Biscotti (singular biscotto) or biscotti di Prato is a cookie from the cuisine of Prato, Italy. Essentially a dry and crunchy version of the cake, it was originally invented with the intention of supplying preservable foods to the Roman military personnel during wars and journeys. Commonly known as a twice-baked cake, it is prepared by re-baking a freshly baked cake. This results in the cake becoming dry and crunchy, and acquiring a texture similar to a cookie or a biscuit. The traditional version of the biscotto is an oblong, golden brown-colored cookie, replete with almonds.
History of Biscotti di Prato
Biscotti inherit their name from “biscotus”, the Medieval Latin term for foods that are prepared by baking or cooking a food item twice. The term generally encompassed all oven-baked foods that were baked more than once with the purpose of preservation for long periods of time. In the olden days when the Romans had to travel for long durations of time they had to carry food which could be preserved for long periods of time, as procuring fresh food was not easy while travelling through different lands. They depended on twice baked breads which served as staple food. Along with the staples, some delectable foods like twice-baked cakes were a very welcome add-on for the famished soldiers. Gaius Plinius Secondus, the illustrious Roman military commander, who has become immortal in Roman history under the name of Pliny the Elder, seemed to be so impressed by these twice baked delicacies that he opined that these items could be preserved for centuries!
The first documented version of the recipe for the biscotto was discovered by the eighteenth century historian Baldanzi Amadio. This twice-baked dessert cake was then found to be from Genoa. The historical manuscript containing the recipe is preserved in Prato.
The Traditional Biscotti Recipe
The original Biscotti was re-created by Antonio Mattei, a nineteenth century pastry chef of Prato. The recipe for this version of the biscotti is accepted as the standard traditional version in modern times. Mattei’s version of the dish won him accolades in the Universal Exhibition of Paris in 1867.
The ingredients suggested by the traditional recipe are flour, eggs, sugar, almonds and pine nuts( the skins of which are not peeled). Probably, for attaining hardness, fat( which may be butter or oil) , yeast or milk are not included by the recipe. The batter, thus prepared is different from the typical cake batter. Dough which is slightly wet is made and baked first. It is then, cut into slices and baked once more to form the biscotti di prato.
The Modern Variations of the Biscotti Recipe
The modern Biscotti are based on the traditional recipe for the dish and its regional variations. However, modern culinary sensibilities have resulted in slight alteration of the traditional version of this dish. The modern variant has a greater choice of nuts in comparison to its traditional counterpart. Pistachios and hazelnut are a common inclusion in the modern version of these twice-baked cakes. Spices and baking powder are the other ingredients that have found usage in the latest recipes of the cookie. The present versions are also glazed with chocolate. Preparation involves mixing flour with anise, cinnamon, and baking powder; adding nuts; and then, adding liquid flavoring agents, such as almond extract. The dough is then baked as a slab once, then cut into slices, and baked once more. Glazing the twice-baked cake with chocolate is an optional step followed by the modern Italian cuisine.
The Biscotti, being hard and dry, are best partnered with a beverage in which they are dipped before consumption. Conventionally, in Prato, biscotto and bruttiboni( another type of biscuit) are served together with orange juice. The traditional accompaniment to the biscotti are the Vin Santo( or Vino Santo) style Italian dessert wines, which are made of Sangiovese, Trebbiano or Malvasia variety of grapes. The present day partner beverages of the biscotto are more often different types of coffee, such as cappuccinos and lattes. The modern Italians find even black tea a good choice for dunking the biscotto before consuming it.
Popular Biscotti Variants
Cantuccini- also known as nooks, these Tuscany biscuits differ from the traditional biscotti in the usage of yeast as an ingredient. They also make use of olive oil, while the traditional recipe recommends the non-usage of fat. These rough biscuits are meant to be less hard in comparison to the biscotti, and therefore, acids are used as an ingredient. Akin to the modern versions of the biscotto, anise seeds are used in the preparation on the nooks. The modern version of the biscotto is actually prepared in the lines of the cantuccini rather than the traditional biscotti.
Carquinyoli- these are Spanish variants of the biscotto, typically belonging to the Catalonian and Aragon cuisines. Almond slices or whole almonds are used as an ingredient in the preparation of this dish. The Minorca variants of this twice-baked cookie are not oblong(like the traditional cookies), but are square in shape; and whole almonds are not used in their preparation. According to a Catalan food critic, the ancestor of the Carquinyoli is the croquignole, a type of biscotto, which has a French name of German roots. The Carquinyoli are served with dessert wines, such as the Moscatelle or muscat.
Rosegós or Rosegons – these are biscotti from Valencia
Popular Biscotti Recipes
Certain traditional dishes are prepared using biscotti as an ingredient. The Catalonian rice with sardines, or rabbit and snails; Calçot which is a sauce made with the Catalonian green onion; the duck stuffed turnip from Baix Llobregat, a Catalan coastal county; are all dishes that are prepared using the biscotti.
Health Facts of Biscotti
According to Mayo Clinic recommendations( please refer to the reference section below) the Biscotti prepared with whole wheat-flour and nuts are considered a nutritious dessert. The nuts present in them contain manganese which is good for the formation of bones. Selenium present in the nuts contains antioxidants which are recommended for the proper functioning of the thyroid gland.
Biscotto seems to have been discovered during the times of Columbus and it is not only useful for army personnel, but for also others like sailors and fishermen. In general, it is consumed by one and all.
Biscotti Health Facts