One of our family favorite cookies, that is a pillar for any celebration, wedding, birthday, Christmas or Easter is the Biscotti (bee/SKHOT/tee). Now one might think this is a typical recipe, but I must tell you this is not true in my family.
There is only one biscotti recipe in my family and that is Mom’s. If you asked her, she will tell you there really is no recipe. There is no 5 X 7 index card that is tattered, greasy and torn or stored in a little wooden box. Nope, not one card for this recipe, but rather a tradition. A tradition that was passed on from generation to generation. In fact, the best way to learn how to make this italian delight is to master the method with a senior veteran cookie baker from the family. Sort of an apprenticeship in Italian cookie making, that is passed through time. Before a landmark family celebration, the Matriarch would gather with all Mothers, Sisters, Grandmothers, Aunts and Cousins and make hundreds of cookies that would decorate the cookie table of the event being celebrated.
Cookies are rolled, shaped or formed perfectly with team coaching to make sure they are the perfect size to guarantee each one bakes perfectly. It’s not unusual to hear bakers saying “too big”, too small”, “do not over mix, it will be tough” or “not to many almonds.” Why all this coaching you might ask?” Simple, there is no written recipe!
The cookie table has strong ties to Italian communities and Catholic sacraments such as; Baptism, Confirmation and Marriage. Hundreds of Italian cookies on trays, each one with a unique favor, decorate the table. At Italian weddings, trays of cookies surround the wedding cake. As if the tiers and tiers of white frosted cake is not enough, the cookies add to the delectable desert extravaganza. At the typical Italian wedding it would not be unusual to find the Matriarch in the family walking around, at the end of the night, handling out empty bags or boxes for guest to fill with cookies from the table to take home.
While the origin of this is tradition is debated, it is clearly printed in my memory that the custom originated in my family from the tradition of people who love and support one another. The customary cookie table over overflows with the traditional Italian cookies in many flavors. Tray after tray are doily-covered and are filled with lightly frosted chocolate spice balls, almond cookies, pale white anise genettis, thumbprints, almond biscotti and colorful curly cookies. The biscotti takes the stage on the cookie table.
Over the years I have tried to modernize the biscotti cookie for my family. I tried to borrow from Giada De Laurentiis biscotti recipe using butter, dried cranberries and pistachios. A modern version of the biscotti just does not get the reviews like Mom’s customary delightful cookie. When my brothers open the tin of cookies, it is followed by a wrinkle of the nose and a shake of the head then someone barks, “Johnny, this is just not like Ma’s”.
So from my memory and times I baked your customary biscotti recipe with you Mom, here is your recipe thats come from the heart…
2 cups of sugar
1 1/4 cup of oil
12 tablespoons of baking powder
1 mound of flour in a big bowl
16 ounces of whole almonds
In a mixer, beat the dozen eggs, until lemon yellow and then add sugar and oil, beat more. Empty 5 pounds of flour in a large mixing bowl. Set aside 4-5 “Mama size” handfuls of flour to use later. Mix 12 tablespoons of baking powder with the flour. Create a valley in the mound of flour inside the bowl. Then add the eggs, sugar, oil mixture to the flour. Begin to pull in the flour from the surrounding edges slowly mixing the flour with all the other ingredients. The dough should feel loose, sticky and soft. It should not be as tough as pasta dough, or bread dough, but perfect soft and not over mixed. Mix gently to incorporate the flour, if the dough is too soft use the reserve handfuls to make it just right. Do not over mix. Sprinkle 4-6 handfuls of almonds and carefully work them into the dough.
On the floured board divide the dough into 6-8 balls. Flour your hands and roll each ball into a log to fit the size of the cookie sheet. Logs should be 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter.
Place 2-3 logs on the cookie sheet and bake for 50 minutes at 300 degrees. In the last 10 minutes brush the tops of the logs with a beaten egg. Remove the logs from the oven and cool for 10 minutes. With a long serrated knife, slice into 1/2 inches wide slices. Lay the slices down on the cookie sheet and bake for another 15 minutes then turn them over and bake for 15 minutes more or until the biscotti are golden brown. Cool and store in a tin before serving.
One thought on “Ciao Mama!”
John, what a beautiful tribute to your mom. It got scary when I saw the word MOUND ! I am so glad that I was able to experience cooking with my mom. A pinch of this , a pinch of that. Nothing written down , just by memories of how it should taste and smell, that I have tried to reproduce old family favorites, some successes , many flops! Hopefully, Josh and his cousins will carry on your mom’s recipe/ tradition. Thank you for sharing. I might try this out next Christmas , might be seeking your help with the MOUND!!!