Biscotti – Italian Cookies

A Book Review

Biscotti Cover

“We decided early on that our biscotti would be piccolini – small – like a great Roman espresso…” – Mona Talbott

Good things come in small packages. Cookies and books. This diminutive book, by chefs Mona Talbott and Mirella Misenti, is the first in my series of suggestions for Christmas giving. The recipes come from the kitchen of a most unique school, The American Academy in Rome.

Villa Aurelia

Each year, through juried competition, up to thirty scholars are invited to Rome to pursue studies in the arts and humanities while cocooned in the timeless elegance of the Villa Aurelia. With their hunger for knowledge sated by independent study, the students’ temporal hunger is relieved by the Rome Sustainable Food Project, a groundbreaking program in institutional dining introduced in 2007. Menus are based on traditional cuisine made from sustainable, organic food. Pastry chef Mirella Misenti, a native of Melilli, Sicily contributes the dolce to the project, bringing Sicilian flair and tradition to dessert.

This book is packed like a Christmas stocking with classics such as Cantucci di Prato, Italy’s twice baked almond and cornmeal cookies, Lingue di Gatto, delicate cookies, long as a cat’s tongue, and Biscotti Lucia, made of almonds, sugar and egg whites. You’ll also find pine nut studded Pinolate, “ugly but good” Brutti ma Buoni, and Biscotti Regina, Sicily’s famous sesame seed coated cookies. Along with Italian favorites are modern interpretations of classics from other countries, Blondies, Anzac Biscuits, and Mary Pat Walsh’s Ginger Molasses Cookies, each with its own new Italian name and accent.

Through the eye of photographer Annie Schlecter the reader gains entry to the beauty and elegance that is the American Academy in Rome and the sweet delights of Ms. Misenti’s cookies.

Biscotti Cutting First Bake

The holidays will soon be here, and with them it’s time for cookies – tins for giving, to keep on hand for guests, to nibble at midnight and for cookie exchanges. This book will keep you busy, ready and full of ideas, come what may. If it’s a gift you are after, whether the intended recipient is a seasoned cook or a Cookie Monster new to baking, Biscotti will be a welcome addition to any bookshelf.

Biscotti Ingredients


Photograph by Annie Schlechter

Biscotti al Pistacchio

Pistachio cookies

yields 45-50 cookies

This is one of Mirella’s best Sicilian cookie recipes. Ruth Reichl, the former editor of Gourmet, tweeted about them after tasting one on her visit to the AAR in the summer of 2009. Tender and delicious, these sugar-coated pistachio cookies are brilliantly green inside.

500 g / 4⅓ cups raw pistachios
200 g / 1 cup granulated sugar
25 g / 1 tbsp honey
5 ml / 1 tsp vanilla extract
Grated zest of half a lemon (approximately 20 ml / 1½ tbsp)
3½ oz egg whites
150 g / 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
50 (2 oz) whole raw pistachios for garnishing

Preheat the oven to 180ºC / 350ºF.

Pulse the pistachios in a food processor with half of the measured granulated sugar (100 g / ½ cup) until the nuts are finely chopped.

Combine the ground pistachio-sugar mixture with the honey, vanilla and lemon zest in a large mixing bowl. Slowly add the egg whites, mixing until the dough is well combined and soft. At this point, add the additional 100 g / ½ cup of granulated sugar and mix gently. The dough will be soft but not sticky.

Form the dough into small balls (16 g / ½ oz) and roll them in the confectioners’ sugar to coat well. Transfer the balls to cookie sheets lined with parchment paper, leaving 3 cm / 1¼ inches between each cookie. Gently press a pistachio into the center of each cookie.

Bake for 15–18 minutes, until the edges of each cookie are golden.

These cookies can be stored in a sealed container for up to 2 weeks.


Photograph by Annie Schlechter

Biscotti di Siena Speziate

Siena Spice cookies

yields approximately 35 cookies

These cookies taste like Panforte di Siena, a medieval dried fruit and nut confection. When the citrus in the Chiaraviglio garden is ripe to harvest, we begin the long process of candying lemon, grapefruit and orange peel to use throughout the year. The juice goes into making granita, semifreddo or refreshing spremuta.

300 g / 2 cups + 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
4 g / 1 tsp baking powder
3 large eggs
2 g / 1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 g / 1 tsp finely ground black pepper
1 g / ½ tsp ground cloves
Pinch of salt
350 g / 1¾ cups granulated sugar
350 g / 1¼ cups finely chopped raw almonds
125 g / 2 cups semisweet chocolate, grated
75 g / ⅓ cup candied orange peel, finely chopped
75 g / ⅓ cup candied lemon peel, finely chopped
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Melted chocolate or confectioners’ sugar for topping (optional)

Sift the flour with the baking powder, salt and spices in a medium-size mixing bowl. Beat the eggs and sugar at high speed until white and fluffy. Add the dry ingredients, almonds, chocolate, candied orange and lemon peels and lemon zest. Mix until well combined. Wrap the dough first in parchment paper, then plastic film and refrigerate for 30 minutes. At this point the dough can be stored in the freezer for up to 2 months; defrost it before using.

