Biscotti are oblong, thick, brittle cookies designed to be dipped in coffee, cocoa, or dessert wine. Originally from Italy, the term "biscotti" comes from the Latin for "twice baked" because the cookies must be baked twice to make them dry and crunchy. Although these cookies were traditionally almond flavored, modern versions come in a wide variety of flavors. In Italy, these cookies are called "cantucci" or "cantuccini", while the term "biscotti" is used to refer to many different types of crunchy cookies.
The first biscotti were made as a portable and durable food for Roman soldiers and travelers. They started to be made with the traditional almond flavor during the Renaissance, when it also became popular to dip them in a traditional Italian dessert wine called Vin Santo, a practice that remains common in Italy today. Many people outside of Italy prefer to dip biscotti in coffee or hot chocolate to soften them before eating them. The range of flavors that these cookies come in has also expanded hugely since their creation, and includes ingredients as diverse as walnuts, carob chips, orange zest, and anise. Some types are coated with icing or glazed with chocolate, but the most traditional ones do not have a frosting or coating.
It's relatively easy to bake these cookies. A basic recipe includes flour, sugar, eggs, and sometimes butter, along with any nuts, spices, or fruits. The dough is formed into one square loaf about an inch thick, which is baked similarly to a scone. When it has baked to a normal cookie consistency, the loaf is removed from the oven and cut diagonally. The slices are then arranged flat on a cookie sheet and baked again to make them crisp.
Biscotti can be bought singly or in batches at specialty coffee shops and bakeries, and are often used as gifts. They are sometimes even wrapped and decorated for use as party favors, since they are easy to customize. For instance, a person might make a batch of pistachio biscotti speckled with green sprinkles for St. Patrick's Day, or a batch of raspberry biscotti coated in cherry frosting for Valentine's Day.