This is the first day of the rest of my life, and as such, I am so excited to embark on this blogging adventure with all of you! It seems fitting that I begin this new chapter with a tribute to my dad, who passed away three years ago, the morning after his 77th birthday, November 28th, 2013, which fell on Thanksgiving that year. He was a wonderful man, and was my food, wine and fun buddy whenever we were together. Although we lived in different parts of the country (my family migrated, like so many, from New York to Florida after he retired, and I remain the only family member stubbornly resolved to stay west), we were very close.
Since I usually only visited Florida once a year, during which time I would always cook at least one special meal for him, my mother, brother, sister-in-law, and my nephew, I made it a point to bake and send him special treats on both his birthday and Father’s Day. He invariably requested these cranberry almond biscotti with fennel seeds, his all-time favorite. My dad never seemed to tire of them, and, in fact, he would often put them in the freezer to deter him from eating the entire batch (or two) all at once.
I acquired the original recipe for these biscotti from an Italian-American woman in an Italian language class I had taken in San Francisco in the early nineties. It didn’t have the cranberries, and it called for anise seeds rather than fennel, and they were wonderful. But like most recipes I encounter, I changed it up to amplify the textures, colors and flavors, and they are so deliciously irresistible now, even Italian chefs who have tasted them have said they are the best biscotti they have ever had. But you be the judge!
The ruby colored cranberries and green fennel seeds make them perfect for holiday entertaining or a great addition to a gift basket, but they are so good and easy to prepare, you can certainly enjoy them any time of year!
Hope these biscotti start a tradition for you and your loved ones, for the holidays, or any day! And may they bring much divine nectar alchemy to your table!
Cranberry Almond Biscotti
Makes about 2 dozen cookies
Active, 1 hr.; Total, 2hrs.
1 cup whole almonds
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus a little extra for rolling dough
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt or ½ teaspoon fine salt
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 cup sweetened dried cranberries
Preheat oven to 350° F. When oven is at temperature, put almonds on an unlined baking sheet and toast them for about 7 or 8 minutes. Watch them carefully so they don’t burn. Almonds should taste toasty but not bitter. Transfer almonds to another baking sheet or large plate, and let them cool at room temperature. Lower oven temperature to 325° F.
Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl.
In a separate bowl, in the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, or using a wooden spoon in another large bowl, cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs, one at a time, and mix until well combined. Add vanilla extract. If using a mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
Add the dry ingredients gradually to the wet ingredients, again scraping down the sides of the bowl if using a mixer, and then remove the bowl from the mixer and place it on your work surface.
Add fennel, cranberries and cooled almonds using a wooden spoon. Mix well with a wooden spoon.
Sprinkle flour onto a clean and dry work surface and onto hands. Divide dough in half and shape into 2 logs, about 2” wide and 12” long. Set them on a parchment or silpat (silicone mat) lined sheet pan with space in between and around them, allowing for expansion. Smooth and shape biscotti logs with lightly floured hands until they are even in size and appearance. Place pan on middle rack in lowered oven, and let bake for about 35 minutes, or until logs are light golden in color. Remove. Let stand at room temperature for about 5 minutes.
With a long spatula or large chef knife, transfer logs one at a time to a cutting board (it may be easier to cut each log in half on the diagonal first, before lifting). Carefully slice logs with a sharp chef knife on the diagonal every inch. When cool enough to handle, carefully lay biscotti on their sides on the lined baking sheet (they are fragile and will crumble if not handled gently), and spread them out evenly.
Return biscotti to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes, or until they are golden brown and crisp. Remove them to cooling racks, and when cool, serve. Biscotti keep at room temperature in a tightly-covered container for several days, or frozen for up to two or three weeks.