Biscotti: Coffee's Hottest Accessory
Roman Legions, Christopher Columbus and you. What do all of them have in common? In a word- biscotti! With Mother's Day almost here, many are still pondering the perfect gift idea, whereas others are trying to consider where the nearest gas station is to pickup flowers on the way to Mom's house. Either way, let's review a short bit about biscotti's rich (and tasty) history to find how they can provide you with the perfect gift for Mother's Day.
In Italian, biscotti is the plural form of the word "biscotto," meaning "biscuit" or "cookie." Biscotti are, in fact, appropriately named according to their original method of baking. The root words "bis" and "cotto" literally translate to "twice" and "baked," respectively.
What Americans identify as biscotti, the Italians actually refer as "Cantucci." In fact, most cultures have a different name for them: Greeks call them biskota; the British refer to them as rusks; for Germans their called zwieback; Jews call them mandelbrot; Russians call them sukhariki and the French call them croquets de carcassonne. No matter where you are or what you call them, there's no denying the ubiquitous treat has become ingrained in our society.
The popular Italian cookie traces its origins to Roman times, as functionality and taste reigned supreme. Originally discovered to have a long shelf-life, biscotti became a mainstay for travelers and were a staple item carried by the Roman Legions.
After the fall of the Roman empire, cuisine blossomed with the Renaissance. Biscotti emerged in Tuscany, credited to a Tuscan baker who served them with the local sweet dessert wine called Vin Santo (holy wine). Biscotti’s dry, crunchy texture was deemed to be the perfect medium to soak up the sweet local wine. Even the great explorer Christopher Columbus was rumored to favor the functionality and taste of biscotti on his voyages. Centuries later, many still agree that dipping biscotti into Vin Santo is a perfect way to end a meal, or as the perfect compliment to their favorite cup of joe.
While there are many recipes for various biscotti, they can typically be categorized into two distinct categories (excluding flavorings): Biscotti made with butter and those made without. Butter creates a more tender biscuit while those without butter are typically more dry and hard. Regardless, biscotti are wonderful with a cup of coffee, tea, or a glass of Port or Vin Santo.
Today we enjoy biscotti as an accompaniment to cappuccino and with various wines, either with dessert or as a snack. The other way to distinguish biscotti are by placing them into either Sweet and Savory categories, the latter being those such as Parmesan Black Pepper- a favorite amongst cultured wine drinkers.
Additionally, if you're still trying to figure out a great gift for Mother's Day- ask yourself this- does she drink tea, coffee or wine? If the answer is yes, then your worries are over. You can either bake your own biscotti, or you can buy gourmet biscotti online or in retail stores.
You can find gourmet biscotti at local stores in Little Italy, for example, while more commercial outlets like Starbucks boast their own generic renditions. For a true, tasty, "straight from the Old Country" treat, try the triple chocolate or hazelnut almond from Biscotti Amore.
Either way, biscotti are a great gift for any occassion, including Mother's Day, and their intriguing history is rivaled by only their great taste!