Roman-style Cinnamon & Almond Biscottini (Maybe?)

During my mom’s stay in Rome, I sent her off one morning armed with a culinary treasure map. Built around a day of adventuring on foot, the map was marked with the locations of some of Rome’s most revered on-the-go-appropriate food stops: an age-old pizza place known for its take on marinara, a café deemed among Rome’s best, and a kosher bakery whose hole-in-the-wall aesthetic betrays its fame.   

closeup-trio.jpgA firm believer in the importance of dessert, my mom returned from her adventure laden with treats from Boccione, the bakery. Tiny glazed croissants, crumbly honeyed cakes, big bricks of pizza ebraica stuffed with toasted pine nuts and candied fruit and, my favourite, little rounds of cinnamon biscottini studded with roasted almonds. All a little burnt, all immensely delicious. Knowing I’d be back, I didn’t bothering to snap photos or consider the precise makeup of the treats I knew I’d want to try to recreate at home. Which, as it turns out, was a mistake.

My first attempt to pick up treats from the bakery was met with a closed sign. My second, with a short supply of change in a city that seems to accept nothing else, and without the confidence to ask the intimidatingly untalkative women who run the shop whether they’d take my credit card. Woe was me, pastry deprived, in Italy of all places. 

unrelated-pastry.jpgDedicated to the cause, on my final attempt I came prepared. My backpack was emptied. My coin purse was overflowing with enough coinage to pay for a lifetime’s supply of sweet treats and the necessary medical attention that would follow suit. My Italian was, well, still just passable. But my earnestness to spend my savings on cookies was high enough to make up for it. 

So I bounced into the shop with an enthusiastic “Buongiorno!” and ordered some pizza ebraica. In Italian. Without messing up the gender. Success! Flying high, I pointed to my beloved biscotti and asked for a bag. But, no. I was not allowed biscotti. Confused, I pointed to the other tray of identical cookies. Again: no. No explanation. Just an unreadable expression and a firm “no”. I could have my one pastry and that was it.

My failure to break through what the New York Times describes, in reviewing the bakery, as “somewhat discourteous service” means that, alas, I have neither photos nor a detailed memory to guide me in trying to recreate all of the treats my mom miraculously managed to procure. But the things were so good that I need to try anyway. Which brings us to today’s recipe for biscottini (think biscot-teeny).  

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The bit of research I’ve done tells me that the well-guarded recipe contains cinnamon, almonds, sugar, flour and, maybe, cocoa. Which isn’t much to go on really, so it comes as little surprise that my first efforts aren’t perfect. The shape and the balance of the crisp exterior and chewy interior are getting there, but the cinnamon needs to be upped and the cocoa reduced (or maybe removed) to match the spiciness and colour of the originals. But truly, they’re tasty little cookies in their own right, with each flavour – chocolate, cinnamon, toasted almond and vanilla – coming through without overwhelming the others.  So while I’ll keep trying to recreate the elusive Roman biscottini, I’ll be making these ones again soon. 
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Cinnamon, Chocolate & Almond BIscottini
Inspired by, but in the end rather distinct from, the biscottini at Pasticceria Boccione Limentani in Rome
Makes about 40 little cookies

Ingredients
1½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sifted cocoa powder
2
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
¾ cup white sugar
¼ cup olive oil (not extra-virgin; you can also use another neutral-tasting oil)
2 eggs, preferably certified organic (read this post to find out why)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups of roasted almonds, roughly chopped*

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 300ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick silicone mat. 

2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, baking power, and salt until ingredients are evenly combined. In a medium bowl, stir together sugar and oil with a wooden spoon until sugar and oil are evenly combined. Add eggs and vanilla to the sugar mixture and stir until mixture is smooth. 

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3. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into the well. Mix the dry and wet ingredients together until the dry ingredients are almost entirely moistened. Add the chopped nuts and, using your hands, squish the ingredients together until the dry ingredients are entirely moistened and the almonds are evenly dispersed through the dough. 

Step_2.jpg4. Form the dough into logs on the prepared baking sheet, wetting your hands as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to your fingers. Logs should measure approximately 10 inches long, 2 inches wide and 1 inch high, and should be slightly higher in the middle lengthwise than at the edges. Bake logs for 20-25 minutes, until tops are dry and firm. Let logs cool on the tray for 10 minutes, until cool enough to touch, then cut into cookies 1-inch thick. Place cookies flat-side down on baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, flipping halway through, until cookies are beginning to dry out. Note that cookies will firm up as they cool, so don’t be afraid to take them out of the oven while they’re still a little soft around the edges.  

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*To toast almonds, preheat oven to 350ºF. Once the oven’s ready to go, toss your almonds onto a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, or until fragrant and beginning to brown, stirring halfway through. The almonds will retain heat for quite a while, so be sure to give them a few minutes to cool down before you start chopping them. 

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