Saturday, December 31, 2011

Pistachio Cranberry Biscotti

Biscotti are twice-baked cookies that originated in the Italian town of Prato.  They are sometimes referred to as biscotti di Prato or Prato biscuits.  The name derives from the Medieval Latin word biscoctus, meaning twice-baked.  Through French, the word found its way to English as biscuit which now refers to a variety of baked goods including sweet cookies, savory crackers, and small soft breads.

Historically, double baking made the cookies very dry and therefore less perishable than other foods.  They were especially valuable for long journeys and during times of war.  In that way, they are similar to the famously dry Anzac biscuits sent by Antipodean families to young men fighting in Europe during World War I.

Biscotti are a type of cantuccini, a generic term for a variety of twice-baked cookies.  Traditionally, biscotti were made only with almonds, pine nuts, eggs, sugar, and flour.  In contrast, cantuccini may include leavening agents, fats, spices, and other types of nuts.  Outside Italy, the terms cantuccini and biscotti are often conflated.  Within Italy, the term cantuccini is most often used in Tuscany to refer to almond biscotti which are generally served with vin santo.  Similar cookies are also common in certain parts of Spain.

This is the third biscotti recipe posted on Treat a Week and it contains pistachios (green) and cranberries (red) in honor of Christmas.  Guest blogger Sarah posted a lime pistachio biscotti recipe in 2008.  That same year I posted what I referred to as a peanut biscotti, which I now realize was a misnomer since it was not double baked.

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup light olive oil (do not use regular olive oil as it will impart a strong olive taste)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups pistachios (shelled)
1/2 cup dried cranberries

1.       Preheat oven to 300F.
2.       In a small bowl, mix flour, salt, and baking powder.  Set aside.
3.       In a large bowl, using a large wooden spoon, mix olive oil, sugar, vanilla extract, and almond extract.
4.       Beat in eggs, one at a time.
5.       Slowly add flour mixture until well combined.
6.       Add cranberries and pistachios and mix until well incorporated.
7.       Divide the sticky dough in half.  On a parchment paper lined cookie sheet, form two logs (2-4 inches wide).  To better handle the dough, wet hands with cool water.  You can also wear latex gloves.
8.       Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the dough is light brown.  Remove from the oven for 10 minutes.  Reduce heat to 275F.
9.       When slightly cool, cut logs into 1/2-inch or 3/4-inch thick slices.  Place cookies on their sides and bake for a further 8-10 minutes or until dry.  Cool.
10.   Store in an air-tight container for up to 2 weeks.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake

This dessert is the marriage of two of my favorite Thanksgiving treats – pumpkin pie and cheesecake. It combines evocative pumpkin pie filling and fragrant fall spices with rich and satisfying cheesecake. It’s the perfect antidote for people who have overdosed on traditional desserts.

This is the third pumpkin pie featured on this blog – click here for coconut and cayenne variations. It is also the sixth cheesecake I’ve presented – check out these peach, blueberry, lemon, berry, and almond mascarpone versions.

Serves 6-8


1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup granulated sugar

12 ounces cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin filling
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1. Preheat oven to 325 F. 
2. To make crust, in a large bowl mix graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, and sugar.
3. Using your fingers or the back of a spoon, pack the crumb mixture so that it evenly covers the bottom and sides of a 9-inch metal pie tin.
4. In another large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla.
5. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until well mixed.
6. Set aside 1/3 of the mixture in a small bowl.
7. Add pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves and mix with a wooden spoon.
8. Spoon pumpkin batter into base. Dot with dollops of reserved plain batter.
9. Using a butter knife, gently mix the plain batter into the pumpkin batter to create a swirl effect. Be careful not to disturb the crumb base.
10. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the batter has set.
11. Cool at room temperature and refrigerate at least four hours before serving.