Coffee and Hazelnut Biscotti
The original, Marathi version of this article appeared in Loksatta on October 6, 2012.
When I was a kid, a middle-aged, tall, bearded, slightly annoyed Pathaan dressed in a lungi, kurta and turban would come every Sunday morning to my grandma’s south Mumbai apartment. He carried a large aluminum trunk, its mouth slightly open, spilling his secrets on his head and a large cloth bag bulging with the volume of its contents. I waited eagerly for him to arrive, hoping he’d come soon and make my breakfast more happening. For if he didn’t, I’d have to eat a regular-day breakfast and there would be no special treats to quietly slip out while the elders napped later in the afternoon.
He was the bakery-wala. At a time and age when there was just one kind of loaf bread available in Mumbai, he would bring us freshly baked, non-industrial loaves, laadi pav, brun, and sweet bread filled with tutti fruiti. He sat down at your doorstep and sliced your bread with a thin, blade-like knife according to the thickness you desired (we liked our bread sliced fatter than the commercial bread that arrived in hideous red and blue wax paper packaging and lent itself beautifully to golden toastiness slathered with “expensive” Amul butter; this was a pre-plastic era).
But the breads came out of the practical-looking cloth bag; for us kids, it was the enormous aluminum trunk that held promise for it contained the fabulous forbidden treats—khaari biscuits—plain, salted, and sugared; naankhatai in different shapes and flavors; and several other treats that we could barely grab a look at before the elders let us shortlist one or two things that were promptly bought in the minimum possible quantities. The elders bought khaari biscuits to dunk into their coffees, and we got our share of slim and round naankhatai to snack on all day. Sometimes, we were treated to sugar khaari; triangular pieces of flaky pastry topped with semi caramelized sugar crystals. But the one standard item that appealed to both kids and adults alike was the rusk. These large, irregular rectangles or semi circular toasts, arrived in just one standard kind and were fabulous by themselves or dunked in an age-appropriate drink. We were allowed two rusks dipped in plain, warm milk as an early morning or tea time treat. The porous rusk would soak in more than half the milk and, therefore, bless us with lesser milk to gulp down. Oh, the joy!
When I grew up literally and figuratively, I discovered Biscotti and was, as usual, happily sent into comparative-study mode. I could not help but see the stark similarities between this Italian biscuit and our own Rusk. They were both derivatives of bread or cake, and were both re-baked to achieve their toasty character. Both were used to dunk into beverages of various kinds, and were delicately flavored. Like most customs and food traditions, I am sure the roots of the Indian rusk can be traced back to the history of human migration. But isn’t it wonderful how a little biscuit traveled across the seas and made its home in the hearts of a new people?
Biscotti literally means “twice baked.” The dough is first half baked as a loaf and then sliced when still hot. The long pieces f half-done biscuit are then baked again to achieve their characteristic crunchy-chewy texture. The various kinds of Italian biscotti are made using nuts, dried fruit, and several different flavors. They are dunked in strong shots of espresso or eaten by themselves as a snack. Some of them are served with desserts or wines as well. Here, I’ve made a coffee and hazelnut biscotti that is great on its own or dunked in more coffee. You can try out different flavor combinations—use raisins, cashew nuts and cardamom for a decidedly Indian twist, for instance. Or bake a batch of vanilla and almond biscotti and dunk them halfway up in melted chocolate for a gourmet take!
Coffee and Hazelnut Biscotti Recipe
- ¾ cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped coarsely
- 3 eggs
- 2 cups flour
- ½ tsp. vanilla extract
- ½ tsp. almond extract (optional)
- 1 tsp. instant coffee powder
- ¾ cup caster sugar
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- A pinch of salt
- 2 tbsp. milk (if required)
- Beat the eggs with the vanilla and almond extracts and the coffee.
- In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, sugar, hazelnuts, and salt. Add the egg mixture and bind to make a dough. Use the milk if required.
- Transfer the dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and shape into a log.
- Bake at 150 degrees centigrade for about 15 minutes until it feels firm to the touch.
- Remove and cool for about 5 minutes and then slice about ¼ inch-thick slices with a sharp knife.
- Return the slices to the baking tray and bake until crunchy (about 20 minutes).
- Cool completely and store in an air tight jar for about 10 days.