Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dark Chocolate Cherry Biscotti . . .

After the spicy, nutty, creamy, buttery, pumpkin-laden extravaganza that comprises the universe of Thanksgiving Day desserts I now find that I'm in the mood for something distinctly crunchy, slightly bittersweet, entirely absent of butter, and far from gooey.

These dark-chocolate cherry biscotti evoke all the best attributes of chocolate-covered cherries, absent the rich fat and cloying sweetness of that iconic candy. They're supremely dunkable if you're a coffee drinker, and they don't mind taking a dip in a glass of milk if you're not.

Surely I don't have to tell you that I briefly considered drizzling the biscotti with melted chocolate, (you know me) but the sense of restraint that invades a baker's psyche the week following Thanksgiving held sway. And it's a good thing it did. I figure, when you take the plunge and coat your biscotti with chocolate, you're committing to the creation of an altogether more indulgent cookie.

Today's treat provides a nice contrast to the extreme richness of last week's feast. Thanksgiving comes but once a year, and we all love it, but once is enough. Thank heaven for that.

About this recipe . . . 

Adapted from pastry chef David Lebovitz's beautiful book, Ready for Dessert, I made a few minor adjustments to his biscotti formula.

I omitted the black pepper (yes, pepper), reduced the amount of solid chocolate by about half, omitted almond extract in favor of vanilla, and soaked my dried cherries in the lusciousness of Chambord, a yummy berry liqueur, versus his suggestion of kirsch/grappa/rum.

Really good biscotti, fellow bakers. I baked the pieces long enough so they'd be very hard and crunchy. Expect lots and lots of lovely little crumbs. And don't forget to dunk.

Dark Chocolate Cherry Biscotti

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Yield: Two loaves of biscotti, each loaf sliced into about 14 half-inch thick pieces

Spread parchment over two regular size baking sheets, or over one large sheet.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
(No electric mixer needed for this recipe.)

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder (You don't have to use Dutch, but I think it's the best for something like this; I used Penzeys brand.)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon (I used fine sea salt.)
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup dark chocolate, chopped small (I used Guittard disks, 60+ percent cacao.) 
3/4 cup dried cherries, cut in half if they're large
2 tablespoons Chambord (or any similar fruity liqueur that you really like)

To brush/sprinkle on the dough before baking:
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons sanding/coarse white sugar, or turbinado or Demarara sugar

In a small bowl, drizzle the Chambord over the cherries and let them sit for at least 30 minutes or so at room temperature.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a large bowl, completely whisk together the three large eggs, the granulated sugar, and the vanilla extract.

Into that, gradually add the sifted ingredients. The dough will be very dry and thick. Dump the dried cherries, with all of their liquid, into the bowl. Stir that in. Add in the chocolate pieces and stir to combine as best you can. The dough will be extremely thick and pretty sticky.

Plop all of the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and divide it in half. Lightly flour your hands.

Roll each dough-half into a long log, a few inches shorter than the length of your baking sheet(s);  the dough spreads out quite a bit in all directions when baking. Place each log onto a parchment-covered baking sheet. Dampen your palms with cold water and pat the top of the loaves, gently pressing down so each log is slightly flattened.

Using a pastry brush, liberally coat each loaf with beaten egg; do this twice to each log. Sprinkle sanding/coarse sugar (or whatever kind you've chosen to use) atop the length of each loaf.

Bake the loaves for 25 minutes in a 350 degree oven, reversing the pan(s) in the oven halfway through the baking time. Remove them from the oven; lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees. Leaving the loaves on the baking sheets, let them cool for up to 15 minutes.

Move the loaves, still on their parchment, to a cutting surface. Using a serrated knife (ideally, a very sharp bread knife), cut each loaf on the diagonal into slices that are about 1/2" thick (I think mine were actually a little thicker than that).

Lay all of the biscotti pieces, cut sides down, back onto parchment-covered baking sheets.

Continue to bake for 20 to 30 minutes, flipping the pieces over halfway through, and reversing the direction of the baking sheet(s) in the oven. If you want the cookies to be really hard and crunchy, bake them for the maximum amount of time, and check to see that they're pretty firm before you take them out of the oven.

When they're done, let them cool completely on the baking sheets. Store them well covered. They'll be good for about a week. (And, of course, if you're dying to dip them in melted chocolate, well, follow your dream!)

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