The looming (and overflowing) Biscotti Bin is a constant on our kitchen counter, filled with all the ingredients we use regularly and new ingredients we want to try. The Biscotti Bin is generally the first thing someone asks about when visiting our kitchen for the first time. Some people may get comments on their kitchen decor, their fixtures, their abundant counter space…but not us. “What is THAT?” is generally their first question.
Many of the biscotti in our house start with a famous phrase, “Let’s do an experiment!” I am only too happy to oblige. Our list of flavor profiles is still growing, some from our travels and others from our own backyard. While there are some “experiments” that I veto from the start, for example when my son mentioned brussel sprouts or my daughter thought mussels would make fabulous biscotti, there are others that morphed into favorites. For example, we all love sushi and when my daughter thought sushi biscotti would be an amazing idea, I was a bit hesitant at first. But we found a sweet and salty seaweed snack and combined it with black roasted sesame seeds to create our favorite Sweet Sesame Seaweed Biscotti that mocks the flavoring of maki rolls. And when my son mentioned hummus biscotti, I was again reluctant. But, we created Sesame Honey Cashews with Homemade Candied Orange Peels, which incorporated tahini in the dough. Both are delicious! Kids are wonderfully creative people, lacking that food filter we’ve all developed over time that tells us what foods do and do not go together. Sometime thinking about the ingredients rather than the dish as a whole, helps those of us with a well developed food filter to look at ideas in a more open way. Trust me, we’ve had our share of mistakes which were given all sorts of sordid names. However, as my father-in-law says, “we eat our mistakes.” The mistakes sometimes make the best memories, woven into the narrative of the Big Biscotti Bake. So experiment and make some mistakes along the way!
We talk about food…a lot…with everyone. So get a conversation started. Think about your favorite dishes, your family’s food traditions, and what you ate for lunch. Keep a notebook on the counter where anyone can write down their ideas. Place a Biscotti Bin on your counter to be another source of inspiration. Challenge each other to come up with the most unique biscotti idea during the week and give it a try that weekend. On your next trip to the grocery store ask everyone to pick up on ingredient that they think could be used in a biscotti recipe. Below you will find a list of ingredients to get your creative juices flowing. The list is by no means exhaustive, as family and friends are continually mentioning new ingredients and we are discovering new foods.
Eggs – We use large eggs in all of our recipes. Eggs are sometimes the only moisture (outside of liquor) in biscotti, so here is one instance when size matters. However, if you find as you are kneading dough that it is too dry and not coming together, whisk up an egg white (save the yolk) and add it in. If that doesn’t do the trick, then add the yolk as well. We also sometimes brush an egg wash on some biscotti logs before baking them to give the tops a nice golden color.
Grains– We make most of our biscotti with all-purpose flour. However, we also incorporate a variety of grains into our recipes for taste, texture, or added health benefits. Whole wheat flour, cornmeal, almond meal, muesli, spelt, garbanzo bean flour, quinoa flour, wheat germ, flaxseed, oatmeal, oat bran, buckwheat flour, and rice crispies (I’ve been told these are actually a grain!) are the basis for some of our creations.
Sugar– Sugar is essential for infusing biscotti dough with sweetness or for adding a layer of crispy sweetness to the top. Sugar comes in a variety of forms, each one leaving a special mark on your creations. While most of our recipes use granulated sugar, we often include a combination of sugars, such as light and dark brown sugar, agave, honey (plain or flavored), molasses, maple (granulated maple sugar powder and maple syrup), granulated coconut sugar, drink mixes, pudding or jello mixes, or other sweeteners.
Dried and Candied Fruits – Dried and candied fruits are a staple in biscotti. They add sweetness and can be used in combination with so many other ingredients to create truly unique recipes. Figs, banana chips, cherries, apricots, goji berries, strawberries, mangos, papayas, kiwi, pineapple, apricots, blueberries, dragon fruit, and pears are just some of the fruits that found their way into our recipes.
