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random musings of a crazy cat lady

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Old Biddy vs Cook's Illustrated: Biscotti Smackdown

OK, so it's not exactly Iron Chef-worthy, but Cook's Illustrated finally published a biscotti recipe that might stand a chance at matching my world famous Biddy Biscotti.  They had some older recipes in a cookbook, but I could tell they wouldn't be as good so I never made them.  There was nothing wrong with them, but they were old school low fat, low sugar ones that would need to be dipped in lots of coffee.  My personal recipe is somewhere in between - they can be eaten dry but hold up to being dipped in coffee.  Anyway, the new CI recipe featured ground almonds and more sugar for a less toothbreaking experience.  My recipe features slightly more butter,eggs and flour, a bit of brandy, and whole almonds.  The judges of this competition are me and Sheila, who knows she's getting biscotti but doesn't yet know that she's my guinea pig judge.  Surprise!

Pseudo-CI Almond Biscotti
1 1/4 cups sliced almonds, ground in the blender
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp almond extract
2 tbsp anise seed
1 3/4 c flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 325F.  Line a cookie sheet with foil or parchment paper.  Grind almonds in blender or food processor.  Melt butter and let it cool.  Beat eggs until frothy and then add sugar and beat until blended.  Add butter, vanilla, and almond extract and mix until smooth.  Combine dry ingredients and add half of it to egg mixture and blend.  Add ground almonds and remaining flour and mix until blended.  Shape into two flat logs on the cookie sheet.  (My logs were about 10" x 2").  Bake for 25-30 minutes until firm and lightly brown.  Allow to cool for 30 minutes and reduce oven temperature to 300F.  Slice into 1/2" slices and place on cookie sheet.  Bake until crisp and golden brown on both sides (rotate partway through) - CI recommended 35 minutes but mine took about 25 minutes total even though I had lowered my oven temperature.
It's not really a fair test, because I tested my variation instead of the recipe as written.  They recommended grinding up some almonds coarsely, and some finely.  I didn't have any whole almonds, so I used sliced almonds and just ground them up together to somewhere in between a coarse and fine grind.  I also added anise just to keep the flavor similar to my recipe.  The dough came together a bit faster, since I was able to use melted butter and didn't bother to toast the nuts beforehand.  I missed having my usual biscotti-making swig of brandy.  The dough tasted richer and sweeter and more almondy, almost like an almond macaroon recipe.  They baked up nicely during the first baking but didn't puff up as much.  They browned up much faster than I am used to in the second baking.  This may in part be due to the fact that the nuts were probably ground finer.   Coming out of the oven, I thought they tasted bland and somewhat overdone, but the next day I thought they had improved substantially and were safely in "Om non nom" territory.  However, that's not what you were wondering about.  Were they better than the Old Biddy Biscotti(TM)? Do I admit defeat to CI?  Hell no!   They're sweeter, and richer, and the almond flavor is more pronounced.  With some whole almonds, they might even beat my biscotti when I am in the mood for something sweeter.  A chocolate covering might be nice too.  However, I am not sure I'll be switching over just yet, at least not all the time.  I'm kind of fond of my usual biscotti, since I am biased, used to them, and like the contrast between the whole almonds and the cookie texture.  I may try putting a small amount of ground almonds in my usual recipe and see how that turns out.  Perhaps the rollout of Old Biddy Biscotti 3.0 is in order for the Christmas season. 

PS: Sheila - I'm putting them in the mail for you tomorrow.  Happy belated birthday!  Let me know what you think.  I'm sorry they're not chocolate covered - if I did that, there might not be any left by tomorrow morning.

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