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Exploring Biscotti: History and Recipes for the Italian Cookie

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

Let's explore the history of biscotti and some tempting recipes!

Let's explore the history of biscotti and some tempting recipes!

What in the World Is “Biscotti”?

In Italian, the word "biscotto" means "one biscuit" or "cookie." Thus biscotti is the plural—two or more cookies.

But wait, there’s more.

Biscotti also refers to the original method of baking. "Bis" and "cotto" literally mean "twice" and "baked."

A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand.

— Anon.

A Brief History Lesson

Historians tell us that the Romans discovered that bread baked twice (think of it as the first crouton), would keep well during long journeys (and the occasional war). In time the practice was used by soldiers, sailors, and fishermen during the Renaissance.

Somehow the concept of twice-baking bread was used with cookies, and biscotti were born.

The first documented recipe for biscotti (Biscotti of Genoa) is a centuries-old manuscript discovered by 18th-century scholar Amadio Baldanzi. The manuscript is preserved in a museum in the town of Prato.

More Famous Than Amos

Prato is home to the historic bakery “Mattei”, founded in 1858. The owner, Antonio Mattei, developed the recipe that is considered the original biscotti recipe. His friend was Pellegrino Artusi, an author who included some of Mattei’s recipes in the book Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well (1891). The publication is still available today.


Here's a Recipe for Biscotti Just Like Antonio's

Traditional Tuscan Almond Biscotti


  • 1 cup blanched (this means that the skins are removed) whole almonds, toasted and chopped coarsely
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Spread the almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet; toast the almonds for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden. Let cool and then chop coarsely. Set aside.
  3. Beat the sugar and eggs until thick, about 5 minutes. (The mixture will be a pale yellow color and will fall from the beaters in ribbons.)
  4. Beat in the almond extract.
  5. In a separate bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Add to the egg batter and mix until combined. Fold in the chopped almonds.
  6. Form dough into a log, about 12 inches long and 3 1/2 inches wide on a lightly-greased baking sheet.Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes, or until the log is firm.
  7. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes.
  8. Reduce oven temperature to 325°F.
  9. Transfer the log to a cutting board and cut it into 3/4-inch diagonal slices. Place the biscotti, cut side down, on the baking sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes, turn slices over and bake for another 10 minutes or until golden brown.

Don't Break a Tooth

Since biscotti are hard cookies, they are typically dipped in coffee (which is why they are popular in Starbucks), milk, or sweet dessert wines such as Marsala or Vin Santo.

But Anything Other Than Vin Santo Is Considered a Sin

I wonder if Starbucks knows how many "Italian Rules of Proper Behavior" they are breaking?

  • Coffee is considered a digestivo. One never eats after drinking coffee.
  • Cappuccino is never ordered after 10 a.m.
  • Crumbs (or any type of food) should NEVER sully a perfect cup of coffee.
  • Biscotti must be dunked in Vin Santo.

Enough Biscotti to Circle the Globe?

I did a Google search for biscotti recipes and instantly got 786,000 hits. Let's see, if each biscotti is about 6 inches in length, that's 393,000 inches or 32,750 feet. Not quite around the globe, but 6 miles of biscotti is still quite a number, don't you think?

I won't give you 786,000 recipes, but here are a few from my recipe box that you might enjoy:

Holiday Biscotti


  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon whole aniseed
  • 1 cup dried sweetened cranberries
  • 3/4 cup shelled natural unsalted pistachios
  • 6 ounces imported white chocolate, chopped


  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line 3 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Sift the first 3 ingredients into a medium bowl.
  3. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl to blend well. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Mix in lemon peel, vanilla, and aniseed. Beat in the flour mixture just until blended. Stir in cranberries and pistachios (the dough will be sticky).
  4. Turn the dough out onto the lightly floured surface. Gather the dough together; divide it in half. Roll each half into a 15-inch-long log (about 1 1/4 inches wide). Carefully transfer the logs to 1 prepared baking sheet, spacing 3 inches apart.
  5. Bake the logs until almost firm to touch but still pale, about 35 minutes. Cool logs on a baking sheet for 30 minutes.
  6. Carefully transfer the logs still on parchment to a cutting board. Using a chef’s knife, cut the logs crosswise into generous 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place the slices bottom side down on the remaining 2 prepared sheets. Bake until firm and pale golden, about 11 minutes. Transfer the cookies to racks and cool.
  7. Line another baking sheet with waxed paper. Stir white chocolate in top of a double boiler over barely simmering water just until smooth. Remove from over water. Dip 1 end of each cookie into melted chocolate, tilting the pan if necessary; shake off excess chocolate. Place cookies on the prepared sheet. Chill until the chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes. (Can be made 5 days ahead. Store airtight between sheets of waxed paper at room temperature.)

Makes about 3 1/2 dozen.

Gingered White Chocolate Biscotti


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (4-ounce) bar premium white chocolate, finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 egg white
  • Vegetable cooking spray


  1. Combine the first 6 ingredients in a large bowl. Combine the vanilla and the next 2 ingredients, and add to the flour mixture, stirring until well-blended (dough will be dry).
  2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead lightly 7 or 8 times. Shape the dough into a 16-inch-long roll. Place the roll on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray, and flatten the roll to 1-inch thickness.
  3. Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes. Remove the roll from the baking sheet to a wire rack, and let it cool for 10 minutes.
  4. Cut the roll diagonally into 24 (1/2-inch) slices, and place slices, cut sides down, on the baking sheet. Reduce oven temperature to 325°, and bake for 10 minutes. Turn the cookies over, and bake for an additional 10 minutes (the cookies will be slightly soft in the center but will harden as they cool). Remove from the baking sheet, and let cool completely on a wire rack. Yield: 2 dozen

Dark Chocolate-Cashew Coffee Biscotti


  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg white
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup instant coffee granules
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup dry-roasted cashews, coarsely chopped
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 3 ounces premium dark chocolate, chopped


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Place the first 6 ingredients in a large bowl, and beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended.
  3. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, instant coffee granules, cocoa, baking soda, ground cinnamon, salt, and ground nutmeg; gradually add to the sugar mixture, beating until well blended. Stir in the cashews. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead lightly 7 times. Divide the dough in half. Shape each portion into a 12-inch-long roll. Place the rolls on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray; pat to 3/4-inch thickness. Sprinkle the rolls evenly with 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar.
  4. Bake at 350° for 22 minutes. Remove the rolls from the baking sheet; cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Cut each roll diagonally into 21 (1/2-inch) slices. Carefully stand the slices upright on the baking sheet. Reduce oven temperature to 325°; bake for 20 minutes (the cookies will be slightly soft in the center but will harden as they cool). Remove from the baking sheet, and cool completely on the wire rack.
  5. Place chocolate in a small heavy-duty zip-top plastic bag; microwave at high for 1 minute or until the chocolate is soft. Knead the bag until smooth. Snip a tiny hole in corner of the bag; drizzle chocolate over the biscotti. Yield: 3 1/2 dozen

© 2015 Linda Lum