The party food landscape has become increasingly homogeneous, with its ubiquitous bag of Doritos rather than homemade fudge or stuffed mushrooms. Columnist Erin Nyren would like to bring back the house parties of yore, in which everyone cooked or baked something to share.
As a child, biscotti was a saving grace to me: the one edible (read: sugary) item in the holiday food baskets my family would get from random relatives or friends.
I’d always had a baseless impression that it required skill to make, probably since I’d overhear adults saying, “She’s making biscotti” as though it were some great undertaking.
For my last recipe I wanted to bake, since I hadn’t done much of it for this column. I needed something easily transportable and casual enough for a regular party. A cake or a tart seemed more appropriate for a celebration rather than a kickback, and I wanted something more unique than cupcakes. I then remembered the oblong Italian biscuits from my childhood and thought they’d fit the bill.
The recipe comes from a vegan-themed website, but I made some substitutions since I was too lazy and cheap to buy all the finicky ingredients. My roommate – healthier than I – happened to have coconut oil, but I used more all-purpose flour instead of cornmeal, as the recipe suggests. I also did not bother finding organic cane sugar, instead simply using C&H sugar.
With these substitutions, the ingredients were not that difficult to find. I bought sea salt at Trader Joe’s and almonds at Ralphs, in the bulk nut section. I’d learned from my experience with the pecans two weeks ago, however, not to attempt using my flighty toaster oven. This time I toasted my almonds in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10 minutes. They came out flawless, their skins now a light-mocha color with the white meat showing through where the skin had popped.
The consistency of the dough was odd to me at first. It felt very crumbly and, in the bowl, didn’t seem like it’d be able to hold itself together to form loaves. It’s especially important to wet your hands before you try to form the loaves – the water helps the dough stick together. After running my hands under the tap for a few seconds and lightly drying them, I was able to shape the squishy dough into medium-sized loaves.
The biscotti took a little longer to prepare than most of my other recipes. Once the loaves are placed in the oven, the first round of baking lasts about 30 minutes. After being sliced into roughly 4-inch-long sticks, they are baked again for another 20 minutes. The tasty result was worth it and the recipe is perfect for a lazy day where it’s okay to watch a 20-minute episode of “Parks and Recreation” in between.
I scoffed when the recipe said dipping the biscotti in chocolate was optional. If there’s an opportunity for chocolate, why would I not take it? I used Trader Joe’s 72 percent Belgian chocolate, which I have acquired a taste for since my disastrous first recipe.
The biscotti tasted delicious – a mystifying yet satisfying combination of crunchy and soft. Since biscotti is like bread that has hardened into a cookie, the outside is crunchy with a slightly softer inside. I was especially pleased by the orange zest flavor – my one complaint with biscotti in the past had been its blandness.
When I first started this column, I wanted to improve the party food scene but I was skeptical. I didn’t think there were many simple recipes readily available that would produce results of the caliber I had in mind. Having spent ten weeks putting relatively little effort into recipe research and the cooking process, however, I can assure anyone that preparing food on a college budget and without much time is often feasible. All it takes is a little initiative and a desire to eat tasty food.
– Erin Nyren
What’s the best food you’ve ever eaten at a party?