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I'm hooked on biscotti

Dip. Crunch. Dip. Crunch. Ice cream. Biscotti. Who needs a spoon? A thick, crunchy plank of the sturdy Italian cookie is just right for scooping rich, velvety ice cream into your mouth.

I got hooked on biscotti several years ago when I used to make frequent visits to a coffee shop that sold long, slender pieces of the Italian sweet loaded with nuts, white chocolate and dried fruit. I'd dip the biscotti into my large cup of strong, hot, dark coffee, but just a little at a time. I would soak only enough with each dip to make a moist, bite-sized piece. When I began making my own biscotti, I discovered many new ways to enjoy the sweet Italian treat. Dipping into ice cream is one of my favorites.

The word "biscotti" comes from two Italian words - bis and cotto. "Bis" translates to "more than one" and "cotto" means "cooking." But it's not just the Italians who appreciate good biscotti. People everywhere are picking it up with their cup of joe in the morning, and they're buying it to take home from bakeries and grocery stores.

Baking biscotti at home is surprisingly quick and easy. The same mixing bowls, spoons, and baking sheet you use when you make your favorite oatmeal or chocolate chip cookies are all that's required, along with a sharp knife to slice the baked loaves, preparing them for their second baking.

Once the dough is mixed, it is formed into baguette-like loaves and then baked. The baked loaves are sliced before a second trip to the oven for a baking that will pull out the moisture and produce crunchy cookies.

In Mochaccino Biscotti, the rich flavor of coffee partners with cocoa and cinnamon to produce a not-too-sweet Italian cookie with just enough chocolate flavor to satisfy any chocoholic. Big chunks of toasted almonds add their intense flavor and crunch.

The recipe makes many, so share with friends. They look beautiful sealed up tight in a jar decorated with ribbon or tied up in a pretty gift bag. Wrapped up with a pound of your favorite coffee beans, it's the kind of surprise any cappuccino-lover would appreciate.

Mochaccino Biscotti is not just for dipping into ice cream. Gently plunge a slice into coffee or hot chocolate that's been topped with whipped cream. It will soak up the hot liquid without falling apart before it gets to your mouth. For some late-night indulgence, dip Mochaccino Biscotti into a glass of wine.

And, if you don't want to dip, just crunch. It's a great snack all by itself.

Mochaccino Biscotti

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

1-1/2 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa

1/4 cup very finely ground espresso coffee beans

2-3/4 cups flour

2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 large eggs

1/2 cup milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped

3/4 cup powdered sugar

4 teaspoons hot water

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Melt butter and allow to cool slightly.

In a large mixing bowl, stir sugar with cocoa and ground espresso beans until no little lumps of cocoa remain. Sift flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon into the sugar mixture. Stir to blend.

Using an electric mixer, beat eggs in a medium bowl until fluffy and light-colored. Gradually beat in milk, vanilla extract and melted butter. Pour liquid mixture into the flour mixture and stir until the dough comes together, with all dry ingredients absorbed by liquid mixture. You may need to finish mixing with your clean hands. Add chopped almonds and mix in, using hands if necessary.

Divide dough in half. On a clean work surface, form each half into a loaf about 14 inches long. Place each loaf on the parchment-lined baking sheet, with at least 2 inches of space between them.

Bake the loaves in a preheated 325-degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until cracks appear on top of the loaves and they feel firm to the touch. Allow the loaves to cool for 10 minutes. Slide loaves onto a cutting board. Cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Stand slices upright on the baking sheet with 1/2-inch of space between each slice.

Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees. Bake biscotti for 30 minutes or until they are dry to the touch. Cool the biscotti completely on the baking sheet placed on a wire rack.

When biscotti are cooled, move slices back together again, reforming two loaves. Combine powdered sugar and hot water, stirring until the consistency of heavy whipping cream. Drizzle the icing in thin lines over the loaves of biscotti. Let the icing harden before storing in tins, jars or airtight containers. Makes about 3-1/2 dozen biscotti.

Tips from the cook

--Three tablespoons of instant espresso powder or dark roast instant coffee granules may be substituted for the ground espresso beans. Stir the instant espresso or coffee granules into the milk to dissolve rather than mixing it with the sugar and cocoa.

--To toast almonds, place them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake them in a preheated 350-degree oven for about 8 to 10 minutes, until their fragrance begins to fill your kitchen and they become lightly colored and crisp.