Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Biscuit Gourmet Biscotti: Not Just Holiday Treats

Just over a year ago Amber Smith was an occupational therapist with a passion for baking and pastries. She lived in Europe, based in London, and says she spent a disproportionate amount of time in bakeries and cafes.

"It tells you so much about where people are at in different countries," she says.

Feeling restless professionally, Smith wanted to spend more time in the kitchen. She didn't necessarily want to open a bakery, but at some point while baking biscotti, she says she had her aha moment. The recipe she'd been perfecting--a lighter, airier, updated biscotti--wasn't being done in the States, at least nowhere she'd been.


So, she launched Biscuit Gourmet Biscotti. I found her earlier this year at the Solana Beach Farmers Market and kept track of her. The cookies she bakes are truly lighter and airer than traditional biscotti with wonderful flavors that change with the seasons. Customers have responded. She's now selling at Caxao Artisan Chocolates in Little Italy, Birdrock Coffee Roasters, Arricia Italian Market in La Jolla, and Pigment in North Park, with the occasional fill ins at the Solana Beach and Hillcrest farmers markets. That doesn't include online sales across the country. She and her business partner now have four part-time employees to keep up with demand.

"I'm trying to make biscotti something to enjoy anytime, not just the holidays," Smith says.

I invited myself to the kitchen she rents in Coronado. It's a surprising light and airy space, sitting behind an office supply store on C Ave. just off Orange. Smith was waiting for me, ready for us to bake two varieties of biscotti, her Vanilla Orange Biscotti with Dark Chocolate and Grand Marnier-Infused Cranberries and her Nutmeg Biscotti with Toasted Pecans.

There is certainly an art to making the biscotti. While the ingredients can all go in your stand mixer for blending, shaping is critical so that the cookies retain a consistent size. Like the mandelbread I grew up with, the dough must have the right feel to it. Unlike mandelbread, a recipe which never changed in my lifetime, Smith has to balance creating new flavor combinations with the alchemy of making dough. Add liquid like Grand Marnier or a flavored extract and you have to adjust the amount flour. Every action has a reaction. That's why she spends so much time refining her ideas.

"I have at least 100 flavors in my head, but I try to keep it simple and hip," she explains. "And it's very important to me to layer flavors so that each bite has some complexity."

So, shall we get to the recipes?

The basic idea is to measure and add ingredients into a bowl to blend. We used her red Kitchen Aid stand mixer. Then we divided the dough in half, manipulating each piece into a long log that we then flattened into a rectangle. They go into the oven for the first baking. Once, they've cooled just enough the pieces are sliced into individual cookies and go back into the oven for a second baking (Smith says you could enjoy the cookies just fine after the first baking, but it's the second that gives them a firmer biscotti texture). Cool. Eat.





Vanilla Orange Biscotti with Dark Chocolate and Grand Marnier-Infused Cranberries
From Amber Smith
(printable recipe)

Makes 35 cookies

Ingredients
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick (1/4 pound) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 teaspoon orange extract
zest of 1 orange
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or any orange liqueur
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1 cup dark chocolate chunks or semi sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350℉ and line two sheet pans with parchment paper.

Roughly chop the dried cranberries into smaller pieces and put into a microwave-safe bowl. Add the Grand Marnier and warm in the microwave on high for 45 seconds, remove and stir, then let cool. Rehydrating the dried fruit will keep it from dying out too much during baking.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a separate bowl and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, using the paddle attachment for a stand mixer, or with a hand mixer on medium speed. Add eggs and extracts and continue to mix on medium speed until fully incorporated, adding the orange zest and mix until well blended. Slowly add the flour mixture on low speed until fully combined.

Add the chocolate and rehydrated cranberries. The combination of the liqueur and cranberries will form a syrup. Be sure to scrape it all into the dough for maximum flavor. Mix on low just until fully incorporated into the dough.

Divide the dough in half and shape each half into two, 16- to 18-inch loaves on one of the prepared sheet pans. Flatten the logs until the are about 2 1/2 inches wide and a half inch thick. Be sure to leave at least four inches in between the loaves to allow for spreading.

Bake for 25 minutes or until the tops of the loaves turn a warm brown. Remove the pan from the oven and let loaves sit for at least 15 minutes before slicing.

Turn oven temperature down to 300℉.

Slice cookies 1-inch thick. Arrange the biscotti on both sheet pans with at least one inch between each cookie to allow for air circulation and adequate cooking. Bake for an additional 25 minutes and remove from oven.

Note: Bake one sheet a time (unless using a convection oven) to ensure even baking.

Let cool and store in an airtight container for up to three weeks to maintain the crisp and light texture.


Nutmeg Biscotti with Toasted Pecans
From Amber Smith
(printable recipe)

Makes 35 cookies

Ingredients
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 stick (1/4 pound) unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
*1 1/2 cups toasted pecans

Preheat the oven to 350℉ and line two sheet pans with parchment paper.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and baking soda, nutmeg and cinnamon in a separate bowl and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, using the paddle attachment for a stand mixer, or with a hand mixer on medium speed. Add eggs and extracts and continue to mix on medium speed until fully incorporated. Slowly add the flour mixture on low speed until fully combined.

Roughly chop the toasted pecans and add them to the dough. Mix on slow just until fully mixed in.

Divide the dough in half and shape each half into two, 16- to 18-inch loaves on one of the prepared sheet pans. Flatten the logs until the are about 2 1/2 inches wide and a half inch thick. Be sure to leave at least four inches in between the loaves to allow for spreading.

Bake for 25 minutes or until the tops of the loaves turn a medium brown. Remove the pan from the oven and let loaves sit for at least 15 minutes before slicing.

Turn oven temperature down to 325℉.

Slice cookies 1-inch thick. Arrange the biscotti on both sheet pans with at least one inch between each cookie to allow for air circulation and adequate cooking. Bake for an additional 20 minutes and remove from oven.

Note: Bake one sheet a time (unless using a convection oven) to ensure even baking.

Let cool and store in an airtight container for up to three weeks to maintain the crisp and light texture.

*A simple and fantastic variation is to use candied pecans or caramelized hazelnuts!

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