Red Velvet Cookies and Cream Shortbread

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I’m not an artsy person. I wish I was….but I just am not.

When I was growing up in elementary school Art Day was one I viewed with apathy at best and dread at worst, because I knew that my creation wasn’t going to be particularly pretty to look at. Most times I just hoped it wouldn’t be the worst of the worst.

I can’t really draw. I can’t paint. Sculpting with clay and the like never really produced much more for me than misshapen blobs.

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I don’t really have much of an artistic eye or decorating skills either, which is why I feel like sometimes my pictures on the blog suffer from not being ‘styled’ as pretty as I’ve seen them on other sites. Maybe I should take a class or something.

In the meanwhile, I do what I can to make art, ‘my way’. I’ve found that way to be through cooking and baking. I get to be creative with many a recipe canvas, and I’d say that on the whole, my results aren’t too shabby.

Case in point, today’s recipe.

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I view shortbread as a blank, albeit delicious canvas. It’s a great thing all on its own, but to be at its best, I think it’s largely dependent on what you can do to elevate it so that it’s your own artistic creation.

The possibilities of elevation really are endless: Herbs. Citrus. Chocolate. Nuts. Cheese. Tea. I’ve even seen booze flavored shortbread recipes. There’s something out there for anybody and any occasion.

So, naturally it makes sense that there should be one that’s geared towards a particular occasion coming up this week, right? You know which one I’m talking about.

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Last year at about this time, I did a riff on Red Velvet cupcakes that I flavored with the Oreo Red Velvet Cookies and Creme sandwich cookies. It was a big hit that got a lot of traffic, with admittedly, for good reason. After a little bit more brainstorming, and some more experimenting I’m pleased to announce I’ve found yet another way to take these yummy flavored Oreos and use them to flavor another great dessert: shortbread.

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Shortbread is, I think, a fail-proof recipe for baking. It’s almost impossible to mess up because there are only two things you have to get right: properly creaming the butter and pricking the holes in the finished dough just before baking. You get that right and you’ll have perfect shortbread every time, guaranteed. Because of that, it was relatively easy for me to see how it could be adapted into a Red Velvet flavor without compromising on the original very much. I took about 12 of the flavored Oreos and blitzed them in my Ninja until they were a very fine reddish powder; it made about 1/2 cup’s worth. I took that and incorporated it into a base recipe for regular golden shortbread, then also added vanilla and a bit of almond extract to that dough.

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I thought about maybe scraping the filling out of the cookies before crushing them because of the moisture affecting the dough, but ultimately decided against it. I’m glad that I did. The filling I think really helps that Red Velvet/Cookies and Creme flavor really come through in the finished product. To solve the issue of the filling adding too much moisture/pasty-ness, I added about 1/4 cup extra flour, which I think easily solved that problem.

I decorated half the shortbread with a simple white icing and some leftover crushed cookie crumbs, but as you can see I left half plain for the simple reason that I think it tastes pretty darn good all on its own without needing it.

Side note, didn’t the red cookies add such a pretty pink color to the dough? I love that. I love this recipe. It makes me feel like in spite of being artistically challenged with a paint brush or modeling clay, I just may be an artiste in the kitchen after all.

Happy Fiesta Friday #158 (co-hosted this week by Ai @ Ai Made It For You and Petra @ Food Eat Love.). Also, Happy early-Valentines Day to all of you who will be doing something special with a significant other. Have a good steak and some chocolate, or something.

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Red Velvet Cookies and Cream Shortbread

Recipe Adapted from King Arthur Flour

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 cups All-Purpose Flour, plus 1/4 cup if needed
  • 1/2 cup crushed Red Velvet flavored crème sandwich cookies (about 10-12), plus more for decoration (optional)

For Glaze

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1-2 tablespoons milk, plus more if needed

 

Directions

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray two nine inch cake or tart pans with cooking spray.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or  using a large bowl with a hand held mixer, cream together the butter, powdered sugar and extracts until light and fluffy.

Add 2 cups of the flour, 1 cup at a time. Then fold in the crushed cookies. The dough should be able to hold together if pressed with your fingers. If it still seems too sticky, you may add the extra 1/4 cup of flour.

Divide the dough in half. Using your hands, press each half into a pan, using a spatula to smooth out the surface. Prick holes evenly across the surface of the dough. (This will keep it from bubbling up during baking.)

