Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Mrs. Maio's Christmas Biscotti

As Christmas nears, I find am remembering Mrs. Maio once again. Our neighbor across the street during my childhood was born in Italy in 1908 in the town of Messina in Sicily and eventually immigrated to the United States, where she and her husband settled on Long Island. My parents met the Maios in 1957 when they moved into the house across the street and became lifelong friends.

Rose Maio was a small, sturdy woman with a round face and steely gray hair. She grew pears, peaches and all types of vegetables in her yard. As I played outside, I remember seeing her work for hours cultivating her expansive garden, a kerchief covering her head to protect her from the sun.

Each Christmas Mrs. Maio brought a plate to our front door, wrapped in aluminum foil and piled high with homemade golden biscotti scented with anisette. Mrs. Maio’s biscotti were one of the signature flavors of our holiday. The long, slender cookies were a delicacy, unusual in appearance, and very different from the typical chocolate and peppermint flavors of the Christmas season.

Harold McGee says in “On Food and Cooking” that biscotti is an Italian hard cookie that is leavened with baking powder. The term biscuit is derived from the French term for “twice cooked.” Biscotti are indeed, biscuits that are baked twice to develop a toasty crisp crust. Anisette liquor is a sweet, licorice-flavored drink made from the seeds of a plant in the parsley family. The anise seed is native to the Middle East and has been used as a flavoring and for medicinal purposes for centuries. Ancient Romans hung anise plants near their beds to ward off bad dreams.

Mrs. Maio’s been gone now for several years. A while back, I acquired the recipe for Anisette Biscotti from Mrs. Maio’s daughter, and began to make biscotti during the holiday in remembrance of our neighbor’s annual Christmas gesture. Here’s the recipe:

Rose Maio’s Anisette Biscotti

6 eggs
¼ lb butter
1 ½ C sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp anisette extract (or extract of anise)
2 ½ C flour
1 ½ tbsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Set eggs out about 15 minutes. Cream butter and sugar together then add eggs one at a time, mixing after each. Add extracts followed by flour and baking powder.

On greased and floured cookie sheet (12x18) spread batter as a log the length of pan. Bake 30 minutes or till golden brown. Cut biscotti down center and cut slices from each half (use sharp knife). Remove half of slices to counter. Turn remainder of slices in pan on their side, bake another 10 minutes. Repeat with remaining slices. Enjoy!

This recipe makes a smooth golden batter that is much lighter than the typical, chunky biscotti dough. It is closer to a cake batter and resembles a large vanilla wafer when it is baking in the oven. The end result is a moist, tender lemon-yellow cookie with a slight crunch, flavored with peppery licorice and ready for imminent dunking in a hot cup of espresso. The recipe makes about 30 cookies.

If you make this biscotti recipe, give some to friends or neighbors during the holidays, just as Mrs. Maio always did. I took some to Nelson and Doug’s “Blue Christmas Party” in Soho and gave some to my parents and the team at work to spread a little of Mrs. Maio’s Christmas spirit.
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© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved


Bradley said...

Looks very good. Have you tried Mandel Bread? It is a twice baked bread much like a Biscotti. There is a fairly decent recipe at http://www.inmamaskitchen.com/RECIPES/RECIPES/Cookies/Mandel_Bread.html

Patricia Scarpin said...

T.W., what a beautiful story - very moving!

I love recipes that bring emotions and traditions with them - they're even more special.

I'd love to receive such a lovely package with such delicious biscotti!

veron said...

I agree with Patricia, it's a very touching story. So this were the biscotti's you were telling me had 6 eggs. Can't wait to try this... a recipe that has a tradition and has a great story behind it. Thanks!

Mark said...

As a child I grew up with the experience of going to Grandmas house and always finding Biscotti in her old fashioned, bread bin. A cold glass of milk and two biscotti was heaven for me as an afternoon snack or before bedtime. I can still remember the smile on Grandmas face while she watched me dip them in the glass sitting at the kitchen table. They weren't like the other types of cookies when I was a kid, and at that early age, I always just thought of them as Grandmas special cookies. I even remember leaving them out for Santa Clause one Christmas when we visited, who I know must have enjoyed them immensely!! Nowadays, 30 some odd years later, I have yet to come across any biscotti that rival my Grandmas. So who is my Grandma? Rose Miao of course!!!

T.W. Barritt said...

Mark, thanks for adding this! it's nice to hear from you after so many years. Who would know better what a special treat your grandmother's cookies were?