Quarantine Bake Along: Biscotti

Biscotti is an Italian crunchy cookie often used for dunking in beverages like coffee or dessert wine. The name comes from medieval Latin for “twice-cooked”–the first bake as a log and then sliced and baked again until dry. I often remember seeing Nonni’s biscotti buckets in the grocery store growing up, but was never really fond of them due to how hard they were. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown in appreciation for more crunchy cookies and biscotti is on that list. I had never thought to make them on my own before (why?) but recently discovered this recipe for a more traditional almond and anise biscotti. They’re pretty endlessly customizable to your liking, which is nice during these times of pantry raiding. They also last up to 3 months which is great for when you want some survival cookies.

A Brief Biscotti History

The first biscotti, often referred to as Biscotti di Prato, were created in 14th-century Tuscany in the city of Prato and were made from almonds. Due to its second bake, biscotti’s hard, sturdy, and mold-resistent properties made it an ideal favorite to store for travelers. It wasn’t until the 1990s that biscotti became an American favorite and now you can find its many varieties in coffee shops, cafes, and stores.

Biscotti Recipe

  • 10 ounces all-purpose flour (about 2 1/4 cups, spooned)
  • 4 ounces sugar (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 5 1/4 ounces nuts, toasted and roughly chopped (about 1 heaping cup)* See Variations
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). In the bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, chopped nuts, and other flavorings if desired. Whisk to combine the ingredients thoroughly then add eggs and vanilla; continue to mix just long enough to form a soft dough.
  2. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface. Knead lightly to bring dough together into a ball, then shape into a roughly 8-inch log. Transfer dough log to a parchment-lined half-sheet pan and continue rolling the log by hand until it is approximately 16 inches long. Gently flatten dough by hand until log is about 4 inches wide and just over 1/2 inch thick.
  3. Bake dough until puffed and firm to the touch and just beginning to brown around the very edges (though still pale overall), about 25 minutes. Cool directly on baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a cutting board and let cool 5 minutes more. While dough is still warm, use a long, thin, and very sharp serrated knife to cut log at a slight angle into about 25 pieces, each just over 1/2 inch wide.
  4. Arrange biscotti, cut sides up, on a parchment-lined baking sheet and continue baking until dry to the touch and lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Flip biscotti over and continue baking for another 12 minutes. It’s normal for the timing to vary according to the biscotti’s size and thickness, as well as differences in oven temperature and airflow, so keep a close eye on them and adjust the bake time as needed.
  5. Cool biscotti to room temperature before serving. If desired, dip in chocolate. Biscotti will keep for about 3 months in an airtight container at cool room temperature.

Variations

Substitute chocolate chips or dried fruit in the same volume (one cup). You can also add any citrus zest to flavor the dough (orange, lemon, etc.), about 1 Tablespoon. Traditionally, biscotti has anise seed in it. You can add 2 teaspoons of chopped anise to the mix as well.

Recipe adapted from Serious Eats.

Quarantine Bake Along: Shortbread

Being stuck at home during this COVID-19 crisis has got us all looking for creative ways to spend our time indoors. Even though I’m still working at the bakery, I’ve found myself with a lot more free time on my hands. I’ve been trying to experiment with things I’ve put off: making a sourdough starter, practicing laminated dough, and recipe testing new treats.

Before Milk + Honey started, this site was a food blog. I loved documenting my food adventures, particularly writing about food. I learned, however, that it’s fricken hard to keep up a food blog when it’s not your full time gig. Life took over and food blogging went out the window. All this quarantining has gotten me excited about getting back into writing, and more importantly, using writing to share the joy of baking with others. In this Quarantine Baking Series, I’ll be posting some easy recipes for those who are looking to pass time (and reap the reward of baked goods) or get into baking in general. I recognize that ingredients are hard to find at the stores right now so I’ll try my best to feature recipes that have the most basic of baking ingredients and don’t require specialty kitchen equipment.

When it comes to the most simple of recipes, the first thing that comes to mind is shortbread. All you need is 3 ingredients to make the most rudimentary (and traditional) version: flour, butter, and sugar. Chances are you’ve had this delicious, buttery cookie before. It melts in your mouth with a crumbly texture and slight sweetness. They keep for weeks, which is a huge plus when you’re hunkering down. They’re also endlessly customizable, a perfect starting point for experimentation.