Bake in the oven for about 35-40 minutes, until deep golden brown at the edges.

Wait for about 2-3 minutes, then turn shortbread out onto a plate. Using a pizza cutter, bench scraper or sharp knife, cut into desired shapes. (Note: you HAVE to cut the shortbread while it is still warm. Cutting it when it’s cold will only cause it to crumble and fall apart).

Remove to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

If decorating, combine the powdered together in a small bowl. If the glaze is too stiff, you can add more milk, teaspoon by teaspoon; don’t add too much though, or it will become too runny to set on the shortbread. Dip a fork into the glaze and allow it to drizzle off the tines and on top of the shortbread in desired design. Sprinkle the crushed cookie crumbs on top. Allow to sit for about 20-30 minutes until glaze hardens.

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Pane Bianco

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You guys ever take a look at where your life is at and think back to what it was like a year ago? I can’t be the only person who does that, right?

It’s nearing the end of August and more than once I’ve stopped and thought about what was going on in my life a year or so ago. This time last year, life was somewhat hectic as we were just on the cusp of my twin sister’s wedding. She was hella stressed out and me and my older sister (as joint maids of honor) were doing everything that we could to keep her as calm and ‘together’ as possible….which at times seemed like Mission Impossible.

(Sorry Jas. But you know I’m speaking truth.)

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Fortunately, everything with the wedding turned out just fine. It was a great day and honestly all of us are kinda amazed that one full year has already went by since it happened. Hectic, stressful situations can seem like a handful when you’re in them and a trick I always try to do for myself to make things easier is to just imagine myself on the other side of them a year in advance, looking back on it and thinking, “Yeah. I guess that wasn’t so bad. It all turned out fine.  (and hopefully, even great).”

This is relevant to the here and now because I’ve actually been running around like a chicken without a head for the past few weeks, which is a huge reason why I didn’t get the time to put up a post last week. Last year’s hectic/stressful/big to-do was my twin’s wedding. And this year, it’s the hectic/stressful/big process of a move. A rather big move.

2.361 miles, to be exact.

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I’m moving to California, y’all.

I’m moving to California. I’m moving to California. I’m moving to–

Sorry. I keep having to say it to myself more than once because (despite the fact that my flight leaves in less than ten days) it still just does not feel real to me. Excepting the first eight months of my life (when I lived on an Army base in Montana and I really don’t think that counts) I’ve never lived *anywhere* else but the Mitten State. And now, in typical Jess-fashion of extremes, the second place I’m going to live in in my entire life is clear across the country and a polar opposite place/climate/vibe. It’s pretty typical of my life.

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Newsflash you guys: moving across the country is a very trying and at times, exhausting undertaking. There’s a LOT of t’s to cross, even more i’s to dot and still more loose ends to tie up. Packing. Shipping boxes of stuff through the US postal service. Packing. Transporting a car. Packing. Pinning down just the right flight to take for traveling with a toddler (which is more complicated than it sounds.)

Oh yeah, and still more packing.

Needless to say in the midst of all the bustle and running around, I’ve needed to find effective means of staying calm, chilling out and avoiding the much less practical alternative of ripping all my hair out. Baking is a practical and effective alternative, I’ve found.

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I’m subscribed to King Arthur Flour’s email mailing list and towards the beginning of the month, they announced a series of Baking Challenges that they would do every month and share through a blog post. I knew from the time that I got the email and gave the recipe a look over that I would try it out for myself and I’ve already seen lots of you take up the challenge with outstanding results. Plus, baking is wildly therapeutic to me. It was good to take a time out in between cleaning out an apartment, and packing and shipping boxes to get in the kitchen for a few hours and do some DIY therapy.

Especially if said therapy involves carbs. That, I’m always down for.

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I’ll be honest: this isn’t the kind of recipe that I would’ve chosen to make by myself right off rip. I think it’s the first cheese bread I’ve *ever* made before, and the first time I’ve baked with sundried tomatoes, ever for sure.

