Cranberry, orange & fennel seed biscotti

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I adore a good biscotti, but have never been a fan of the (ridiculously expensive!) ones you can buy in coffee shops and the like that can be little more than an expensive work-out for the jaw!

Flavour and texture are crucial in any biscotti: the taste should certainly pack a real punch as you eat them and while they should be very crisp, they should melt away easily in the mouth as you crunch into them.

Biscotti are great just as they are or dipped in tea, coffee, dessert wine or, my favourite, a chocolate sauce: a recipe for a very quick and easy chocolate sauce is at the bottom of this post.

The basic biscotti dough

I like to add ground almonds and almond extract to the main dough, which might not be at all traditional, but they add a great flavour. But any ground nuts work brilliantly, whether ground finely or coarsely.

For the second bake I prefer a very slow bake and at a reduced temperature so that they dry out gently, giving perfect crispness without colouring too much. Some recipes for higher temperatures – but slowly gives the best result I find.

Other than those changes, the proportions are pretty much in line with recipes that can be found anywhere.

Flavoured biscotti

I often double-up this recipe to make two types of biscotti. You can leave the biscotti dough unflavoured or else add whatever you have to hand, but aim to use dry ingredients such as nuts, dried fruit and the like as you don’t want the dough to become too wet. Chocolate works very well, but don’t add too much: up to about 80g for a dough using 130g flour as below.

Proportion-wise, the dough will actually take a lot of extras quite happily: I find that adding extras up to about the weight of the portion of dough you have gives best results.

Cranberry, orange & fennel seed:

The combination of these three flavours is excellent; there is a lovely flavour of the cranberry and orange, with the fennel giving a subtle aniseed back-note. You can increase the fennel but don’t over-do it as it can dominate too easily. Very lightly dry-roasting the fennel seeds in a pan for a minute or so until you just start to smell them helps enhance their flavour. You can crush them if you prefer but I think they are lovely kept whole.

The aroma of the orange and fennel during the second bake is wonderfully intoxicating!

These biscotti are lovely dipped into a white chocolate & orange sauce: with a spritz of fresh orange juice and a little grated orange zest added to the standard chocolate sauce recipe at the bottom of the post. I like to use white chocolate that has flecks of vanilla seeds running through it.

Cranberry, orange & fennel seed biscotti: makes about 16

The standard biscotti dough:

  • 130g plain white flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 125g vanilla caster sugar* (or use standard caster sugar)
  • 55g ground almonds or ground nuts of choice (either finely or coarsely ground)
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 large egg, beaten

Cranberry, fennel seed & orange

  • finely grated zest of 1 large orange
  • about 3/4-1 teaspoon lightly toasted fennel seeds, roughly crushed
  • 150g dried cranberries, roughly chopped
  • a small handful of pistachios or chopped almonds, optional

(1) Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Stir in the sugar and the ground almonds. Mix in the orange zest, fennel seeds, dried cranberries and chopped nuts. Add the egg, a little at a time, and mix well starting with a wooden spoon and then using your hands, adding enough of the egg until the ingredients just come together to form a firm dough. NB: if scaling up the recipe for making several flavours, form the dough without the extra flavours and then split the dough into a separate portion per flavour. Gently work in the extras for the flavours you are going for eg) cherries, chocolate, chopped nuts…..

(2) On a lightly floured surface, gently roll the dough to a cylinder about 2″ in diameter. Transfer to a baking tray lined with non-stick greaseproof paper, making sure they are well apart if making more than one.

(3) Bake for 35 minutes at 140C(fan): they will have spread, have taken on just a bit of colour and have rustic cracks along the top. Remove from the oven. If they have spread into each other, carefully run a sharp knife down the join: all will be fine!

(4) Reduce the oven temperature to 120C (fan). Leave the partially-baked dough for about 15 minutes until cool enough to handle, at which point they will have firmed up a little. The inside will be quite sticky, though.

(5) Using a sharp serrated knife slice each piece diagonally, going for about 1cm thickness, wiping the knife if it gets dough stuck on it. Place onto lined baking trays, cut-side up. NB: as long as the knife is sharp, you should be able to cut clean slices without breaking any. If any do break, however, lightly push them together: the stickyness makes this easy!

(6) Bake at the reduced temperature for between 45 minutes to an hour until they are firm to the touch, rotating the trays after about 30 minutes.

(7) Transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely – the biscotti will crisp up further as they cool. Store in an airtight container.

*Vanilla sugar

I use vanilla sugar a lot in my sweet bakes, and always have a jar of it to hand. Simply add a few vanilla pods, sliced along their length, into a jar of caster sugar and leave for a few weeks to take up the flavour. Re-fill the jar with sugar each time you use some.

Quick chocolate sauces for dunking:

For a simple chocolate sauce, stir 3 parts best quality chocolate (dark or white) into 2 parts hot double cream: take the cream off the heat once it has come to boiling point. Mix until smooth and flavour as desired.

The sauce can either be served warm and slightly runny or else left to cool and set as a soft ganache.

Flavourings can also be added. Finely grated orange zest, liqueurs and strong coffee are three that work particularly well, depending on the biscotti flavour you have made.

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