One of my best parts about my trip to Boston last year was the food tour I went on in the city’s Little Italy neighborhood (also known as the North End). If I had to choose my favorite stop on the tour it would probably be Maria’s Pastry Shop, a traditional Italian-style bakery. In addition to smelling incredible, I loved learning all about this local institution and also the tips I received such as never buy a cannoli that’s already been filled, it’s not going to be fresh.
On our last day in Boston while doing some souvenir shopping, I saw The North End Italian Cookbook. Since I was not about to cart a 300-page hardback book home with me in my carryon luggage, I took note of it and asked for it for Christmas. It’s a beautiful cookbook that’s written by a North End native, Marguerite Dimino Buonopane, who also worked as a restaurant chef-owner for many years. In addition to featuring a vast array of recipes (everything from antipasto to sauces and gravies to pizza, calzone, and polenta to pastries, cookies, and desserts) it also has lovely historic photographs of scenes from the North End (the book is in its 6th edition).
I knew that the first recipe I wanted to try out would be from the sweets chapter, I just wasn’t sure what exactly. Some recipes are definitely more involved than others, so that’s how I settled on the chocolate walnut biscotti recipe. While it does feature a number of steps, the recipe itself is pretty straightforward and basic.
While my final product was definitely not as “elegant” as what you would find on the shelves at an Italian bakery (it was more rough around the edges, literally and figuratively), it still tasted pretty good but then when does chocolate never not taste delicious? I can see the art of making biscotti as something you need to perfect over time, but for my first ever attempt, I was pretty pleased with the final results.
Chocolate Walnut Biscotti
recipe courtesy of The North End Italian Cookbook by Marguerite Dimino Buonopane
2 cups unbleached flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder (the recipe says Hershey’s preferred, I ended up using two different cocoa flavors that I had on hand)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of salt
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon orange extract (I used orange juice instead)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
-Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
-Butter and flour a large baking sheet.
-In a small bowl, using a wire whisk, mix flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.
-In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, orange extract, and vanilla.
-Stir flour mixture into bowl with egg mixture to form a stiff dough.
-Remove dough from bowl and, using a floured board, gently knead walnuts and chocolate chips into the dough. If dough is too soft to handle, add more flour.
-Cut dough into 3 parts. Place all 3 pieces onto the baking sheet.
-With floured hands, form 3 long log shapes, slightly flattening each one. (By keeping the shapes long, cookies will cook well inside and will cut easily).
-Sprinkle tops with a generous amount of confectioners’ sugar.
-Bake for 25-30 minutes on middle rack of oven. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes.
-Remove to a cutting board and cut the loaves diagonally int0 1/2-inch slices while still warm. You will need a long, small, serrated knife. Work quickly or the cookies will break.
-Return cookies, cut-side down, to the ungreased baking sheet and bake in the oven until crisp, about 10 minutes.
-Remove from oven and cool biscotti completely. Store in an airtight container. Cookies will stay fresh at least 2 weeks; they also freeze well.