The trouble with homemade care packages you mail out – is that most homemade treats have a limited shelf-life. Cookies – three days or so, granola – loses its crispness if not refrigerated, cupcakes – can’t quite ship them without compromising their shape as the frosting gets in the way. I’ve always wondered what do people send as care packages, and do they send it overnight, or on ice? Needless to say, I’m not the most ingenious person out there, so if I’ve failed to think of obvious solutions, please leave a comment and let me know your suggestions.
And yet, there I was, trying to think of a treat for my friend, Katy (who designed Sassy Radish and made it so pretty!), who was working on her master’s thesis at RISD while battling an interminable nasty cold. Apparently, there was this cough she couldn’t shake, and congestion that was persistent and relentless. Poor Katy couldn’t even smell her morning coffee – and if there’s anyone other who lover her coffee, it’s Katy. I felt for her – I wanted to help somehow, but short of sending decongestants (which aren’t all that exciting – I mean, who looks forward to receiving decongestants in the mail?) I couldn’t think of much that might survive a few days of shipping.
So after thinking about the short shelf life of perishable goods, I discovered what I call a “care-package loophole”, and that loophole is biscotti! Originally eaten by Roman legions – the word originates from the Latin word biscoctum, which means “twice baked”. They were twice baked, in fact, so that they could be easily stored for long periods of time, say for long journey and battles. You wonder where I dig up this wealth of useless knowledge – and I say to you proudly, middle school Latin class complete with a Latin Feast at the end of every year! And in case you’re wondering, cooking Roman food was by far my favorite part of the class curriculum. Today, biscotti are probably some of the most definitive Italian baked treats and are really easy to make. I liked this recipe because the author who contributed it for the January issue of Gourmet, got it from his Italian grandmother so this was the real deal.
In fact, the recipe’s notes highlighted that these “biscuits” will get better the day after baking, so the flavors will only improve! A baked good that improves with age and goes perfectly with coffee – if this isn’t a perfect care-package material, I don’t know what is!
Classic Almond Biscotti
Adapted from Gourmet, January 2009
Yield: Makes about 42 cookies
1 cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons brandy
2 teaspoons pure almond extract
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup whole almonds with skin, lightly toasted , cooled, and coarsely chopped
3 large eggs
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Stir together sugar, butter, brandy, and extracts in a large bowl, then stir in almonds and eggs. Stir in flour, baking powder, and salt until just combined.
Chill dough, covered, 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.
Using moistened hands, halve dough and form 2 (16-by 2-inch) loaves on an ungreased large baking sheet.
Bake until pale golden, about 30 minutes. Carefully transfer loaves to a rack and cool 15 minutes.
Cut loaves into 3/4-inch slices with a serrated knife.
Arrange biscotti, with a cut side down, on a clean baking sheet and bake until golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to rack to cool completely.
Biscotti improve in flavor if made 1 to 2 days ahead. Keep in an airtight container at room temperature.