Christmas Biscotti – My take on an Italian classic

Biscotti are tasty Italian biscuits and the next of my Christmas bakes. They are great as a seasonal gift and very easy to make. They are also very moreish and so you may find them hard to give away. The secret is you make a double batch. That way you will have enough for both your friends and yourself.

Classic Biscotti

The origins of biscotti

Biscotti or cantucci ( most commonly used in Tuscany ) are delicious twice-baked Italian biscuits. They are usually made with almonds. Traditionally they are served with a sweet Italian dessert wine called Vin Santo. You might also find them on the side of a cappuccino or latte. To be honest I’m very happy dipping them in nothing more than a mug of tea. We always make several batches at home, in December, as they are a wonderful handmade small gift at Christmas time.

Traditional Biscotti
Traditional Almond Biscotti biscuits

“Biscotti” is derived from medieval Latin and literally means twice baked. It is also the origin of the English word biscuit, but these are just baked once. There is a long history of double baking. Roman soldiers ate twice-baked bread. Sailor’s rations used to contain the dreaded hardtack or ship’s biscuits. These were often riddled with beetles and weevils by the end of a long voyage.

What ingredients can I use?

Biscotti were traditionally made from flour, eggs, sugar, pine nuts, and whole almonds. Today you can find biscotti with a multitude of ingredients and flavourings. Including spices, nuts, dried fruits and can be dipped in dark chocolate. For this recipe, I’ve included nuts, fruit, orange zest, and some seasonal spices. You can experiment and add anything you fancy. Why not try chopped dried apricots, mixed peel, walnuts, hazelnuts, and chestnuts. You can even flavour your biscotti with liqueurs.

However you choose to make them I’m sure you will find them addictive. Enjoy.

For a more traditional Biscotti recipe omit the spices and dried fruit. 
Smoked Haddock, Prawn and Herb Fishcakes

How to make Great Fishcakes

Fishcakes are incredibly versatile, they can be a great starter like the Thai style crab cake, flavoured with lemongrass and chilli with a sweet and sour dipping sauce or a crisp golden-fried fishcake as a main course, a staple of many pub and restaurant menus. Fishcakes are really simple to make, and you can use potato to bulk up what can be expensive fish and seafood. You can choose from any number of combinations; a simple white fish such as cod, haddock or coley with a piquant brown caper and parsley butter for added zing, smoked salmon and dill ( ask your fishmonger if he sells smoked salmon trimmings ), extravagant salmon and lobster topped with sour cream and caviar or today’s recipe that punches plenty of flavour, smoked haddock, prawn and herb.

Smoked Haddock, Prawn and Herb Fishcakes
Smoked Haddock, Prawn and Herb Fishcakes

This is a very tasty fishcake for a light lunch, al fresco dining on a hot summer’s day with a crisp salad and some Tartar sauce or as simple supper served on a bed of creamed leeks or Ratatouille. The smoked haddock gives a lovely rich smoky flavour perfectly complimented by the herbs and light fluffy potato. Panné is the technique for breadcrumbing any food from fish to the classic Chicken Kiev to make this recipe you can use stale bread processed into breadcrumbs, Panko or as I have polenta or coursed cornmeal. Dip the fishcake in seasoned flour, then egg and milk mix then in the coating. Further dip in the egg mix and coating a second time for a crispier finish.

For more information on how to Panné visit A Cook’s Compendium


Crispy Smoked Haddock and Prawn Fishcakes

1kg Fluffy Potatoes, washed and peeled

750ml Milk

250g Smoked Haddock, skin removed and de-boned

250g Mixed Fish ( Cod, Whiting, Salmon ), skin removed and de-boned*

250g Prawns, roughly chopped

50g Shallots or Spring Onions, peeled and very very very finely chopped 

50g Jersey Butter

1 small Onion, peeled

25ml Jersey Double Cream

20g finely chopped Chives

20g finely chopped Parsley

10g finely chopped Chervil

2 Cloves

1 Bay leaf

Sea Salt and freshly ground White Pepper to taste

Seasoned Flour, Egg and Milk, Course Cornmeal

*Your fishmonger may sell this using his offcuts

Stud the bay leaf to onion using the cloves, this is called a cloute. Pour the milk into a medium sized heavy-bottomed pan and add the cloute and the fish. Place on a low heat and bring to a simmer, and gently poach the fish for five minutes. Remove the fish from the pan and cool, the milk can be used to flavour  a chowder or a velouté sauce. When cool break the fish into large chunks. At the same time as you are poaching the fish boil the potatoes in another pan for mashing. When soft steam dry to remove excess moisture then gently mash with the cream, butter, salt and pepper. Combine the mashed potatoes, fish, prawns, onions and herbs together trying to keep the fish in large flakes throughout the mix. Correct seasoning.

