One of the questions that people ask the most about my biscotti, especially on market day, is “Is this your grandma’s recipe?”. My honest answer is NO, and this is why.
Biscotti are traditionally made with no oil or butter, and no leavening agent, to ensure that they will keep for a very long time. In Italy are called “Cantucci” which is the name for the hard part at the edge of a loaf of bread. Cantucci are so hard that you usually need to deep them in a liquid (sweet wine, tea, coffee…) to soften them a little bit.
The recipe that we use at Out Of Tuscany is an evolution of of an original Italian recipe through months of testing until I finally got something I loved. The important changes are that I’ve added a little bit of baking powder an oil to get a nice crunchy texture. Personally I find the traditional Italian biscotti to be far too hard!
This process of developing a more modern version of the recipe has started me thinking about the whole concept of tradition, especially in food. We sometimes naively think about tradition as something carved in stone, unalterable, but history teach us the contrary. Can you imagine for example Italian cuisine without tomatoes? No Arrabbiata sauce, no pizza or pasta sauce? I bet you can’t. Well tomatoes did not appear in Italy until they were brought back from the newly discovered American New World, and it took centuries after that before people learned to trust this little fruit and its flavor. Tomatoes were mostly used as ornamental plants until the 18th century when, thanks to the Spanish influence in Southern Italy, people started to add them to their dished.
In reality, traditions are constantly evolving, especially when different cultures cross each other, and so are recipes.
I could write an entire cookbook of my grandmas’ recipes, and I will. I see it as the perfect way to preserve part of my family’s heritage and to tell my family’s story through the food they used to make. But for me Biscotti are different. They represent my personal journey, one that started in Tuscany, went through France and on to Oregon where each combination of flavors reflects part of this adventure.