I love getting presents, but the reality is I have too much stuff. Way too much stuff. Jammed into a very small house. I joked at a party the other night that perhaps I’m part squirrel. This compulsion to hold onto things could stem from the fact that my mother was officially in the stuff business as I grew up. Well, actually she was in the house sale business, but really what she and her partner sold were dead people’s stuff. I love stuff. I get paid to have stuff for photo shoots. I guess I have a bit of a problem.
So if I have too many things where does that leave someone who wants to give me something? Up the creek is where it leaves them. What I do need is a good house purge. But how do you wrap that? Or I could try to do what my sister has disciplined herself to do. For every ten things that come into her house ten things have to go. Not sure I have her self-discipline, and what about all the cool stuff she has to get rid of when I give her a present?
If I don’t need more stuff other people probably don’t need more stuff either. Except what do you give someone when a present or gift is called for? Answer: Something that will go away. Here are some examples – my friend Phyllis’ hand dipped beeswax candles, some fabulous soap, a jug of local liquid gold aka maple syrup, a box of Florida honeybells in the middle of winter, or a bunch of chocolate biscotti. It’s so easy. If it burns, washes away or can be eaten it’s a perfect gift.
I love the milk chocolate biscotti from Maida Heatter. The recipe comes from her book Maida Heatter’s Brand-New Book of Great Cookies, which is unfortunately out of print. If you want to buy it so you can have all of the recipes you can get a used copy here.
I’ve tweaked the recipe (of course). First I always make a double batch of these biscotti, one with nuts and one without. Realize the recipe below is huge, though you don’t have to bake off all the biscotti at once. Also I don’t use blanched almonds, as she recommends. I can’t often find them in the stores around me and I don’t notice a difference. I did make my own skinned almonds once, but it wasn’t worth the effort.
The other thing I like to remind people about is you have to commit to being around the house for a while when you bake biscotti. Not that you have to hover over the biscotti themselves, but you can’t run out and get the kids from school or hit the gym. Biscotti, which literally means twice baked, require a fair amount of time in the oven. What you can do between switching the pans around is lie on the sofa and read several chapters of a book, answer a few emails, or hang some laundry on the line. Baking biscotti gives you an opportunity to putter. Once you slide a cookie sheet into your oven you need to stick around for 2+ hours. Just want you to know since you can’t stop half way through.
Maida’s Milk Chocolate Biscotti
1 1/3 cups almonds
3 4.25 ounce bars Hershey’s Symphony Milk Chocolate, divided into 1 1/2 bars + 1 1/2 bars
3 1/2 cups flour, divided into 1 3/4 cups + 1 3/4 cups
2 teaspoons baking soda, divided into 1 teaspoon + 1 teaspoon
1/4 teaspoon salt, divided into 1/8 teaspoon + 1/8 teaspoon
2/3 cup dutch processed cocoa, divided into 1/3 cup + 1/3 cup
2 cups sugar, divided into 1 cup + 1 cup
8 large eggs, divided into 4 + 4
2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided into 1 teaspoon + 1 teaspoon
Spread the almonds on a jelly roll pan and toast in a 350º F oven for 12-15 minutes or until you start smelling toasted nuts. Remember to shake the pan every so often so the nuts don’t burn. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Place two large mixing bowls side by side. I find it easier to mix one batch then the other. Measure out the sugar, flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda into each bowl. Get out your food processor and pulse the dry mix with the broken chunks of the chocolate bar until everything is very fine and you don’t see chunks of chocolate anymore. Dump that back into the first bowl and repeat for the second batch. Add the cooled nuts to one bowl. Add 4 eggs and the teaspoon of vanilla to each bowl. I usually start with the no-nuts batch. Mix with a rubber spatula until all the dry ingredients are moistened. This may take a while, but have faith. Once everything is incorporated it is very sticky.
Put two long pieces of plastic wrap on your counter and spread dough into each, forming a long “log”. When the logs are roughly equal grab the short sides of the plastic wrap and bring it together so the log can no longer spread. Each log will then be about 15″ x 3″. Place on a jelly roll pan and pop into the freezer. Repeat with the nut batch. Freeze the logs for 4+ hours. I usually do at least overnight.
Divide the shelves in your oven so one is in the top third and the other is in the bottom third. Preheat oven to 300º F. Put parchment paper on two large cookie sheets and unwrap one nut and one nutless biscotti log onto each sheet on the diagonal. These cookies spread so diagonal is important. I also place them so the seam side from the plastic wrap is down, but I’m not sure that would make a difference. Bake for 30 minutes then switch the sheets top to bottom and give each a 180º turn at the same time. Bake another 30 minutes.
Remove cookie sheets and decrease the oven to 275º F. Gently peel the biscotti loaf off the parchment and place on a cutting board. If you have asbestos fingers like me hold the biscotti in one hand and saw off slices with a bread knife into 3/4″ wide biscotti. If you don’t have asbestos fingers use an oven mitt or tea towel. The sawing motion is especially important on the nut loaves since the nuts are a different density than the biscotti. Place biscotti, sliced side down, back on cookie sheet. Repeat for other loaf. Return to oven and bake 20 minutes. Remove, flip biscotti to other cut side, reverse pans top to bottom and give them a 180º. Bake another 20 minutes. Remove and cool on cooling rack. Store in an airtight container so they stay crisp and crunchy. If you’re doing this on a muggy day try to get them into a container as soon as they are cool enough. Otherwise you’ll end up with soggy biscotti, which while edible, are not desirable.