Biscotti Time

I know … I know … this blog is about the foods of Great Britain.  But I do have to acknowledge my Italian heritage occasionally.  And what is better than biscotti!  Crunchy, sweet and perfect any time of the day.  As much as I love to dip them into a piping hot cup of Irish Breakfast, I also love to dip them into a full-bodied Montepulciano.  Cuppa tea, red wine or even a cold glass of milk?  It’s up to you.

Closely related to the British word for cookies “biscuits”, biscotti literally means ‘twice baked’. These Italian cookies originated in the city of Prato and were composed of just four ingredients: flour, sugar, eggs and almonds.  Today, recipes vary widely in  flavors and ingredients, anything from chocolate and hazelnut to coconut orange, or lavender, even lemon basil.  There are no limits, let your imagination run wild.

It’s a damp, cold rainy evening and I’m in the mood for a hot cuppa and biscotti.  Taking a look in the cupboard, I see dried cranberries and white chocolate bits.  Okay then, these are going to be …

WHITE CHOCOLATE CRANBERRY BISCOTTI
Preheat oven to 350°

1-2/3 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
pinch salt
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, room temperature*
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries, coated with flour
1/2 cup white chocolate, bits or shaved

*Eggs should always be room temperature for baking.  If they aren’t, just put them into warm water to take the chill off.

In one bowl, sift all dry ingredients together (twice if you are like me).

In another bowl, beat the sugar, eggs and vanilla until light and lemony colored.

 Beat in the dry ingredients and, when well blended,  add in chopped dried cranberries and white chocolate bits.

Coating the cranberries with a teaspoon of flour will keep them from falling to the bottom.

 After everything is incorporated, cover and refrigerate for about an hour.  Then dump the dough onto a lightly floured board.

Knead the dough quickly until smooth, and form the dough into a ball.

Cut the ball in half and form two long logs, about 12″ and about 3/4″ high.

 Line a large baking tray (or two small ones) with parchment paper and carefully place the logs on.  They will rise, so don’t place them too close together.

Place the baking tray into the center of the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden.  Test with a cake tester in the middle of the log.

 

When ready, remove the tray and cool completely.   When the logs are cooled, slice the logs with a serrated knife, diagonally, into slices about 1/2″ thick.  You can slice then thinner, or thicker, it’s up to you.

Place them bake onto the baking tray and bake again from anywhere between 15 to 20 minutes.  I flip them over half way through the second baking.  This is optional.

The second baking will depend upon how thick you have sliced them.  They should be lightly browned and crispy.  Cool on a rack.

Store these delicious confections in an airtight container and they will last for quite awhile (or, in my house, two days at the most!!).

Did I put the kettle on and make tea?  Absolutely!  What a delightful way to end a stressful day … baking something delicious and enjoying the results!!  Next time, maybe Ginger Almond, or Orange Pistachio?  Any suggestions?

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References:  Wikepedia, Julia Child’s, Cooking with Master Chefs

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Toad in the Hole … my way!

For  hubby, this is comfort food to end all comfort foods!  Toad in the Hole … really?  Who am I to say what is comfort food.  For me, it’s Mac ‘n Cheese!  At least with Mac ‘n Cheese you have an idea of what it is. Toad in the Hole . Bubble ‘n Squeak . Jam Roly Poly . Spotted Dick . where do the Brits get these names?

The origins of Toad in the Hole, which are sausages baked in a Yorkshire Pudding (aka Popover) batter, generally served with onion gravy, are sketchy.  Some food historians theorize that this dish originated in the late 1600’s when a flour and egg batter (now known as Yorkshire Pudding) was placed under the meat while it was cooking on an open spit, in order to catch the drippings. Others say that “no, it wasn’t until the early 1800’s” that this type of batter was used.

Today this very economical dish is traditionally made with bangers (sausages).  But in The Modern Housewife by Alexis Soyer (1850), she suggests using “any remains of cooked beef, veal, mutton, pork, roasted or boiled, salt or fresh, game and fowl”.  As a result, you can see that this dish was probably not served to the aristocrats or royalty, but rather to the working class and poor. Dishes like this, however, are what we have all come to love.  Comfort food!

Where did the name come from?  No one is really certain.  Does the finished dish look like toads poking up out of a quagmire?  Was the dish originally made using toads or frogs?  Or was it named after a pub game of tossing discs into holes in a pub table?

All I know is, tonight I’m making Toad in the Hole – My Way!  Why am I calling it My Way? Because I think the original recipe is a little bland, so I am kicking it up just a bit with Harissa and adding onions coated in a mixture of Ketchup and Chili Sauce.  Like many family recipes, there are quite a few variations. Give this one a try and let me know what you think.

TOAD IN THE HOLE (my way)
1 cup all purpose flour
4 eggs, room temperature
1 cup milk (whole or 2%)
salt and pepper
1 tsp Harissa seasoning (or more to taste)
8 to 10 good quality pork sausages (sweet or spicy)
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
2 onions, sliced
olive oil
4 tablespoons sausage drippings

Make the batter first  and then set it aside for at least 30 minutes (up to 3 or 4 hours).

Into a bowl sift 1 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper to taste and the Harissa seasoning.

Mix together and make a well in the center.  Add 4 eggs and beat well.

Add the milk while beating the mixture.  Be s ure to beat til smooth and lump free.  Set aside.

 

Preheat the oven to 400°.

In a saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and brown the sausages.  I prefer spicy sausages, but you can use sweet, or flavoured.

When nicely browned put the sausages into an ovenproof baking dish (approx. 13″ x 9″).

In the same saute pan add a bit more olive oil and, over medium heat, saute the sliced onions. Season with salt and pepper. When they are soft (about 10 minutes) add the ketchup and sweet chili sauce, coating the onions well.  Pour this over the sausages in the baking dish.

If you do not have 4 tablespoons of drippings after cooking the sausages and onions, make up the difference with olive oil.  Add it to the baking dish and then put the baking dish into the 400° oven for 5 minutes until everything gets very hot.

Remove the dish from the oven and quickly pour the batter over the sausages and onions.  Pop the dish back into the oven and bake for 35 minutes.  Don’t peek!  You want the Yorkshire Pudding to puff up and if you are opening and closing the door, it will deflate.

When the pudding is golden brown, and still a bit soft in the middle, it is ready.  Serve immediately with a crisp green salad.  Hot, crisp and soft with a bit of heat from the Harissa … English comfort food!!

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References:  BBC Food, The Telegraph, Britain Explorer,