Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Orange Hazelnut Biscotti

There are two kinds of picky eaters. The first kind will give most anything a try, but will only enjoy a very small percentage of tastes and textures. Sometimes they can help it, sometimes they can't -- genetics often makes people predisposed to disliking sweeping categories of food, such as with the elusive Supertaster. But whatever the reason, hey, at least they tried.

The second kind of picky eater, however, can definitely help it. People might call them picky, but the truth is, they just won't try anything that doesn't appeal to them. Sometimes it's the visual cues, sometimes it's the smell, and occasionally it's even post-traumatic food disorder when you once tried something that looked good but turned out to be awful (flashback to me being 6 years old and biting into a piece of radish in a salad that I mistook for an apple). The details vary, but the general idea is always the same -- some part of you is afraid. And unless you're prone to food allergies, it's usually without reason.

This is all a preface to the admission that I was, of course, a picky eater -- the second (and in my opinion, worst) kind. I had numerous rules, which were entirely self-created, since my parents and sister were adventurous eaters and the food we enjoyed both inside and outside the house was quite varied. Rule number one: nothing green. I cringe thinking of my faithful execution of this rule, including the way I would avoid the floating chopped scallion in Chinese noodle soup dishes that I realize today gives it extra flavor. Rule number two: nothing with a funny texture. Mushrooms were out of the question, and for years I would only eat the outside of steamed chiasiu bau and never touch the sweet, delicious pork inside. Rule number three: nothing that resembles something I already know I dislike.

It was because of this last fateful rule that poor hazelnuts got a bad rap in my twisted little brain. If you'd asked me what I didn't like about the taste, I couldn't tell you because I'd never try them -- but they closely resembled garbanzo beans in color and shape. So ix-nay on the azelnuts-hay.

Looking back now, I'm happy to say I grew out of all that nonsense. I suspect, however, that if I'd had a taste of these Orange Hazelnut Biscotti, my whole world view would've changed -- I could've skipped through that whole stupid picky phase.

This is the result of clever juxtaposition of several recipes, thanks to my mom. The recipe yields a crunchy, slightly crumbly texture (which I love, but just reduce the amount of hazelnut meal if you don't like it that way) and a delicious citrusy flavor on the nutty-but-not-bitter hazelnut backdrop. My mom drizzles them with melted semi-sweet chocolate, but I actually enjoy them plain.

Orange Hazelnut Biscotti

2 cups whole hazelnuts, roasted and skins rubbed off
½ cup additional whole hazelnuts, roasted and skins rubbed off
2 1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
2/3 cups unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 teaspoons orange extract
1 tablespoon grated orange peel

2 squares semi-sweet chocolate for drizzling, if you so choose


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Take 2 TBS of the 1 cup sugar, and combine it with the separated 1/2 cup of hazelnuts in a food processor. Process on the pulse setting until you've got hazelnut meal -- the nuts should be ground very small, but not so small as to be the consistency of dust. Be careful not to overpulse, or you may end up with hazelnut butter.

Combine flour, the newly created hazelnut meal, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a separate bowl combine butter and sugar (the 1 cup minus 2 TBS). Beat until well blended. Add eggs, orange peel, orange extract and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy.
Gradually beat in half of dry ingredients. Stir in remaining flour mixture. Add nuts.

Divide dough in half. Shape each half into a log about 11 inches long and 2 inches in diameter. (Easier to shape by rolling in wax paper and rolling directly onto baking sheet.)

Place logs on greased baking sheet (or baking sheet lined with parchment paper) as far apart as possible. Flatten slightly.

Bake for 25 to 28 minutes. Let stand until completely cool (about 30 minutes). Cut logs diagonally into half-inch slices using sharp knife.

Lay slices flat on baking sheet and return to oven and toast for 5 to 7 minutes. Turn over slices and bake 4 to 5 minutes on second side, cooking for additional time as needed (you'll need to play this by ear -- just make sure they're not raw in the middle). Cool on wire racks.

No comments: