Almonds don't have the immediate snack appeal of pistachios or walnuts, but boy do they make a fabulous nut butter. I don’t remember the first time I tasted almond butter, but I do remember pushing the peanut butter to the back of the pantry shelf from that moment on.
On a recent trip to Sicily (lucky me), I witnessed almonds in all their glory. It was the week before Easter and all of the bakery windows boasted a profusion of diminutive marzipan masterpieces. The sweetened almond paste was molded into baby lambs and miniature fruits and vegetables of all kinds. One could only marvel at the verisimilitude of these little works of art.
The tradition of sculpting marzipan dates back at least to the Middle Ages in western Europe, when many monasteries supported themselves by the nuns’ edible artistic creations. In the knowledge that today's cooks wouldn’t have the time or inclination to make marzipan, I thought a recipe for almond biscotti might be more timely.
Here is a favorite from my most recent cookbook, Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way.
In these thick, almond-studded biscotti, ground almonds provide the richness normally provided by butter. Leave some of the almonds coarsely chopped, and you end up with a rustic, crunchy, almond-packed biscotti.
Set a rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat the oven the oven to 350°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a food processor, grind 1 cup of the nuts and 1/2 cup of the flour until the nuts are fairly fine. Transfer to a large bowl. Coarsely chop the remaining almonds and add them to the bowl.
Stir in the remaining flour, sugar, orange zest, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cardamom.
In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Beat in 1/4 cup water plus the vanilla extract and almond extracts. Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients. Stir with a fork and then knead a few times to form a firm, sticky dough.
Set the baking sheet so that the long side is facing you. Wet your hands and transfer half of the dough to the top half of the parchment. Shape the dough into a log about 14 inches long and 2 inches wide. Shape the remaining dough into a second log on the bottom half of the parchment, leaving a little space between the logs for the dough to spread.
Bake, rotating the pan every 10 minutes, until the top feels firm and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.
Remove the logs from the oven. Slide the parchment onto a cooling rack. Reduce the oven temperature to 250°F.
When the logs are cool, transfer them to a cutting board. With a serrated knife, gently cut 3/4-inch-thick slices on the diagonal.
Stand the biscotti about 1/4-inch apart on the baking sheet. Bake until they become drier, 18 to 20 minutes for soft, chewy biscotti, and 35 to 45 minutes for dry, crisp biscotti. Transfer to a cooling rack. (Biscotti will become crisper as they cool.) Store in an airtight container in a cool place for up to 1 month.
Recipe copyright, Lorna Sass, 2008