Chili-Pecan Biscotti with Dry Jack Cheese

Although biscotti are traditionally sweet, meant to be dipped in coffee or dessert wine, I see no reason why they can't be enjoyed in a savory style as well. "Biscotti" means twice-baked, and that's why they usually have to be dipped: otherwise, they are teeth-breakers. But these biscotti, while still twice-baked, remain crumbly and easy to eat. They're also easy to make, though you have to be a little patient when you cut the dough after it has been baked the first time. It tends to crumble a little. Not to worry, though. Their rustic look suits their assertive flavor. Although you don't need a liquid to dip these in, an icy margarita alongside would be a welcome accompaniment.

New American CheeseYield: makes 30 to 36

2 teaspoons canola oil
1/4 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground coriander
Freshly ground pepper
3/4 cup pecan halves

1/2 cup boiling water
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons very hot chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups coarsely grated Vella Dry Jack cheese (or use aged Asiago or domestic Parmesan)

To prepare the pecans:

Preheat the oven to 325 F.

In a small bowl whisk together all the ingredients except the pecans. When blended, add the pecans to the bowl and coat well. (It won't look like much coating, but don't worry. It is enough.) Spread the pecans out in a small baking pan and bake until they start to release a nutty aroma and are beginning to turn a light brown color, about 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Then chop the pecans and set them aside. (The pecans can be made 3 days in advance and kept in an airtight container at room temperature, or 1 month in advance, and frozen.)

To make the biscotti:

Increase the oven temperature to 350 F.

In a heatproof bowl, pour the boiling water over the tomatoes. Let stand for 10 minutes. Drain well, and chop into pieces about the size of a raisin.

In a small bowl, mix together the flour, chili powder, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, cream the butter at high speed until very smooth. (Alternatively, use a large bowl and a sturdy wooden spoon for the steps in this process.) Add the sugar and mix until well blended and creamy. Add the eggs and mix at high speed for 5 minutes. (They may not thoroughly integrate with the butter and sugar, but don't worry about it.) Set the mixer on low speed and add the flour mixture. When the flour mixture is almost fully incorporated, add 2 cups of the cheese and the chopped tomatoes. Mix for 30 seconds. By now, the dough will have formed a solid ball. (If it's still crumbly, add 1 to 2 tablespoons cold water.) Keeping the mixer at a low speed, add the chopped pecans and mix just until all of the ingredients hold together. (If the pecans end up at the bottom of the mixing bowl, simply remove the dough from the bowl and place it on a work surface. Put the errant pecans on the work surface as well and work them into the dough by hand.)

Remove the dough from the mixer, and on a lightly floured board, shape it into two logs about 3 inches wide and 6 to 7 inches long. Round the tops slightly. Place them about 2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Sprinkle the tops with the remaining 2 cup cheese. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the logs are brown around the edges and the cheese has melted (the cheese will not brown). Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 to 12 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325 F.

Place one log on a cutting board. Using a long, sharp knife, cut the log into 1/4-inch-thick slices, slightly on the diagonal. (The slices may crumble a bit, but if you cut the dough with a rapid motion rather than "sawing" it, your slices should remain intact.) Repeat with the other log. Place the slices, cut side down, back onto the baking sheet. They may be placed close together (though not touching), since they will not spread; use two baking sheets if necessary. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn the slices over and bake until the edges are browned, 10 or 15 minutes. Place the biscotti on a cooling rack and cool to room temperature.

Note: These can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Freshen the frozen biscotti in a preheated 325 F oven for 5 to 7 minutes.

Source: The New American Cheese by Laura Werlin
Profiles of America's Greatest Cheese makers and Recipes for Cooking with Cheese.

More recipes from "The New American Cheese:
- Goat Cheese, Apricot, and Sage-Stuffed Chicken Breasts
- Quarky Chocolate Cake
- Herbed Sugar Snap Peas with Goat Cheese
- Teleme, Squash, and Onion Galette
- Melon and Prosciutto with Goat Cheese and Mint
- "New" Old-Fashioned Grilled Cheese Sandwich
- Iceberg Lettuce with Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing

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