To bake, preheat the oven to 160ºC / 325ºF.

Lightly dust your work surface with flour and roll out the dough to an even .5 cm / ¼ inch thickness. Cut the dough using a cookie cutter of your choice, re-roll the scraps and repeat. Transfer the cookies to cookie sheets lined with parchment paper, leaving 3 cm / 1 inch between each cookie.

Bake for 10–12 minutes.

These cookies can be finished with a drizzle of melted chocolate or a dusting of confectioners’ sugar.

Biscotti Finished

Cantucci di Pinoli e Rosmarino

Pine Nut and Rosemary Cookies

yields 60 cookies

This is our third variation on the biscotti di Prato cookie and maybe the favorite. Subtle yet herbaceous, they complement an after-dinner tisane.

110 g / ¾ cup pine nuts
175 g / 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
10 g / 2 tbsp fine cornmeal
2 g / ½ tsp baking powder
2 g / ½ tsp salt
4 g / 2 tsp rosemary, minced
60 g / ¼ cup + 1 tsp butter
138 g / ½ cup + 3 tbsp granulated sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 large egg
10 ml / 2 tsp Marsala

Preheat the oven to 150ºC / 300ºF.

Spread the pine nuts evenly on a baking sheet and toast 8-10 minutes or until golden.

Combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and rosemary in a medium-size mixing bowl.

Cream the butter, sugar and lemon zest at high speed until light and fluffy. Add the egg and mix until well incorporated. Change to low speed and add the Marsala. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture in two parts and then gently fold in the pine nuts until evenly combined. Wrap the dough in plastic film and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

To bake, preheat or reset the oven to 180ºC / 350ºF.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it in two. On a floured surface form each portion into logs 2.5 cm / 1 inch in diameter. Transfer the logs to a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 20 minutes.

Once cool transfer the cookie logs to a cutting board and cut them into approximately 1-cm / ½-inch slices with a serrated knife. Lay the cookies flat on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper and bake for 6-8 minutes, until golden brown.

These cookies will keep well in a sealed container for up to 1 month.

Recipes and Ms. Schlechter’s photos reprinted with permission of the publisher.

Biscotti: Recipes from the Kitchen of The American Academy in Rome, The Rome Sustainable Food Project
Series: Rome Sustainable Food Project
by Mona Talbott & Mirella Misenti
Foreword by Alice Waters
Hardcover: 140 pages
Little Bookroom; First Edition (October 12, 2010)
ISBN-10: 1892145898
ISBN-13: 978-1892145895

Note: You can click on any picture for a slide show!

Villa Aurelia photo courtesy The American Academy in Rome

I have no affiliation with any product, manufacturer, or site mentioned in this article.

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  1. Comment by Karen (Back Road Journal):

    What a lovely book…who doesn’t love biscotti. The pine nut and rosemary ones sound especially tasty.

  2. Comment by Cathy at Wives with Knives:

    I know I would love this cookbook, Adri. We love bisotti and I can’t wait to try the pistachio cookies. I’m always looking for new and delicious recipes for the holidays. Love your post!

    • Comment by Adri:

      Hi Cathy,

      I think cookies would be my among my Dessert Island Foods – right up at top, actually! This little book is a gem. Best wishes for wonderful holiday baking!

  3. Comment by Karen:

    Adri, I have this book and its counterpart, Zuppa, They are charming (in a box somewhere, still) And I have to admit I looked into the possibility of interning in the kitchen there at the American Academy! Probably not good timing right now in my life…but good to dream of what’s possible. I would happily eat any cookie with rosemary, and will have to put the cantucci on my baking list. I’ve missed visiting your virtual kitchen, but now that I’m getting settled I’ll be re-stocking the flour and sugar 😉
    All the best!

    • Comment by Adri:

      Ciao KAren!

      I bet an internship there would be wonderful – what glorious surroundings in which to work.

      I am pleased to hear you are in baking mode, and I look forward to your holiday posts. Amica, it has been too long!

  4. Comment by Priscilla | ShesCookin:

    Ciao Adri, Thank you for introducing me to these lovely books. Now that it’s November the holidays are officially here! I don’t usually go through the cookie baking frenzy that many do, but pistachio biscotti is something I would love to give and receive 🙂

  5. Comment by Alessandra (DinnerinVenice):

    Can’t wait to whip up a batch of these. Everyone is going to love them!

  6. Comment by nancy at good food matters:

    These are excellent cookbooks. I cannot wait to make some of these cookies for the holidays. A friend of mine, Rachel Roddy of racheleats, worked as an intern under Mona testing some of the recipes for the Zuppe book in this series.