I made very little modifications to this recipe. It really is just about perfect and easy to follow all on its own. My only change was to add one tablespoon of Italian seasoning to the dough to give it that extra ‘oomf’ of flavor, and the aroma that it creates while baking and even proofing is very reminiscent of an Italian restaurant or pizzeria. The flavors here are outstanding, even better than I’d expected. The basil perfumes throughout the entire loaf, giving it a mild kind of sweetness even though there’s no sugar, while the cheese that pokes through the top of the swirls forms a lovely brown crust on the top of the bread while the cheese tucked on the inside forms these lovely, meltey, ooey gooey pockets of yum. (And this is coming from someone that doesn’t even like cheese that much usually. That’s how good this is.)

So, am I glad that I took the KAF August Baking challenge? You betcha I am.

Happy Fiesta Friday #134. Now let’s all break Pane Biano together and have a great weekend.

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Pane Bianco

Recipe Adapted from King Arthur Flour

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Ingredients

For the Dough

  • 3 cups King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour*
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm milk
  • 1/3 cup lukewarm water’
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of Italian seasoning blend

For the Filling

  • 3/4 cup shredded Italian-blend cheese or the cheese of your choice
  • 1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes or your own oven-roasted tomatoes
  • 3 to 6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil

Directions

In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the lukewarm water, then sprinkle the white sugar on top of that. Let it sit for about 10 minutes, until the yeast is proofed and frothy.

In the meanwhile, combine the milk, egg, and olive oil together in the bowl of a standing mixer. Add the yeast mixture, then the flour, Italian seasoning and the salt. Knead using the dough hook attachment until you have a smooth and slightly sticky dough.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let it rise for 45 to 60 minutes, or until it’s doubled in size.

Meanwhile, thoroughly drain the tomatoes, patting them dry. Use kitchen shears to cut them into smaller bits.

Gently deflate the dough. Flatten and pat it into a 22″ x 8 1/2″ rectangle. Spread with the cheese, tomatoes, garlic, and basil.

Starting with one long edge, roll the dough into a log the long way. Pinch the edges to seal. Place the log seam-side down on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.

Using kitchen shears, start 1/2″ from one end and cut the log lengthwise down the center about 1″ deep, to within 1/2″ of the other end.

Keeping the cut side up, form an “S” shape. Tuck both ends under the center of the “S” to form a “figure 8;” pinch the ends together to seal.

Cover and let rise in a warm place until double, 45 to 60 minutes.

While the loaf is rising, preheat the oven to 350°F.

Uncover the bread, and bake it for 35 to 40 minutes, tenting it with foil after 20 to 25 minutes to prevent over-browning.

Remove the bread from the oven, and transfer it to a rack to cool. Enjoy warm or at room temperature. Store, well-wrapped, at room temperature for a couple of days; freeze for longer storage.

  

Apple Cinnamon Scones

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Happy Fiesta Friday #16 all you lovely people who came out the party! I’m pleased to bring this humble offering to share: Apple Cinnamon Scones!

I think just about everyone has had a certain interest, like hobby or skill that in a perfect dream world, they would like to use that hobby or skill as a job that they could do for the rest of their lives. I admittedly, have had quite a few of these in my short 24 years on this Earth.

When I was in elementary school, I loved everything that had to do with babies, thus making me believe that I wanted to be an obstetrician- this was after I consulted with my mom and found that there WAS such a thing as a doctor that only handled labor and delivery of babies. Then I found out that I wasn’t the best at science or math- both of which you kinda have to have decent skills into become a doctor. So that was out.

When I was between the ages of 11-13 I was  sure I was gonna be an Egyptologist when I grew up- pretty much an expert on everything that had to do with ancient Egypt. You know those mysterious (and let’s face it, creepy) curators of Egyptian artifact museums you see in the movies? Yeah, I totally used to fantasize about that being me.

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When I was in high school, I did some acting in a few plays and musicals and really enjoyed it. I also saw the film adaptation of Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” (which made me develop a mild obsession with all things PoTO related that lasted far longer than I’m willing to admit to you guys) Thus, I got the idea in my head that maybe my true calling was to become an actress on Broadway, where I would be able to become the first African American Christine Daae to a Phantom that happened to look like Gerard Butler’s twin brother. (Side note, I’ve given up on that one completely).

My main goal during my undergraduate years at Michigan State University was to go on to graduate school and become a scholar in academia of African American studies. To be honest, this is something that I’m still kinda considering for my future. I love all things that have to do with African American history, and although the prospect of grad school intimidates me, I’d still feel honored and pleased if given the opportunity to pursue the life of an academic.

