How to make easy and delicious Vegan Biscotti. I suppose it’s fortuitous for me as a writer that food holds many happy reminiscences for me. The banana splits of my childhood, being converted to the taste of freshly ground coffee, my Mum’s impecunious Spaghetti Bolognese and my Grandmother’s Coffee Cake. Since my first visit to the US, back 2001, I also had a whole world of foodie firsts: thanksgiving meals and apple cake, richly covered with Kool-Whip, thick fluffy pancakes and hash browns. This is without making note of Cheetoes, Nila Wafers and Saltines. These road trip essentials are available over here in exclusive delicatessens, along with Krispy Kreem Donuts, priced up to the point where they are no longer a cheap road snack but an unnecessary luxury instead.
Of all the great culinary discoveries made by myself in the US, the Coffee Shop with its endless shiny counters stacked high with glass jars filled with cookies, plates gleaming with fruit tarts and, my most favourite coffee house treat of all, the Biscotti, was awe-inspiring. Nowadays, Biscotti is as ubiquitous in a coffee shop, as a cream tea is in high summer.
What is Biscotti?
In Italian, Biscotti translates as “biscuit twice cooked” (bis-cotto) and no word could sum up the Biscotti more succinctly than that. A stiff sort-of cookie dough is made, flavoured with almost any conceivable (and some inconceivable, no doubt) ingredients, then formed into a Ciabatta loaf shape, baked for about 30 minutes, then cut into slices – the familiar Biscotti shape – and baked once again for another 10 minutes on each side. What this double bake produces is a hard, crisp biscuit, perfect for dipping into your morning coffee.
The Italians don’t call these hard biscuits Biscotti though. In Italy, Biscotti is a generic term that refers to any biscuit, from Amaretti to Pignoli Cookies. Instead, the twice-baked biscuit, a speciality of the Florence region, is called Cantuccini and supermarkets often carry these imported Italian cookies, often studded with almonds or half dipped in chocolate, which melts as you stir your coffee with them. They are also served as an after-meal treat, to be dipped in Vin Santo or a sweet dessert wine or liquor.
Biscotti or Cantuccini are simple to make, although a little more labour intensive than the usual drop cookies. However, the dough is easy to work with and they are so adaptable, that you will probably find yourself baking them often (in her book, Great Cookies, Carole Walter even has a Passover recipe, using Matzo meal instead of flour). And, despite the initial reservation of tasting a dried-out biscuit, they are incredibly moreish, particularly when half dipped in chocolate. They also have the added bonus of lasting quite some time in the biscuit tin.
Such is the popularity and adaptability of this nibbly biscuit that there are at least twenty cookbooks devoted to just the Biscotti, thousands of jars stuffed full of them in cafes throughout the world and most supermarkets even produce their own versions. Not bad going for a dried-out hard biscuit.
Perhaps we are in love with the romantic Italian notion of turning something boring into something magical, merely by dipping it into a cup of hot coffee or chilled wine but whatever the reason, this alchemical biscuit is a worthy addition to your baking rota and will accommodate whatever ingredients you have available. You can dress them up or down, and they will always make a welcome gift at any time of the year.
How do You Make Vegan Biscotti?
Here is a basic ‘starter’ recipe using chocolate shavings, nuts and cranberries. Using this recipe, you can switch any of the flavourings around, using dried fruits instead of chocolate, brown sugar instead of white, add a dash of vanilla or almond extract, dip them in chocolate or icing. You could use a little cornmeal in the mixture or make a highly spiced Cantuccini with ground cloves, cinnamon, cardamom or ginger. I have seen them dipped in melted chocolate chocolate and then red and green sugar sprinkles for Christmas. You could utilise a similar theme with white and pastel sprinkles for wedding favours or a baby shower.
Note: I use a vegan egg replacer which works really effectively. I don’t recommend using a dairy-free yogurt or apple sauce to replace the egg element as you need a dry dough.
- 1 ½ Sticks Unsalted Butter 170g, room temperature
- Zest of 1-2 lemons and 1-2 oranges depending on how citrussy you want it
- 1 cup Sugar
- 2½ cups Plain Flour
- 1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
- ¼ Teaspoon Bicarbonate of Soda
- 2 tsp Vegan Egg whisked up with 4 tbsp cold water
- 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
- 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
- 1 120g or one bar Good Quality Dark Chocolate (70% is ideal), shaved, rather than chopped. The chocolate could be replaced with half a cup of dried fruit, raisins, cranberries, cherrys, figs etc.
- 1 Cup Chopped Nuts of your Choice. I used Pistachios but Almonds, Hazelnuts, Pecans, Walnuts would be great
- Using either a hands-free mixer or an electric hand whisk (the mixture does get quite stiff later on), blend together the butter and zests.
- Add the sugar and beat for another couple of minutes until pale and fluffy.
- Add the vanilla and one half of the vegan egg mixture at a time, beating for about 30 seconds between additions. Take care to scrape down the sides of your mixing bowl regularly.
- Sieve the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Then introduce this, in three turns, to the batter, mixing well before the next addition.
- Finally, fold in the nuts, fruit and chocolate.
- Cover and chill the bowl in the fridge for at least an hour.
- After an hour, line or grease two large baking sheets and preheat the oven to 175c.
- Divide the dough into two halves and, using one half at a time, place on a lightly floured board.
- Gently mould into the shape of a Ciabatta Loaf (which is to say, a slightly flattened log, about 10” long by 4” wide) and place each log on the baking sheet. Leave about 3 or 4 inches between the logs. They will spread out slightly but not much.
- Bake for 25 minutes on the top shelf, or until lightly golden brown.
- Remove from the oven, turn the heat to 150c, and leave to cool for five minutes.
- Using a dough scraper or meat cleaver, cut the logs into ½” biscotti, placing them cut side up on the second baking sheet.
- Bake for another 15 minutes until they feel dry on one side. Turn them over and bake for another 7-10 minutes.
- Remove from the oven. They will still feel a little soft at this point. Leave for a couple of minutes until you are able to handle them. Then remove to a cooling rack.
- You can then dip them in melted chocolate if you want or just serve them with freshly brewed coffee.
- Store in a large jar or biscuit tin.