Temptation, Thy Name is Biscotti

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Who can resist the crunchy, sweet, buttery goodness of fresh Biscotti?  Every year at Christmas I make batch after batch of an amazing chocolate chunk version to put in my goodie baskets.  It’s easier than you might think and way better than most of what you get at the store.  Of course, if it’s homemade it’s got to be better, right?  🙂  I put a bag of these beauties in a basket with some homemade cappuccino mix and some spoons dipped in melted chocolate, add a festive ribbon and, voila!  The perfect gift for the chocoholics in your life.

I looked at several different recipes before coming up with this one.  One of the things I love the most about baking is that you can customize anything to suit your own tastes.  And even though I’ve tweeked it to make it a little better for you, I do need to put in this disclaimer.  THIS RECIPE DOES NOT EVEN REMOTELY RESEMBLE, IN ANY WAY, A HEALTHY FOOD.  So, you know, pace yourself.  🙂

Now that you’ve read the warning label, let’s get baking!

Chocolate Chunk Biscotti Recipe

1 cup butter, softened

1 1/2 cups dehydrated sugar cane juice

4 pastured eggs

2 teaspoons homemade vanilla

4 1/4 cups flour of your choice*

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp instant coffee

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp sea salt

1 pkg semi-sweet chocolate chunks (you can find soy-free semi-sweet chocolate chunks here)

*I have never used a gluten-free flour in this recipe, so I don’t know how well that would work

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Light and fluffy!

Light as a cloud!

Beat in eggs, one at a time.  Now beat in the vanilla.

Eggs and vanilla beaten in well

Eggs and vanilla beaten in well

Mix the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, instant coffee, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl.  Add to butter mixture a little at a time, beating well between each addition.  Add the chocolate chunks and mix with a spoon untill evenly distributed.

Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces.

Ready to pat out onto the baking sheets

Ready to pat out onto the baking sheets

Butter and flour 2 cookie sheets.  On each cookie sheet pat out 2 pieces of the dough into logs about 1/2 inch high, 1 1/2 inches wide, and 14 inches long (ish).  Make sure the logs are at least 2 inches apart.

Ready to go in the oven

Ready to go in the oven

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Bake for 25 minutes or until lightly browned.  Put on a cooling rack and let cool for 5 minutes.

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Coolness is relative…

Put the logs on a cutting board and using a serrated knife, slice the logs on a diagonal into 1/2 inch wide pieces.

Cuttin' up

Cuttin’ up

Put the pieces back on the cookie sheet about 1/2 inch apart and put back in the oven for 10 minutes.  I don’t always get the very end pieces to fit back on the cookie sheet.  There’s usually someone around to take care of those pesky pieces, though!

Ready to go back in the oven

Ready to go back in the oven

Let cool completely and then store in an airtight container.  These also freeze beautifully.  Just take them out, let them thaw, and serve.

Ah, Biscotti

Ah, Biscotti

And if you really want to get wild and crazy, you can dip some of them in melted chocolate.  Oh my!  Sometimes my children just don’t know what to do with me…

What kind of biscotti is your favorite?  Let us know by leaving a comment below or click on the balloony thing at the top.

This post was shared at Real Food Wednesday, and at Ginger Jamboree.

 

Why I Bought a Gallon of Vodka, Plus a Holiday Baking Giveaway

Have you heard the one about the woman you went into the liquor store and asked for a gallon of vodka?  Oh.  Wait.  That was me.  🙂  And you should have seen the looks on their faces!  Apparently, vodka is not sold by the gallon, it’s sold by the liter.  So, then I had to try to figure out how many liters make a gallon.  We finally decided that 2 1.75 liter bottles would be about a gallon.

I am sure you are all fascinated by that bit of information and are now asking yourselves, “Why in the world would anyone need a whole gallon of vodka?”  And the answer to that question is, “To turn it into a whole gallon of vanilla extract, of course!”

This little vanilla adventure started when I saw a blog post about making your own vanilla.  Since I had recently thrown mine out (after I discovered the stuff I had contained high fructose corn syrup), I wanted to give it a try.  So I got a few vanilla beans and a small bottle of vodka.  I stuck the beans in the bottle and waited.  After about 6 weeks I was enjoying using my very own homemade vanilla extract.  No artificial anything, and no HFCS!

