The holidays are coming and it is time to think about tiny treats. For an afternoon snack, an accompaniment to an after-dinner glass of wine, or tidbits for surprise drop-in guests, these biscotti are perfect. These little cookies bear a distinct resemblance to Sicily’s famous Biscotti di Regina, but they have a lot more going for them. Not too sweet, they are made with olive oil rather than butter or shortening, and they are perfumed with Nero d’Avola, one of my favorite wines. Cinnamon and white pepper provide added warmth and depth of flavor, while accenting the spice notes of the wine.
I tried making these with various flours – pastry, cake, American all-purpose flour, and with Italy’s tipo 00 (doppio zero – Italy’s finely milled wheat flour), plus various combinations. I preferred the texture of the cookies made entirely with tipo 00 flour; they had a tenderness and lightness that the others lacked. Note that the designation tipo 00 refers to a finely milled flour – not to its protein content, nor necessarily to the strain of wheat used to make the flour. (In the U.S., flour protein contents, along with the types of wheat, are generally classified by the way the flour will be used – pastry, cake, all-purpose, and finally, coming in at the “strongest”, bread flour.) The Italian cook has available a wide array of flours – many strains of wheat, many protein levels and various grinds. It can be somewhat confusing, but most of the tipo 00 flour available for purchase in the U.S. can be used interchangeably with our all-purpose flour. Italian markets and delis sell it, and Amazon has quite a number of different brands. Antimo Caputo, a brand I often use, is available from Olio2go. However, if you have only American all-purpose flour, go ahead and make these biscotti. They’re a delight no matter what you use.
Nero d’Avola wine lends the cookies spice and depth of flavor along with a slightly dark color. This is one of Sicily’s most important wines, and has come into its own over the last few years. The nero d’avola grape (black grape of Avola), from which the wine is made, thrives in the arid climate of Sicily, particularly in the south near the town of Avola, the same area where Sicily’s famous almonds are grown. While the grape’s cultivation was originally confined to the southeast, today it is grown across the region. The wine is widely available in the United States, and in all price ranges. You can certainly spend a lot, and you’ll enjoy it if you do, but know that this is an affordable, delicious wine, no matter the cost, with many bottles available for less than ten dollars.
To hear the proper pronunciation of the wine (and the grape) click to go to Jeremy Parzen’s delightful Italian Grape Name & Appellation Pronunciation Project.
To be honest, you’ll spend more on the olive oil. I suggest you go local and use a Sicilian extra virgin olive oil for these cookies. I used Ravida olive oil, one of my favorites. The light green oil is intensely fruity and has a bit of pepperiness, making it perfect here. The cookies will only be as good as the ingredients you use to make them, and believe me, the oil counts. A lot. Plus, once you make the cookies you will be left with some superior oil. If you have never tried Sicilian olive oil, you are in for a treat. The oils are beautiful to look at, ranging in color from yellow to green, depending on the olives used to make them. They are full of flavor. Ravida extra virgin olive oil is available from Olio2go.
Biscotti di Nero d’Avola
makes 28 biscotti
1 ½ cups tipo 00 flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
Pinch of fine sea salt
¼ cup Nero d’Avola wine
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons Sicilian extra virgin olive oil, such as Ravida
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons vanilla sugar *see Cook’s Note
(if not using vanilla sugar, add ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract)
½ cup sesame seeds
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Position the rack in the center of the oven, Place the sesame seeds on a rimmed cookie sheet and toast until light golden, about 10 minutes, stirring three times to promote even toasting. Be careful you do not burn the seeds. Remove them from the oven, and set aside.
In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, white pepper, and sea salt. Set aside. Fit a standing mixer with the whisk attachment and beat the extra virgin olive oil and vanilla sugar together until the sugar has dissolved completely and the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes on high speed. Add vanilla extract, if using.
Remove the whisk attachment and replace it with the flat beater. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the wine, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Increase to medium speed and beat until the mixture comes together.
Use a tablespoon measure or scoop to form the dough into balls. Press and pinch the dough to elongate and into 1½ inch logs with slightly tapered edges. (Alternately you can form the dough into balls to make round cookies.) Dampen each cookie with water (a spray mister works well for this), and roll in toasted sesame seeds to coat. Place the cookies 1 inch apart on a Silpat-lined baking sheet. Bake on the center rack of a 350 degree F. oven about 22 minutes, until firm to the touch. Transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.
Cook’s Note: Vanilla sugar has become staple in my kitchen. I use it in almost all of my baked goods. The sugar is infused with the subtle perfume of vanilla and lends its exotic flavor to everything from baked goods to beverages. To make it, pour the contents of one container of C&H Baker’s sugar (a finely ground white granulated sugar) into an airtight container. Use a paring knife to split 2 vanilla beans lengthwise. Open the vanilla beans, pressing them flat on the counter, exposing the seeds inside. Place the edge of the knife blade against the top of the open bean, and pressing gently, move it down the length of the bean, scraping the seeds from the interior. Drop the seeds into the sugar. Repeat with the remaining vanilla bean. With your fingertips, rub the seeds into the sugar to disperse them throughout. Add the scraped vanilla beans, and cover for up to 2 weeks. Add more sugar or vanilla as needed. For stronger vanilla flavor, add more vanilla beans and seeds. Vanilla sugar will keep indefinitely. It may clump, just break the clumps prior to measuring.
For another take on Italian wine cookies, check out the Tozzetti at Domenica Cooks.
Note: You can click on any picture for a slide show!
I have no affiliation with any product, manufacturer, or site mentioned in this article.