Feliz Navidad...

As further proof that this time of year makes me a little irrational, I found myself baking cookies I don't even like tonight. Specifically, they were biscotti. I hate biscotti -- they're dry, they're hard, and the only way to make them palatable (or so I hear) is to dunk them in coffee, which I don't even drink. Because I find little redeeming value in them, I've never bothered making them. But when I was flipping through my cookie magazines last week in search of some last-minute inspiration, I was confronted with a recipe that practically begged me to give them a try.

The recipe in question was for biscotti that showcased the flavors of mole, the complex chocolate-based Mexican sauce that features nearly thirty different ingredients. I've long been inherently drawn to anything that claims to capture the cinnamon and chocolate pairing found in Mexican chocolate, so these biscotti catered directly to my weakness. 

Suddenly, the fact that I had never made biscotti before became an argument in their favor; I'd be trying something new, and expanding my culinary horizons. Never one to turn down a baking challenge, I decided to go for it; after all, even if I don't like biscotti, plenty of people do, and somebody would be bound to enjoy them.

The most difficult part of the process proved to be sourcing the raw pepitas, or shelled pumpkin seeds, called for in the recipe. My local grocery store didn't carry them, but I ultimately found them at the European grocery store near my parents' house that features a large Hispanic food product selection. I also spotted them in the bulk bins at Whole Foods earlier this week when I was there in search of candied ginger for some lemon ginger bars.

In terms of effort, biscotti fall somewhere between bar cookies and regular individually-baked cookies, which I appreciated during a week as jam-packed with baking as this. The dough was a little bit sticky, but with damp hands, it was easy to mold into shape. It cut beautifully, and when all was said and done, they came out as the best biscotti I've ever consumed. 

They were light and ethereal, more crisp than hard and crunchy. I would have preferred a slightly more pronounced chocolate flavor, and in the future I might add cinnamon directly to the dough instead of just cinnamon chips, but they were still a unique and interesting combination of flavors. I think they will bring something unique and unconventional to this year's Cookie Bonanza, and they may even convince me to take a more open-minded view of biscotti in the future.

Mole Biscotti
adapted from Cuisine At Home

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
3/4 c. sugar
3 eggs
1/4 c. cornmeal
1/2 c. cinnamon chips
1/2 c. shelled raw pepitas, divided

Preheat the oven to 350. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
1. Whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, cayenne, and salt in a bowl until combined; set aside.
2. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about five minutes.
3. Beat in eggs, one at a time on low speed until well-mixed. Mix in cornmeal. Add half of the flour mixture; beat until well blended. Add remaining flour mixture, beating only until flour is incorporated into dough.
4. Stir in cinnamon chips and 1/3 cup pepitas. Dough will be sticky. Transfer dough to prepared baking sheet; shape into a 3x14-inch rectangle, 3/4-inch thick.
5. Grind or mince remaining pepitas; sprinkle on top of biscotti dough. Bake biscotti for 25 minutes; remove from oven and let cool 20 minutes. Reduce oven to 325. Transfer biscotti rectangle on parchment to a cutting board.
6. Diagonally slice biscotti into 16-18 strips 3/4 inch wide. Stand slices upright on the baking sheet 1/2 inch apart; return biscotti to oven. Bake biscotti 25 minutes more, then turn off oven. Leave biscotti in oven 15-20 minutes longer. Remove biscotti from oven; cool completely on the baking sheet.

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