I decided that homemade vanilla would be a great Christmas gift for my friends and family that bake.  And that, my friends, is where that whole gallon of vodka comes in.  I ordered my Premium Bourbon Madagascar Vanilla Beans from this great website called OliveNation.  They have lots of other great stuff, as well as free shipping on their vanilla beans.  Saving money on shipping is always a plus!

It takes anywhere from 4 to 6 months to make a gallon of extract.  At 4 months you can begin to use it and at 6 months it is double strength.  And as a bonus, after I made the extract I dried the beans and used them to make vanilla sugar and vanilla cinnamon sugar.  I use dehydrated sugar cane juice, but any kind of sugar will work.

Vanilla Cinnamon Sugar and Vanilla Sugar

Vanilla Cinnamon Sugar and Vanilla Sugar

And then I made these fun labels to go on the tops.

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Here are the directions for making a gallon of vanilla extract.  You can, of course, make smaller amounts, but your story won’t be nearly as funny.  🙂

Homemade Vanilla Extract

1 gallon of vodka

80 ish organic vanilla beans (approx 3/4 pound)

gallon sized glass jar with lid

The first step is to split the vanilla beans lengthwise to within about an inch from one end.

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Then you put the beans in the jar and add the vodka.

beans in vodka

Put the lid on the jar and shake it well.  Now put the jar in a cool, dark place.  About once a month or so you need to shake the jar again.  After 4 months it should look like this.

4 month old vanilla

I kinda rushed things for Christmas, but next time I will let it sit for the full 6 months so it will be double strength.  When you are ready to bottle it, strain it through a coffee filter or cheesecloth into a large pot.

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I used a coffee filter this time, but next time I will use the cheesecloth.  The beans have some oil in them and that seemed to clog up the filter I used.  All that’s left is to put it in the bottles.  I put a vanilla bean in each bottle before adding the extract.  That way, the recipients can add a little more vodka to the bottle as they use it.

I found these amber bottles for the vanilla at Mountain Rose Herbs.  And made some more fun labels :).

vanilla bottles

Perfect for gift giving.  The vanilla sugars also make great gifts.  I like to use the plain in my hot tea and maybe I’ll sprinkle the cinnamon over my soaked oatmeal.  I think it would also be good on grapefruit.

What would you use the sugars for?  Leave a comment below (click on the balloony thing at the top) and I’ll enter your name into a drawing to win a 4 oz bottle of vanilla and one jar of each of the sugars.  I’ll announce the winner on Wednesday, December 19th.

Can’t wait to hear your ideas!

This post was shared at Homemade Ginger’s Christmas Craft Link-Up, Simple Lives ThursdayFat Tuesday, Tutorial Tuesday and Frugal Tuesday Tip.

There and Back Again…

Hello everyone!  Wow, it’s been a looong time since I have posted on this blog.  My apologies to all of you who check in here frequently to see what’s going on.  In fact, quite a lot has been going on, I’ve just not been getting around to sharing it with you.  Here’s a quick rundown…

My son graduated from high school J, my daughter got married J (so now I have a bonus son JJ), 2 friends have had babies, I have started teaching sewing and crochet classes at a local fabric store, and as of a week ago I started converting the now empty bedroom into a sewing/crafting room.  Whew.  This week I am hoping to complete the transformation by moving all my fabric and yarn into the sewing room (although I have a LOT of fabric and I’m sure bets are being taken on this one) and getting my weaving loom out of the garage and cleaned up so I can use it again (for the 1st time in probably 15 years).  In about 3 weeks my son will be heading off to college and I’ll have another empty bedroom.  That one is going to be my guest room/office.  Kinda weird that all in one summer both kids are leaving and I’ll suddenly have the house all to myself.  And I’ll always know where the TV remotes are.  I’m excited to see this next season in their lives as young adults and where it’s going to take them.  I’m also equally excited about this next season in my life and what Father has planned for me.

Now that you are all in the loop, let me show you how to make this

into this.

