Gift It: Cocoa Cherry Biscotti

Who doesn’t love the combination of chocolate and tart cherries? (I do! I do!)

We’ve been looking for a no-butter recipe for biscotti for a while and finally found one that was too tempting to pass up. The addition of dried cherries is my own — the original recipe uses walnuts. The tang of tart cherries against the backdrop of dark chocolate brings to mind one of my favorite desserts — Black Forest Cake, the only thing missing is the whipped cream…mmmmm. These crisp, rich tasting cookies are equally heavenly with a cup of hot black coffee in the morning as with a post-prandial glass of tawny port, or even to polish off the last of your California merlot after a meal.

I prefer biscotti dry — that is, with no chocolate or other coating. But for gifts, the biscotti can receive some extra special treatment: a dip in bittersweet chocolate! For the first batch, I tried a ganache-type dip I usually use for the aniseed-almond biscotti I usually make for the holidays. The anise biscotti have both butter and whole eggs in their recipe and can stand up to the high fat content of the cream and butter in the ganache, but these meringue style cocoa biscotti came out chewy rather than crisp once they were coated in ganache.

Still wonderful— but I wanted the cookie to keep its distinctive crunch. Plain melted chocolate worked better at maintaining the crunch while still giving the cookies some zazz.

The original recipe for these biscotti (with walnuts instead of cherries, and with no chocolate dip) are said to average about 40 calories per cookie since they have neither butter nor egg yolks. I’m not a dietician, but I’m guessing that substituting high-sugar dried fruit for high-calorie nuts comes out about even. Although I subscribe to the theory that homemade cookies eaten in the month of December have no calories, I know that not everyone else believes this (I’m guessing they don’t believe in Santa either). At less than 50 calories per cookie (minus the chocolate dip) and with their incredible chocolate flavor, these cookies are a treat that the calorie-conscious on any gift list will especially appreciate!

These biscotti are going to join Gram’s Nut Horns and the still growing number of cookie recipes from around the globe at Susan’s “Eat Christmas Cookies” event at Food Blogga. Susan’s third annual cookie round-up has already produced some really novel cookies, including ones with saffron and tofu, with cranberry relish, with buttermilk, and even with maple bacon and chocolate chips (that last one we’re going to try this week). You can check them all out, then submit your own until December 20th.

Happy Baking, Everyone!

** On the U.S. Mainland, we find dried tart cherries at Trader Joe’s, which is also a great source for baking goods including all kinds of nuts, organic powdered sugar, cocoa powder, Belgian chocolate and non-aluminum baking powder.If tart dried cherries are hard to find, you could substitute sweet bing cherries but I’ve found that the flavor of sweet cherries tends to get lost when paired with dark chocolate.

COCOA CHERRY BISCOTTI
(Adapted from “Italian Cocoa Biscotti” by Nick Maglieri in Perfect Light Desserts: Fabulous Cakes, et al. Made with Real Butter, Sugar, Flour, and Eggs, All Under 300 Calories per Generous Serving)
Makes about 50 cookies

1 3/4 cup (175g) flour
2/3 cup (65g) Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 1/4 cup (240g) raw sugar
1 cup (150g) dried tart cherries, cut into small pieces
6 large egg whites
2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together flour and cocoa. Stir in baking powder, salt, sugar, and dried cherries. Set aside.

Whisk together egg whites and vanilla to soft peak. Add to the dry ingredients. Use a large rubber spatula to combine — the dough will seem dry at the start but as the sugar comes in contact with the meringue, the dough will become wetter and eventually quite tacky.

Liberally cover work surface with flour. Scrape the dough out, and with floured hands press together into a solid mass.

Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces. Lightly coat cookie sheet with flour and gently roll each into a log that is as long as the pan you’re using. Logs may still show patches of white flour — that’s OK, it makes a nice contrast on the finished cookie. Arrange both logs on one pan.

Make certain the logs aren’t too close to each other or to the sides of the pan. Slightly flatten each log with your fingertips.

Bake about 30 minutes, or until loaves are firm when pressed with a fingertip. Remove loaves, but leave oven on and place racks in the upper and lower thirds.

Cool loaves just enough so you can handle them, then using a sharp serrated knife cut into attractive straight or slightly diagonal slices about 1/2-inch thick. (I find it easier to slice the cookies while they are still warm as they harden and can crack once theyre completely cool.)

Place slices, cut side down, on the cookie sheets and return to oven for about 7 minutes. Remove pans and quickly turn each cookie over to toast other side and replace in oven for another 7 minutes. I usually try to remember to rotate the sheets so that the one that was on top for the first toast is now on the lower rack, but that’s not crucial. You might have to to this in 2 or more batches to toast all the cookies.

Cool completely on racks. Store in air-tight container until ready to serve or to dip in chocolate. Once dipped in chocolate, biscotti do not keep as well.

DARK CHOCOLATE COCOA CHERRY BISCOTTI

200g bittersweet or dark Belgian chocolate
4 dozen Cocoa Cherry Biscotti

Place a wire rack over cookie sheet or wax paper to catch chocolate drips.

Melt chocolate over double-boiler or at low setting in microwave. Place chocolate in shallow bowl and allow to cool to room temperature (if chocolate is warm when cookies are dipped, they will become chewy).

Dip one flat side of each biscotto in chocolate, then place on rack to harden chocolate.