar
1 cup (150g) dried tart cherries, cut into small pieces
6 large egg whites
2 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Sift together flour and cocoa. Stir in baking powder, salt, sugar, and dried cherries. Set aside.
Whisk together egg whites and vanilla to soft peak. Add to the dry ingredients. Use a large rubber spatula to combine — the dough will seem dry at the start but as the sugar comes in contact with the meringue, the dough will become wetter and eventually quite tacky.
Liberally cover work surface with flour. Scrape the dough out, and with floured hands press together into a solid mass.
Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces. Lightly coat cookie sheet with flour and gently roll each into a log that is as long as the pan you’re using. Logs may still show patches of white flour — that’s OK, it makes a nice contrast on the finished cookie. Arrange both logs on one pan.
Make certain the logs aren't too close to each other or to the sides of the pan. Slightly flatten each log with your fingertips.
Bake about 30 minutes, or until loaves are firm when pressed with a fingertip. Remove loaves, but leave oven on and place racks in the upper and lower thirds.
Cool loaves just enough so you can handle them, then using a sharp serrated knife cut into attractive straight or slightly diagonal slices about 1/2-inch thick. (I find it easier to slice the cookies while they are still warm as they harden and can crack once theyre completely cool.)
Place slices, cut side down, on the cookie sheets and return to oven for about 7 minutes. Remove pans and quickly turn each cookie over to toast other side and replace in oven for another 7 minutes. I usually try to remember to rotate the sheets so that the one that was on top for the first toast is now on the lower rack, but that’s not crucial. You might have to to this in 2 or more batches to toast all the cookies.
Cool completely on racks. Store in air-tight container until ready to serve or to dip in chocolate. Once dipped in chocolate, biscotti do not keep as well.
DARK CHOCOLATE COCOA CHERRY BISCOTTI
200g bittersweet or dark Belgian chocolate
4 dozen Cocoa Cherry Biscotti
Place a wire rack over cookie sheet or wax paper to catch chocolate drips.
Melt chocolate over double-boiler or at low setting in microwave. Place chocolate in shallow bowl and allow to cool to room temperature (if chocolate is warm when cookies are dipped, they will become chewy).
Dip one flat side of each biscotto in chocolate, then place on rack to harden chocolate.
I had never tried a nut horn before baking these last week, but during a recent visit with Gram while she is convalescing and undergoing rehabilitation she asked me to retrieve this recipe from her second recipe box at home and make them for her. Although I actually forgot to get the recipe cards on that trip, my MIL was kind enough to find the recipe (actually there were 2 versions in the files), scan the cards and email us photos of the cards, some of which are in Gram's handwriting and some of which are neatly typed. (Thanks, Mom!!)
For me, the best thing about having hard copies, or at least photos of hard copies, of personal recipes is seeing the notations, changes and adjustments that have been made and to see how a recipe might have evolved or grown over time. It is always more precious when it's in a loved one's own handwriting, too.
In this case, Gram's recipe was a little vague on the actual method of shaping and filling the dough and a brief web search for similar recipes was required to fill in the gaps for me. And since I had never tasted this cookie, I was unclear on what the final texture and taste should be. Here's what I've learned after this first attempt at a classic (which I'm happy to say met with Gram's approval)!
This recipe for nut horns yields a very tender, mildly sweet and nutty cookie that is very addictive with a cup of strong coffee! It starts with a yeast cream dough that does not have any sugar except for 1 tablespoon to feed the yeast and the powdered sugar for rolling the dough. The ground walnut meringue filling is just sweet enough to balance the dough, and the meringue rises and fills the cookie as it bakes so it is important to roll the dough loosely to allow the meringue room to expand.
Both Gram's recipe and most of the similar recipes I found on the web call for rolling out the dough on powdered sugar, which I found to be a very sticky proposition. Literally. This makes your dough very sticky and a bit difficult to work with. I tried one batch rolled out on plain flour, which was easier to work with but which changed both the sweetness of the dough (remember, it has very little sugar in it) and the appearance of the final cookie — those rolled in sugar had a pleasantly crackled appearance (see photo below), while those rolled in flour were smooth (see top photo). For the last 2 batches, though, I hit upon a system of putting first flour, then powdered sugar on the counter, then rolling the dough out — that makes the dough less sticky on your board or counter, while still giving it some of the traditional crackled surface once the cookie baked. But once powdered sugar is sprinkled over the baked cookie, only the most finicky connoisseur can really tell the difference in looks or taste. In fact, as she sampled the first cookie, Gram confided that she usually rolled out her cookies in flour because it went a lot faster that way.
