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The Italian biscotti has its etymological origin in the Middle French bescuit, which referred to a type of hard seamen's bread, and literally means "twice cooked." Interestingly, the German zwieback means the same thing: zwie twice + backen to bake. So, zwieback, the current French biscotte, biscotti, and rusk all refer to variations on a theme: a bread that is baked once, sliced, then baked again till it's very dry. From its original consumption as a bread suitable for long ocean voyages, it's evolved into a snack bread ideal for dipping into coffee or tea, as well as a type of teething biscuit beloved by gap-toothed 1-year-olds, and their parents.
1/4 cup (1/2 stick, 2 ounces)unsalted butter
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) vegetable shortening
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 to 2 teaspoons anise extract or 1 to 2 tablespoons aniseed, to taste
1/8 teaspoon lemon oil or 1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) blanched almonds or blanched hazelnuts (filberts), toasted* and coarsely chopped
*Toast almonds or hazelnuts by placing them in a single layer on an ungreased pan and baking them in a preheated 350°F oven for 7 to 10 minutes, or until they smell "toasty" and are beginning to brown.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, shortening and sugar, then add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the bowl midway through. Beat in the vanilla, anise, lemon, baking powder and salt. Mix in the flour, 1 cup at a time, till you have a cohesive, well-blended dough. Add the nuts, mixing till they're well-distributed throughout the dough.
Transfer the dough to a work surface (we don't bother to flour the surface; the dough is sticky, but is easily scraped up with a bench knife or dough scraper). Divide it into three fairly equal pieces, and shape each piece into a rough 10-inch log. Transfer each log to a parchment-lined or lightly greased baking sheet, leaving about 3 inches between each log; you may need to use two baking sheets. Wet your fingers, and pat the logs into smooth-topped rectangles 10 inches long x 2 1/2 inches wide x 7/8 inch thick.
Bake the logs in a preheated 375°F oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until they're beginning to brown around the edges. Remove them from the oven, and allow them to cool for 30 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 300°F.
Gently transfer the logs to a cutting surface, and use a serrated knife to cut them on the diagonal into 1/2-inch wide slices. Because of the nuts and the nature of the dough, the biscotti at this point are prone to crumbling; just be sure to use a slow, gentle sawing motion, and accept the fact that some bits and pieces will break off. (It's the privilege of the cook to eat these warm, tasty bits and pieces as they're created.) Carefully transfer the slices, cut sides up (and down) to a parchment-lined (makes cleanup easier) or ungreased baking sheet. You can crowd them together, as they won't expand further; about 1/4-inch breathing space is all that's required.
Return the biscotti to the 300°F oven, and bake them for 20 minutes. Remove them from the oven, quickly turn them over, and bake for an additional 20 minutes, or until they're very dry and beginning to brown. Remove them from the oven, cool completely, and store in an airtight container. Yield: about 60 biscotti.
Nutrition information per serving (1 biscotti made with almonds, 16g): 63 cal, 3.3g fat, 1g protein, 5g complex carbohydrates, 2g sugar, 1g dietary fiber, 16mg cholesterol, 38mg sodium, 31mg potassium, 12RE vitamin A, 22mg calcium, 26mg phosphorus.