Chocolate Citrus Biscotti

Today’s endurance sports nutrition market seems to be saturated with easy-to-carry gels and gummies, some of which taste like candy and frosting, and others that don’t go down nearly as easily. Things have come a long way since I started running races long enough to warrant eating while running (my old standby in my early days was to nibble on a single chocolate Powerbar for the duration of a three-hour run), but sometimes nothing beats real food for a quick intake of calories and a burst of energy.

By real food, of course I mean cookies.

After all, it was Double Stuf Oreos that sustained me to my Ironman finish in 2009 (along with a baked potato with plenty of salt, a few handfuls of Cheez-It crackers, and the chicken broth that saved me once the sun set). A real picture of health, I know, although rest assured that Oreos have no place in my usual diet. But I digress….

In recent years, homemade cookies have been a great source of energy for me on the run, as they are easy to digest and have kept me from bonking many times. I’ve found that the best cookies for running are those that are easy to carry and won’t easily melt or crumble. A perfect example: biscotti.

Biscotti are often eaten with coffee or milk (or in my case, hot chocolate), because they are perfect for dunking. These twice-baked Italian cookies come in a lot of varieties and tend to be expensive, but they are relatively easy to make. They also make great gifts, especially at this time of year. I have been using this recipe for about ten years now, which I first came across while watching Giada de Laurentiis’ Food Network show, Everyday Italian. I’ve added a couple of my own tweaks to the original recipe.

You will need:

2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cups fine yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon orange zest (1/2 tablespoon if using dry zest)
1 tablespoon lemon zest (1/2 tablespoon if using dry zest)
1 to 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup coarsely chopped almonds or other nuts (optional)

Orange and lemon zest add a unique flavor to these biscotti. I like to keep dry zest in my spice rack for times when I don’t have fresh citrus handy. You can find dry zest in the spice section of the grocery store.

Dry zest

Dry citrus zest is more powerful than fresh, so you don’t need to use quite as much as the recipe requires.

Step 1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (165 degrees Celsius). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

Step 2. In a large bowl, stir the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. If you are using dry orange and lemon zest, you can add them to the flour mixture as well.

Step 3. In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer (or get some good exercise for your arms) and beat together the sugar and eggs until they are creamy, about 2-3 minutes. If you are using fresh orange and lemon zest, add them to this mixture.

Mixing certain ingredients separately will allow everything to combine more easily.

Step 4. Add the sugar and eggs to the flour mixture and beat until blended (the dough will be sticky).

For this step, I do use my electric mixer because the ingredients combine more evenly that way. You don’t want to overtax the dough, as that will make this already-crunchy cookie even harder. Tip: if you find that the dough is too dry (it’s not sticking together to form one large lump), add a little half-and-half, one teaspoon at a time, until the dough comes together. This is one of my tweaks to the original recipe.

Step 5. Transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet, forming two mounds spaced evenly apart.

Aluminum foil works as a good substitute for parchment paper.

Step 6. With wet hands (very important step!), shape the dough into two (roughly) 11- by 4-inch logs.

Your “logs” will look more like flat loaves of bread.

Step 7. Bake until lightly brown, about 35 minutes. Allow the logs to cool for five minutes. Using a serrated knife, cut the logs crosswise into half-inch-thick slices diagonally.

Be careful as you slice your biscotti, so as not to burn your fingers and not to break the dough.

Step 8. Arrange the biscotti with the cut side down on the same baking sheet. Bake until the cookies are golden, about 25 minutes. Allow the biscotti to cool for five minutes. Transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

The biscotti will go back in the oven for a second round of baking.

Step 9. As the biscotti cool, melt the chocolate chips in the microwave for about 90 seconds, stirring every 30 seconds. Dip one end of each cookie into the melted chocolate. Gently scrape off the excess chocolate with a rubber spatula or spoon. If you’d like, roll the chocolate-end of the cookie in the chopped almonds.

The chocolate makes these cookies extra special and also pretty.

The original recipe calls for a dusting of cocoa powder, but I prefer the look and crunch and flavor of nuts.

Step 10. Place the biscotti on a sheet of wax paper to cool until the chocolate is firm. (You can also put them in the refrigerator for about 35 minutes to speed up the process.)

Cooling the biscotti on wax paper will make it easy for you to pick them up once the chocolate is firm.

Enjoy your biscotti with a hot beverage, plain, or on the run! (Tip: To make your biscotti more running-friendly, simply leave off the chocolate and nuts if you’d like, and you’ll have an easy-to-carry, non-messy source of carbohydrates.)

Biscotti are great for dipping!

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