Rosemary fig buckwheat biscotti with lemon zest, black pepper and almonds

As I write this, I am dipping a rosemary fig buckwheat biscotti (or, technically, biscotto, the seldom-used singular) into my morning cappuccino. Not a bad way to wake up, and to my mind maybe the ideal way to start the day. A few light bites to hold me over between the first dog walk and my morning yoga practice, after which a more substantial breakfast with some protein will happen.

Biscotti — the literal translation is “twice-cooked” — are those Italian biscuits baked first as a single loaf or log and then sliced and baked again until golden and crunchy. Although some people are put off by the double-baking element, I posit that biscotti are among the easiest cookies to make — and absolutely the most perfect cookie to keep in the house. More substantial and less sweet than the average cookie, a biscotto or two can be a snack, a light first breakfast, a satisfying and not-cloying dessert. A few more reasons to love these crunchy biscuits: a texture that can stand up to coffee or tea dipping, just enough sweetness to satisfy those of us possessing a tooth or two that lean in that direction, and the versatility to accommodate all manner of flavor combinations and add-ins, from citrus zest and sweet spices to savory herbs and chocolate bits or nibs, pretty much any nut you can think of, and all manner of dried fruit. They’re also, of course, quite accepting of a swipe through melted chocolate, should your heart desire. Biscotti are a cookie family that can happily go in many different directions, is what I’m trying to say. And with a basic biscotti recipe you’re prepared for all sorts of tasty kitchen experiments.

David Tanis’ A Platter of Figs and Lidia Bastianich’s Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy both offer basic almond biscotti recipes that I like to use as a starting point. My foundation recipe is 2 cups flour (sometime all-purpose, often a blend of all-purpose with a whole-grain flour such as spelt, buckwheat or whole wheat), 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup butter or a few tablespoons of olive oil, 2 eggs, 1.5 teaspoons baking powder, a dash of pure vanilla or almond extract, grated citrus zest, and a half-cup of nuts, usually almonds or hazelnuts.

Buckwheat is a noncereal grain that is rich in essential amino acids and contains more of the essential amino acid lysine than any of the cereal grains (e.g., wheat or spelt). It is also a good source of the bioflavonoid rutin, which has been shown to improve blood circulation and support healthy blood vessels. I’ve been a fan of buckwheat flour for a while — it’s gluten free so I often sub it for part of the wheat flour in sweet and savory baked goods to lower overall gluten content and boost flavor with its complex, toasty, slightly chocolatey nuttiness. Buckwheat flour gives these biscotti a dusky, almost cocoa hue and deep, rich flavor that’s a perfect foundation for the additions of pine-y fresh rosemary, chewy bites of sweet dried fig, bright lemon zest, and a hint of heat from freshly cracked black pepper.

Using buckwheat flour does result in a wetter, stickier biscotti dough than using 100% all-purpose flour. To account for this, rather than rolling the dough into a log and transferring the log to a baking sheet, as I would typically do with biscotti, I transfer the dough directly from the mixing bowl to a silpat-lined baking sheet and smooth it into a log shape with a silicone spatula. The finished biscotti are a bit more crumbly and delicate than biscotti made with 100% white flour, so be sure to store them in an airtight container so they don’t become soft. Those crumbs and ends that inevitably will be lost during the baking and slicing process? Save those too, they’re perfect crumbled over yogurt (or ice cream).

Rosemary fig buckwheat biscotti with lemon zest, black pepper and almonds
Makes about 3 dozen biscotti

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of kosher salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
a few grinds of black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup sliced almonds

1/2 cup chopped dried figs

Preheat oven to 325 F. Line 1 large or 2 small baking sheets with parchment or Silpat sheets.

Combine all-purpose and buckwheat flours, baking powder, and kosher salt in a bowl and stir to combine.

Using a hand-held or stand mixer, in a separate large bowl beat sugar and eggs until smooth and creamy. Beat in rosemary, lemon zest, and a few grinds of black pepper. Add flour mixture and mix on low speed until a crumbly dough forms. Drizzle in olive oil and beat on medium speed until dough forms a ball. Mix in almonds and figs on low speed or with a wooden spoon (I find this easier to do with a wooden spoon).

On prepared baking sheet(s) shape dough into three logs each about 2 inches wide, spacing the logs at least 2 inches apart. (The dough logs may appear a bit ragged but will smooth out when baked.) Bake until logs are puffed and golden brown, about 25 minutes. Remove from oven.

Cool logs slightly. Using a serrated bread knife, cut the logs crosswise into 1/2 inch slices. Place slices cut-side up on a baking sheet and bake until golden, about 5 minutes. Flip biscotti and bake 3 minutes more. Cool biscotti on a wire rack and store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

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