Nuts– Nuts are also a staple in biscotti. The Biscotti Bin is filled with all kinds of nuts: honey roasted, smoked, salted and unsalted, cinnamon coated, and the list goes on and on. To bring out the nuttiness of nuts, roast them at 350 degrees for 5-10 minutes, stirring them once or twice. While not all of our recipes contain nuts, they add many nutrients and minerals, especially protein, fiber, and in some cases omega-3. Sometimes we simply add whole or chopped nuts to a recipe, while other times we grind them up to add flavor and texture to the dough. Adding a scoop of nut butter is another way to go. So don’t forget the nuts! Some of our favorites include hazelnuts, pignoli, walnuts, peanuts, almonds, pistachios, Brazilian nuts, cashews, macadamias, and pecans.
Candy- Not all candy is created equal when it comes to making biscotti. Heat has a tendency to do wicked things to some candies and not others. My daughter’s favorite candy is Milk Duds. While wonderful when eaten by the handfuls, Milk Duds will actually leave caramel craters in biscotti. But don’t dismiss a candy that you can’t incorporate into the dough…there is always the toppings!
Oils and Extracts– Around the holidays my grandfather would go to the drugstore and buy up whatever flavored oils in stock, bring them home and spend weeks making hundreds of pizzelles, one by one, for family and friends. Just as with pizzelles, oils and extracts are flavor boosters for biscotti, enhancing the flavor profiles and mimicking the dried fruits or candies that you might knead into the dough.
Chocolate - Chocolate is generally incorporated into a biscotti recipe in three ways. One, creating a chocolate dough by adding cocoa powder to the dry ingredients. Two, kneading in chocolate chips or chunks before forming logs. Three, melting chocolate to coat the biscotti. Please don’t feel as if you have to pick only one. We have on occasion been known to incorporate all three into our creations. We also really enjoy adding cocoa nibs into the dough because they don’t melt and you still get a strong cocoa flavor with the added health benefits.
Liquors – Cooking with liquor makes a strong statement. Grand Marnier, Lemoncello, flavored vodka, rum, masala, bourbon, Bailey’s Irish Cream, amaretto, grappa, kirsch, and so many others find their way into our recipes. We are still experimenting…while enjoying a cocktail or two.
Spices – Spices are a great way to add depth to biscotti while often enhancing the appearance of your biscotti or the health benefits at the same time. There are obviously too many to list here. But don’t limit yourself to the common spices found on every grocery store shelf. If you have access to an international market, make a special trip to see what you can find.
Herbs – There is really nothing better when you are cooking something on the stovetop and the smell of fresh herbs permeates the kitchen. The same is true for biscotti. You can taste and smell the difference between fresh and dried herbs. Nothing is more agonizing than waiting for that first bite of Bacon, Rosemary, and Thyme Biscotti made with fresh herbs, knowing that once it comes out of the oven you have to let it cool, slice it, bake it again, and let it cool again.
Seeds – Seeds posses so many health benefits and add an extra crunch to an already delightfully crunchy treat. Sometimes we buy raw seeds and then roast or flavor them before incorporating them into our recipes. Peppito, sunflower, chai, and sesame are some of our favorites.
Teas – Teas are one of my favorite ingredients to use in biscotti…green tea, black tea, fruit flavored tea, chai, chamomile, and many others. Teas are highly aromatic when warmed in the oven and in many instances the flavor profile is already defined. For example, Lemongrass Ginger or Peach Mango teas are delicious and easy use in creating biscotti with the addition of crystallized ginger and dried mango, respectively. The flavor combinations in teas are endless and tea shops are always coming up with new products. So find a tea you like and use it in your next recipe. You will already have something to dunk it in!
Flavorings - There are a host of ways to add flavor to biscotti that defy categorization, for example, rosewater or bitters. The same flavorings incorporated in the dough can often be used to flavor nuts or seeds before adding them to a recipe.