When I was in middle school, I spent several summers in Fresno, California staying with my BFF Jessica. Our mothers are close friends and Jessica’s mom, Rita, was like a second mother to me. Rita was born in Italy and always amazed us with her homemade pastas and sauces. One afternoon, Rita wandered by Jessica and me in the family room (we were watching Coming to America for the gazillionth time) and cooed, “I’m making cookies!” Oh perfect day. I had visions of gooey chocolate chip cookies in my near future. What greeted me instead were long, crunchy biscotti. What was this atrocity? There was no melted chocolate, no soft warm center. These were not cookies.
Many years later, my tastes have expanded and I’ve become a big fan of biscotti. They’re a lovely mid-afternoon treat or housewarming gift. Yes, they take a little longer to make with the double-baking and flipping, but they’re a fairly easy recipe to master.
I stumbled on the recipe for caramel walnut biscotti in the aptly named cookbook Biscotti, by Lou Seibert Pappas, and jumped on the chance to try it. Recipe and baking experience after the jump.
I have a secret for you: there is no caramel in caramel walnut biscotti. Oh, the finished product definitely has a caramel flavor, but this comes from the combination of dark brown sugar and few tablespoons of Kahlua. The recipe is a double bonus for me since we’ve been overloaded with Kahlua left over from our wedding reception and any excuse to use it is a cause for celebration. We’ve already Kahlua-bombed all of our friends with bottles and we’re trying to finish up the gallon bottle left in our liquor cabinet. Do you like White Russians? Then please come to our house right away.
As biscotti goes, this one calls for a few extra steps. It isn’t a difficult recipe but be prepared to spend a little more time in the kitchen than you normally might. This recipe calls for oat flour, which is basically just oatmeal ground in a Cuisinart. I’ve used this technique in other recipes and I like it for two reasons: 1) any excuse to bake with less processed flour is okay by me and 2) the finished product has a little more texture and heartiness. The recipe also calls for you to bake the oat flour for about 10 minutes, which I did at the same time I roasted the walnuts. Honestly, I am not convinced this is necessary.
When I started baking, I always eyed biscotti recipes but largely avoided them because I was intimidated by the “spread onto a floured surface and manipulate” element. I always assumed this meant the recipe had the same degree of difficulty and fickleness as pie dough (something I still haven’t brought myself to tackle). Turns out, that isn’t true at all. Biscotti dough is typically malleable. The trick here is simply to form the dough into two appropriately shaped logs for the first round of baking so just make sure your counters are clean and try to use a space next to the sink for easy flour disposal. In this case, I was surprised by how sticky this recipe’s dough turned out to be – maybe the addition of liquor set it off?
Sticky dough aside, I was pleased with the finished product. Mike was even happier with it and asked me to take the majority to the office the next day so he didn’t run the risk of eating the entire batch himself. The biscotti are definitely sweeter than a traditional recipe – I do recommend enjoying one with milk or a cup of coffee to take the edge off, but the crunchy baked walnuts helped temper the sugar. There are dozens of biscotti recipes I’m eager to try, but I’ve already bookmarked this one as a crowd pleaser.
3/4 cup of walnuts
1/2 cup finely ground oatmeal (just toss it into a Cuisinart for a minute or so)
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup tightly packed dark brown sugar
2 TB Kahlua (double strength coffee will also work)
1 ts vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups unbleached or all purpose flour (we use whole wheat flour and it turns out fine)
1 1/2 ts baking powder
1/4 ts salt
Bake nuts at 350 degrees in a shallow pan for about 10 minutes. Let cool. Place oat flour in baking pan and bake at 350 for 10 minutes or until golden brown. In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, Kahlua and vanilla. In a bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the creamed mixture, until just blended. Mix in oat flour. Coarsely chop nuts and fold in. Divide dough in half. Place on clean, floured surface and pat into two logs about 1/2 inch high and 1 1/2 inches wide, 14 inches long. Space them at least 2 inches apart. Bake in the middle rack at 325 degrees for 25 minutes or until slightly browned. Transfer from baking sheet to rack. Let cool for 5 minutes. Place on a cutting board. With a serrated knife, slice diagonally on a 45 degree angle about 1/2 inch thick. Lay the slickes flat on the baking sheet and return to the oven for 10 minutes, turning them over once. Let cool on rack (Ed. note: They are much better cooled than warm. Really). Store in a tightly covered container. Makes about 3 dozen.