Tips & Techniques

A Tweak To Let Biscotti's Nutty, Fruity Self Shine

November 17, 2017

Welcome to The Cookbook Cookie Parade: a new cookie from a new cookbook every Friday. Are your sheet pans (and stomachs) ready?

Today: The trick to even better biscotti.

During his seven years as White House Executive Pastry Chef, Bill Yosses developed a theory: sugar should be the grace note, rather than the cornerstone, of great desserts. Here, he shares a few of his techniques for cutting back sugar from his newest cookbook, The Sweet Spot.

Subtle sweetness with standout crunch. Photo by Rocky Luten

Honestly, I never felt that committed to sugar. As a pastry chef, my main concern was balance, and sugar was often an obstacle to achieving it. I constantly tried to reduce the sweeteners in my recipes, but it wasn’t until I began testing for my cookbook that I realized how much I could cut back.

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When it comes to dessert, or really, food in general, the less explaining, the better. The last thing you want is for your readers to have to explain the dessert to guests, i.e.: “This is like chocolate layer cake but with X, Y, or Z changes.” You want to stick to recipes that are so delicious, guests’ mouths are too full to ask questions.

In shaping a new recipe, I always start with a sugar amount ridiculously lower than standard—65% to 75% less. Astonishingly, some recipes work with dramatically lowered sugar content without many other adjustments. For example, my Almond Cake has only a half cup sugar, but the richness of almonds gives the cake its own satisfying lift. But others require a bit more tinkering to get it just right, so I use some bakery sleights-of-hand.

My first trick is to always use the best products. Whether fruits, nuts, grains, or oils, the primary rule of cutting sugar is to use good ingredients. Serving fresh desserts keeps you and your guests satisfied without going back for seconds. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Another trick is to distract the palate with surprising textures or tastes. For example, I use avocado in my famous chocolate cakes to make it super creamy, spices like cardamom bring a bit of zing, and chili peppers and herbs create unexpected bursts of flavor. These tricks draw attention away from the lack of sugar. Plus, it focuses the palate on the balance of flavors that make up the dessert.

There are some desserts that rely on sugar for texture and structure. With these, my secret is to replace the sugar with fruit fiber, such as reduced apple, a pear compote, or a dried fruit mixture.

For these cookies, it is crucial to compensate for less sugar with more varieties of dried fruits and enough flavor layers to beguile the palate. Ideal biscotti need to be thin to strike a balance between crunchy and chewy. Whole wheat flour is well suited to this recipe because the flavors and textures are so nutty. This butterless recipe features about half as much sugar as the standard formula, but when you make this recipe on your own, feel free to cut down even further. It won’t affect the crunchy texture of the finished cookie.

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Bill Yosses

Written by: Bill Yosses

Author of THE SWEET SPOT, former White House pastry chef