Sicilian Wild Fennel Biscotti
Makes about 40 cookies.
These are old-school crunchy biscotti bursting with almonds and spices, making them a holiday favorite. The recipe originally came from a friend’s Nona, but over the years it has evolved to be less sweet, more assertively spiced, and its original ‘Wesson oil’ was replaced with olive oil. We hope that Nona would approve.
Biscotti are a great cookie to make-ahead – they’ll keep for a week at room temperature and for a month or two frozen. Spiced biscotti are perfect with an afternoon latte or an after-dinner glass of liqueur — or serve them on a cheese board.
2¾ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons Sicilian wild fennel seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
¾ teaspoon cardamom seeds
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cassia cinnamon
½ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 lemons, zest only
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1½ cups whole almonds, roughly chopped
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease two baking sheets or line them with baking parchment; set aside.
Put the flour, baking powder, and salt into a mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.
Grind the fennel, cardamom, and peppercorns in a mortar and pestle (It’s OK if they’re not as fine as pre-ground spices — tiny bits of spice add texture and surprising pops of flavor). Add the nutmeg and cinnamon to the other spices.
Put the sugar, spices, and lemon zest into a separate, large mixing bowl; whisk briefly to mix. Add the eggs and whisk briskly for a minute or two, until thoroughly combined. Add two tablespoons of water and whisk it in completely; then whisk in the oil. Stir in the almonds.
Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture and fold them together, using a spatula and strong strokes, until a thick dough forms. (The dough will be a bit sticky.) Use your hands to gather the dough into a lumpish ball.
Sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of flour onto your counter.
Divide the dough in quarters (right in the bowl). Scoop out one quarter of the dough and use your hands to gently pat it into an oblong, potato sort of shape and place it on the floured counter. Gently roll the dough into a log about 1½ inches in diameter and 10 inches long. Using both hands, gently transfer the log to one of the baking sheets. Repeat with another portion of the dough. Be sure to leave about 4 inches between the two logs on the baking sheet (they will spread as they bake). Repeat the process with the remaining dough and second baking sheet.
Bake until the logs are firm to the touch and lightly golden, 20–25 minutes. Transfer the baking sheets from the oven to cooling racks; let the biscotti logs cool and ‘set up’ for 15 minutes.
Use a very sharp knife with a light sawing motion to cut the logs on the bias into ½-inch thick slices. Lay the slices, with a cut side down, on the baking sheets; return the baking sheets to the oven for 10 minutes. Take the sheets out of the oven and turn the biscotti over so that the cut side that was facing down now faces up. Bake for another 10 minutes. Transfer the biscotti to cooling racks and let them cool completely. (If the biscotti are not completely crunchy when cooled, you can dry them further by baking them in a 200° F oven for another 10–20 minutes.)
Store in airtight containers at room temperature or freeze.