Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Orange, Date & Almond Biscotti (aka Mandlebread)

"I'm a traveling man, made a lot of stops all over the world..."  Ricky Nelson song

I began thinking of this song as I baked this treat.  Whether (in the past) by foot, horse, or (now) by plane, this food travels well.

This month's Avid Bakers Challenge is Orange, Date & Almond Biscotti.  We are baking recipes  from the Scientifically Sweet website.  I have grown up making mandlebread, a very similar type of treat.  I thought it would be interesting to see how they might be connected.  Good recipes are good recipes, and seem to go across cultures. 

It seems, that twice baked cookies became popular for people traveling long distances.  They last a long time, and are easy to pack.  I became fascinated by the histories of these cookies, after reading about them on Wikipedia.

Biscotti (/bɪˈskɒti/; Italian pronunciation: [bisˈkɔtti]; English: twice cooked), is also known as cantuccini (English: coffee bread), are twice-baked cookies (or biscuits) originating in the Italian city of Prato. The biscuits are oblong-shaped almond biscuits, made dry and crunchy through cutting the loaf of dough while still hot and fresh from baking in the oven.

"Biscotti" is the plural form of biscotto. The word originates from the medieval Latin word biscoctus, meaning "twice-cooked/baked." It defined oven baked goods that were baked twice, so they were very dry and could be stored for long periods of time.

Such nonperishable food was particularly useful during journeys and wars, and twice baked breads were a staple food of the Roman Legions.[1] 
(I added the italics for emphasis)  Click here for more information on biscotti
September 29 is National Biscotti Day.


Mandelbrodt,[1][2] also known as mandel bread in English-speaking countries and kamishbrot in Ukraine, is a Jewish cookie popular amongst Eastern European Jews. The Yiddish word mandelbrodt literally means almond bread, a reference to its common ingredient of almonds. It is typically formed by baking a loaf which is then cut into small slabs and twice-baked in order to form a crunchy exterior. The cookies were popular in Eastern Europe among rabbis, merchants and other itinerant Jews as a staple dessert that kept well.[3]

Its precise origin is unknown, as is its historic relationship with biscotti, a similar Italian cookie. While mandelbrodt and biscotti both consist of a crunchy exterior, mandelbrodt is slightly softer than biscotti due to its higher oil and/or butter content.
Click here for more information on mandlebread

So both are twice baked, have almonds, travel well, and have oblong shape!

Whether (in the past) by foot, horse, or (now) by plane, this food travels well.  My guess is the travelers took their recipes to other parts of the world.

The recipe:

You can find the recipe for the Orange, Date & Almond Biscotti at Scientifically Sweet.  I made a few changes to the recipe:

1 tsp of almond extract instead of 1/2tsp (I thought I was measuring the vanilla, LOL)
1/2 tsp orange extract, because I had it on hand.
craisins instead of dates, the first time around.  We really liked the combo of flavors.
Sliced almonds were what we had on hand, so those were used

I found they were really crumbly when cutting them.

 I contacted Christina Marsigliese of "Scientifically Sweet."   She said:
"The only thing that would make these crumble is if they weren't completely cooled before slicing. Also, if the knife isn't sharp enough then it is very difficult to slice through the almonds - try chopping the almonds before adding them to the mix. Cheers!"

Well, I was already using sliced almonds.  I did wait until they were cool.

I decided, since biscotti was so much like mandlebread, I'd ask some of the people on the Facebook Jewish Food List for their ideas.  Many of them said that maybe I should bake the loaves less time.  
I tried the recipe again, this time with dates.  I remember waiting for them to become light golden brown, trying to wait that few minutes extra.  Maybe I waited too long?

This time, I baked them only until the loaves were firm.  They weren't brown yet.  The egg wash made a glossy sheen.  I began to wonder if the crispness of the egg wash caused crumbling.  I had never used egg wash for this type of recipe before.

I tried cutting them with the knife vertically, when they cooled.  It seemed to help with the crumbling, but there was still a lot of crumbling. 

Then someone in our group posted a video of her slicing of the biscotti.  She used a long, serrated bread knife. It's possible that the type of knife that I used wasn't smooth enough and caused the crumbling.

The recipe suggested using a serrated knife.  I used the knife on the left.  However the woman who posted the video of slicing her biscotti used a knife like the one on the right.  I'd post that video for you, but it's probably as interesting as watching paint dry if you aren't a baker.

Then I spoke to someone in my exercise class, who bakes biscotti.  She agreed--the knife makes all the difference.  So, next time, I'll use a bread slicing knife.

Here are the biscotti after I baked them again, 7 minutes on both sides.  I don't like them really dry.  They are like a firm, tasty cookie.  We enjoyed them very much--sometimes I enjoyed too many of them, LOL!

Thank you so much for stopping by!!  I hope you will leave a comment.

If you want more information about the Avid Bakers Challenge, Click here

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Double Chocolate Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins

This year, our Avid Bakers Group will be baking recipes from Christina Marsigliese's "Scientifically Sweet" blog.  We are all excited to bake from this website, as much of baking is combining chemicals and formulas!  Even 1/4 tsp of much baking soda can throw off an entire recipe.

Christina not only gives us a recipe, but she can also tell us why something is done.  For example, her recipe calls for freezing the bananas.  Why?  She says that you can use overripe bananas, but freezing them first helps to break down the little black fibers for a smoother batter. You can see how she uses this method to make super a super smooth and yellow batter for her Banana Cupcakes with PB Cocoa Frosting in her book!

While making this recipe, I kept thinking of this fun song.  I thought maybe you would enjoy it, also!
"She Blinded Me With Science" music video, with the Muppets   

We started off the year baking her recipe for Double Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins.  It's a basic muffin recipe--you mix dry ingredients together.  Then you mix the wet ingredients in another bowl:

Dry and wet ingredients, separate
I made some changes to the recipe, based on what I had on hand.  Instead of sour cream, I used whipping cream and 1% milk with some lemon juice to sour it.  After 15 minutes, I could see bubbles on top.  It was ready to use.

Instead of using dutch process cocoa, I used Hershey's Dark Special cocoa.  It has part dutch process cocoa, and is much cheaper than dutch process cocoa.  For muffins, I felt that would be fine.  There's enough dutch process in the cocoa to work with the recipe properly.

The dark mixture from the Hershey's Dark Special cocoa!

They baked up really nicely

And how did we taste?  Hubby gave them a "9."  He thought that they could use some frosting or cherries on top. I think they would be better with pecans.  I'm keeping the recipe, but with notes to add pecans next time. 

They were also a bit dry. I'd recommend checking them sooner, maybe at 15 minutes.

Since we are not eating many sweets, these will be given away tomorrow. Some will go to the pest control guys who are coming.  The rest will go to my physical therapists.  "Never underestimate the power of great baked goods," is my favorite saying!

If you would like the recipe, you can find it here: Double Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins

If you want to bake along with the monthly Avid Bakers Challenge, you can find more information here:   Avid Bakers Challenge

Thank you for stopping by!