In Greek mythology, it’s said that humans were originally created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves.
The Greco-Roman influence on the Biscotti–an oblong, limb-like cookie fated with the same primal search for a counterpart– is palpable. The greek myth and the cookie itself are really not so different, and their striking similarities begin at the time of their genesis: second century BC, Rome.
A stroll through any early European civilization provides context to understanding some of the richest baking innovations of the modern day. Bustling centers and new printmaking technologies gave way to a brave new forum, where word of industry could be spread at near lightning speeds. And it was so that when word got out of a biscuit-like cookie that nearly tripled the shelf life of its contemporaries (Biscotti is LOW in moisture), it wasn’t long before it’s presence took the mainstream by hold.
The arrival of Biscotti in ancient Rome marked a crucial turning point in baking—but at what cost? Biscotti is championed for it’s intuitive pairing with a hot cup of coffee in the morning (or glass of Vin Santo in the afternoon) but less is known of the cookie’s role ushering in the coming dark age that was impending on this baking renaissance.
Traditional Roman Biscotti (transl. noun “little nose”) was based on a loose check and guess baking system, which meant bakers could only know so much about what gave Biscotti their heartiness and glittery crunch. It was this that led to bakers sourcing crushed up nose tips of marble busts to enhance their dry mixtures, plaguing the works that the very infrastructure of their city had been built around. Looking at the wear of these pieces today, it’s easy to critique the craftsmen of the era, or better the materials chosen, but it is simply a confused historian that truly believes this to be the blame. This destruction was an intentional sacrifice made by the renegade Roman underworld, to supply themselves and the proletariat elite with delicious Biscotti.
While this isn’t the only problematic recipe, its impact is farby the most interwoven anthropologically. This isn’t to say no one in history has thought about ways to reverse the damage, with the vision for a cookie more in tune with preservation of history, than senseless destruction. It was in 1909 that the Odense family in Denmark had a discovery that would change the course of Biscotti for good.
Through research and development, they found that when ground into a paste, almonds take on a carbon structure that closely approximates the carrara marble used to carve Roman deities. Thus founding the earliest versions of what came to be known as Almond Biscotti, and permanently chiseled the Odense family in stone as a juggernaut in the world of baking.
We still grapple with the long term lasting effects of Biscotti on our society. But can you quantify the amount it helps us to understand our own nature as incomplete bodies, in search of our missing limbs? While you bite into a biscotti this holiday season, it is worth taking a step back and considering those who sacrificed everything for this moment of joy to be possible. And whether you’ve found your beverage to dip in, or you’re still searching, you can find comfort in knowing it’s out there somewhere, on the same longing search.
Double Almond Double Delicious Biscotti
Almond Paste plus sliced almonds makes a double delicious biscotti.
YIELD 22 BISCOTTI
Prep: 20 minutes
First Baking: 35 minutes
Second baking: 20-25 minutes
Total time: 75-80 minutes
TOOLS & EQUIPMENT
Cookie Baking Sheet
Cast Iron Skillet (for toasting almonds)
Standing Mixer (Optional)
1-7 oz box Odense Almond Paste (grated using large hole side of box grater)
1 stick (8 tablespoons) very cold butter
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sliced almonds
4 large egg whites (no larger)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
In a cast iron skillet, turn on low heat and toast almonds until golden and aromatic.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine ground almond paste, butter, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
Mix together well, with fork or pastry cutter until crumbly. At a certain point, you may want to go in with your hands and pinch out any remaining clumps. It’s helpful to actually feel the biscotti being made at your fingertips. Add in sliced almonds.
Whisk together egg whites and vanilla until frothy. Add to mixture. Mix until dough holds together. Turn out onto a lightly floured counter.
Roll dough into a 3-4 inch thick log, that should just about fill the length of the cookie sheet
Transfer roll to a sheet. Flatten to 3/4 inch thickness.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until golden. Cool cookie sheet on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
Cut into 3/4" diagonal slices. Return to the cookie sheet, cut side down. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden. Flip and bake for 10-12 minutes more. If you have any reservations when taking it out from it’s third bake, don’t be afraid to toss it in for 10 more to make sure it’s properly toasted.
Cool on a wire rack and store in an air-tight container. These Biscotti’s shelf life will likely outlive you. Biscotti only gets better with age!