Fig & Walnut Biscotti

I didn’t know she’d died. But then again, I did. I just hadn’t remembered until I began researching the creator of these delicious biscotti. Gina DePalma, a James Beard Award-winning Pastry Chef at Babbo in New York City (Chef Mario Battali’s place) and cookbook author, died of ovarian cancer at 49–a year ago this past December. These are hers.

I recently found her on the Smitten Kitchen website and only then had I remembered reading a touching tribute about her on Adam Roberts’ food blog a year ago.  He had written about the lentil soup with sausage and swiss chard she made for him–the same soup her mother made for her while she was recovering post-surgery. More on this soup in an upcoming post–because I can’t stop thinking about it and as soon as the current snowfall subsides, will be on my way to the market for the ingredients.

But back to these biscotti…they are made for dunking in your mid-afternoon cup of tea or coffee. Crunchy from the walnuts, soft and chewy because of those sweet dried figs, this traditional Tuscan dolce carries in every bite the essence of winter flavors: orange, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves. They’ll last in an airtight container for two weeks, however I truly believe they’ll be enjoyed long before that.

I’m sorry Ms. DePalma is gone. I would’ve liked to have written her. To tell her that she’s inspired me to remain true to my heart which says to always keep desserts simple and to allow the flavor of whole ingredients to come through–without getting all fussy about it. We know this to be true for cooking, but yes, it should be true for baking as well.

She says, You might look at one of my plates and think, ‘Wow, she really just slaps it on there.’  But when there isn’t all that busyness to distract the eye, the beauty of the actual food itself has to shine through.

and…I feel very strongly and quite personally that desserts should not be an object of whimsy or nonsense.

*Both quotes are from her obituary in The New York Times.

And now, Ms. DePalma’s Fig & Walnut Biscotti (Makes approximately 24 biscotti, although I didn’t count before eating them and giving some away; also, I followed Smitten Kitchen’s recipe as author, Deb Perelman, cut the recipe in half and that was enough for me.)

  • 1 cup walnut pieces
  • 1 cup dried Black Mission figs, quartered (original recipe calls for Turkish or Calimyrna figs–for a guide to figs, check out Martha Stewart’s website)
  • 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 6 tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • grated zest of 1/2 a large orange
  • 1 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten with a fork to a froth

Take out the butter to soften. First grate the nutmeg and set aside (that way your microplane will be easy to wipe clean before zesting the orange). On a baking pan (the same one you’ll use to bake the biscotti) toast walnut pieces until fragrant–about 5-7 minutes. In the meantime, quarter the figs. When the walnuts are completely cooled (I removed them from the pan and placed them on a dish to speed up the wait time) finely chop them in a food processor along with the figs (if you put the walnuts in first, it may help the figs not stick to the bottom and the blade).

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, first beat the butter for 30 seconds or so, then add the sugars until light and fluffy. In a small bowl, beat the eggs gently with a fork and add to the butter and sugar mixture one tablespoon at a time until fully incorporated.  Scrape down the sides, then beat in the vanilla and orange zest.

In a medium bowl, gently whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. In three parts, add the flour mixture to the butter/sugar mixture beating each time until just combined. Take the bowl off the mixer and stir in the walnuts and figs by hand, again until just combined.

Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator until firm–2 hours or overnight.

When the dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 325° and lightly butter a baking sheet. Sprinkle flour onto your kitchen table or other work space and using your palms roll the piece of dough gently back and forth until it becomes a log slightly shorter than the length of your pan (it will expand as it bakes in the oven). Place the log on the baking sheet.

Brush with the frothy egg white and sprinkle generously with sugar (I used about 2 tablespoons). Bake for 20-25 minutes until lightly golden brown, firm to the touch and just beginning to crack slightly.

Allow the log to cool on the cookie sheet until cool to the touch, about 40 minutes. Here’s the tricky part, carefully, using two spatulas, move the log to a cutting board. Mine broke in half, which really wasn’t a problem. Using a serrated knife, slice into 1/2-inch slices. Lay the slices on the cookie sheet in a single layer; return biscotti to the oven and bake for 20 more minutes until toasted and crisp. Centers will continue to be soft.

