It’s that time again folks. Halloween decorations are put away. A nip is in the air. Relatives are calling to ask what they can bring for Thanksgiving. It all adds up to one thing – Cookie Season has arrived! If you’re like me, holiday baking figures heavily into gift giving. Even if it doesn’t, perhaps there are holiday parties and cookie swaps you’ll be contributing to. My suggestion? Before you dive in, prepare. For your consideration, here are some Cookie Season preparation tips:
1. Lists are your friend. Write down who you’re planning on giving to and what you’re planning on giving. Not only will you avoid leaving someone off the present list, but you’ll have that oh-so-satisfying feeling of crossing names off as you bake!
2. Check that your ingredients are fresh. Now is the time to go through your pantry. You’ll be surprised at what may have gone bad. Nuts, oils, seeds and flours can become rancid. Herbs and spices can lose their flavor. Smell and taste to see if supplies have gone off. Check the expiration dates of dried fruit and the appearance of any toppings – if the sprinkles are looking nasty, now is the time to chuck them and restock. (This doubles as a fabulous time to clean out your pantry).
3. Locate your tools. Don’t get stuck in a last minute frenzy looking for piping tips. Check your recipes for non-everyday equipment you’ll need and find it, even if you’re pretty sure it’s in the back of the laundry closet. Dig in there and get it. You’ll be glad you did. Stock up on necessities. Lay in the parchment paper – you know you’ll need it!
4. Source any special ingredients. Need unusual spices for a family recipe or special dried fruit for your panettone? Find it and get it now and you can bake at your leisure.
5. Don’t forget the packaging! It’s an afterthought for many, but having the right packaging is not only an aesthetic consideration. If you went to the trouble of making it, you want your baked goods to make it to their destination looking and tasting their best. I’ve used everything from turkey roasting bags to chinese takeout-like containers to package up gifts from the kitchen. Cookie tins are always useful and can be reused after the cookies you make are only a fond memory. Keep an eye out for containers and packaging that can enhance and protect your gift.
And, to start you off, a cookie recipe. I love semolina raisin bread and wanted to get a similar flavor in a biscotti. Something that would be not-too-sweet and a nice go along with a cup of tea or a glass of wine. Here’s what I came up with. Happy Cookie Season!!
- 2 tablespoons fennel seed
- 2 pinches of lavender
- 1/3 – 1/2 cup pine nuts
- 2/3 cup chopped dried apricots
- 2 large eggs
- 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/4 cup semolina
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon fiori de sicilia extract (if not available, use ½ teaspoon vanilla extract and the zest of one orange)
- 1/4 cups plus 2 1/2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
- 1 1/2 cups plus 1 1/2 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Toast the fennel seeds lightly. Combine them with the lavender. Use a mortar and pestle (or put them in a bowl and use the bottom of a small cup) to crush them lightly. Set aside.
- Lightly toast the pine nuts. Set aside to cool.
- Set a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees, F.
- Put parchment paper or tin foil on a cookie sheet and set it aside.
Make The Dough
- Break the eggs into a large bowl.
- Add the olive oil to the eggs, and whisk well to combine the two.
- Add the semolina and salt to the egg mixture and whisk to mix well. Set aside for half an hour.
- After half an hour, add the fiori de sicilia (or vanilla and orange zest) and sugar to the egg mixture, mix well to combine.
- Put the flour and baking powder in a separate small bowl. Stir the flour mixture with a dry whisk to combine.
- Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture in the large bowl.
- Stir with a metal or wooden spoon.
- When the dry ingredients are almost incorporated, add the fennel seed mixture, the pine nuts and the chopped apricots.
- Mix until incorporated, then knead the dough a few times in the bowl.
Shape the Dough
- Turn the dough out onto the parchment lined cookie sheet.
- Shape the dough into two logs, each about 2 1/2 by 12 inches.
- Space the logs about 6 inches apart on the cookie sheets.
- Bake the logs for about 30 minutes, until they are firm and just starting to get golden brown.
- Remove from the oven and slide the logs, on the paper or foil, off the cookie sheets.
- While the logs are still hot, brush with the honey.
- Let the logs cool.
The logs can be wrapped up at this point and frozen, or baked off for the second time after they cool.
- Decrease the oven temperature to 325 degrees, F (or preheat it to 325 if you’re using dough you made previously and defrosted).
- Use a very sharp knife to cut each log into 1/2 inch slices, cutting on the diagonal.
- Lay the slices flat on cookie sheets, cut side down (you’ll need two sheets).
- Bake for about 10 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through the baking.
- Remove the cookie sheets from the oven and let the cookies cool on the sheets. They will continue crisping up as they cool.
YIELD: Approximately 46 biscotti.