Everyone knows biscotti, the crunchy twice-cooked, cookie-like bars that you dip into your cappuccino or sweet wine. But biscotti need not be flavored with chocolate or hazelnuts. They do not even need to be sweet. You can add cheese, herbs, spices, even chopped sun-dried tomatoes or olives, making these biscuits a nifty alternative to crackers.
There's no mystery to how biscotti get its intense crunch: They're baked twice, and it's the second baking that really establishes their character. This does make biscotti a little more complicated than cookies, for example, but the dough is easy enough to make and the options are plentiful.
It's the choices that interest me most. In recent months I've made biscotti with saffron, cardamom, chilies, and the aforementioned sun-dried tomatoes and olives. A cheese-and-cayenne combination was among my favorites.
Regardless of flavor, the procedure remains the same: You form the dough into a log and cook it until it's firm to the touch. After cooling, you slice it on the bias (that's how you get that nice arched shape) and bake them a second time, flipping them after 10 or 15 minutes so that both sides are nicely toasted. Their crispness deepens as they cool.
These unsweetened biscotti are still pretty good with coffee. But they're fantastic with a glass of red or crisp white wine.
SAVORY CHEDDAR BISCOTTI
1 cup grated Cheddar cheese
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Put the eggs and cheese in a food processor and process until yellow and thick, about a minute. Add the flour, baking powder, salt and cayenne and pulse three or four times, just to integrate the dry ingredients — you don't want to overwork the gluten in the flour.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead it until it holds together — it may be a bit crumbly at first. Shape the dough into an 8 to 10-inch log, transfer to the prepared baking sheet and gently flatten.
Bake until the log begins to color and is firm to the touch, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool for about 10 minutes, then cut on the bias into half-inch slices. Lay the biscotti flat on the baking sheet and bake until crisp and toasted, 15 minutes. Turn and toast the second side for another 10 to 15 minutes. Cool completely before serving.
Yield: About 16 biscotti.
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