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Nowadays, my dreams and aspirations for the ideal job mainly revolve around two things: writing and food. I think I’ve mentioned before that writing fiction and cooking food are the only two things in the world that I could do for free without needing any pay or compensation. I’m totally serious about that too. As a voracious reader as a girl, I finally came to the conclusion one day that instead of just envying the stories of my favorite authors, maybe I should just try creating some of my own stories and characters- so I did. My writing has really become one of the main stress relievers that I have in my life. I can’t imagine life without it. The best part is that it’s become an ongoing journey that never has to end- the more and longer that I write, the  more that I think I have and will continue to improve my skills…which leads to my ‘ideal world’ dream of becoming a bestselling author that just writes books for a living. It’s definitely a long shot, but a girl can still dream, can’t she?

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And of course, there’s my cooking. You guys ought to know by now that my cooking is my refuge. When I cook, all is well with my world. There’s just me, the kitchen, my ingredients, and the music in the background. Blogging has really just served to elevate my love and respect for cooking- I not only get to share it with my family and friends, I also get to share with you all…the pictures, that is 🙂 My friend Prudy at Butter, Basil & Breadcrumbs told me in one of my past posts that I should open a bakery. I found this to be rather coincidental, as running a small bakery is something I can half see myself doing in an ideal, care-less world. Running a restaurant- definitely not. But a bakery, I think I could do.

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So, some of you may remember a few months ago when I first made these Banana Bread Scones. (If you don’t or weren’t following my blog at the time, I highly recommend you go and check them out cause they’re friggin awesome) They were a smashing hit, and I was so impressed with them that I almost immediately decided that I would be making scones- any kind of scones- again as soon as possible. I finally settled on these- and I can’t tell you how happy I was that I did.

I didn’t think it was possible to top the Banana Bread Scones, but honestly I kinda think that these do. What else can I say? They’re thick, flaky, tender and bursting with apples and cinnamon chips. You may notice that mine are iced- technically the recipe didn’t call for it but I went ahead and decided to throw together a quick icing using confectioner’s sugar, a few teaspoons of milk, vanilla extract and a dash of cinnamon. My family always whines about how much I use icing for every baked good that I make, but I don’t care. I love icing. Icing is everything. Everything in life.

These scones make me think that maybe I should start taking my little dream world aspiration of opening a bakery a reality someday- after I’ve sold my hundreds of thousands of books on the New York Times Bestseller’s List, that is.

Hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?

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Apple Cinnamon Scones

Recipe Courtesy of King Arthur Flour

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • 2 3/4 cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon Apple Pie Spice or ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) cold butter
  • 3/4 cup chopped fresh apple, in 1/2″ pieces leave the skin on, if you like
  • 3/4 cup cinnamon chips
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup applesauce, unsweetened

Directions

1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and spice.

2. Work in the butter just until the mixture is unevenly crumbly; it’s OK for some larger chunks of butter to remain unincorporated.

3. Stir in the chopped apple and cinnamon chips.

4. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla, and applesauce.

5. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until all is moistened and holds together.

6. Line a baking sheet with parchment; if you don’t have parchment, just use it without greasing it. Sprinkle a bit of flour atop the parchment or pan.

7. Scrape the dough onto the floured parchment or pan, and divide it in half. Gently pat and round each half into a 5″ to 5 1/2″ circle about 3/4″ thick.

8. Using a knife or bench knife that you’ve run under cold water, slice each circle into 6 wedges.

9. Carefully pull the wedges away from the center to separate them just a bit; there should be about 1/2″ space between them, at their outer edges.

10. For best texture and highest rise, place the pan of scones in the freezer for 30 minutes, uncovered. While the scones are chilling, preheat the oven to 425°F.

11. Bake the scones for 18 to 22 minutes, or until they’re golden brown. When you pull one away from the others, it should look baked all the say through; the edge shouldn’t look wet or unbaked.

