Sunday, December 13, 2009

Jolly Good Cranberry-Almond Biscotti.

crispy, crumbly, jolly good.

'Tis the season to be jolly, and never am I jollier than when I am baking.

I have a Christmas party to attend today with a couple of girlfriends and their babies, and when I racked my brain last week for what I could bring that was delicious, appropriate, and relatively simple to make, I quickly decided upon an old tried and true favorite recipe adapted from my favorite baking book: Cranberry-Almond Biscotti.

These Italian "twice-baked" cookies or "bis-cotti" are from the same baking master that brought you my "Best Banana Nut Bread Ever. Period." - Francois Payard. And I would say that both recipes are of the same ilk: dead simple and shockingly delicious. His original recipe is for Pistachio-Almond Biscotti, but I like cranberries and almonds together much more, and I scale down the, IMO, over-the-top amount of anise seeds he uses.

Either way, the biscotti are always a hit because they are not-too-sweet and make wonderful small gifts or favors for any kind of holiday get-together.

If that's not enough reason to be jolly, what is?

* * *

Top 5 Reasons to be Jolly this Christmas
rosey cheeks, jelly-belly and all

5. Mulled Wine
Not only does this Christmas favorite taste good, it generally does the job of making you feel "jolly" pretty quickly. At least I know my version always includes copious amounts of rum in addition to red wine, and everytime I've ever served it at a party it's the first thing to go and the last thing people forget.

There's many-a-something old-fashioned, traditional and wonderful about mulled wine: the aromas, the sweet warmth, the delicate cupping of the mug. Perfect.

4. Baked Goodlies
The holidays are guaranteed to bring the inner baker out in everyone - even those of us that should maybe make a bigger effort to keep it hidden, even now. But, in general this jekyll-hyde transformation is a good thing because it brings us things like mince pies, cookies, brownies, muffins and all sorts of amazing cakes and pies.

I know I'm a professes savor-ite, but at Christmas even I can't keep my grubby little paws off the baked goodlies. :)

3. The Quintessential "Christmas Drink"
It seems to me that Christmas is the perfect excuse to catch up with or finally approach all the people you've neglected during the year. Long-lost friends, silent neighbors, even family members you haven't seen for too long.

And how better to rekindle interaction than over a quintessential "Christmas drink?" How many times do you hear that phrase thrown around in these two weeks of the home stretch?

The Christmas drink: It's not just a pint anymore.

2. Stocking Stuffers
I don't know about you, but I love hunting for fun stocking stuffers. Ironically, we never had stockings growing up (I think in Mexico kids use shoes instead, which we never did either but whatever), but we always got random little gifts that would have been considered "stocking-stuffers" had we had stockings: barbie underwear, bags of Hershey's nuggets, silly little toys, stickers, or trinkets of one sort or another.

This year as a joke, I've bought two bags of chocolate coins which I plan to present to the scrooges of the family (read: men) in little Dickensian-style money-bags. Hey, it's been a rough year for everyone. :) And as Dickens might have once said, it's all "jolly good fun!"

1. The Reason for the Season
I won't go "Papa Ratzi" on you here, but I will say that whether I say it or not, I do think it's a jolly good idea to reflect on the deeper meanings of Christmas. And if nothing else, it makes me happy to be able to once again give thanks for a year well-lived, well-enjoyed, well-eaten up. Amen!

* * *

Jolly Good Cranberry-Almond Biscotti
adapted from Payard's Pistachio-Almond Biscotti recipe

Makes about 20 Chunky Biscotti

pre-slicing and pre-second-baking

I'm not a big "biscuit" person in the American or British sense of the word. But I love biscotti. Maybe it's the Classicist in me, but there is something about the fact that these cookies were originally conceived as durable food for the Roman Army's many legions that I find hopelessly romantic and exciting. Plus, having lived in Italy a couple of times, there are issues of nostalgia to also be dealt with in my psyche, and these biscotti are a quick-fix.

As an added bonus, all Roman wants for Christmas this year is his two front teeth. These biscotti are great teething-biscuits for any little ones who love to or need to gnaw. :)

* * *

3 tbsps unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsps sugar
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tbsps all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
grated zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs
2/3 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 tsp anise seeds


1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Combine all dry ingredients including lemon zest in a bowl and set aside.

3. In another bowl beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until combined. Then add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

4. Mix in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each one. You may want to use your hands to make the dough come together.

5. Add the nuts and cranberries and work into the dough until just incorporated; do not kneed the dough, just combine.

6. Put on a lightly floured surface and shape the dough into a 12-inch long log. Then place on the cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes or until the the top is firm to the touch. Don't worry, the log may look thin, but it widens up while baking to give the biscotti their long, traditional shape.

7. Remove from the oven, but leave the oven on. Allow to cool on the cookie sheet for 10 minutes, then slice into thin biscotti with a serrated knife and put back on the cookie sheet.

8. Bake for an additional 12-14 minutes or until biscotti are golden and baked-through-crispity.

Enjoy with a good Italian coffee or a glass of wine for dipping!

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  1. Jolly Reason #5 is still on my to-do list but the rest are definitely merry-makers! I would be thrilled to receive these biscotti as a gift and since you've so kindly provided the recipe, perhaps I'll simply give them to myself. Have fun at the Christmas party!

  2. I am in full agreement with all of your top 5 reasons to be jolly, and tried to wrack my poor brain for a 6th but came up empty. There's something about mulled wine, even better if the sipper is wandering around a Christmas market in my opinion and of course a free pass on all the wonderful nibbles and drinks. We need to expand Christmas season year round.

    Have a grand time at the party.