 

Saturday was a good day for probiotics at my house.  I have been learning more about traditionally fermented foods and how amazingly healthful they are.  So far I have made sour pickles, water kefir, krauts, and chutneys.  On Saturday I started a new batch of water kefir, some Apple Cherry Pecan Chutney, and some kraut.  I even remembered to take pictures so I can show you all how easy it is to make.  The chutney was ready today so I thought I would share it with you now.  This made almost 3 quarts for me because I like big chunks of fruit.  The smaller the pieces, the less room they take up in the jars.

Just a note before we get started.  This chutney is fermented and uses a starter culture to get the process going.  You don’t have to make this as a ferment, you can just make it and put it in the fridge right away.  If you want to do that only use half the amount of sugar and only add enough water to get all the spices distributed evenly.  It won’t keep as long and won’t have any probiotic benefits for you, but it will still be really yummy!

 Apple Cherry Pecan Chutney

  • 6 cups coarsely chopped apples-I used 3 large Red Delicious
  • 2 cups pitted and quartered sweet cherries
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • ½ cup whey* or other started culture-I used some grape water kefir** that I had in the fridge
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup natural sweetener-I use dehydrated sugar cane juice but you can use any natural sweetener other than honey***
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

* The whey here is what is left over after making cheese, not the stuff you get in powder form at the health food store

** Directions for water kefir are coming soon

*** Because honey has anti-bacterial properties, it inhibits the fermentation process

Wash, quarter and core the apples.  Then chop them coarsely.

I like my apple chunks pretty big…

Put the apples into a large mixing bowl.  As you chop the apples toss them in the lemon juice to keep them from turning brown.  Next, wash, pit, and quarter the sweet cherries and add them to the apples.

The sweet cherries have just been amazing this year!

Now for the pecans.  I only used 1 cup because I am almost out of pecans and I use them in a lot of things.  Hopefully those pesky squirrels at my parents house have left some for us..

Mix all the rest of the ingredients into the fruit mixture.  Transfer to a clean jar or jars.  Pack down so all ingredients are submerged and at least 1 inch from the top of the jar.  Add more water if necessary.  Cover tightly. 

My big jar of chutney.

If you are using canning jars, the rings and lids work just great.  If you are using another kind of jar cover the top with plastic wrap before putting the lid on.  I used a gallon jar to ferment my chutney because I didn’t have enough quart jars that were clean at the time.  In order to keep everything submerged in a quart jar I usually add a small mouth jar lid on the top of the ferment and press it down.  That usually works pretty well.  However, for this jar I used a gallon baggie filled with water and just put it into the top of the jar.  While the baggie probably sealed it pretty well too, I still put plastic wrap over the top before I put the lid on the jar.  The weird color at the top is where some of the liquid migrated up between the baggie and the jar.  You need to let this sit out at room temperature for two or three days.  I put mine on top of the fridge so it’s out of the way, but I can still see it.  Still seeing ferments is a very, very good thing…Check the chutney daily for any mold growing on the surface and if there is just skim it off.  Everything below the level of the liquid will be just fine.  If the weather is very warm, fermentation may only take a day.  Burp the jar periodically to release the gasses from the fermentation process.  Please, please, please remember to do this.  Remember what happens when you don’t burp a baby?  Yup.  Just like that.  Just trust me on this…

There will be bubbles in the jar when you open it.  Kinda like this:

Bubble, bubble, bubble

This is looking straight down into the top of the jar.  Sadly, I have no natural light in my kitchen, so my pictures don’t always turn out very nice.

Taste it when you burp the jar and when it has reached a taste and texture you like, move it to cold storage or your refrigerator.  The longer it ferments the softer the fruit will be and the less sweet it will become.  This ferment will only keep for two to three weeks.  After spooning some out of the jar, make sure you repack it by pressing what’s left back under the liquid.

Because a lot of the sugar is used during the fermentation process, this is not overly sweet.  I eat it just by itself, but I think it would be good with yogurt or as a topping for pancakes or waffles.  Or maybe as a side with some grilled or roasted meat.  If you want to sweeten it up a little to use for dessert, drizzle with some raw honey or grade B maple syrup.  Or maybe even go a little bit crazy and put it on ice cream…

Enjoy!

How would you eat this yummy chutney?  Reply below and let us know!