Those of us who turn to the kitchen for comfort during spells of ordinary stress — the stubbed toes, bruised egos, and sleight-of-hand checking account maneuvers of everyday life — might be forgiven for cocooning entirely into cooking and baking, with the world outside in the grips of a pandemic.
Given the grocery stores empty of flour and sugar, clearly many are fulfilling both want and need, finding solace and sustenance in the heart of the home, as they stay put to help keep their families and communities safe.
As lucky as my own family has been, I confess anxiety has taken root. Since there’s only so much time one can hover about a stove, I’ve created a calming ritual of sitting down to lunch and watching past episodes of “The Great British Baking Show.” In truth, I’ve become something of a fanatic about it. Pity any person or canine who interrupts this sacred time.
Which leads me to biscotti. Inspired by the whirlwind of creative competition underneath the great white tent, this recipe made use of personal favorites, and my one instance of crisis hoarding: I did purchase three bags of pistachios. In my defense, I’ll note that they were half-price and so evidently not flying off the shelves.
The slight tang of cream cheese and lemon play nicely with pistachios here. If using prepared roasted and salted pistachios, consider rinsing quickly under the faucet and drying off with a clean dish towel to wash away most of the salt. You’ll find, without apology, more fat and sugar in this recipe than in most others. And I opted for a longer time to cool before the second bake and a full half-pound of white chocolate for the topping. No apology for that, either.
Speaking of British favorites: A recurring theme from the brilliant John Cleese movie “A Fish Called Wanda” came to mind as I worked a second batch. “What was the middle thing?” asks Otto, who might be characterized charitably as lacking attention to detail. Careful and attentive as one might be, disaster seems to occur most often while slicing through the middle of biscotti; one might find something of a metaphor for life there as well.
Lemon Pistachio Biscotti
- 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- 2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- Pinch of salt
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 ½ cups pistachios, coarsely chopped if desired
- 4 to 8 ounces good-quality white chocolate
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking tray with parchment paper.
Cream together softened cream cheese and butter with the sugar. Beat in eggs and lemon juice. Sift flour with the baking powder and salt, and beat into the cream cheese mixture until just blended. Stir in the pistachios.
Spoon batter into a narrow line about 16” long onto the paper-lined baking tray, or into two shorter lines on separate trays. Moisten hands and shape into a tidy log. Bake in preheated oven for about 20 to 30 minutes, until slightly golden brown --less time of course if you’ve divided the dough into two. Watch carefully and avoid overbaking. Remove from oven, turning off to save energy, and place on a large cooling rack for 30 minutes to an hour.
When ready to slice, fire up the oven to preheat. Place on a large cutting board, and with a long, serrated bread knife, carefully slice on the diagonal. I opted for slices of roughly ¾”. Return slices to the baking sheet and bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, gently flipping over midway, until biscotti are dried and nicely golden. Remove from the oven and cool completely.
To decorate: Use 4 ounces of white chocolate for a drizzle; 8 ounces for a deluge or dunking. Melt the white chocolate according to package directions, or place chips or broken squares in the top of a double boiler, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat before the chocolate is entirely melted and continue to stir until smooth.
Decorate as desired by drizzling, icing, or dipping one half of the biscotti into the chocolate. Place on clean sheets of parchment free of crumbs until the chocolate sets completely. Wrap tightly to store.