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Biscotti: Mandelbrot Revisited

May 9, 2009 | by Debby Segura

My search for the perfect mandelbrot.

© Debby Segura

I love mandelbrot. The problem with mandelbrot, Yiddish for "almond bread," is that I can't dip it into my morning coffee or tea without turning it to mush. Even though it's been baked twice, it's still just too tender and full of butter to hold up to that kind of treatment.

About ten years ago, I noticed a new type of mandelbrot making the rounds...Biscotti! Early Biscotti were really just long slices of chocolate chip mandelbrot with an Italian name, meaning "twice cooked." About five years ago, I began collecting, trying and adapting Biscotti recipes. I was out to create a whole painter's palate of sturdier, healthier, more gorgeous Biscotti.

Over the decade, the most noticeable trend in these recipes was a steady decrease in fat content. I immediately incorporated that change. Going from one stick of butter to one or two tablespoons of my choice of oil, i.e. Canola oil, per four dozen Biscotti, was definitely a move in my direction. Every once in a while, I ran into a recipe that asked for baking soda instead of baking powder, but baking soda tasted so industrial to me that I substituted baking powder for it every time and never looked back.

2 3/4 cups of flour is the standard requirement for a batch of four dozen biscotti. Soon, I came to realize that even that requirement could be bent. Treading cautiously, I first replaced the last 3/4-cup of flour with whole-wheat flour. That was a little too heavy, even for the brown rice and granola crowd. Then, I replaced the whole-wheat flour with King Arthur White Whole Wheat flour. Better. Better yet, I then added dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, and yes, some granola, and created a natural, toothsome beauty.

Next, for something a little more Italian-ish, I thought I might risk a polenta biscotti. I substituted polenta for that same 3/4 cup of flour, but this biscotti was just too hard. The next time, I substituted cornmeal for polenta, substituted 1/4 cup honey for one of the eggs, took out some sugar, added pine nuts and raisins and, for a finishing touch, sprinkled European- style raw sugar on top. As I watched the last five minutes of baking from my oven window, the golden hue of the cornmeal bronzed over with a gloss of caramelized sugar. Dipping my biscotti into my latte I mused, "Breakfast in Tuscany."

Looking back, I think "Breakfast in Tuscany" was the breakthrough. After all, if the flour type was negotiable, if sweeteners could be substituted for an egg here and there and if I could keep the various chewy elements to a modest cup to cup and a half per batch, the possibilities were endless.

Basic Biscotti
(makes 4 to5 dozen biscotti)

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1-cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons Canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs, or 1 large egg and 4 egg whites
cooking spray

1 large egg white
2 tablespoons cinnamon sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a heavy or cushioned cookie sheet with cooking spray.
  2. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Combine oil, vanilla and eggs and add to flour mixture. This may be done by hand or in an electric mixer, at low speed. Mix until the ingredients are well blended, but be careful not to overdo it or the biscotti will be tough. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and knead lightly a few times. Divide the dough into thirds and form into 4 10" rolls (or 2 wider rolls to create extra long dipping biscotti). Place rolls 6" apart on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray and flatten each roll slightly, to 1" in thickness.
  4. Gently brush the tops of the rolls with the egg whites and sprinkle liberally with the cinnamon sugar.
  5. Place in the pre-heated oven and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven. Allow rolls to cool for five minutes.
  6. Using a serrated knife, carefully cut each roll diagonally into 18 1/2" slices. Reserve the tiny end slices for snacks.
  7. Place dough slices, bottom-side down, on the baking sheet. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake 20 minutes more. Cool completely on a wire rack (so the biscotti don't become soggy as they cool).
  8. Biscotti freeze beautifully. When completely cooled, reassemble slices back into a log. Wrap each log tightly in aluminum foil and place in a freezer bag. Freeze for up to two months.

Biscotti Variations

Biscotti variations take place in step 3 of this recipe. Mix the crunchy ingredients into the dough by hand until they are evenly distributed. Be careful not to over- mix, as this can break up the nuts, smear the color of the fruits into the dough or melt the chocolate. Lots of the variations feature fun toppings that are well worth the trouble. Once you get going with this basic recipe, any dessert concept you find may become your next biscotti.

Variation 1: Dessert in Athens

the rind of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 teaspoons anise seeds
1 cup slivered almonds
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar to sprinkle on top before baking

Variation 2: Breakfast in Tuscany

the rind of one tangerine (optional)
Substitute 1/2 cup yellow corn meal for the last 1/2 cup of flour
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup pine nuts to sprinkle on top before baking

Variation 3: Pretty Valentine Biscotti

3/4 cup slivered almonds
1/4 to 1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar to sprinkle on top before baking

Variation 4: Turkish Delight

3/4 cup Turkish apricots, cut in 1/4" strips
1/2 cup raw, unsalted pistachio nuts
1 teaspoon almond extract
Sprinkle 1 tablespoon turbinado sugar on top before baking
Variation 7 Peanut Butter Chocolate
Substitute brown sugar for white sugar
Substitute 1/2 cup peanut butter for 1 egg
1/2 cup salted peanuts

Variation 5: For after a movie

Substitute 1/2 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder for the last 1/2 cup of flour
Substitute 1/2 cup of chocolate chips for an additional 1/2 cup of flour
1 cup toasted hazelnuts
1 tablespoon espresso powder or instant coffee
1/2 teaspoon almond extract 1/2 teaspoon hazelnut extract, if available

Variation 6: The California Special

Substitute 3/4 cup of crunchy granola cereal plus 1/4 cup dried cranberries for the last cup of flour.
Sprinkle some granola on top before baking.
When cooled, drizzle with melted caramel.

Variation 7: The Peanut Butter Biscotti

Substitute 1/2 cup peanut butter for 1 egg
1/2 cup salted peanuts
3/4 cup chocolate chips
Drizzle with melted milk chocolate and then with melted peanut butter chips, When cooled, drizzle with melted white chocolate.


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