After tasting the first batch of cookies as they came out of the oven, I admit that I tweaked the filling a little — you can't really taste the spices I've added to Gram's original recipe, but they just seem to round out the flavor of the walnuts. The new additions are marked (**) so you can try Gram's original or the tweaked version (or both). Gram only taste-tested her orginal version, so that's the one that actually has her "grin of approval".
Another point of difference I saw among nut horn recipes was whether you spread the filling over the entire rolled-out dough before cutting it into 8 pieces (Gram used this method); or cut the dough, then put filling just in the lower half or third of the dough before rolling it up. As mentioned earlier, the filling is actually a meringue (whipped egg whites and sugar) and is expected to rise quite dramatically as it bakes.
For the first 2 batches I followed Gram's instructions and rolled out the dough balls into a 9-inch circle, spread one-sixth of the flling over each circle, then cut 8 pie-shaped wedges, and loosely rolled up each wedge beginning at the wide part. Once I saw how much the filling expanded and cracked the dough in some places and spilled over in others, I switched to the other method for the last 4 batches and filled only the lower half or third of the wedge before rolling (that's what is recommended in the recipe below). In the photo above, the cookies in the foreground were filled only in the lower half and I think make for a neater presentation (especially for gift-giving). The ones in the background (slightly blurry) are filled from wedge to point. Surprisingly, the cookies have about the same amount of filling whichever method you use so the final taste is pretty equal no matter which rolling method you choose.
GRAM'S NUT HORNS
Makes 48 cookies
Note: Dough has to chill for at least 6 hours before finishing. If you have a marble work surface, it will help keep the dough cool as you roll and fill.
½ cup/ 120ml lukewarm water
1 2oz./56g cake yeast, or 1 packet (.25oz) active dry yeast
1 TBL raw sugar
½ lb/455g butter, cold
3 cups/445g unbleached plain flour
3 egg yolks from large eggs, beaten
(reserve 2 whites and keep refrigerated to make Filling)
8 TBL/8 oz/120ml heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
powdered sugar for rollling dough and to dust for garnish
Dissolve yeast and sugar in lukewarm water, and set aside until foaming.
Cut butter into flour until crumbly. Combine egg yolks, cream and vanilla, and beat well. Add to flour and mix to combine.
Add yeast mixture and form into a ball for kneading — dough should not be sticky. Sprinkle with teaspoonful of flour until dough is not tacky. Knead until smooth. Refrigerate overnight, or at least 6 hours.
Prepare Filling no sooner than 1 hour before you are ready to roll out dough or it may become too stiff.
½ lb/ 225g walnuts, ground
1½ cup/285g raw sugar
2 egg whites from large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
** 1/2 tsp cinnamon
** 1/8 tsp or less fresh ground nutmeg
(Cinnamon and nutmeg are not in Gram's recipe — see notes above)
Make Filling: Beat egg whites to soft peak. Slowly add sugar, with the beaters on the whole time. Fold in vanilla and nuts. (Note: since I was using raw sugar, I could not hold a soft peak because raw sugar is so granular — but the fillling worked anyway.)
Pre-heat oven to 375/180C.
Sprinkle work surface with flour. Lightly flatten dough, divide into 6 parts and roll each into a ball. Keep remaining balls of dough covered and refrigerated as you work with the first one. (Note: I recommend using flour for the first roll since you need to refrigerate the remaining dough — if you use powdered sugar and then refrigerate, the remaining balls of dough are very sticky when they come out of the fridge... as I found out the hard way...)
To keep the final dough tender, use a light touch when rolling. Sprinkle work surface with flour, then cover generously with powdered sugar. (See notes above for flour vs. powdered sugar for rolling.) Roll first ball of dough to about a 9”/230mm circle.
Working quickly, cut into 8 wedges and fill each wedge with 1 heaping teaspoon of nut filling spread over widest half or third of the wedge. Roll dough starting at widest part and ending at the point. (Also see notes and photo above for alternative method for fillling cookies.) Bend corners of the cookie to the middle to achieve a nice crescent shape, and place on ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until light brown. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.