A Brief History of Shortbread

Shortbread is a traditional Scottish biscuit. Sources say it may have been around as early as the 12th century, but it’s often attributed to Mary, Queen of Scots in the 16th century. Shortbread evolved from a medieval biscuit bread where any leftover bread dough was dried out in a low oven until hardened. Over time, the yeast in the bread was replaced by butter, and shortbread was born. It was a luxury back then and often eaten only during the holidays.

Brief Shortbread Baking Science

The crumbly, meltaway texture is due to the high fat content provided by the butter that inhibits the gluten formation from the flour. Since there’s no commercial leavening (baking powder/soda) in this cookie, the butter is what moistens the dough and keeps it together. There’s a slight “puffing” of the dough when baked due to the steam released from the butter, but it does not rise or spread much.

Shortbread Recipe

Makes approximately 30 2-inch cookies. Feel free to customize with the mix + match variations following the recipe.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (250g) all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, cool room temp (around 65F)
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar or 1/4 cup granulated sugar (see note)

1. Place the butter, powdered sugar, salt, and any additional flavorings (see below) into the bowl of a stand mixer and cream until smooth, light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Alternatively, you can do this with a hand mixer.

2. Use a spatula to scrape down the bowl and add the flour and any nuts, dried fruit, or chocolate chips (if desired) and mix until just combined. Remove the dough, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 2 days. The dough can be frozen up to 3 months (let thaw in refrigerator overnight).

3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350F. Roll out dough to ¼ inch thick and cut into desired shapes. Bake for 16-18 minutes until edges are just turning golden brown. Store in airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

4. If desired, these cookies can be glazed with a simple icing made from any liquid (fruit juices, milk, or even water) mixed with powdered sugar until the desired thickness is achieved. Use a spoon to drizzle icing onto cookies or dunk cookies into glaze. You can also drizzle/dip the shortbread in melted chocolate.

GF Variation: substitute flour with your favorite GF flour blend

Vegan Variation: substitute butter with your favorite vegan butter (I like Miyoko’s)

Mix + Match Additions:

  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary, sage, or herb of choice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or maple extract or extract of choice
  • 1 Tbsp fresh citrus zest
  • 1 Tbsp matcha powder, lavender, or tea leaves
  • 4 Tbsp ground black sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup chopped nuts, seeds, dried fruit, or chocolate chips

Note:

My recipe calls for powdered sugar because the fineness of it enhances the meltaway texture. Totally fine if you use regular granulated sugar though. I’ve successfully used 1/4 cup powdered sugar for less sweet cookies or for more savory mix ins.

Orange Pistachio Dark Chocolate Rugelach

Rugelach is a Jewish dessert that I saw on Molly Yeh’s blog. We were also gifted some over Christmas from J’s coworker and it was SO good. I decided to make it last night and put my own spin on it! One of my best friends gave me some amazing smelling stovetop holiday potpourri for Christmas which inspired a lot of the flavors in this.

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cup (325g) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/8 cup (25g) sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup (226g) unsalted butter, cold and cubed
8 oz (226g) cream cheese, straight from the fridge
2 large egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract, optional
1 1/2 cup (260g) dark/bittersweet chocolate
Zest of 1 small orange, optional
Roasted pistachios, ground, optional
Sanding sugar and Maldon salt, optional
Egg wash: 1 large egg beaten with a splash of water

Instructions:

