My ten year hiatus from lap swimming ended abruptly when I decided to start training for a triathlon. It was on my life list and I was feeling fitter than ever, and so this winter I put my ideals into gear for a dose of cold hard reality. And cold swimming pools on early snow-dusted mornings.
Not long after that I started Fresh Cracked Pepper. Now that I think about it, this sudden intersection seems perfectly obvious. As I have lately discovered, almost nothing makes you hungrier than forty five minutes flailing around in a big vat of water. I don’t know why swimming causes such a specific type of hunger, considering the loss of appetite that occurs after running or cycling. I suspect it has something to do with body temperature, but I’m content to roll with the blissful ignorance.
I love the cool slippery texture shock of jumping into a new element, the exhilaration of blood pulsing outward to propel heavy limbs, the desperate gulps of breath to sustain floatation, survival even. And then there is the onset of a pervasive emptiness, a hunger felt from the fourth toenail up to the left collarbone, and everywhere in between. I challenge any restaurant billboard to do that.
Naturally, when I finished today’s swim my breakfast seemed about as recent as the invention of fire. Did I even eat this morning? Oh yeah, porridge. And an orange. And a latte. Hello? Stomach? Satiety? Silence — no answer but a low rumble. More, give me more. This was an argument I was happy to lose.
I’ve been craving crunch lately. This is nothing special however, given that I’d probably choose crackers over caviar, pretzels over panettone, tortilla chips over truffles. (Ok, maybe the last one is pushing it.) I’ve always been a crunchophile.
Recent cravings for biscotti inspired me to augment my post-swim lunch with a little dose of la dolce vita. And this one I can promise you, is truly a slice of the sweet life. Not only is this recipe simple, it’s actually a healthy and traditional. With no oil, butter or shortening, it mirrors the traditional Italian more closely technique than many recent versions.
Don’t let biscotti’s bad rap stop you from trying these endearing biscuits. I promise you it’s not their fault. In fact, I blame their tragic fate on big coffee companies who pedal varieties done so poorly no one would feel them to the dogs waiting outside. Sorry guys, but even your best 6$ latte can’t redeem those cellophane-wrapped logs of petrified dough. Thanks to the Wednesday Chef, the true biscotti fairy paid me a long overdue visit this afternoon. Full of just-chewy centers edged with crispness, our acquaintance was renewed with gingery vigor.
And then I was ready for lunch.
yields 20-30 biscotti
1¼ cup all-purpose flour, more for dusting (I used ¾ all purpose and ½ white whole wheat flour…my new obsession)
½ cup turbinado, Demerara or granulated brown sugar (the really granular, coarse stuff makes these!)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 large eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup made up of: finely chopped crystallized ginger + small handful of finely chopped dried cranberries
1/3 cup chopped pecans
- Whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a nice large bowl you can get your hands in.
- Remove 1 tablespoon of the egg to a small dish and reserve. Add vanilla to the rest.
- Make a well in center of dry ingredients. Pour in the egg-vanilla mixture and using your hands (a large rubber spatula will do too), work flour into eggs. It will be crumbly at first, but with persistence and a little TLC will soon form a soft dough. Allow to rest 10 minutes. (It’s tough being biscotti dough. Think of it as the meditation at the end of a yoga class.) After the rest, stir in the ginger, cranberries, and chopped pecans.
- Turn oven to 350 degrees. If you don’t own a silicone baking mat, line a baking sheet with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface press and roll dough into a flattish log measuring about 9 inches long and 4 inches wide. (If you want smaller, more bite-sized cookies, do as I did and divide dough in two and roll out two logs.) Place log(s) on baking sheet, brush with reserved egg and bake about 20 minutes, until firm to the touch and golden (like a perfect roasted marshmallow).
- Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Using a sharp, thin knife, cut log(s) at an angle into ½-inch-thick slices. (The large log will yield the tall and slim biscotti you see standing in glass jars at cafés, the two smaller logs will produce more dainty bite-sized morsels). Stand slices an inch apart on baking sheet and return to oven 15 to 20 minutes, until crisp. Cool completely before serving.
*Note re: picture of the rolled-up dough. This is an unnecessary step from the original recipe that I omitted/changed. The recipe asks you to press the ginger and nuts into the flattened dough square, and then to roll it up before cutting it into two logs. I just mixed the ingredients into the dough after it rested for 10 minutes and continued from there. I don’t see why there would be any difference in the outcome, though it made for a neat picture!
adapted from The New York Times