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Amid shelves of cookbooks and piles of recipe magazines, my mother’s house holds a small worn notebook full of recipes. The pages are torn, stained and layered with scraps of paper (usually the back of envelopes) that have recipes scribbled in ink or pencil. Sometimes there are instructions and no measurements. Sometimes ingredients and no baking instructions.

Sorting out what cookies get baked for Christmas is less about going through her recipe list and choosing and more about remembering. “Those ones with the nuts on top.” “The round ones that Comare brought over.” “Dad’s favourite.” Proper names for cookies are useless, we all just associate them with people, places or times anyway. This little biscotti recipe lives on a scrap of paper with the simple heading: Zia’s Biscotti.

Zia, meaning Aunt, could mean, well, anyone in the family or extended family. It doesn’t matter though, they came from family and have always been a staple. These biscotti are light and crumbly. I’ve tried several recipes from various books (versions with harder dough I find too dense, those made with butter seem to taste overwhelmingly of butter) but keep coming back to these ones for their simplicity and their texture. You can swap out the almonds for different nuts or other ingredients like chocolate chunks or cranberries, or even add cocoa to the dough for a chocolate version. It’s a great base that’s easily adapted.

Anyway you make them though, these biscotti are classic, just the memories we all hold dear of our family and favourite cookies.

Zia’s Biscotti
6 large eggs
500g sugar
500g flour
500g almonds
zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. In a mixer, combine the eggs and sugar. Add in the flour, lemon zest and vanilla. Mix until just combined, do not over mix.

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Stir in the almonds. You can also replace the almonds with different nuts or ingredients such as chocolate chunks, cranberries, etc.

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Prepare two large baking sheets with parchment paper on them. Scoop out the batter to create a log, two logs per baking sheet.  The dough in this recipe is very loose, so as the logs bake they will start to spread out a bit. Make sure to create thick logs (they will thin out) and leave ample space between them.

If you find your logs look lumpy, you can wet your hands and lightly pat the dough to create straighter lines and a smooth dome.

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Bake on the middle rack at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes, turning the baking sheet at the halfway mark. You want to make sure the logs are lightly browned and are not soft to the touch. Also, keep an eye on the bottom of the logs, making sure they stay a light to medium brown.

Once the logs are baked, remove the sheet from the oven and allow it to cool slightly, about 10 minutes. Remove the log from the sheets and place it on a cutting board. Diagonally, slice the log to create your biscotti.

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Return the sliced cookies to the baking sheeting, arranging them in flat rows and spacing them slightly apart. Place the cookies in the oven, at 250-300 degrees to dry and toast (just lightly) for about 30 minutes. Turn the cookies halfway through to ensure they dry and toast on both sides.

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Once crispy, remove and allow to cool completely. Don’t leave them in the oven too long, once dry they turn quickly to burnt.

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A classic Italian staple, they seem to always remind me of breakfast. Serve them up with coffee or tea. Sometimes I’ll dip them in chocolate and package them up as hostess or Christmas gifts. You can store them in a cool, dry place, sealed in a container for a month or more as long as they are completely dry. If you add in soft ingredients (like cranberries), they will keep for about two weeks.

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