  1. Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle. Add the cubed butter, distributing it all over the top of the dry ingredients, and dollop in the cream cheese (1” dollops should do it, but it doesn’t need to be perfect). Turn the mixer on low and stir until the mixture is mostly mealy and there are still some larger clumps of butter and cream cheese in tact. Continue mixing and add the yolks, vanilla, and almond extract, if using, and then continue mixing until the dough comes together. Divide the dough in half and shape into discs. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour or up to two days.
  2. To form the rugelach, melt the chocolate in a double boiler while stirring or in a microwaveable bowl in 30-second increments, stirring after each. Mix in the orange zest. Set aside to cool briefly while you roll out the dough. Working with one dough disc at a time, roll it out on a lightly floured surface, dusting with flour as needed to prevent it from sticking, until it is a wide rectangle, 18” by 9”. Use an offset spatula to spread on half of the chocolate in a thin even layer, leaving a 1” border along the long edge that’s furthest from you (try to work kinda quickly so the chocolate doesn’t harden). Brush the 1” border with a thin layer of egg wash and then start on the end closest to you and roll the dough into a long tight log, placing it seam side down. Transfer to a cutting board or baking sheet and refrigerate for at least an hour or up to two days (depending on fridge space, you might want to cut the log in half so you’re dealing with four shorter logs as opposed to two really long ones). If you’re only refrigerating for an hour or two, no need to cover the logs. If longer than that, cover with plastic wrap.
  3. Preheat the oven to 375ºF and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Brush the logs with a thin layer of egg wash, sprinkle with ground pistachios or a few pinches of flaky salt and sanding sugar, if using. Cut into 1 1/2” slices and transfer to the baking sheets, 1” apart. Bake until golden brown on top; begin checking for doneness at 20 minutes. Let cool on the pans for 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely or enjoy them warm! Leftovers can be stored at room temp for several days.

Adapted from Molly Yeh

Salted Brown Butter Sugar Cookies

Recently, I was randomly thinking about sugar cookies and how I could make them better. As I have just made a brown butter filling for the pumpkin pie cake, I’ve had brown butter on my mind a lot. It smells amazing and has such a wonderful flavor. I figured making any cookie with browned butter would impart that delicious nutty flavor, particularly the sugar cookie that doesn’t have much other embellishment.

I don’t think I’ll ever make a “regular” sugar cookie ever again. The entire time I was making the dough, I was sticking my face in the mixing bowl to smell the brown butter and making J smell it too (I think a brown butter candle would suit me well). The brown butter adds a lovely flavor, making it almost a toffee-like sugar cookie. These cookies are crisp on the edges but nice and soft in the center. Topped with a lil pinch of sea salt, it’s like the wonder of caramel corn or salted caramel in a cookie!

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed organic brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla bean extract
  • coarse salt, for sprinkling tops of cookies

Instructions

  1. Place the butter in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently. Once the butter melts and begins to foam, continue to cook until brown specks begin to appear beneath the foam. The butter will have a nutty aroma. Remove from the heat and transfer to a glass bowl. Allow to cool.
  2. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  3. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the cooled butter, brown sugar, and sugar until combined. Add the egg and vanilla, and mix well.
  4. Reduce mixer speed to low. Gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until combined.
  5. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.
  7. Using about a tablespoonful of dough, roll into balls and place on the prepared pans. Flatten each ball slightly. Sprinkle coarse salt on the tops of cookies. (The amount of salt is a preference thing. I recommend just barely a pinch.)
  8. Bake 12-15 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies are browned and the centers are set. Cool in pans on wire racks for 5-10 minutes. Then, transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

Adapted from Bake or Break.

French Macarons (GF)

Macarons are all-the-rage these days as they’re the new “trendy” dessert. They’re light yet decadent and a beautiful little treat. They’re often touted as impossible to make at home, and there are countless blogs out there that claim to have “foolproof” recipes for this difficult-to-master dessert. I can’t tell you how many FAQ posts I’ve seen about macarons. There are also so many superstitions about aging egg whites, humidity, letting them sit out to develop “skins,” and so forth.

Honestly, they’re hard, but they’re also not hard at the same time. I tried seven times to make macarons at home and failing each time before totally throwing in the towel. While all of my macarons tasted fine, none of the recipes I tried produced good looking ones. Which in macaron world, appearances are apparently everything.

Fast forward two years later, I found BraveTart’s recipe and it changed my world. I loved how she had a “no frills” approach to making macarons and I decided to tackle them once again. I followed her recipe, and first try, I came out with perfect macarons. I was jumping up and down with joy and disbelief. I NO LONGER HAD TO PAY $2 FOR A TINY LITTLE MACARON AT STORES ANYMORE!

