I'm not partial to cookies that look like their creator suffered an attack of ADD whilst putting them together: stuffed to the gills with all sorts of nuts and chips and nuggets and chews. Maybe it's why I've never wanted chopped nuts sullying my chocolate chip cookies (or brownies, for that matter), or feeling overwhelmed when attempting to eat and actually taste the competing flavors and textures in this much-lauded creation (which actually IS pretty good - but I made a batch only once and for a long-ago boyfriend, shortly before we parted ways. And now that cookie is now pretty much off-limits for my kitchen ever again. You know?).
So when I set out to make these biscotti (courtesy of an LA Times piece in the 2001 holiday season about home-made presents), I already had a bit of a prejudice going. To add insult to injury, I was instructed to fashion the dough into logs, slice them, and (under)bake these up into biscotti - chewy biscotti, at that. Now I hate to get all high-and-mighty about cookies, for crying out loud, but biscotti (snappy and crisp) are an entirely different animal than just cookie dough shaped into logs and twice-baked. Especially (totally dry) cookie dough that is so chockful of ingredients that shaping it into a cohesive log is an exercise in utter futility.
This particular dough would have worked so nicely just rolled into small balls, dipped in sugar and baked up into simple rounds. If you feel a hankering for these cookies, take my advice, I beg of you, and go this route. Otherwise, you will find yourself standing over your Silpat-lined cookie sheet, chanting incantations at the over-stuffed cookie dough and willing it to stay stuck together as you massage it into pliancy. Then, when you've somehow managed that (nigh)impossible feat, you'll be wielding a serrated knife like a banshee gone berserk, doing your best to slice the half-baked logs into neat little shapes without them crumbling all over creation and having your precious ingredients spill out like the innards of a slaughtered pig (did I go too far? I think I might have).
But after all that bitching and moaning and self-righteous muttering, these cookies were actually quite nice. Although the cookies looked monstrous - with dark cherries bulging indecently out of the sides - the amiable aroma of molasses and spices had strangers coming up to me in the post office (of all places) to ask about them, and the eyes of my hostess at dinner last night widened sweetly when she saw what I'd brought her. I substituted sliced almonds for the hazelnuts, because they go better with spice cookies studded with translucent cubes of candied ginger, and I let the biscotti dry out a bit in the oven for a crunchier result.
I still think I'll stick to my simpler cookie tastes, in which only one ingredient has the starring role, but these gussied-up, role-playing "biscotti" really weren't half bad. I kind of wish I hadn't given them all away.
Ginger-Sour Cherry Biscotti
1/3 cup oil
1/4 cup dark molasses
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped peeled hazelnuts
1 cup dried sour cherries
1/2 cup minced crystallized ginger
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Beat together the oil, molasses, sugar and egg.
2. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and salt. Stir in the dry ingredients into the wet. Stir in the nuts, cherries and crystallized ginger.
3. Divide the dough in half and form each half into a log about 12 inches long and 2 inches wide. Press down on the dough to flatten slightly. Place the logs on a nonstick cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes.
4. Cool the logs for 5 minutes, then cut them on the diagonal with a serrated knife into 3/4-inch thick slices. Lay the biscotti on their sides (on two baking sheets) and bake until they are still somewhat soft to the touch but dry, another 15 minutes. If you want crisper biscotti, leave them in a bit longer.
5. Transfer the biscotti to a wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight container.