Every time I bite into a crunchy biscotto, I say a quiet “Grazie!” to Antonio Mattei. He’s the Italian pastry chef who put these twice-baked, nut-studded cookies on the map, so to speak, when he began selling them in his bakery in the Tuscan town of Prato in 1858.
His ingredients were simple—flour, sugar, eggs, and almonds or pine nuts from nearby groves. Defining the biscotti baking method for future generations, he shaped a soft dough into wide, flat loaves, then baked, sliced, and baked them again; double-baking yielded dry, hard cookies that could be stored for long periods and travel well.
He was clearly onto something good, because today, Mattei’s bakery, Biscottificio Antonio Mattei, is still going strong, and his crisp, lightly sweet cookies can be found around the world.
My basic biscotti recipe is traditional, too, but I’ve added lemon zest and vanilla and almond extracts for a flavor boost, and baking powder to keep the cookies from being overly dense. Enjoy them after a meal with a glass of Vin Santo, the sweet Tuscan dessert wine, or dunk them into whatever your favorite after-dinner drink may be. Just don’t forget to thank Antonio.
Need to Know
Toast the nuts. Spread the almonds on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 350°F, stirring once or twice, until a shade darker, 7 to 10 minutes. Taking this step before adding them to the dough amplifies their rich flavor and gives them a head start to crunchiness.
Make with a stand mixer (or knead by hand). Powerful stand mixers are best for biscotti dough because they mix without incorporating too much air. If you don’t have one, though, coarsely chop the almonds, mix the ingredients in a large bowl, and then knead by hand.
Moisten your hands. Biscotti dough is sticky, so lightly oiled or wet hands make it easier to shape and transfer the dough to the baking sheet.
Cut while warm. This way, you won’t burn your hands, and the cookies will be less likely to break or crumble. Use the right knife and the right motion. I prefer slicing biscotti with a sharp santoku knife (shown in photo 3) because the flat edge of the blade cuts cleanly through the loaves; just press gently, cutting straight down. If you don’t have a santoku, gently saw the loaves into slices using a serrated knife.