Saturday morning at 8:00 am I did something I’ve never done before. I parked my car in a field with only two dozen other cars and passed through unmanned gates. Hours later there would be long lines and thousands of people in this very spot. Just inside the gate was an elderly woman with a “volunteer” name tag. Apparently we were going to the same place, so she kindly offered to show me the way. What should have been a 5 minute walk took us instead 20 minutes, which had me wondering what I had gotten myself into. We walked past the funnel cake, corn dog, pit beef, hot dog, and snow cone stands. It was drizzling and I was hoping the rain would hold off until I completed my mission. I entered the small white building through a set of plastic curtains that looked like they belonged in a meat locker and was surprised to see a brightly lit room with lots of activity. Plenty of older women, like bees in a beehive, were ushering the young and the old through a myriad of lines and a gauntlet of forms located at various tables.
I approached a table, handed the elderly woman my form, and carefully set my package down. “Great! You are all set,” she remarked. And that’s all there was to it. Mission accomplished. I entered my first baking contest. No band, no streamers, no high-fives. Nothing. It was all very anticlimactic. Now we wait.
And while we wait, I want to share with you my submission. We first created these Ginger, Cardamom, and Almond Biscotti for a friend’s birthday. Our friend and I trade cooking lessons. She teaches me some amazingly flavorful Indian recipes, that no matter how much I try, never quite taste as good as when she makes them. In exchange, I pass along some of the traditional Italian recipes that my family enjoys. In her honor we tried to replicate some of the flavor profiles that we relish in the dishes she shares with us.
Ginger and Cardamom Biscotti with Almonds
YIELD: approximately 2 dozen
2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1 ½ teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ tablespoons cardamom seeds, crushed
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 eggs and 2 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup diced crystallized ginger
1 cup whole almonds
¼ cup ground almonds
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place the rack in the middle of the oven.
2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
3. In a large flat-bottomed bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg.
4. Crush the cardamom seeds with a mortar and pestle. Sift through a fine mesh sieve into the flour mixture and discard the larger pieces. Whisk to incorporate.
5. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg whites, and vanilla extract.
6. With a rubber spatula, stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture until the dough just starts to come together. Dust your hands with flour and knead the dough in the bowl until all the ingredients are incorporated and the dough is tacky.
7. Add the crystallized ginger and both the ground and whole almonds, and knead the dough until incorporated, about 10 to 20 times.
8. Separate the dough in half. Form two logs, approximately 3 inches wide and 1 inch high on a parchment lined baking sheet. Leave several inches between the logs, the dough will spread as it bakes. Press the top of each log with brown sugar and drizzle with honey.
9. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, or until the tops begin to crack or split. Transfer logs to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
10. Transfer biscotti logs to a cutting board. Slice the biscotti on a diagonal and place cut side down on the same parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for an additional 20 minutes, turning the biscotti once halfway through. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
What to do with the ends #8: Put the ends in a plastic container and shake like maracas.