Each ball of dough will give you 8 cookies. Working with 2 cookie sheets, I put each batch of 8 cookies in the oven as soon as I was done so they didn't sit in the warm kitchen too long. Because of the high fat content from the butter and cream, the cookies would tend to soften and flatten if left in the warm environment. Also make sure your cookie sheet is completely cool before placing finished crescents on them — a quick way to cool a warm cookie sheet is to place it on a cool, wet kitchen towel for 1 minute or so. The wet towel pulls heat from the pan faster than air-cooling.
Cool cookies completely on rack. Dust with powdered sugar just before serving.
These seem best the first few days after baking, and then lose their tender quality with every passing day, although they were still wonderful the first 8 days after baking (they didn't last past that so I can't vouch for longer storage). If the cookies don't have sugar dusted on them yet, they can be re-warmed and re-sofened if wrapped loosely in foil and set in a pre-heated toaster oven for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with sugar, if desired.``
If the cookies have to travel, omit the powdered sugar when packing since sugar can make the cookies sticky by the time they reach their destination (as you probably guessed, these were destined for Gram's bedside). You might include a note suggesting a sprinkle of powdered sugar before serving.
Happy Baking, Everyone!
This year especially most of our gifts for family and friends is going to come from the kitchen — economize, economize! Some recipes are perennial favorites, and are stored in a folder cleverly labelled “Holiday Recipes” in my filing cabinet (yes, they’re actually on paper!). Others are new, or as this year, newly-found old favorites.
An example of the latter are these Molasses Cookies, which came from a recipe I got from T’s grandmother over Thanksgiving weekend. Actually, Grandma Steff lent me one of her recipe boxes so I could scan in all her recipes! If you’ve followed this site at all, you know this was a gift of gold as far as I’m concerned. I couldn’t wait to try something from her collection, and the molasses cookies are the first. I borrowed the idea of adding raw, or turbinado, sugar to the tops from other molasses cookie recipes — it adds a little holiday sparkle.
Tomorrow is Grandma Stephanie’s birthday, so we’ll have to send her some of these to help her celebrate her day.
This platter of Molasses Crinkles, Dark Chocolate Biscotti, Pecan Crescents and Almond-Anise Biscotti is going to join the party at Food Blogga’s “Eat Christmas Cookies” event. She’s accepting entries until the 21st, but there are already a wealth of recipes with photos on the site if you need some inspiration for this weekend’s blast of holiday baking. And if that’s not enough to get you going, all cookie lovers who submit an entry are eligible to win a cookie field guide. A party with door prizes — how can you pass up an invitation like that?!
GRAM’S GINGER MOLASSES COOKIES
(In Gram’s files, these are labelled “Christmas Cookies”)
Makes 4-6 dozen cookies, depending on size
Dough requires chilling for 2 or more hours before baking
1 cup shortening (used butter)
1 cup sugar (used raw sugar)
1 cup molasses (used blackstrap)
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp. baking soda dissolved in 1/2 cup hot water
5 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
Cream shortening, then add sugar gradually, then molasses and beaten egg. Add dissolved baking soda to mixture.
Sift together flour, salt and spices. Add to creamed mixture and blend thoroughly. Chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350F.
Here is where I diverge from Gram’s directions. She rolls out the dough and cuts out shapes. I made 1” balls, laid them on an ungreased cookie sheet, flattened them with the bottom of a drinking glass, and sprinkled raw sugar on top. Some recipes say to dip the balls in sugar then flatten with a glass, but I discovered after the first batch that the sugar crystals flatten out too much and don’t look as attractive.
If making cut-outs, Gram recommends baking for 8-10 minutes. For the thicker cookie crinkles, bake for 13-15 minutes.
Cool on sheet for a moment, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.
These are equally great with your morning coffee, Glühwein, or with a warm apple cider.
We do love green tea. Hot or iced, in cakes, ice cream, custard, cookies — it’s all good. We drink almost all teas — green or black — without sugar; more by habit than for health. With sweets, though, we both agree that the best part of the earthy, herbaceous flavor of green tea is that hint of bitterness that comes through just before the sweet awakens the taste buds. Lovely.
