A bite of the past, in present tense

Monday, Aug. 14, 2023

When I was a kid in New York about 60 years ago my grandmother in the Bronx bought crescent-shaped cookies that were gently crisp and had a licorice-y taste. They were Stella D’oro anisette toasts, made in the Bronx then, probably not far from where my grandparents lived. They were heavily advertised on the radio.

I didn’t know from cantucci, which is what Italians call the crescent, twice-baked cookie we call biscotti; I just liked them. My grandparents had them with coffee, I with milk and even though they weren’t particularly exotic or expensive, I only had them in the mornings at my grandparents’ apartment, usually while my grandmother listened to “Rambling with Gambling” on WOR.

Stella D’oro anisette toasts are still made, although no longer in New York and three owners later. A couple of years ago I thought about them again when my wife, Janet, was served an anisette cantucci with her coffee at a restaurant in Cape May, N.J.

“I can make that,” I said when she declared how much she liked it. Here’s a link to my favorite recipe, from Sally’s Baking Addiction, probably my favorite resource for sweet things: https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/chocolate-dipped-almond-biscotti/

It’s a vcry easy recipe and has the additional advantage of being quite low-fat for a cookie, using only a half-stick of butter and a tablespoon of oil for 18 cookies. Sally doesn’t like anise, but I do, so I find that adding a tablespoon of anise extract or a couple of tablespoons of Sambucca will give the licorice-y flavor I like.

When made correctly they’re very crisp — hard, even, asking to be dunked in coffee — and not overly sweet. Follow the recipe and you’ll do fine. Two instructions I sometimes ignore, and am always sorry when I do:

  • Wait 10 minutes after the first bake before slicing the logs into the cookies before the second bake. If you don’t wait long enough the cut sides will crumble under your knife.
  • Don’t slice the cookies more than one inch thick. If you do, the sides of the cookies will be brown before the insides are completely cooked and they won’t be crisp.

The website recipe calls for a chocolate dipping with additional finely chopped almonds. Chocolate doesn’t do much for me and I’d rather avoid the extra 50 calories, so I usually skip that.

We freeze them, taking them out for company or liberating one when the spirit moves. They take well to experimentation — some folks like to put raisins, dried cherries or chocolate chips in them and I’m sure there are recipes for chocolate biscotti, which I’ve seen in bakeries.

I’ll take mine this way, or plain vanilla, even omitting the almonds if I feel too lazy to toast and chop them. Either way it’s a great cookie, easily made and even though it’s only reminiscent of the Stella D’Oro Anisette Toast I loved then, it’s still a sure-fire way for me to get back to my grandmother’s table where I sat so many years ago.

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