12. Remove the scones from the oven, and cool briefly on the pan. Serve warm. When they’re completely cool, wrap in plastic and store at room temperature for up to several days. (Yield: 12 scones)

 

 

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Vanilla Biscotti

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12 Days of Christmas {Treats}

I thought I’d kick off this post with some random facts about Christmas that you may or may not have known before:

  1. The common abbreviation of Christmas to “Xmas” is derived from the Greek alphabet. “Chi,” the first letter of Christ’s name in the Greek alphabet, is written as “X.” (So I guess all the ‘War on Christmas’ propoganda is a bunch of bologna. Go figure).
  2. The earliest known Christmas tree decorations were apples. (We actually had fake apple ornaments on the Christmas tree from my childhood. I never quite understood why until now).
  3. The most expensively dressed Christmas tree was valued at $11,026,900 and was displayed by the Emirates Palace in the United Arab Emirates last year. (That tree better be trimmed in “decorations from Tiffany’s” as  the song goes, that’s for sure.)

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I’ll give you guys some more trivia throughout the series, but for now let’s get down to treats. For the second day of our Christmas treat series, I wanted to try something new that I’ve never tried before, both in the kitchen and in general. Biscotti were something that I’ve heard of but never really thought I would care for. They’re essentially twice baked cookies that are meant to be dunked into coffee to make them soft enough to bite into, as the traditional Italian style ones are quite hard. The thought of jaw-breaker cookies was never very appetizing to me, so I never bought any that I would see at Starbucks. Interestingly enough, when I was brainstorming ideas for the series, biscotti came to my mind. I tried to ignore it, but it just kept coming up.

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You guys know me by now. Once I get an ‘itch’ to cook a new recipe, I’m gonna follow through with it. There are a TON of biscotti recipes online, but eventually I settled on this one for two reasons: #1, it’s supposed to be an ‘American’ biscotti which means that it won’t chip a tooth when you take a bite out of it without coffee, and #2, it’s a vanilla biscotti- and I love ANYTHING that’s vanilla flavored.

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They looked pretty good on their own when they finished their second round in the oven, but I went ahead and threw together a basic powdered sugar icing that I flavored with milk and vanilla extract, then topped them with red and green sprinkles. I think it makes them look so much more festive and ‘Christmas-ey’, don’t you think?

(Click on the Picture for a link to the YouTube playlist. You know you want to.)

Today’s Christmas album recommendation is for A Special Christmas by SWV- or, the Sisters with Voices. Anyone who was or still is a fan of the old school R & B from the 90’s (like me) is going to be a huge SWV fan. Their songs just never seem to get old, and their Christmas album is no exception. They give a smooth rendition to the traditional Christmas carols that are very reminiscent of 90’s music. It’s been apart of my must-haves Christmas collection for years now. It definitely should be apart of yours too.

Favorite Tracks: “The Christmas Song”, “Give Love on Christmas Day”, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, “Christmas Ain’t Christmas (Without the One You Love)”

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Vanilla Biscotti

Recipe Courtesy of King Arthur Flour

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

Directions

1.  Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) one large (about 18″ x 13″) baking sheet.

2. In a medium-sized bowl, beat the butter, sugar, salt, vanilla, almond extract (if you’re using it), and baking powder until the mixture is smooth and creamy.

3. Beat in the eggs; the batter may look slightly curdled. At low speed of your mixer, add the flour, stirring until smooth; the dough will be sticky.

4. Plop the dough onto the prepared baking sheet. Divide it in half, and shape it into two 9 1/2″ x 2″ logs, about 3/4″ tall. Straighten the logs, and smooth their tops and sides; a wet spatula or wet bowl scraper works well here. Sprinkle with coarse white sparkling sugar, if desired, pressing it in gently.

5. Bake the dough for 25 minutes. Remove it from the oven.

6. Using a spray bottle filled with room-temperature water, lightly but thoroughly spritz the logs, making sure to cover the sides as well as the top. Softening the crust just this little bit will make slicing the biscotti much easier. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.

7. Wait 5 minutes, then use a sharp chef’s knife or serrated knife to cut the log crosswise into 1/2″ to 3/4″ slices. Or cut the biscotti on the diagonal, for fewer, longer biscotti. As you’re slicing, be sure to cut straight up and down, perpendicular to the pan; if you cut unevenly, biscotti may be thicker at the top than the bottom, and they’ll topple over during their second bake.

8. Set the biscotti on edge on the prepared baking sheet. Return the biscotti to the oven, and bake them for 25 to 30 minutes, until they feel very dry and are beginning to turn golden. They’ll still feel a tiny bit moist in the very center, if you break off a piece; but they’ll continue to dry out as they cool.

9. Remove the biscotti from the oven, and transfer them to a rack to cool. Store airtight at room temperature; they’ll stay good for weeks.

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