Biscotti are as familiar to me as chocolate chip cookies are to most children. Growing up in an Italian family and spending a lot of time at my grandma’s house, there was never a shortage of biscotti. Cookie jars at her house weren’t full of store-bought cookies or any type of homemade “American” varieties; no sir, in her house cookie jars (and random tins, for that matter) were full of biscotti. Dinners on Sunday most often featured some sort of dessert, but without fail everyone always ended up in the cookie jar, digging for biscotti to dunk in their coffee. I can recall gazing into my grandma’s small kitchen and seeing the counters and table crowded with sheets pans with sliced biscotti either cooling from the oven or waiting their turn.
It seems, however, that as popular as the anise flavor is in Italian baked goods, someone in my family must not be a fan (and the culprit is currently unbeknownst to me) because nary a biscotti or pizzelle that was ever a product of my grandma’s kitchen was flavored with anise. Don’t get me wrong, everything she has ever made tastes extraordinary (after asking I found out that she uses a butter nut flavoring), but I love anise and so I have started to use it more in my own baking, first with the pizzelles I made and now these biscotti.
I wanted to make biscotti and I wanted them to be anise-flavored. Simple enough. I went scouring through my cookbooks to see what I could find and this recipe from Martha Stewart jumped out at me. The combination of almonds and anise sounded like a perfect marriage and I liked that it included whole anise seed for additional flavor, instead of solely using anise extract. This is the first time I’ve used cornmeal in a biscotti recipe, and was curious as to what it would offer. You can’t taste it at all, but I believe it lends a hand to the resulting texture of these cookies, making them slightly crunchier than normal. Perfect for dipping into your favorite cup of coffee or tea! I also love the specks of anise seed that you can see throughout the biscotti; it gives me the same little thrill I get at seeing flecks of vanilla bean dancing through my favorite vanilla ice cream.
1½ cups (7½ ounces) unblanched almonds
2½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
½ cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure anise extract
3 large eggs, plus 1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon anise seeds
Sanding sugar (or granulated sugar), for sprinkling (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.
2. Spread the almonds in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast in the oven until fragrant and just beginning to turn light golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer nuts to a clean surface; spread evenly, and let cool completely.
3. Sift together flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl; set aside.
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and granulated sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
5. Beat in the anise extract. Add 3 eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
6. Add the flour mixture, and beat on low speed until combined. Mix in anise seeds and toasted almonds.
7. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and knead to evenly distribute the nuts and seeds. Divide in half. Shape each piece into an 18-inch log, and transfer to the prepared baking sheet, about 3 inches apart. Brush beaten egg over the surface of the logs, and sprinkly generously with sanding sugar, if using.
8. Baking, rotating pan halfway through, until logs are lightly browned and firm to the touch, about 30 minutes. Transfer parchment and logs to a wire rack to cool slightly, about 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 300°F.
9. Place logs on a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut the logs crosswise on the diagonal into ½-inch-thick slices. Place a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet. Arrange slices cut side down on the rack. Bake until firm to the touch, about 30 minutes. Remove pan from oven; let biscotti cool completely on the rack.
Storing: Biscotti can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.