Friday, June 5, 2009

Books with Biscotti

Yesterday, I went to my local library's annual book sale. Embarrassingly, I'd never gone before because I'd always figured, some libraries ain't no Barnes and Noble, so if THEY don't want the books anymore, the books can't be all that great. Thankfully, I've matured enough to appreciate being from a city with one of the best libraries in the country. Being the best means constantly having to update and rotate inventory, so I wasn't walking into a refuse pile, I was walking into a GOLDMINE! I was worried that, being the second-to-last day of their week-long sale, all the good books would be gone, but it was half price day, I didn't have any fancy plans, no harm in taking a peek.

Well, I made out like a bandit. I got all of this for under fifteen dollars:

+ Elizabeth Wurtzel, Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women (self explanatory)
+ Caroline Knapp, Appetites: Why Women Want (anorexia memoir)
+ Tim & Phyllis MikWright, Hey, Girl! (vintage photos; funny captions)
+ Marjane Satrapi, Chicken with Plums (one of my minors is sequential art)
+ Alex & Hilary Heminway, Picnics (xvxparty research)
+ Martha Stewart, Pies and Tarts (BIBLE!)
+ Bon Appetit, Christmas Season (confession: I love Christmas)*
+ My Drinking Life (audio book; alcohol memoir; referenced in current reading: Love on the Rocks)
+ About Schmidt (DVD; Jack Nicholson struggling with aging... again; great scene with Kathy Bates in a hot tub)
+ Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys (DVD; catholic school, sequential art, coming of age, tigers)
+ Art School Confidential (DVD; too true art school parody with John Malkovich)

I spent yesterday afternoon sitting in my pile of fresh acquisitions flitting from book to book and flurrying through pages. I'm especially stoked on my two new cookbooks because, while neither has a single vegan recipe to boast, I think omni cookbooks are just as valid references. Usually, I get flavor combination ideas or tips on assembling stuff from them. I mean, the next pie I make is going to look sick as hell thanks to that corporate-climbing craftster Martha. And hey, my Bon Appetit book inspired me to make cinnamon biscotti with carob ganache.

Cinnamon and carob both have a sweet but earthy quality to them, so I thought they'd make a perfect pair. Plus, I ate a carob-coated rice cream sandwich at the conclusion of finals, which reminded me that carob is awesome and I need to employ it more. For the biscotti, I essentially used the Veganomicon recipe (no vegan biscotti recipe even compares), but for the ganache, I decided to try something I'd just noticed on my cocoa container. Did you know that you can substitute three tablespoons cocoa plus a tablespoon of oil for each ounce of melted chocolate a recipe calls for? HOW HAVE I BEEN LIVING IN THE DARK ON THIS??! It was with this in mind that I attempted my frosting, and oh, my success was sweet:

+ 2 T flax seeds
+ 1/3 c non-dairy milk
+ 3/4 c sugar
+ 1/2 c oil
+ 1 t vanilla
+ 1 2/3 c flour
+ 2 T cornstarch
+ 2 t baking powder
+ 1 1/2 t cinnamon
+ 1/2 t salt

+ 1 T Earth Balance
+ 3 T carob
+ 1/2 - 1 T sugar
+ 1/4 - 1/2 c non-dairy milk or creamer

01. Preheat your oven to 350˚. Using a blender or coffee grinder, grind your flaxseeds into a fine powder. Transfer your flax to a bowl, and add the "milk." Whisk vigorously until a creamy paste forms (about thirty seconds). (Note: if you used a blender, just leave the flax in there, add the "milk, and blend. The paste will be harder to remove, but it will be REALLY paste-y and make you feel like you didn't get the blender dirty in vain.) Then add your sugar, oil, and vanilla.

02. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Just toss 'em all in there, and stir a few times with a fork. If you've been following this blog, you'll know that this is an important step in evenly distributing flavor and "activating agents," ensuring all your little biscotti get created equal. Slowly add these dry ingredients to your wet ingredients, stirring as you add, and continue stirring until you get a sort of firm, uniform dough.

03. Grease up a baking sheet, and form the dough into a long rectangle - about 12" x 4". I find a few quick, gentle rolls with a rolling pin helps get my biscotti even, but the more you make biscotti, the more you'll develop your own methodology for gettin' 'em purdy. Then pop those suckers in the oven, and bake for twenty-eight minutes. (Yeah, twenty-eight.)

04. When the biscotti are done, remove them from the oven, and let them stand for a minute. Now, here's where I diverge from the Veganomicon recipe. In the V-con recipe (and most biscotti recipes in general), it instructs you to let the biscotti cool completely before cutting them, but I always - ALWAYS - break a bunch of cookies and make a huge mess that way. Instead, I let them cool so they're not hot to the touch (three or five minutes), and then I get a long, heavy-duty, all-purpose kitchen knife (a chef's knife or a big santoku is good) and make quick, even cuts about a half-inch apart from one another down my biscotti log. So essentially, I cut the cookies right then and there, but I'm taking advantage of their softened state. The motion of the knife is really important: the cookies are still soft from the oven, so if you saw them, they'll crumble and break. However, a quick, slicing motion produces clean edges and even cookies; as long as your knife's sharp and your cut's even, there should be no broken, crumble-y cookies but instead beautiful, picturesque ones. Then I let the cookies cool, which takes about half an hour.

05. When you come back to the kitchen, turn your oven up to 375˚. Flip each biscotti on its side, then pop them back in the oven to bake for another twelve to fifteen minutes. After you've made biscotti a few times, you'll get a really good feel for how long they need to be in the oven the second time to achieve your desired crispness. Let the biscotti cool before tackling your ganache.

06. Now, the ganache: put a small sauce pan on medium heat, and throw in all your ingredients. The EB will take a second to melt, but start whisking immediately anyway because you need that carob and sugar properly dissolved in your "milk." (Pro tip: I always use vanilla soymilk when making ganache because it adds depth to the flavor. If you don't have any vanilla "milk," just add a splash of vanilla extract.) Once everything is incorporated, raise the temperature a little until the mixture comes to a boil, then remove it from the heat. Act fast and dip each cooled biscotti in the ganache mixture (or spoon ganache over the top or whatever). The ganache needs to stay fairly warm so it'll set and look all glossy and uniform on your cookies. If it cools too much, it will look grain-y and uneven. Also, supposing you want to do something fancy like dip the tip of your biscotti in ganache rather than the top or you want fancy little ganache drizzles or something - put your biscotti on some wax parchment paper. It makes clean-up easy, and you don't have to worry about your biscotti sticking as the ganache sets. When everything is said and done, grab a cookie, sit back, relax, and enjoy. Might I recommend some good reading and a cup of Early Grey? Early Grey is sort of spicy-sweet and earthy like these biscotti, so it really complements them.

This recipe makes around eighteen delicious little cookie monsters.

* Is it just me, or do I reveal more weird quirks and interests every time I update?

1 comment:

  1. You'll have to let me know what you think of Appetites. I read it when I was in high school and had very strong positive feelings about it, but it's been a long time since I've given it a re-read. What I especially remember liking about Knapp's writing is her fixation about feeling like an awkward, lonely intellectual -- I remember her writing very varefully and beautifully about feeling as though she somehow failed to fit or be properly human. I'm not sure that I would relate to her writing the same way today, especially if I were reading it for the first time, but I felt as though I connected to Appetites in a way that I couldn't connect to other anorexia memoirs (Wasted comes to mind). Also -- that combo of cinnamon and carob is calling my name in the most beautiful sing-song voice.