Crisp and perfectly desiccated, biscotti are the ideal dunking cookies. They can soak up the flavor of whatever they are dipped in without losing their crunchiness and are traditionally served after dinner with an Italian dessert wine called San Vinto, although many folks today enjoy them dunked in a coffee, espresso or cappuccino (I still prefer a cold glass of milk). Like all things Italian - Americans love biscotti, except, of course, for those persistent few like my daughter, who complain that the twice-baked cookies are “too hard.” Well, get ready to “soften” your stand.
Linda, at Linda’s Gourmet Biscotti, on Route 24 in Chester, NJ, has been making biscotti for almost 40 years. Her famous walnut chocolate chip variety, crafted from an old family recipe, is the cornerstone of her busy biscotti business and one of the most popular sellers.
“My kids’ great grandmother taught me how to make the walnut chocolate chip,” Linda told us. “Every place that I went, I had to bring them or I wasn’t allowed in. Sometimes I think I’m invited places just because I bring biscotti.”
After her kids left for college, she decided to share her family-famous creation with a wider audience, and started selling her biscotti in stores in Morris County and eventually moved into her own storefront in Chester.
“I started looking for my own kitchen because I used to rent kitchens and drag everything in and out, when they were closed,” Linda said. “Actually, I didn’t even want a storefront, I just wanted to rent a kitchen and ship out and take care of the stores I was in, but this all came with it,” she said, gesturing to the colorful cases of fresh-baked biscotti.
Ironically, it turns out that for most of the four decades that Linda was baking biscotti she faced a minor dilemma.
“I never liked biscotti because they were hard,” she confessed.
Yes, that’s right, the Biscotti Lady herself was in the “it’s too hard” camp. So, she decided to cook-up a scrumptious, once-baked biscotti that is moister and chewier than its traditional counterpart, but still able to hold up to a good dunking and they are a big hit with the soft cookie crowd.
“I started not double-baking some, which became a soft biscotti,” she explained. “Now I have both. So, when people come in and say they hate biscotti because they’re crunchy and they’re hard, I have them try a soft one. And they say, “Hey, I’ll take 6 of those!”
Linda bakes a sensational array of biscotti and tries to accommodate all her customers’ dietary requests by offering biscotti that are gluten-free, nut-free, vegan, dairy-free, sugar-free, and she is even working on a low-carb keto-friendly cookie made with almond and coconut flour. And of course, everything is all-natural.
“They’re all natural,” said Linda. “I won’t give my recipe away, but they are all natural flavors. We use real lemon in the lemons, banana in the bananas, we use the freshest ingredients we can find.”
All Linda’s biscotti come in a hard or soft variety and include the classic almond, and anise biscotti, as well as flavors like s’mores, funfetti, lemon (the most popular flavor in the shop), banana nut, raspberry chocolate chunk, carrot cake (her newest variation), and of course, the one that got it all started - walnut chocolate chip.
Can’t decide? No problem, Linda sells mixed biscotti bites in ¼ and ½ pound bags, so you can sample them all.
As for my hard-bitten daughter, it only took one trip to Linda’s (and four cookies) to soften her view of biscotti. Happy dunking!
Visit Linda’s Gourmet Biscotti at 324, Rte 24, Chester, NJ 07930, or shop online at www.lindasgourmetbiscotti.com
The Softer Side of Biscotti
By Lee & Chris Wolfe/Photos by Lauren Kearns
We were discussing what to bring to a friend’s house one evening, when I suggested biscotti. I’d heard about a fantastic biscotti shop called, Linda’s Gourmet Biscotti, in Chester, and was eager to sample their fare.
“Don’t bring biscotti,” my daughter whined. “They’re too hard.”
The dreaded three words that no proud biscotti lover wants to hear - “They’re too hard.”
For those who aren’t familiar with the sturdy biscotti, they are finger-shaped, biscuits or cookies, traditionally associated with the Tuscany region of Italy. They came into their own during the Renaissance, although they date as far back as the Roman Legions, when they were a staple for armies on-the-march and seafaring traders that needed a durable, convenient food with a long shelf life. Many Italian-Americans grew up teething on their nonna’s biscotti, but it wasn’t until the 1990s, more than 500 years after Columbus brought them along on his voyages to the New World, that they began showing up in trendy coffee shops across America.
The quintessential almond and pine nut biscotti, the “biscotto di Prato,” is a centuries-old recipe, that was popularized in the mid-1800s by Antonio Mattei, an Italian pastry chef from the Tuscan city of Prato. The recipe uses no oils or butter and is made simply from flour, sugar, eggs, pine nuts and almonds. The barely moist dough is hand-formed into long, oval loaves and baked twice, once in loaf form to retain their shape, and again, after they’ve been sliced into their characteristic shapes. It’s that second baking that draws the moisture from the cookies and determines how hard and crackly they will be (the word “biscotti” is derived from Latin and means twice cooked).