There was a period in the 1990s when, if you went to my mom’s, grandmother’s, or sister’s house, you’d find the cookie jar filled with Corby Kummer’s biscotti. We made it so often that we considered starting a business around it. The recipe produces a sticky dough that challenges you to summon your fastest scraping and folding moves; our plan was to produce and shape the sticky mass and sell it frozen so that home bakers would have the satisfaction of twice-baking the biscotti without having to deal with the messy dough.
We never started the business but we continue to this day to make the biscotti, especially around the holidays.
Kummer, an editor at the Atlantic, developed the recipe in 1987, just as Americans began (briefly) treating biscotti as the Next Great Chocolate Chip Cookie. The recipe is written into 7 paragraphs of his story, so there is no ingredient list, no numbered steps. It’s a wonder anyone made it! Beyond its unconventional written form, the resulting biscotti also break ranks with the overwrought, chocolate-jammed, weakly-structured versions you find across America. Kummer’s thinner, sweet-salty version of the twice-baked cookie is modeled after biscotti di Prato, which are found in Tuscany.
This biscotti isn’t for the soft-and-chewy crowd. Think sweet rusk over indulgent cookie. My family eats them at breakfast. We dunk them in coffee post-lunch. We pair them with bourbon to finish a holiday dinner. We bake big batches and give them as gifts. We may occasionally hoard them for ourselves, too. (I’m looking at you, Mom!) And because they last forever, you can ship them without worry. (Not that I’m hoping you make these for your Holiday Swap package, but if you do, your swapee will be lucky.) —Amanda Hesser
Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and bake for 5 to 7 minutes, until they are toasted and beginning to release their oil. A good indication that they are done is when you can smell them. Remove from the oven and let them cool completely. Lower your oven temperature to 300°F (150°C).
Butter and flour a large baking sheet. Mix the 2 cups flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Scoop out 1/3 cup (43g) and set aside. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork and stir in the vanilla. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the egg mixture. Gradually draw in the dry ingredients, mixing the dough until it begins to clump together in a shaggy mess. Do this as quickly and lightly as possible. You do *not* want to work the flour, you just want the dough to hold together. A pastry scraper helps to gather the unwieldy dough. Dust a work surface with the reserved dry ingredients. Turn out the dough onto the work surface. Gather it into a disk using the pastry scraper, and knead it lightly to help it cohere. Let it rest for 5 minutes.
Pat out the dough into a rough 7 x 5-inch (17 x 13-cm) rectangle and press in the almonds. Adding the reserved flour mixture when needed, fold the dough like a business letter, and cut in half lengthwise with a pastry scraper. Flour your hands and gently roll each half into a long rope about 2 inches (5 cm) thick. Transfer one rope to the baking sheet and pat it lightly to flatten to 1/2 inch (1.2 cm) thick. Repeat with the other half, making sure that the halves are at least 3 inches (7.5 cm) apart on the baking sheet. (Otherwise they will grow together in the oven.) Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until lightly browned and cooked through. It should feel almost bready when pressed with a finger.
Immediately after removing from the oven, use a spatula to transfer each half to a cutting board. Using a large chef's knife and working in firm downward motions, cut each half diagonally into 1/2-inch (1.2-cm) slices. Lay the slices, cut-sides down, on the baking sheet and return to the oven to dry and toast, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on baking racks. These cookies improve with age, and if stored in a cookie jar or tin, they will keep for several weeks.
Before starting Food52 with Merrill, I was a food writer and editor at the New York Times. I've written several books, including "Cooking for Mr. Latte" and "The Essential New York Times Cookbook." I played myself in "Julie & Julia" -- hope you didn't blink, or you may have missed the scene! I live in Brooklyn with my husband, Tad, and twins, Walker and Addison.