I hadn’t planned to do any serious cooking today but when I received a message from my Italian friend Antonio this morning wishing me a ‘Buona Befana’ I couldn’t resist finding out more. I had heard of La Befana but have always celebrated Epiphany before French style with a Galette des Rois. But clearly it was time to turn my attention towards Italian customs for this time of year. La Befana is the witch who comes to Italian children on the morning of Epiphany bringing sweet treats to the children who have been good – and a lump of coal to those who haven’t! La Befana lives in the hills and comes on the morning of 6 January and sweeps your home (you should leave a little glass of wine for her) and leaves the gifts. Well, I wasn’t getting out the broom, but I thought it would be fun to make some sweet treats in the shape of biscotti, and I was watched all the while by my black kitten Merlin who helped me get into the spirit of it all. For don’t all witches have black cats?
I looked through several books and found a recipe I liked for biscotti in Rick Stein’s From Venice to Istanbul. His recipe was for Orange & Hazelnut Biscotti but I didn’t have hazelnuts and so used almonds instead. It’s a quick and easy recipe and before long the wonderful smell of oranges and baking filled the house. It took a little patience and willpower to wait for them to cool to try one with an espresso!
Almond & Orange Biscotti (Makes about 16)
- zest of 1 orange
- 100g caster sugar
- 1 egg
- 120g plain flour (I used fine Italian flour), sifted
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 100g skinned whole almonds
Preheat the oven to 180C/Fan 160/Gas 4.
Put the orange zest (try to use an organic one), caster sugar and egg in a large bowl.
Whisk until a thick creamy consistency. Then tip in the sifted flour, baking powder and almonds.
Mix to a stiff dough.
Gather together into a ball and put on a surface you’ve lightly dusted with flour. Roll out into a fat sausage shape about 30cm long and transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Cook for 30-40 minutes until starting to go a nice golden brown (Rick said 30 minutes but I found I needed 40).
Remove from the oven. Turn the oven down to 160C/Fan 140/Gas 3. When the dough is cool enough to handle, cut into roughly 1cm slices on the diagonal and lay them on the lined baking sheet. Return to the cooler oven. Turn the biscotti over after about 15 minutes and cook for another 15 minutes.
Transfer the biscotti to a cooling rack.
The smell was so enticing that it was hard to wait for them to cool before tasting them with an espresso. I love dipping biscotti into an espresso.
Store the biscotti in an airtight container – though I don’t imagine they’ll last long if you have anyone around to share them with you!
They were crisp as biscotti like this should be; sweet and delicious with the gorgeous bite of almonds in them. Hopefully La Befana would approve of these treats … but I’m sure your family will and they’d make great presents for friends.