With the advent of medical studies touting the anti-oxidant benefits of green tea, it’s been wonderful to see the spread of green tea consumption and green tea flavored goodies on menus and supermarket shelves. I see that a wave of Matcha Cookies hit the blogosphere last year and went right around the world! I first came across an entry for a green tea flavored cookie in Obachan’s Kitchen, one which she had made a few years earlier, but had noted that she was not satisfied with the recipe. I went back to the standard shortbread recipe we usually use (confession: I last made these in 2001) and decided to substitute part of the flour with ground green tea powder and see what happened. Besides, I got to use one of my favorite kitchen gadgets, too.
For this recipe I did not use matcha, I used ground green tea leaves. Matcha is a specific grade of green tea that has been ground to powder for use in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, and is prized for its astringent quality. I used home-grade green tea leaves and ground them at home in a ceramic grater. A local Japanese department store (Shirokiya) sells this grater for home tea brewing, especially for cold brewing. I received one as a present a couple of years ago, and I love it. It’s nice to be able to add green tea powder as a condiment and flavoring agent to many different foods, like these cookies. Otherwise, you can purchase “matcha powder for cooking” (which I suspect is the same grade of green tea we used here), and actual matcha in gourmet shops, tea shops and on-line.
In adapting our shortbread recipe, I heeded Obachan’s note that more than 2 teaspoons of matcha per 100g of flour would be too bitter, and so only used 2 teaspoons in this batch. The resulting shortbread had the wonderful color and pleasing flavor of green tea, but was a tad too sweet for my taste, even without the extra sugar topping. One of the reasons I make shortbread so rarely is that you really can’t cut down on the ratio of sugar to butter without sacrificing shortbread’s melt-in-your-mouth quality; whereas with other cookies, I often cut down the amount of sugar in the recipe by 1/4 to 1/3. I think most people would find the balance between green tea and sugar in the recipe below just right, especially if served with a pot of ocha (Japanese green tea). Since I’m using green tea powder instead of real matcha, next time I would risk replacing another teaspoon of flour with green tea. It’s not something I would advise other bakers to do unless they are looking for a bitter edge in their shortbread.
GREEN TEA SHORTBREAD
Makes about 24 cookies
**1/2 cup (or U.S. 1 stick) (110g) unsalted butter (no substitutes)
4-1/2 TBL. (55g) fine granulated sugar (aka caster, not powdered)
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 cup (100g) all purpose flour
2 tsp. green tea powder
1/3 cup (55g) mochiko (glutinous rice four) or semolina
extra sugar for crunchy topping (optional)
**Update (01/06/09): With thanks to Nat for pointing out that the butter equivalencies originally were not correct -- the metric was correct, but the U.S. equivalent was off by half. My apologies to anyone who followed the U.S. measure and whose shortbread was too dry.
Beat butter until softened. Add sugar and beat together on low until the sugar is just incorporated (will still feel grainy).
Combine flour, green tea powder, salt and mochiko together. Add to butter mixture and stir well by hand to make a smooth paste, do not overwork the dough or your shortbread will come out like a brick.
Either roll into a log 1.5 inches in diameter, wrap in plastic wrap and chill (to make button cookies, as shown here); or flatten into a disc between two sheets of plastic wrap to a thickness of 1/2 inch and chill (to cut our shapes). Chill for 20 minutes.
Pre-heat oven to 325F/170C.
To make buttons, slice log into 1/2-inch pieces.
Or use your favorite small cookie cutter to stamp out shapes. Gently re-roll, flatten and chill before stamping out more.
(Optional garnish) Place 2-3 TBL. of sugar on a small plate. Gently press one side of the cookie in sugar, and lay sugar side up on an ungreased baking sheet.
If cookies start to look shiny, place sheet in fridge for 5 minutes before baking. Bake in pre-heated oven for 10-12 minutes. To check for doneness, look for opaqueness and a sandy quality in the cookies (see photo, right, for raw and cooked cookie comparison), and you will smell butter and green tea. They will still feel a little soft when hot, but will harden a bit on cooling. Do not over-bake or they will transform into miniature papaerweights. Because of the high ratio of sugar to butterfat, these cookies will keep their tender crumb.
Cool completely on wire rack. Store in air-tight container at room temperature for up to one week.