Chestnut Pecan Biscotti Recipe

Croquants Châtaigne et Noix de Pécan

[Chestnut Pecan Biscotti]

Because I know you’ve been hanging on to the edge of your seats and I’m not such a bad person after all, here is my report on this year’s batch of edible gifts. The recipe I ended up making on Saturday afternoon — in between a few last-minute errands, but I’m fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood that offers plenty of shops that cater to the disorganized and thus belated present-buyer — was Nolwenn’s, a recipe for hard and crunchy little cookies that the Italians may liken to biscotti di Prato or cantuccini, the Americans to biscotti, and that we French call croquants. In their almond version, these cookies are a traditional — though optional — addition to the treize desserts de Noël (thirteen desserts of Christmas) in Provence.

[A brief aside on the word croquant: it comes from the verb croquer, which dictionaries tell you can be translated as "to crunch". I respectfully and regretfully disagree, it is but an approximate translation: say both words out loud, can you hear how they describe quite different texture experiences? And don't even get me started on croustillant, perhaps the most joyful of French words, and for which "crisp" is such a weak equivalent. There are -- obviously -- superb English words that one can't express in French, but these two I miss dearly.]

What attracted me to this particular recipe was that it used chestnut flour and nut butter, two ingredients I love and love to use. I realize as I type that I made quite a few modifications to her recipe: I used ground almonds instead of ground hazelnuts; I used almond butter and praline paste instead of almond butter only; I lowered the amount of chestnut flour by blending it with wheat flour (chestnut flour is quite assertive and I didn’t want it to overpower the other flavors); I used just pecans instead of a mix of nuts and dried fruits; and finally, I didn’t add any olive oil because the dough was plenty moist without it.

Once cooled, these croquants, subtly sweet and boasting the sort of earthy, toasty flavor that is just perfect for this time of year, were lightly dipped in bittersweet chocolate to give them the smooth, rich note this treatment adds, as well as a rather attractive lining of dark velvet. They were then packaged up in little crystal bags (from the box of 100 I acquired at Mora some three years ago and can’t seem to make a dent into), along with a handful of the most delectable kumquats I’ve ever been given to taste.

These were a chance inspiration from my Saturday morning run to the Batignolles market, where things were quiet enough for the eve of a Christmas eve. I bought just a few at first, tried one as I went about the rest of my shopping, and soon enough found myself eating them one after the other, like those ladies you see in old movies, sprawled out on their couch and gobbling up chocolate bonbons. Kumquats can be fierce little guys, dry and astringent, but these were just the right mix of sweet and bitter to make them a grownup’s treat, yes, but not a punishment (although some punishments can be quite sweet, but I digress).

My little bag almost empty, I went back to the stall to get more to share, and hope they’ll still have them next week, for I may try making candied kumquats, or kumquat marmalade, or perhaps a kumquat ginger cake.

Croquants Châtaigne et Noix de Pécan

50 grams (1/2 cup minus 1 tablespoon) chestnut flour
50 grams (1/2 cup minus 1 tablespoon) all-purpose flour *
100 grams (1 cup) ground almonds **
50 grams (1/4 cup) unrefined cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
30 grams (1 tablespoon) praline paste ***
30 grams (1 tablespoon) almond butter
2 eggs
75 grams (2/3 cup) pecan halves, toasted and chopped
70 grams (2.5 ounces) bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Makes about 2 dozens. (I don’t recommend doubling the recipe: better to make 2 batches instead.)

Combine the flours, ground almonds, sugar, and salt in a medium mixing-bowl or a mixer. Add the praline paste and almond butter, and mix until combined. Add the eggs one by one, and mix until combined; the dough will be tacky. Fold in the pecans (by hand, if you were using a mixer), cover, and chill for an hour; the dough will be easier to handle.

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide the dough in two, and shape each half into a flattened log, about 30 by 5 cm (12 by 2″), on the prepared baking sheet. (The dough will still be a bit sticky, you can use the piece of plastic wrap to help you shape it.)

Bake for 30 minutes, until browned and lightly crusty. Remove from the oven (leave the heat on) and let cool for 5 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and use a sharp knife to cut the logs in diagonal slices, about 1.5 cm (2/3″) in thickness. Return the slices to the baking sheet, one cut side up, and bake for another 10 minutes, until golden brown. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Have ready a sheet of parchment paper or feuille guitare (a special sheet of plastic chocolate makers use to ensure a shiny finish). Melt the chocolate in a double-boiler (or in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water). Dip one cut side of each croquant into the chocolate, transfer to the prepared sheet, and leave out in a cool, dry spot until the chocolate has hardened. (This produces a thin coating of chocolate; for thicker results, repeat the melting, dipping, and drying steps.)

