The holiday season is now in full swing – a season unlike any we can remember. In some ways it makes it that much more important to focus on traditions. They can help bring a sense of normalcy and balance. But even when focusing on traditions, there can be room for new too. Perhaps you love holiday baking, but you want to give something new a try. This is the perfect year to give it a go! Maybe you can start with these delicious Chocolate Hazelnut and Orange Biscotti!
Over the next three weeks, I’m going to post some holiday sweets from various parts of the Mediterranean. One will be a dessert that I have been making for years, and the other two I will be making for the first time. They will be complete experiments. Because everybody is always so busy now, I will be keeping the narrative part of the posts shorter. No one will really have the time to read a long post. I’ll be aiming for about half the length of my usual posts. My SEO software tells me that is too short to get a good ‘ranking’ in search engines. Oh well. I’ll make due.
The dessert that I have been making for years is my Chocolate Hazelnut and Orange Biscotti. When I was first teaching myself cooking back 15 years ago, this is one of the first desserts that I learned on my own. I’m sure the original recipe came from somewhere on the web, but I honestly can’t remember exactly where now. I have been using the version I adapted and entered into my recipe database. I never thought back then that I would be writing a food blog, so I didn’t note the source.
Adapting a Basic Recipe
I can tell you that I have adapted it pretty heavily since that first time making it. The original recipe was pretty basic — just chocolate and walnuts I think. Sort of like a biscotti version of brownies. But I believe that chocolate and hazelnut is one of the best flavor combinations that there is. Period. Think Nutella and you will know exactly what I mean. So I swapped the walnuts out and replaced them with hazelnuts. That is just the way I make it now. A bit of orange zest, and you get a subtle chaser of orange flavor, and these biscotti are just about perfect for a cup of espresso!
Another swap I often make in my baked goods is to replace granulated sugar with brown sugar. Usually it is dark brown, but sometimes light brown. I think the molasses in the brown sugar brings a deeper and earthier flavor that I prefer. It doesn’t always work, but it usually does, And it did here. I use light brown sugar for this recipe.
The big changes all come with flavor additions. First, I need to bring the orange to the Chocolate Hazelnut and Orange Biscotti. The easiest way to do that is by adding orange zest. The orange flavor is really concentrated in the zest, so it is a great place to get the flavor from. The other benefit of adding zest is that it doesn’t change the liquid to dry ration in the basic recipe. That means there is no need to adjust there. If I’d added orange juice instead of zest, then there would be work in adapting the other liquids so that the recipe still works. Zest avoids that, and actually provides more of a flavor punch as well.
Accent on Flavor
The other additions are all about accentuating the basic flavors of the Chocolate Hazelnut and Orange Biscotti. One key addition is espresso powder. I almost never bake with chocolate where I don’t add espresso powder. Even though you think you might end up with a coffee flavor, you don’t. Instead the espresso powder helps to accentuate the flavor of the chocolate, making it more intense. Next, I replaced the vanilla extract of the original recipe with flavored liqueurs. I use a hazelnut liqueur and an orange liqueur to bring their flavors to the biscotti.
Finally, back to the hazelnuts. I get my whole hazelnuts at Trader Joe’s. They come in a bag with the skins on, so I need to take the skins off before chopping for the biscotti. To do that, I rub them briskly between two clean tea towels. That should remove most of the skins. Don’t worry about getting every last piece of the skins off. Just get most of it. Then roughly chop them. You want to cut the hazelnuts basically either in half or quarter.
Medium sized hazelnut pieces allow them to spread out more evenly in the batter. Whole nuts would give you larger, but fewer nut pieces in the biscotti. If you’d rather go that way, by all means do. I like lots of pieces everywhere, but still big enough to be recognizable. I add them to the dough at the end and fold them in by hand. Sometimes they can give the mixer a problem, or the mixer can break them into ever smaller pieces.
Shaping the Biscotti
When time comes to bake the chocolate, hazelnut and orange biscotti, start by lining a sheet pan with parchment paper. Then divide the dough into two roughly equal portions.
Shape each portion into a 12” long “log” and place on the baking sheet. Using your hands, gently press down on the log to flatten it, and spread the dough until it is about 2 ½” wide. When both logs are shaped, place the cookie sheet in a preheated over and cook for about 30 minutes
Biscotti are ‘twice baked’ cookies. What that means is after they come out of the oven and cool for a bit, you are going to cut them, and then bake them again. This help creates that characteristic crunchy texture of biscotti. That texture is what makes them perfect for dunking in coffee. To achieve this, once the biscotti come out of the oven for the first time, let them cool for about 15 minutes. Then you cut them into slices, and turn them so that the slices lay down flat on the cookie sheet. Bake them again, and then you are done.
Starting with a simple recipe, and making a few minor changes has transformed this it into a biscotti all star. These chocolate hazelnut and orange biscotti will make a great holiday treat. We make them here at mezze & tapas world headquarters for ourselves. We eat these while we are busy making our thirty six dozen other cookies we make for gifting. The biscotti is our gift to ourselves! So why not start a new tradition this year and try treating yourself to this delicious holiday treat!
Chocolate Hazelnut and Orange Biscotti
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- ½ cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon espresso powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter softened
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon Frangelico or other hazelnut liqueur
- 1 teaspoon Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
- Zest from 1 orange
- 1 cup hazelnuts skinned and roughly chopped
- Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C
- In a large bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, espresso powder and salt and whisk to combine
- Using a separate bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer), place the butter and brown sugar
- Beat on medium high until light and fluffy
- Add eggs, one at a time, and mix to fully incorporate before adding the next egg
- Add the orange zest, hazelnut liqueur and orange liqueur
- Mix well and scrape down the sides of the bowl
- With the mixer on low, add one third of the flour-cocoa powder mixture
- Mix until fully incorporated, then scrape the sides of the bowl
- Repeat two more times with the remaining two thirds of dry ingredients
- Scrape the sides of the bowl and mix until no white streaks are present.
- Add the hazelnut pieces and using a rubber spatula, fold in by hand.
- Divide the dough into two roughly equal portions
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper
- On the baking sheet roughly shape each portion of dough into a 12” long log. Flatten the log to about 2 ½” wide .
- Place the cookie sheet in the in middle of oven and bake for 30 – 35 minutes, or until the surface is lightly cracked
- Cool logs on the sheet pan on a rack 10 – 15 minutes and transfer to a cutting board.
- With a serrated knife cut logs crosswise into 1/2-inch thick slices.
- Arrange slices, cut sides down, on 2 baking sheets
- Return biscotti to oven and bake an additional 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden and crisp.
- Transfer biscotti to racks and cool.