Introduction: Cranberry Almond Biscotti

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These are more of a biscotti-shaped cookie than your traditional biscotti. Full of dried cranberries, almonds, and chopped vanilla chips, they make a very festive gift for the holidays.

Traditional biscotti are baked in logs, sliced, and baked again until they're hard, crunchy and perfect for dunking in coffee, tea or hot chocolate. I prefer my biscotti more like a regular cookie, so I just cut the second baking time way down so they're still soft, chewy, and--in my opinion--edible on their own!

They're not that much more work than regular cookies, but they make a very pretty presentation and they taste wonderful!

Step 1: Ingredients

1/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
zest of one orange
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 eggs
1 egg white
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup white baking chips
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 1/4 cups sliced or slivered almonds

Put the butter and 3 eggs out on the counter about an hour before you're ready to begin to bring them to room temperature. This makes them easier to incorporate into the batter later on. I also set out my white baking chips so they'll be easier to chop up.

Step 2: Mix Wet Ingredients

Once your butter is soft, mix it together with the sugar, orange zest, vanilla, and almond extract until everything is mixed well.

If you don't have a zester, you can use a fine grater (which is what I use). Whenever you're using zest be careful to just include the outer, colored portion of the peel and not the inner white pith, which is very bitter.

If you have no tools to zest an orange, I would suggest substituting 1/2 teaspoon orange extract, as the orange flavor in the biscotti is subtle, but important!

After your butter is creamed well into the other ingredients, mix in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Remember to use two whole eggs and only the white of the third.

Step 3: Add Dry Ingredients

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt (or whisk them together). Gradually add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture, stirring just until all the flour is incorporated.

Step 4: Add Chopped Ingredients

Using a food processor, blender, or cutting board and knife, chop up the white baking chips, dried cranberries and almonds to your desired consistency. Because of their different textures, chop them individually.

Add all the chopped ingredients to the dough and stir them in.

Scrape the dough down into the bottom of the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. This makes it much easier to handle for the next step.

Step 5: Form Logs and Bake

After your dough is chilled, preheat your oven to 325 F and grease a large cookie sheet.

Turn the dough out onto the plastic wrap and divide it into three equal portions. Using wet hands to prevent sticking, form each dough ball into a log about 12 inches long. Place it on the cookie sheet and flatten it slightly.

Bake the logs for 30 minutes, then remove them from the oven and allow them to cool on the pan for 5 minutes. 

Keep the oven on. You're not done with it yet!

Step 6: Slice Logs and Bake

After 5 minutes, carefully move the loaves onto a large cutting board. (I use a wide spatula for this step.)

Using a sharp, serrated knife (like a bread knife), gently cut the loaves into 1 inch thick diagonal slices. Use a gentle sawing motion to get nice, clean slices.

Arrange the slices on the cookie sheet cut sides up. The biscotti are somewhat fragile at this stage, so be careful transferring them to the cookie sheet. (If you do break one, they're soft enough to kind of press back together; or just eat it, along with the end pieces, which never make it to the second baking in my kitchen anyway.)

Bake the slices for 5-15 minutes, depending on how soft or hard you want them. Traditional biscotti would bake for the full 15 minutes. I only bake mine for 5 minutes, just to firm them up a little but still leave them soft and chewy.

Step 7: Cool, Drizzle and Enjoy!

After their second baking, transfer the biscotti to a wire rack to cool. You can leave them as they are, or dress them up a bit by drizzling with a simple icing or melted white baking chips.

I use the following icing:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2-3 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Whisk together the powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons of milk, and the almond extract. Add more milk a little at a time to reach a nice, drizzling consistency.

Place the cooling rack full of biscotti back into the cookie sheet (or over a sheet of wax paper) to catch the drips. Using a large spoon, drizzle the icing over 3 or 4 biscotti at a time. Make sure the biscotti aren't touching so the icing has room to drizzle over the sides, too.

Allow the icing to dry, then store them in an airtight container. These make a pretty gift that's a nice change from regular cookies, and they taste delicious!