My grandparents’ house was steeped in ritual. It was not uncommon to arrive at their door to find freshly made pasta drying atop clean sheets placed carefully over each available bed.
Whenever I spent a coveted weekend with them, my grandfather would ritually pull out the playing cards for endless games of Rummy. There were over-sized pancakes for breakfast, cutlets for dinner, and always a cup of instant Sanka, though at times in broken English, my grandmother would say, “Maria, only -af….-af a cup.”
On a recent weekend get-away with my daughter, another of my grandparents’ rituals surfaced unexpectedly.
Different than the trip Darrell and I took earlier this summer to watch 18th century bread being made, Cori and I stayed firmly planted in the 21st century with all the bells and whistles of modern day kitchen equipment when we pulled into the King Arthur Education Center in the Green Mountains of Vermont.
Despite the mishap with my driving directions, our morning class on biscotti started promptly at 9:00. Biscotti, in Italian, means biscuit or cookie. Bis translates as twice, cotti as baked. That’s what we’d made the trip for, those twice baked cookies!
While my grandmother’s traditional cookies were not biscotti, they served a similar function. You see I not only grew up over long cups of coffee but with the belief that cookies were meant to be dunked.
The ritual of cookie dunking, over the past 30 years, has become a lost art but after Cori and I rolled sticky dough into logs and smelled the aroma of biscotti start to fill the room, I started salivating!
By the time we had sliced them and taken them out of the oven for the second time, I was ready for a good cup of Joe. Cori was definitely on board.
I couldn’t help thinking that in dropping this ritual, I’d lost something much more than the ritual itself. Cookie dunking happened in the lingering together after a shared meal or on a lazy afternoon when we found we had time to simply visit around the kitchen table. Not unlike meal replacement bars of today, in a pinch, cookies were breakfast.
Dunking cookies was rarely a solitary act. More often, it was a multi-generational one. Together we appreciated the art of submerging a cookie long enough for it to soak in the flavor of the coffee but not so long that it became soggy and fell to the bottom of the cup. It wasn’t the quick dip of an Oreo into a tall glass of milk.
My family bonded over spent time together in the kitchen: our gathering place. It’s where we gravitated. Where I still do. While I can no longer share that space with my mother and grandmother, it was a gift to be standing side-by-side baking at King Arthur with my daughter.
Like both of my matriarchs, the door to my kitchen is always open. When you come in, you’re as likely to find Darrell doing the cooking as you are to find me. Everyone becomes family around the table, and these days our definition of family is broad and inclusive. I know there are many others who feel exactly the same!
I couldn’t help smiling when a group of 4 friends confided to the group gathered at King Arthur that they had flown into Vermont from Florida to share the biscotti experience! If you asked them, I’m sure they’d tell you that they’re family….and I bet over their weekend they did some lingering together long after their meals had ended. And why not?
I often speak about gathering together over the bread bowl, but I’m putting in a plug for the ritual of lingering a while at the kitchen table. While my grandmother fed me coffee from a spoon even as a toddler, I realize that isn’t a practice in most homes anymore! So pour a glass of milk for the little ones, brew up a pot of coffee, or put the water on for tea. Most importantly, pull out the cookie jar. Who knows, you may find that you’re a master of this lost art (just like me!)
Wouldn’t it be nice to gather around the kitchen table with some good old fashioned biscotti soon? If you have cookie dunking remembrances, please comment in! If you know someone who might like to revisit this ritual or make these cookies, please share this post! Don’t forget to like Kneading Life on Facebook...or better yet, join the contact list at the top of the page for updates on posts and upcoming classes. There’s still room in both classes and I’m adding biscotti to our luncheon menu!
This Biscotti di Prato recipe comes from King Arthur Cooking School. You can find tons of other recipes on the King Arthur Website along with lots of support from the school on their Baker’s Hotline! I chose this recipe rather than the Americanized chocolate hazelnut ones (which were also delicious) because our teachers, Irene and Melanie shared that it was a traditional Italian biscotti made with eggs. The cookies were so darn crunchy that we really did benefit from something to dunk them in to soften them up a bit!
I also learned from Irene and Melanie that saffron is also a traditional ingredient. It is the stamen of a crocus, gathered by hand during a finite time of the year. At $84 an ounce, it’s a good thing you can buy it in small quantities! It does add some flavor and the traditional color of these Italian treats!
1/4 tsp saffron threads
3 T hot water
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 egg yolk (reserve the white)
1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup raw (skin on) almonds, toasted at 325 F and coarsely chopped
Soak the saffron threads in 3 T hot water.
In large mixing bowl, make a mound of the flour with a well in the center. Place the sugar, 3 whole eggs, egg yolk, baking powder, salt, and saffron with water in the well. Using a whisk or pastry fork, and then your hands, gradually work the flour into the ingredients in the well. Mix until smooth. Knead in the almonds to distribute them evenly throughout the dough.
The dough will be sticky. Use flour as you need it on your hands.
Divide the dough into quarters. Roll each piece into a log that measures 1 1/4 inches wide. Place 2 inches apart on parchment lined baking sheets.
Remove the baking sheets from the oven. (You can cool them a bit here or put them aside and finish the second bake later!) Using a serrated knife carefully cut logs crosswise into 1/2 thick slices. (We made ours diagonal cuts.)
Return the cookies to the baking sheets and continue baking until pale brown, about 15 minutes. The more you cook them, the crunchier they’ll be!
After they had cooled, we chocolate dipped some as an extra bonus, too!