Cooking to Cook, Vol.1: Biscotti
Food can be an arresting topic for women, and recently the most common conversation surrounds the topic of whether or not we belong in the kitchen; whether or not we are meant to serve others, or enjoy domestic pursuits, and whether or not that makes us “traitors to our kind”—our kind of course, being not only our fellow women, but our fellow feminists. How dare we enjoy returning to a place our ancestors fought so hard to leave? But to call us ungrateful would be selfish; you fought for your choices, and we are fighting for ours. If we do so with a perfectly iced cake, then so be it. When Kate approached us about the idea of cooking for one’s own pleasure, for the purpose of making mistakes and learning along the way, we jumped at the chance, because The Attic is nowhere if not a place for every woman to make her own choices, and for the rest of us to root for her along the way. —R.R.
I shouldn’t cook. I have two hourly jobs, a freelance job, a partner, friends, a demanding cat, and a slew (I mean a real slew) of time- and money-consuming sports pursuits. If I’m not working, or training, or nourishing my relationships, I should be on the couch with takeout and a book. And yet I find myself returning to the kitchen when I’m at my most stretched.
Cooking is everything I feared it would be: Laborious. Time-intensive. Disappointing. Unrewarding. Sometimes annoying. Sometimes painful. But, after a few years of practice, it is also everything I hoped: Challenging, exciting, adventurous, money-saving, relaxing, and, Lord, dare I say it, fun.
Us women are no longer relegated to homes and kitchens, spending the majority of our time tending to other people's health and messes and various needs of the human body. I center myself in my life, selfishly bolting to the sea to surf when the forecast is good, or disappearing into the mountains to read for a few days - things I try not to take for granted. Certainly there is freedom in ordering Seamless, heating up frozen pizzas, or popping into the neighborhood bar for a chat and a burger. Our time is ours, our money is ours, and we can do with it whatever we like.
And cooking – that intimidating chore of chores, that blog-consuming open-ended beast of a task – it’s overwhelming. There’s too much information! Too many paths to walk, too many things to buy, too many methods and recipes and strategies and plans and e-books and mailing lists and calorie counters.
Though you’re reading this on a screen, take a moment and forget that internet exists. If there were no accessible online resources for cooking, what would you do? You’d probably end up with my standard dinner recipe: buy meat and vegetable, place in pan, add olive oil, apply heat. Eventually you’d get something palatable. That’s what I believe cooking should be: a series of simple experiments, with a lot of lackluster results, eventually leading to the creation of something delightful. Cooking is a comfortable, satisfying hobby, when you strip away the unnecessary. Today we won’t be cooking to impress, or to get it right. We’re cooking to cook, to feel the heat of the oven, to shove our hands in the squishy wonderful mess of the dough, to taste and test and enjoy even the sweet citrus smell of dishwashing soap. It’s a simple practice with seemingly endless history.
I made biscotti today to de-stress after work. Biscotti are grown-up cookies that keep for ages if you store them in a tin, the perfect treat to have on hand if you’ve had a bad day. They’re wonderful to keep on hand if a friend should drop by unexpectedly, or just to give out to your neighbors on a nice spring day. This recipe is a riff on this NPR recipe, halved (I’ve got a small kitchen!) and tweaked to my personal preferences. Biscotti also has a lot of room for creativity – you can make this same recipe with toasted almonds, or macadamia nuts, or lemon zest, or any flavor profile you prefer. Even better served with a stovetop espresso.
Orange Chocolate Chip Biscotti
1 heaping cup / 190g bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup sugar / 190g (brown or granulated)
1 cup / 140g all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon / 5g cinnamon
¾ teaspoon / 3.75g baking powder
1 teaspoon / 5ml almond extract (or vanilla extract)
2 teaspoons / 10g orange zest
2 eggs + 1 egg for egg wash if desired
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit / 180 degrees Celsius. Mix sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and flour together in a large bowl.
Zest an orange. You can do this with a zester or vegetable peeler or a cheese grater. I’m old school and use my chef’s knife, simply thinly slicing off the peel. Then I chop the zest into strips, smush them with the flat side of my knife to increase the flavor and aromatics, and finally mince them.
Whisk two eggs and add the almond extract and zest.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix. Start with a spoon, and once the wet and dry ingredients combine into loosely packed granules, lightly flour your hands and mix. It takes some work, but eventually the dough should go from grainy to firm and sticky. If it’s dry and you can’t get it to form a ball, whisk an additional egg and add a small amount, then work that in with your hands. If it’s too sticky and won’t keep its shape, add a small amount of flour.
Once you’ve formed the dough into a ball, add the chocolate chips. Use your hands to mix them into the dough and re-form it into a ball.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide your dough ball into two equal size balls.
Using your floured hands, shape each dough ball into a log, about 8 inches (20cm) long, 2 inches (5cm) wide, and ¾ inch (2cm) thick.
Place the two logs on a buttered baking sheet (or a baking sheet lined with parchment paper).
Using your fingers, or a basting brush, brush the tops of the logs with a whisked egg, giving it a light coat. This egg wash will create a nice shiny top on the biscotti.
Bake 25-35 minutes until golden brown. Keep an eye on them around 25 minutes. We’re looking for a golden top and darker edges, but not a burned bottom. You can stick a knife in the middle to see if it comes out clean, but it’ll likely be hard to tell because of all the melted chocolate. I recommend just going by sight. Slightly underbaked is okay since we’re twice-baking them.
Turn the oven off. Let the two logs cool for about 10-15 minutes.
Using a serrated knife, slice the logs on the diagonal, as wide as you’d like. The wider the biscotti, the longer the second bake should be. I usually get 10-12 per log.
Place each biscotti back on the baking sheet.
Place the baking sheet of biscotti back in your warm, turned-off oven for anywhere from 15-25 minutes. The longer they’re in the oven, the crispier they’ll be. I usually take mine out after about 15 minutes because I like a slightly softer middle.
Store them in a tin or an airtight jar and they’ll keep for a month.
Biscotti are an elegant and simple little gift. Cooking and baking don’t have to be a stressful, all day, carefully planned chore. Copy this recipe by hand into a notebook (no screens allowed in the kitchen!) and try it. Get some dough under your nails!
I make biscotti, bread, and a multitude of other things on whims without grocery trips. Next time, I’ll be sharing my pantry and cookware staples, the things that keep my kitchen humming.
Stay tuned for more in this new series!
Kate Davis Jones loves bread, birds, bouldering, boxing, and barista-ing. She blogs at Bad Content.