Ditch the Stella d'Oro and try these Cherry Almond biscotti 

Better than store-bought

Susan Filson

Until recently, I never understood some people's fascination with biscotti. To me, they were long, thick, rock-hard bricks with a taste resembling cardboard, trying to pass themselves off as cookies.

When I was a kid, every Sunday dinner was finished off with a pot of espresso and a plate of those obnoxious biscotti — always Stella d'Oro brand. Every self-respecting Italian housewife kept a stash of Stella d'Oro cookies in her pantry. As the adults sipped their espresso, they would dunk the biscotti into the thick, dark liquid and eat them. The only thing worse than biting into one of those jaw-breaking biscotti was biting into one turned to mush by strong black coffee. To this day, the thought of it makes me cringe.

It wasn't until I began blogging that I realized that all biscotti are not the same. In fact, homemade biscotti are kind of wonderful. You can flavor them however you like, and instead of being as hard and tough as granite, they can be delightfully crunchy. The best part is that biscotti are not hard to make at home. You never have to keep cellophane-wrapped packages of that other kind in your pantry again.

The key to a biscotti's signature crunch is baking them twice. The first time, they're baked in one long log. Then they sit and cool off for a while. After that, they're sliced into bars and baked again until they get all browned and crispy.

For these, I've used toasted almonds and plump dried cherries. I think that this is my favorite combination of all. The cherries add a little chew and a touch of tartness to balance out the sweet. The texture of the biscotti is light, but super crunchy. And there is no danger of chipping a tooth on one!

I like to add a little Fiori di Sicilia to these biscotti as well. It's a little difficult to describe, but Fiori di Sicilia is an Italian flavoring that has notes of vanilla and citrus. Think of an orange creamsicle and you're on the right track. It literally means "flowers of Sicily." It smells heavenly and gives the biscotti a certain special something.

These biscotti are toothsome, but with one bite they yield into lovely, crumbly bits of deliciousness. Move over, Stella d'Oro. There's a new game in town.

Cherry Almond Biscotti

Makes 2 dozen

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

2 teaspoons orange zest

1 teaspoon lemon zest

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia (or mix 2 parts vanilla extract with one part each of orange and lemon extracts)

1 cup sliced whole unsalted almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped

1 cup dried cherries

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.

2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk the flour and baking powder in a bowl to blend. Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar, butter and salt together until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the orange and lemon zest, vanilla and Fior di Sicilia extracts just until blended. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time. Add the flour mixture and mix on medium-low speed just until incorporated. Stir in the cherries and almonds.

3. Form the dough into a 12-inch long by 3-inch wide log on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until lightly golden, about 30-35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 275 F.

4. Place the biscotti log on the cutting board. Using a sharp serrated knife cut the log on a diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Arrange the biscotti, cut side down, on the baking sheet. Bake the biscotti for 30 minutes. Transfer the biscotti to a wire rack and cool completely.

5. The biscotti will keep in an airtight container for up to a week or frozen for up to a month.

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