These rosemary and orange-scented biscotti are a simple and elegant after-dinner holiday treat. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

These rosemary and orange-scented biscotti are a simple and elegant after-dinner holiday treat. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

Truth be told, I loathe baking.

I cannot recount to you the number of times I’ve destroyed beautiful cakes because I couldn’t wait for them to cool before either removing them from their pans or attempting to frost them.

I’ve burned cookies to crisps, singed loaves of sourdough and — admittedly, more than once — forgotten to turn the oven on, entirely.

Baking is a science, which is probably why baking and I do not get along. But ‘tis the season for holiday cookies, and I couldn’t be the Scrooge of the holiday party yet again.

Last year I went a little crazy, deciding to bake up several batches of Linzer cookies as gifts for my friends, a feat that took me nearly five hours and several glasses of pinot grigio just to complete. This year, I’ve decided to go the simple route, with no rolling, cutting, sandwiching or frosting involved.

Biscotti are a blank canvas of a cookie, able to tolerate any flavor you throw their way. They’ve traditionally been made in Italy with whole almonds or anise seeds, but in the rest of the world they have become synonymous with any twice-baked, flavored confection. Popular additions include any variety of nuts or seeds, dried fruit or chocolate chunks.

My approach is both slightly sweet and slightly savory. Here, I’ve borrowed a little bit of family tradition in using orange juice for my Christmas cookies. My mother always makes Italian anginetti cookies with orange juice and a sweet orange glaze for Christmas (steering away from the traditional lemon or anise).

But I’ve also added a woodsy note with rosemary, perhaps my favorite herb, which mimics the balsam-scented allure of the holidays. I’ve also added a touch of olive oil for additional fruitiness. Use the good stuff here; it makes a difference.

With rounded flavors and a crisp exterior, these biscotti cookies are sure to be a hit as any post-holiday meal treat. In Italy, the cookies are traditionally enjoyed dipped in a glass of vin santo, a fortified dessert wine. Of course, you can substitute a cup of tea or some strong coffee — I won’t tell anybody.

— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or [email protected]

Rosemary and orange-scented biscotti 

Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes (30 minutes active)
Serves 30

4 tablespoons salted butter, softened
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
⅔ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons fresh-squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons orange zest
2 tablespoons rosemary, very finely chopped
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a large baking sheet, such as an 18- by 13-inch half sheet pan, with nonstick spray, or use parchment paper.

In a small bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and rosemary until well-combined. This prevents the baking powder from clumping and ensures the rosemary will be evenly distributed in the dough.

In a separate medium-sized bowl, cream together the butter, olive oil, sugar, vanilla, orange juice and orange zest until the mixture is light and fluffy, about one to two minutes, either by hand with a whisk or with a stand mixer. Add the eggs and mix to combine; it will appear curdled, but that’s OK.

Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in about three additions. Mix, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, until just combined and there are no more streaks of flour. The dough will be very sticky.

Scrape half the dough onto the baking sheet, forming it into a log about two inches wide and eight inches long, smoothing out the top and sides with a damp finger. Repeat with remaining dough on the other side of the baking sheet. The logs will spread considerably during baking.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Bake for 25 minutes and remove from the oven. Slide the slabs onto a cutting board using a large spatula. With a serrated knife, slice each slab into ¼- to ½-inch cookies, depending on preference, and return to the baking sheet, lying flat. You may have between 20-30 biscotti after slicing.

Bake for 15-20 minutes more, until the biscotti begin to turn golden. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack, letting them cool completely (they will firm up more as they cool). Serve with coffee or wine, for dipping.

The biscotti can be stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

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