Allow the mix to cool sufficiently so that you can safely handle it and then shape the mix into balls then squash slightly into fishcakes. Place the fishcakes on to a lightly floured baking tray and chill thoroughly, this will make the next stage much easier. Panné the fishcakes in the seasoned flour, egg mix and breadcrumbs, passing twice through the breadcrumbs. To cook gently shallow fry in a little oil for around five minutes on each side then finish in a preheated oven at 350 F / 180 C / Gas Mark 4 for around twenty minutes until golden brown and hot throughout.

Wine

 

What to Drink? Why not try your fishcakes with a crisp dry white wine like a chilled Soave or New Zealand Semillon.

Allergens in this recipe are;

  Flour  Raw Fish Milk  Crab

Please see the Allergens Page

Easy Rye Bread

My Easy Rye Bread Loaf

 

I love my little island life with my beautiful family but greatly enjoy travelling, seeing new sights, cultures and perhaps this won’t surprise you trying new food. And I really do think that food is all the better for being in the right location and ambience, pasta just seems to taste better in Italy and simple salads of tomato and olives burst with flavour in Greece. One of my enduring experiences as a teenager was winning a trip to Norway, the stunning scenery, the wonderfully hospitable people and the really fantastic food. Fresh seafood, particularly bucket loads and I do mean bucket loads, of crayfish for breakfast caught that morning, buttery cinnamon porridge, sweet and tangy Brunost and most of all the Smörgåsbord; pickled herrings, Gravadlax, sausages, meatballs, lobster, prawns, basically a buffet table of many of my favourite foods.

Easy Rye Bread
Rye Bread Open Sandwich

Smörgåsbord means buttered open sandwich and many of my favourite types are made with rye bread, a dark, intensely flavoured bread, high in fibre, which is popular across Northern Europe. Rye bread spread with cream cheese and topped with prawns or salmon with a little watercress and lemon is my number one sandwich. Don’t be put off by the thought of bread making, it is not particularly difficult if you follow the Rye bread recipe carefully and be patient. I hope you try it and enjoy the results.

Easy Rye Bread Loaf –

You can top the loaf with sunflower and pumpkin seeds for a little extra crunch

500 gr Rye Flour

500 gr Strong White Bread Flour

20 gr fresh Yeast

35 gr Black Treacle

30 ml good quality Olive Oil

20 gr Salt

¾ litre warm Water

25 gr Fennel Seeds, roughly ground

A little extra flour for dusting

If you possess a kitchen mixer place all of the ingredients in the bowl apart from the flour for dusting. Gently combine the ingredients a little with a fork, this stops a face full of flour when you switch on the mixer ( I have been there I promise ). Fit into the mixer with the dough hook. Switch on at the lowest speed setting and then once the ingredients are thoroughly mixed turn up to top speed. Mix for five minutes. When mixing by hand I would allow a thorough ten minutes.

When the dough is mixed, shape into a large ball, coat with a little more flour and place in a large bowl covered with a clean tea towel. Leave the dough to prove. In an airing cupboard or similar warm environment, the dough will rise to around one and a half times its original size in approximately two hours. If you have the time prepare the dough on the day prior to baking and you can slow the proving process down by leaving it in the fridge overnight. This method of proving produces a dough with deeper more robust flavours.

Half an hour before you are ready to cook turn on your oven to 475 F / 240 C / Gas Mark 9 and place in a heavy non-stick baking tray. Five minutes before baking, fill a small ovenproof dish with hot water from your kettle and stick it in the bottom of the hot oven. Turn your dough quickly out of the bowl onto the baking tray and put it straight into the hot, steamy oven as fast as you can. Try to leave the door open for the shortest possible time so the temperature does not drop.

After ten minutes, drop the oven temperature to 350 F / 180 C / Gas Mark 4 and check on your loaf. Opening the oven door will drop the temperature quickly and help prevent the loaf from burning. Cook for a further twenty-five minutes and check again. When cooked the loaf will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. It should be left to cool thoroughly on a wire rack before slicing.

For the toppings –

Gravadlax and Mustard and Dill Sauce

Ham and sliced Dill Pickle

Cream Cheese, fresh Prawns with Lemon and Paprika

Sliced hard boiled Eggs, Beef Tomato and crisp Bacon

Sliced rare roast Beef, Watercress, quick pickle Red Onion and Horseradish Crème Fraiche

Pickle Herring and Remoulade

Blue Cheese, Apple Batons, and Watercress

Smoked Salmon, Cream Cheese, Baby Gem and finely diced Red Onion

 

Allergens in the Rye Bread recipe are;

  Flour

Please see the Allergens Page