    • Comment by Adri:

      Hi Nancy,

      I’m so glad you know this series. They are tiny treasures, for sure. I will have to visit your friend’s site. Thanks for the tip!

  7. Comment by Lizzy (Good Things):

    Ah, what a beautiful book! And the recipe are perfect for holiday baking! xo

  8. Comment by Emilie@TheCleverCarrot:

    Mmm… I can almost smell these cookies! My husband brings home the most wonderful Italian cookies from work (they have the best baker on the planet) and these look just divine. Love biscotti. What a great book to have on hand! 🙂

  9. Comment by sippitysup:

    I think those pistachio cookies might be my “official” Christmas cookie this year. Thanks GREG

  10. Comment by Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti:

    This does look like a wonderful collection of bicotti recipes, Adri. So authentic! It would make a nice Christmas gift for someone who enjoys baking –I’m putting it on my wish list 🙂

    PS: I love your photo on facebook holding the “Melt” cook book — you have such pretty hair!

    • Comment by Adri:

      Ciao Pat,

      It would make a great Christmas gift. Perfect for a stocking, too! Thank you for the compliment on my hair – when I was younger I really did not like the curls. I used to iron it in high school!

  11. Comment by Francesca:

    Questi biscotti sono deliziosi!

  12. Comment by Paola:

    I love the pistachio biscotti – wish those nuts were not so expensive. Looks like a great book

  13. Comment by Marie:

    Adri, Your biscotti looks so enticing and it’s putting me in the mood for holiday baking, and I never met a biscotti I didn’t like! Those pistachio cookies might be tagging along too!

  14. Comment by janie:

    I’ve been wondering if I should get this book and now I think I’m convinced! I really want to make the pistachio biscotti-I’m waiting for friend to bring me Bronte pistachios from Sicily and this will be the recipe make with them.

  15. Comment by TheKitchenLioness:

    Cara Adri, I am a very serious Biscotti addict – I love them so much and have tried endless variations but I have yet to try some with pine nuts and rosemary – two flavors that I really do enjoy. I am sure that they taste wonderful witha cup of espresso as well as with a cup of tea. I love giving Biscotti as gifts, they are easy to package and keep well. And thank you also for the tip with respect to the book, it look like I would really enjoy this book. What a fabulous post, dear friend!

    • Comment by Adri:

      Ciao Andrea,

      I am glad you liked this one. Once I start eating biscotti, I just can not stop. I love them; I’d say they are my “dessert island food!”

  16. Comment by Michelle - Majella Home Cooking:

    Adri, you got me so excited!! I love making Christmas cookies and could use some new recipes. Ordering right now! Grazie, cara amica.

  17. Comment by Laney (Ortensia Blu):

    Uh oh! Looks like another dangerous aka delicious cookbook arriving soon at my doorstep…Thanks for sharing!

  18. Comment by Ciao Chow Linda:

    I know I shouldn’t, but I think I may have to buy this as a Christmas gift for myself. I have been to the American Academy for an exhibit (the only way I’d be admitted) and it is a treasure for those scholars who are privileged to work there. Have you read “Four Seasons in Rome” by Anthony Doerr, who was there for a year and wrote that terrific book while there? Also, you know that Domenica Marchetti’s next book is on biscotti. She’s working on it now (wish I could be in her kitchen while she does her research.)

    • Comment by Adri:

      Hi Linda,

      I have never been there, but I certainly would lust after a chair there if I were a scholar. What an opportunity for advanced study. I do not know Anthony Doerr’s book. I’ll have to read it. Thank you for mentioning it. And about Domenica’s new project, I would certainly volunteer for taste testing… I think her neighbors are fortunate!

  19. Comment by Cassandra Brecht:

    These look lovely! I have a question about the spice cookies . . . the recipe mentions orange and lemon peels, but only lemon is mentioned in the ingredient list! Thanks again, and I’m looking forward to trying these out!

  20. Comment by amy @ fearless homemaker:

    I love biscotti, so I know I’d love this cookbook. Looks like it has some fabulous recipes in there!

  21. Comment by Elizabeth Minchilli:

    I love this book! And just in case you’ve already given it away for past Christmas’s (as I have!!) there are two more excellent books in the series. Zuppe and the about to be published Pasta, which comes out next week. Just in time….

    • Comment by Adri:

      Ciao Elizabeth,

      I thought of you as I wrote this! I do know the Zuppe book, and I await the Pasta volume. These books are treasures, as is The American Academy in Rome, an institution little known here in the U.S. I think someone needs to write more about it… someone in Rome…

  22. Comment by Chiara:

    una splendida carrellata di biscotti ed un libro che vorrei comperare ! Buona giornata cara Adri, un abbraccio !

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