Coffee and Hazelnut Biscotti

The original, Marathi version of this article appeared in Loksatta on October 6, 2012.

Coffee and Hazelnut Biscotti

Hazelnut studded Coffee Biscotti ready to dive in a mug of fresh brew!

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

Add a ribbon and it makes for an excellent gift!

Coffee and Hazelnut Biscotti Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 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)

Method:

  1. Beat the eggs with the vanilla and almond extracts and the coffee.
  2. 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.
  3. Transfer the dough onto a  baking sheet lined with parchment and shape into a log.
  4. Bake at 150 degrees centigrade for about 15 minutes until it feels firm to the touch.
  5. Remove and cool for about 5 minutes and then slice about ¼ inch-thick slices with a sharp knife.
  6. Return the slices to the baking tray and bake until crunchy (about 20 minutes).
  7. Cool completely and store in an air tight jar for about 10 days.
Coffee and Hazelnut Biscotti

Coffee and Hazelnut Biscotti with freshly brewed coffee

Comments (11)

  1. neaty October 6, 2012 at 12:40 am

    Hi….wht can we use against eggs

  2. Bhavna October 6, 2012 at 1:00 am

    That is such a lovely post. Even I remember the khari walas that used to come home carrying the huge trunk full of khari and toast 🙂 You just refreshed some hidden memories

  3. baker in disguise October 7, 2012 at 12:44 am

    love the post on so many counts!! oh i love the bread by the ‘bread wala’… nothing comes close!!! and you know what.. ever since I made biscotti the first time.. my ma has been after me to make rusk..because as she says ‘its the same thing’… love the flavour combination of this biscotti… and the recipe is also very similar to the one I once tried from the Julia Child book!!!

  4. Archana October 7, 2012 at 9:06 am

    Lovely post and love your memories of childhood.

  5. Mallika October 13, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Love your post revelling the nostalgic moments on bakerywala. Can well relate to your post. While living in Mumbai as a kid I have been through the experiences of bakerywala carrying nankatais, kharis and fruit bread. Ofcourse as you rightly said, we looked forward to it. There were times, I sneaked into kitchen secretly, climbed up the kitchen counter to reach the aluminium tins where mom hid these from our sight. Oh those golden day… miss them! You’ve revived my memories, refreshing them as if it were yesterday!!!

  6. Neha October 13, 2012 at 11:39 pm

    Hi Saee! Love the post – so many memories! I tried baking this biscotti yesterday but for some reason the parts in the centre of all my pieces were left uncooked/baked. I don’t know why that happened even though I left the dough in the oven for a fair amount of time before and after slicing [as per your recipe].
    Any idea on why it could have remained uncooked? Will try and change it next time around. Many thanks! 🙂

    • admin October 14, 2012 at 5:40 pm

      Try checking the manufacturing date of the baking powder. If it is too old, it could have become inactive; more so, if it was stored at room temperature in humid climate. I store mine in the fridge!

      Also, check oven heating and settings. Was it set to bake? Perhaps your oven needs a higher temperature? If it is an OTG, you might want to get an electrician to see the coil. Let me know when you try another batch!

  7. Neha October 16, 2012 at 12:00 am

    Thank you for getting back to me. Interesting to note that you store your baking powder in the fridge – I will start doing the same 🙂
    Will also check on the expiration date and oven settings and let you know how the next batch turns out.
    Cheers!

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