Notes:

* If you want to make these wheat-free, you can use chestnut flour only, as in the original recipe; I would personally substitute another, milder non-wheat flour, such as rice flour.

** Almond meal, a.k.a. ground almonds or powdered almonds, can be found at natural foods stores. If you can’t find it, substitute 2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole blanched almonds. Combine them with the sugar in a food processor and process in short pulses until finely ground.

*** Praline paste (pâte de praliné or praliné au sucre cuit in French) is made by toasting, caramelizing, and grinding a mix of almonds and hazelnuts; it is what chocolatiers use in their praline-filled chocolates. You can make your own praline paste (although I’ve never tried it myself) or buy it ready-made from a baker’s supply store: I’ve purchased mine at the Salon du Chocolat, but I know G. Detou sells it, too. If you can’t find it, just up the amount of almond butter by 2 teaspoons and the amount of sugar by 1 teaspoon.

  • http://tokyoastrogirl.blogspot.com/ Anne

    What lovely biscotti…I never thought to make ones with chestnut. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.lindamathieu.com Linda Mathieu

    Maybe this is a chance to get out of my brownie rut. I’m more into chewy cookies but there is something satisfying by that crunch you talk about.

  • http://na-zdravi.blogspot.com/ Dianka

    These look fabulous! Love the use of the the chestnut flour and unique butter. Happy holidays to you!

  • http://www.notebook-center.ru Deniel

    What lovely biscotti…

  • http://foodonthefood.typepad.com Tammy

    Reminds me of a lovely cantucci with Vin Santo experience in Italy. Love the almond for hazelnut substitution. A little subtlety goes a long way.

  • http://www.aistesite.com Aiste

    Looks delicious!I wouldn’t be against to have one now :)

  • http://icecreamireland.com/ Kieran

    Chestnut flour. Wow. It’s hard being in the back of beyond where you struggle to get such ingredients! Looks tasty indeed.

  • http://coupecouture.fr Sylvie

    Absolument délicieux !

  • http://mirrormirror.typepad.com paola

    Isn’t croustillant better translated as ‘crusty’? Though I suppose we only use that for loaves…

  • http://fingerineverypie.typepad.com Julie

    I would make these if I weren’t “all baked out” from thousands of holiday cookies, bûche de noël and the like. Best wishes to you and Maxence for a glorious year — both meeting and corresponding with you has been lovely, and I know 2007 holds great things for you!

  • http://www.cforcooking.com Jeff

    Chestnut flour…how interesting.

  • http://www.madduxsports.com/blog/ Riley

    These look absolutely delicious! I have never thought to use Chestnut but it sounds devine!

  • http://blogblogbaby.blogspot.com Deanna

    I’ve always thought of croustillant as being more akin to ‘crusty’ (like crusty bread) than to crispy, which I agree doesn’t seem emphatic enough!

  • Stephanie

    I just can’t keep up with all the recipes you post that I want to try! I thought the holiday period would be a great chance to hunker down in the kitchen but I’m competing with my mother, my aunt, my sister-in-law and my brother for bench space, stove time, sharp knives and people’s appetites! Sadly, it seems I’ve done more washing up than cooking.

  • ZooTrouble

    This one is a great idea

    ZooTrouble

  • http://bledormant.Canalblog.com belleble

    Hummm ! Ta version me tente bien, avec de la farine de chataigne et de riz pour moi :-)))

  • Charlotte

    Another word we need in English is epanouille…

  • emily de palma

    Greetings~
    love this recipe; but would love to have a copy of the original as I love chestnuts and hazlenut and dried fruit…sounds like a great cookie recipe too! Any chance you could email me the original?

    Thank you so much,
    Emily

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Emily – I’ve linked to the original recipe in the post: here it is.

  • Rand

    3-11-2010
    I made this biscotti today, because I have some chestnut flour sitting around. I didn’t have or could find pailine paste so I used in its place nutello. I used ground almond meal instead of ground almonds They turned out very wonderful. In using the nutello it gave them a nice sweetness, so I don’t need to dip them in chocolate. I will use this recipe again. Thanks

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Rand – So glad you liked that recipe, thanks for reporting back and sharing your own version!

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