 

 

Advertisements

Banana Bread — A Spoon and Some Bourbon

IMG_4440

Oh Friends, I am writing to you in a state of pure olfactory pleasure — as my kitchen still carries the scent of perfectly baked banana bread from one heck of a winner of a recipe.  Thank you!  Thank you!, Deb Perelman of the absolutely delightful website titled: Smitten Kitchen and author of The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.

The recipe I gleaned from Perelman’s site did not disappoint.  The banana bread was moist, tender — not heavy at all, nor overly sweet and most deliciously seasoned with the spices of autumn — cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves.  Ohhhhhhh yummmmm.

Banana bread is one of those desserts? breakfast treats? quick breads?  all of the above, Darlings, that we’ve all grown up with, right?  Who has not taken a bite of banana bread, better yet, who hasn’t smelled it baking?  It’s warm, it’s comforting, it is forgiveness itself when one, let’s say, has a rough morning getting the little beasts to school.  Please interpret “beasts” as my beautiful children, of whom I adore.  I do.  I adore them.

But this morning, I’m not gonna lie.  It just wasn’t perfect.  It was pretty much ugly and awful.  The kind of send-off that deserves some kind of recovery, some rehabilitation, gentle reflection — all in the form of baking banana bread in the aftermath of the tornado that was this morning’s drama-filled preparation for an otherwise ordinary school day.  Yes, banana bread was the drink (alas, no, I could not find any bourbon in the house, so this time, this. Time. I left it out.), it was the Valium, it was the long run for some.  Baking this little something sweet was how I worked it all out.  It quite literally calmed my nerves while keeping my mind focused and my hands busy.

Ahhhh…..banana bread, which now that I think about it, begins by taking a few ugly, over-ripened bananas that seem to deserve no better than a dip in the garbage can.  And yet, even in all their brown-spottiness, these bananas when mixed with some butter, some sugar, flour and spices bloom into something of joy and peace.  Something deliciously soothing.

IMG_4436

So, if you’re not as of yet acquainted with Ms. Perelman, I urge you to go, now, and take a little stroll through the lively streets of her website.  This woman, out of her tiny Manhattan apartment, works on recipes from reputable sources such as Cooks Illustrated.  Perelman then gives you her version of which recipe works best as tweaked by her, our culinary curious friend.  She pretty much does all the work for us — takes away the guess-work as to whether or not the glossy recipe sitting in front of us will really work in our humble home kitchen.

Oooh, I think I’m going to change this blog’s byline to: With Love From Your Curiously Culinary Friend or Dame.  I like the word, Dame… from my humble home kitchen to yours.

Here’s the recipe that worked very well for me as of this very morning:

Jacked-Up Banana Bread as it appears on the website: http://smittenkitchen.com/

  • 3 to 4 ripe bananas, smashed
  • 1/3 cup (75 grams) melted salted butter
  • 3/4 to 1 cup (145 to 190 grams) light brown sugar (I agree with Perelman and used the lesser amount.  I also packed the sugar, but next time, for kicks I’ll weigh it out and see what the difference is.)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) bourbon (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon (3 grams) cinnamon
  • Up to 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg ( I grated a fresh one, I’m sure ground is fine.)
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 cups (190 grams) flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. With a wooden spoon, mix butter into the mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl.  Mix in the sugar, egg, vanilla and bourbon, then the spices.  Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture and mix in.  Add the flour last, mix.  Pour mixture into a buttered 4×8 inch loaf pan ( I used two mini loaf pans instead).  Bake for 50 minutes to one hour, or until a tester comes out clean.  Cool on a rack.  Remove from pan and slice to serve.

Note:  It took just 35 minutes in my oven to bake the two mini loaves.  After 20 minutes my home smelled divine.  Stay around as your banana bread bakes, check after 30 minutes by inserting a toothpick in the center.  If it comes out clean, it’s done.  Be careful that you don’t get a false, too moist reading by spearing a banana.  Use your nose to guide you.  When it smells like banana bread baking in your kitchen, it’s soon to be done.

Voilà!

mashed bananas mixed with melted butter
mashed bananas mixed with melted butter

 

weighing ingredients rather than measuring is a game changer
weighing ingredients rather than measuring is a game changer

“You carry all the ingredients to turn your existence into joy.  Mix them, Mix them!” — from Hafiz, To Build a Swing