I deliberately didn’t enroll in pastry and baking when I went to culinary school. It takes lots of patience and meticulousness to bake well. I love to cook. The fundamentals are important, but once you have mastered them you have a solid foundation in cooking that allows you to experiment. When a recipe doesn’t turn out exactly the way you hoped, tweak it. Add more spice, add lemon to brighten, add salt to bring flavors forward or add a starch to thicken. Until you put the food in your mouth, you still have an opportunity to improve it.
Baking, on the other hand, leaves no room for tweaking. Once it’s done, it’s done. My experience to date has proven challenging. It has been suggested that I set a timeframe (thanks, Erica!) for the project, but I can assure you it won’t be 25 recipes in 25 days!!!
As I talk to people about this project everyone has a combination they want made. It’s really amazing to see how excited they get about this. My Pilates instructor, Erica, suggested ancho-chile chocolate and peanut-butter-banana; both excellent suggestions. My hairdresser, Tom, wants a milk chocolate-banana-walnut version; also a good suggestion. To date I have about 40 ideas, hopefully there will be 25 good ones among them.
Testing Results to Date:
The first four ideas are successes. The first recipe, Triple Chocolate Biscotti, has cocoa powder and milk and dark chocolates. I’ve tested this one twice, tripling the almond extract from 1/2 teaspoon to 1 1/2 teaspoons on the second round. I also decided to try the 90% vs. 85% cocoa dark chocolate; either strength of chocolate works well and the extra almond extract really enhances the cookie. This is my favorite of the seven tested so far.
Next up is an Orange-Chocolate Almond Biscotti using Lindt’s orange-chocolate bar with almonds. To enhance the orange I added fresh orange zest and freshly-squeezed orange juice, and of course, more almonds. A crispy cookie and the orange-chocolate combination works very well together.
The third recipe is a basic biscotti I dubbed Just Almond; very straightforward with just almonds and almond extract; crispy, nutty and a nice almond flavor.
The fourth and last successful one is Orange-Almond Dipped in Dark Chocolate. This recipe uses fresh orange zest and freshly-squeezed orange juice and almonds. No chocolate in the cookie. Once the cookie cools, it’s dipped in melted dark chocolate. It makes a pretty presentation.
Fortunately, the first few recipes were successes. I think if these first attempts turned out like the next three recipes, I might have given up.
The first failure, not as bad as the next two, is a Ginger-Lime version. It’s flat; I wimped out when making it and cut back on the original quantities of ginger powder, freshly grated ginger and crystalized ginger I had originally written. I’ll pump these up on the next test. I used macadamia nuts in this biscotti.
Last week I made Lemon-Poppyseed and Peanut-Butter-Banana. Both first batches were tossed – they were really, really bad! Too much flour in each, so dense!!! The Lemon-Poppyseed needed more oomph, and a second attempt the next day proved better, but not enough flour. Also the citrus flavor faded quickly. This batch was edible, but dull. For the next round I’m adding butter to the recipe. So far, the only fat in the cookies has been the egg yolks (chocolate doesn’t count as it doesn’t contribute to structure). Fat carries flavor and that may be the answer to bringing the lemon out.
For the Peanut-Butter-Banana I found an organic banana chip, which upon opening I saw they were puffed. The texture was unusual and I worried it wouldn’t hold up to being beaten and cooked. I was right. I also used a natural crunchy peanut butter from Peanut Butter & Co. I’m not sure this peanut butter is meant to be used in baking, the peanuts and dark chocolate pieces oozed out of the dough and had to be forced back in. Most unusual. Those banana chips disintegrated and didn’t provide the flavor I was looking for. Overall the cookie was pretty awful. I made these again the next day, omitting the banana this time and used Jif smooth peanut butter, double the chocolate and cocktail peanuts. These are much better, but still a little dense. I’ve since found dried banana chips and will retest soon.
Below are some shots of making the Chocolate-Orange Almond Biscotti. The store has been out of the chocolate orange since making this. I want to try the recipe again and make sure it works as well a second time as it did the first.