For the Love of Chocolate-Dipped, Almond-Orange Biscotti

April 11, 2010 at 1:23 pm 52 comments

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My friend A- once said to me, “You know you’re in love when you know all the little quirks about someone, and you wouldn’t change a thing.” Somewhere between whipping my first egg whites and preheating my new oven, I realized that phrase rang truest for my kitchen.

I know exactly where to set chilled sticks of butter, since I’ve discovered my kitchen’s one warm spot (between the KitchenAid and the sink.) I could organize the knife drawer in the dark. I love this room, even though the shelves are all breaking and the paint is peeling and half of the lights have burned out.

It’s the little things. It’s the way the refrigerator door swings open with a sigh and gently refuses to shut. It’s the way the silver knobs on the cabinets sparkle when 10 AM light shines through. It’s the way the walls creak when the heater turns on, the way the dishwasher churns, the way each drawer has a distinct sound when rolled open. My kitchen has a life of its own.

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Only the kitchen has this magic. Our living room, painted sage-green and brightened with daffodil-yellow couches, is rarely touched. The office is simply a storage room for photocopied recipes in manila folders and staggering stacks of cookbooks. And my little blue bedroom is merely the place where I sleep, dreaming of Tahitian vanilla.

As an only child, I spend a great deal of time home alone. I get out of school before noon and my mother doesn’t get off work until six. I finish homework, I answer emails, I bake shortbread cookies and listen to This American Life. I like to throw open all the curtains and drink chocolate soymilk all by myself in our tiny house.

It could be lonely, but it isn’t. I like the peaceful stillness and quiet, and I like getting to know the place I call home.

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In the past, I might have been scared. I was the child who didn’t ride roller coasters, screamed at the sight of spiders, and needed a nightlight and soft background noise to sleep. I was frequently teased by my braver friends for preferring Shirley Temple to Goosebumps.

I’m getting better. I’ll ride a coaster if it doesn’t go upside down. I take half an hour to trap spiders and set them free (can’t bear to kill them.) And I’ve tried watching scary movies. But I always spend the entire film with my hands over my face, pressing into the people beside me, whispering, “Is it over?” After sitting through them, I can barely muster the courage to stand up and turn on the lights.

I don’t know what I was thinking one afternoon earlier this week, when I sat on the bed home alone and decided to watch a horror movie.

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It was free on our cable. I had just put a tray of biscotti dough in the oven, the timer set to half an hour. I watched the movie with the covers drawn up to my nose and both feet on the bed (you never know what’s lurking beneath the mattress.) The lights were off in the bedroom and the hallway, so the entrancing glow of the TV was all I could see.

The main character was about to be slaughtered. I could tell by the music and the lengthening shadows, the lamb-like expression of panic and horror on the heroine’s face. I began to sweat. I didn’t want to watch, but I couldn’t stick my arm out to grasp for the remote. The music swelled, her mouth stretched into a scream, and I was paralyzed, I – BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

The oven timer went off on the other side of the house and I nearly fell off the bed.

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But when I thought about the biscotti in the oven and the lovely scent of almond wafting through the walls, all terror faded. I didn’t linger on my fear or imagine monsters in the shadows. I leapt from the bed, ran down the unlit hallway and into the kitchen without a second thought.

The almond-orange biscotti needed to bake three times, and then get dipped in dark chocolate. That meant I had to get up and cross the cold, dusky hallway four times during the course of the movie. It was a mistake to watch that film, frightening enough to give me nightmares. But it was nowhere near as scary as the possibility of burning those light, crisp biscotti.

The things you do for love. Oh, how I adore that kitchen.

[PS: It’s been a week since I was rejected from my dream school. It still hurts, but I can’t tell you how many times I read through all 90+ comments on my last post and felt a little lighter. Thanks for your stories of rejection, heartbreak, success and hope. Every one of them helped.]

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This biscotti is worth the wait, the triple baking, for the smell that fills the house. My neighbor stopped by and smelled it from the doorway, eyes opening wide: “What’s cooking?” And the final biscotti is perfection. It’s light, crunchy without chipping a tooth in the process, and barely dipped in dark chocolate. On its own, it’s delicious. With coffee, tea, or hot chocolate, it’s something bordering on magic.

I made these for my mother’s friend, a biscotti fanatic, and I left out the nuts because she doesn’t like them. I think it would have been great with the almonds, though – your call.

Chocolate-Dipped Almond-Orange Biscotti
Adapted from Bon Appetit via Smitten Kitchen
Makes 3-4 dozen biscotti

3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/3 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon orange liqueur
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 cup whole almonds, toasted, coarsely chopped or sliced almonds (optional)
1 large egg white
Tiny drop of almond extract (optional)
6 oz dark chocolate, finely chopped

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into medium bowl. Mix sugar, melted butter, 3 eggs, vanilla extract, orange liqueur and zest in large bowl. Add flour mixture to egg mixture and stir with wooden spoon until well blended. Mix in almonds.

Divide dough in half. Using floured hands, shape each dough half into 13 1/2-inch-long, 2 1/2-inch-wide log. Transfer both logs to prepared baking sheet, spacing apart. Whisk egg white in small bowl until foamy; brush over top and sides of each dough log.

Bake logs until golden brown (logs will spread), about 30 minutes. Cool logs completely on sheet on rack, about 25 minutes. Maintain oven temperature.

Transfer logs to work surface; discard parchment paper. Using serrated knife, cut logs on diagonal into 1/2-inch-wide slices. Arrange slices, cut side down, on same baking sheet. Bake 12 minutes. Turn biscotti over; bake until just beginning to color, about 8 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool.

Once cool, melt the 6 oz of chocolate in a double boiler – set the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water and stir until melted. Stir in a small drop of almond extract. Dip the biscotti into the chocolate and leave to dry on a cooling rack. Biscotti will keep a week or more in an airtight container at room temperature.

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Elissa Bernstein



I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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