Crunchy Cookies for a Bitterly Cold Afternoon
This afternoon, a bitterly cold mid-February day, the sun was so bright reflecting off the snow through my south-facing windows that my kitchen looked like a movie set. The light was surreal, the kind of intense brightness that lets you know that spring, while not necessarily close, might not be all that far away either.
I’m not sure what it was about that light that made me feel like baking. My first thought was to take a walk, but when I looked at the thermometer and it registered 15 degrees above zero, I decided baking was a very good second option.
Getting the urge to bake is different than, say, getting the urge to scramble some eggs or fix yourself a sandwich. It requires specific ingredients, and time, and equipment. So I rummaged through the pantry and the refrigerator and found some pecans and pumpkin seeds. There were two tangerines left, a couple of eggs, a stick of butter, and some dark chocolate chips in the freezer.
Biscotti, those twice-baked Italian cookies studded with the nuts and seeds and made fragrant with the zest and juice of the tangerines, were just the ticket. Unlike pastry, biscotti comes together in a kind of rough and tumble manner, a sloppy dough that’s formed into a log shape, baked, and cooled. The biscotti are then sliced and baked again. Once they’re cool you can dip half the cookie into a pot of melted dark chocolate.
As the sun started to fade and the kitchen filled with the smell of toasted nuts, citrus, and butter, February suddenly felt a whole lot more tolerable. Maybe I’ll walk tomorrow.
Tangerine, Pumpkin Seed, and Pecan Biscotti
Serve with hot chocolate, tiny cups of strong espresso, or a pot of tea.
1 cup raw shelled pumpkin seeds, also called pepitas
1 cup pecans
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick), cold, cut into 4 pieces
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons grated tangerine zest
1/4 cup fresh tangerine juice, or orange juice
6 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, about 55%, or 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Place the nuts of another cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes, or until you can smell the nuts. The oils will be released once they are toasted.
Finely chop the pecans and leave the pumpkin seeds whole and combine in a small bowl; set aside.
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt until blended. Add the butter and blend into dry ingredients using your fingertips or a pastry cutter, until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Mix the eggs, vanilla, zest, and juice in a separate bowl until well blended. Add the wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until just blended. Fold in the pistachios.
Generously flour a clean working area. Using floured hands, divide the dough into two equal portions. Form each piece into a flat log roughly 12-inches long by 2-inches wide by 1-inch high, adding additional flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to the counter. Carefully place the logs 2 to 3 inches apart on the parchment-covered baking sheet.
Bake the logs for 25 minutes, or until firm to the touch and just beginning to brown. Remove from the oven, reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F, and let the biscotti cool for about 10 minutes.
Transfer the logs to a cutting board. Using a sharp, serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, cut logs on a slight diagonal into 1/2-inch wide pieces. Place the biscotti cut side up on 1 or 2 cookie sheets. Bake for 30 minutes, turning the biscotti once halfway through baking. The biscotti should be firm to the touch and golden brown on both sides. Remove from the baking sheet and cool completely on wire racks.
While the biscotti are cooling, melt the chocolate in the microwave, in a double boiler, or over very low heat. When almost all of chocolate has melted, remove from the heat and let rest for 5 minutes. Dip one flat side of each biscotti into the chocolate and hold vertically to let excess chocolate drip off. Place the biscotti chocolate-side up on wax paper to cool until the chocolate hardens, 3 to 4 hours. The biscotti will keep, in a cool, dark, well-sealed tin or plastic bag, for several days.
Makes about 2 dozen biscotti.