Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Anise Biscotti, or Talking to Stoned Clerks at Whole Foods

I adore anise flavored baked goodies. Stella D'oro anisette toast, could eat them by the bushel. Which I know makes me an old Italian man. I accept this. Yet I despise anise flavored candy, like grody black licorice, because it is bitter and disgusting, and should not be called "candy," but "medicine." This I also accept.

What I cannot accept under any circumstances are the tooth-shattering flavorless monstrosities being peddled by places like Starbucks that serve no purpose other than shredding your gums or crumbing up your coffee. Do. Not. Want.

So in the DIY mood I've embraced as of late, I decided to make my own anise biscotti. Too many of the recipes out there just seemed overly fussy, too many ingredients. Who can be bothered with all that? Then I found this simple recipe on that seemed just the ticket: minimum number of ingredients, easy recipe.

I made a few changes, one out of preference and one out of necessity. I swapped whole wheat flour for two of the three cups, fearing a full three cups of wheat flour would really wreak whole-grain havoc with the delicate anise flavor. And maybe it did because I substituted two teaspoons of ground anise seed for the extract and the final result was not as anise-y as I would have liked. But definitely tasty and the texture was nice. The egg/milk wash gave it a delightful sheen and nice crunch of texture. You could easily eat these without dunking and not need to stop by the dentist on your way home for a veneer to cover your jagged tooth-stump.

But there's a whole other story about my attempt to purchase anise extract from Whole Foods, which they did not have.

Item of annoyance #1, the shelves are practically empty of baking extracts of any kind. There is no vanilla, one jar each of peppermint and orange extract. Does this a baking aisle make? I think not.

Item of annoyance #2, I had to walk all over the store to find someone to help me. This is not typical of this location, so I forgive.

But item of annoyance #3, the clerk tries to tell me that anise extract is a specialty item, so rare that they don't carry it. I'm pretty sure all large grocery stores carry anise extract so I am irritated that 1. he doesn't know this and 2. he's in charge of the baking aisle and he lets all the inventory run out? We proceed to have a long and I'm sure stoned-sounding conversation in which we discuss how to make your own anise extract and conclude that it probably involves anise seeds, alcohol and cheesecloth over the course of a few days. He advises me to look it up online, which is something I never would have thought to do on my own. I go about my merry way.

Boy, were we wrong. Anise extract is made from star anise and vodka, neither of which I had at home.

But a couple of days later just as he predicted I did find anise extract at a specialty foods store near me called Safeway. I'll make these guys again for sure.

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