A few weeks ago I was staying in an agriturismo called Borgo Floreani in the Friuli region of Italy. I had dinner with the family – Carlo, Federica and their two young children. After dinner Federica asked if I wanted some sweet biscotti and Carlo asked if I wanted some dessert wine. I didn’t quite expect what was brought to me. The biscotti that Federica had made were simply delicious and the sweet wine, made at a local biodynamic winery from picolit grapes (which I had never heard of before), was fruity, sweet and rich – a perfect match for the biscotti.
Federica’s biscotti were sweet, crisp, crumbly and somehow tasted like gold. She kindly shared the recipe with me, which has several ingredients that I did not expect to be there. Firstly there is strutto (which is a bit like lard), which proved to be somewhat challenging to find. She said that if I could not find it, to replace it with butter, which is what I did. Secondly there is fine yellow polenta flour or corn meal (called farina di mais in Italian, literally meaning “flour of corn”). Lastly there is is lievito vanigliato, which is italian powdered yeast with vanilla in it.
The yeast is made by Pane degli Angeli (Bread of Angels), a brand which might familiar to those of you who are Italian as it has been around for many years. You can find it in Italian delicatessens in Australia and comes in tiny sachets with angels on them. If you can’t find these, use regular powdered yeast and half a teaspoon of pure vanilla essence instead. The biscotti are cooked once, removed from the oven and cut into squares. They are then placed back in the oven and cooked some more until they are golden brown. They remain crisp for a few weeks in a sealed container, ideal for when guests drop in for coffee. I did not roll mine quite as thin as Federica, but they tasted almost the same. I was more than happy with the result.
When Francesca sent me the recipe, she also wrote of a delicious variation – replace the 100g of corn meal in the recipe below with 100g of ground hazelnuts plus 50g cocoa powder – the method is the same. Francesca said that these are squisiti (exquisite) – and when I made them, I agreed completely. I am not sure which I prefer, they are both equally as lovely.
The quantity in the recipe below made about 80 biscotti, so I can have a few every day with my coffee for breakfast or after dinner with a late harvest white wine, and think about my time staying in Friuli.
400g plain flour (I used 00)
100g fine yellow polenta (corn meal) (variation – use 100g hazelnut meal plus 50g cocoa powder)
200g white sugar
12g powdered vanilla yeast (Pane degli Angeli)
Large pinch salt
2 small eggs, lightly beaten
200g butter, melted
2 large baking sheets, lined with baking paper
Place all the dry ingredients in a bowl and combine. Add the beaten eggs and then the melted butter to the dry ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon until incorporated and a soft ball of dough forms.Divide the dough into two and roll out one ball with a rolling pin so that it is rectangular, 2 to 3 mm thick and fits onto a lined rectangular baking sheet. Repeat with the second ball of dough (hopefully you have two baking sheets, if not, cook in batches). Place the baking sheets in the preheated oven (170 degrees) and cook the rectangles of dough for ten minutes.
Remove the trays from the oven and cut the cooked dough into small squares with a sharp knife on the tray. Return the trays holding the cut biscotti to the oven and cook for another 12 to 15 minutes until crisp. Allow biscotti to cool on a wire rack.