It’s been amazing and I love playing around with flavor combinations. Some that I’ve made are matcha, salted dulce de leche, salted caramel, miel latte, peppermint, vanilla, and cinnamon chestnut. While I’ve found lots of success with this recipe, I will say that toying around too much with additions can definitely mess up the results. Since they are finicky, you’ll still probably wind up with the occasional cracked macaron. Either way, it’s fine, it tastes amazing, eat it anyway!

While I love macarons, I really don’t like how sweet they are. To combat that, I don’t add much sugar to the filling and I add more salt to the shells–you’ll see that reflected in the recipe.

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces (115g) blanched almonds or almond flour, or whatever nut you like
  • 8 ounces (230g) powdered sugar
  • 5 ounces egg whites (144g)
  • 2 1/2 ounce (72g) sugar
  • the scrapings of 1 vanilla bean or 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2-3/4 tsp (2-4g) kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 300°F and have ready a large pastry bag, fitted with a plain tip. You’ll also need two parchment lined sheet pans ready too.
  2. Sift almond flour with the powdered sugar and set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the egg whites, sugar, vanilla bean (not the extract), and salt and turn the mixer to medium (4 on a Kitchen Aid). Whip for 3 minutes. They will not seem especially foamy at that point.
  4. Increase the speed to medium-high (7 on a Kitchen Aid) and whip another 3 minutes, then crank the speed to 8 for go another 3 minutes.
  5. At that point, turn the mixer off and add in any extracts/flavor/color and whip for a final minute on the highest speed.
  6. At the end of this minute, you should have a very stiff, dry meringue. (Check out this photo if you’d like to see a picture of how your meringue should look.) When you remove the whisk attachment, there will be a big clump of meringue in the center, just knock the whisk against the bowl to free it. If the meringue has not become stiff enough to clump inside the whisk, continue beating for another minute, or until it does so.
  7. Now dump in the dry ingredients all at once and fold them in with a rubber spatula. Use both a folding motion (to incorporate the dry ingredients) and a rubbing/smearing motion, to deflate the meringue against the side of the bowl.First timers: the dry ingredients/meringue will look hopelessly incompatible at first. After about 25 turns (or folds or however you want to call “a single stroke of mixing”) the mixture will still have a quite lumpy and stiff texture. Another 15 strokes will see you to “just about right.” Keep in mind that macaronage is about deflating the whites, so don’t feel like you have to treat them oh-so-carefully. You want to knock the air out of them.Undermixed macaron batter: quite stiff. If you spoon some out and drop it back into the mix, it will just sit there and never incorporate. Do this test before bagging your batter and save yourself the trouble of baking of undermixed macarons.
    Overmixed macaron batter: has a runny, pancake batter-like texture. It will ooze continuously, making it impossible to pipe into pretty circles.

    Essentially, the macaron batter needs enough thickness that it will mound up on itself, but enough fluidity that after 20 seconds, it will melt back down. I’ve heard people describe this consistency as lava-like, or molten, and that’s pretty apt.

  8. Transfer about half the batter to a piping bag and pipe the batter onto the sheets.
  9. After piping your macarons, take hold of the sheet pan and hit it hard against your counter. Rotate the pan ninety degrees and rap two more times. This will dislodge any large air bubbles that might cause your macarons to crack. Keep smashing it against a hard surface until you’re sure all the air bubbles are out.
  10. Bake for about 18 minutes, or until you can cleanly peel the parchment paper away from a macaron. If, when you try to pick up a macaron, the top comes off in your hand, it’s not done.
  11. Once the macarons have baked, cool thoroughly on the pans, before peeling the cooled macarons from the parchment.
  12. Fill a pastry bag fitted with the buttercream of your choice and pipe a quarter sized mound of buttercream into half of the shells, then sandwich them with their naked halves.

Macarons, against all pastry traditions, actually get better with age. The shells soften and become more chewy, mingling with the flavor of the buttercream too. So, while of course you can eat them right away, don’t hesitate to store them refrigerated for up to a week. If at all possible, set them out at room temperature for a few hours before consuming.

Adapted from BraveTart.