From first-century convenience to our crunchy snack

Julie Falsetti

The American Toll House cookie, or chocolate chip, was invented in 1938. An 80-year history is pretty impressive until you look at the Italian biscotti, which has been around since the first century.

Biscotti, meaning twice baked, were the original convenience food for the Romans. Because they were a dried cookie made without shortening, they became the perfect food for the Roman legions to take on their travels throughout the empire. Pliny the Elder boasted that they would last for centuries.

With the fall of the Roman Empire in A.D. 455, biscotti disappeared into culinary oblivion. During the Ren­aissance, they re-emerged and flowered in the hands of Tuscan chefs. The dry, pallid staples of an army became the beloved cookies we enjoy today.

The biscotti of Tuscany were flavored with almonds, as they were plentiful in the region. Today, biscotti come in as many flavors as there are regions in Italy. Anise biscotti are a signature cookie in Sicily.

Making biscotti is a bit time-consuming but not difficult. No special equipment is needed aside from a couple of baking sheets. They might not last for centuries, but one batch will be around long enough to dunk in many cups of coffee or tea.

Anise Biscotti

21/2 cups flour

11/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature

1 cup sugar

3 large eggs

1 tablespoon anise extract

1 teaspoon anise seeds

Egg wash (1 egg beaten with a little water)

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the anise extract and anise seeds. Using a heavy spoon, add the flour mixture and mix until complete combined. The dough will be heavy and slightly sticky.

With floured hands, divide the dough in half and form into two even logs about 12 inches long. Place each log on a greased baking sheet and press the logs lightly to flatten them to about 1/2-inch thickness and about 21/2 inches wide.

Brush the logs with the egg wash and bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until lightly golden in color. Remove from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees.

With a serrated knife, cut the logs on a slight diagonal into 3/4-inch pieces. Arrange the pieces cut-side down and bake for 15 minutes. Turn them over and bake the other side for 15 minutes. Let cool on a rack before storing.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section.