Saffron Biscotti with Pistachios and Chocolate

Saffron’s fragrance is complex. A leather accent shimmers darkly against the brightness of green and herbal notes. A languid floral undercurrent meets a spicy warmth. You would think that such an intricate fragrance would be difficult to pair, but as Persian cooking demonstrates, saffron marries well with a wide range of scents and flavors. And so I thought, why not pair it with dark chocolate?

Chocolate is another versatile ingredient despite its richness, and it serves as a perfect sidekick for saffron. The two ingredients complement each other in the most delightful way–the first impression of fresh spice is followed by the floral richness. I sometimes taste gardenia and sometimes a hint of a rose. And to enjoy saffron’s sumptuous color, I selected my favorite recipe for biscotti.

This recipe comes from the official site for the Italian city of Prato, famous for its biscotti. It makes for a crumbly cookie with a pleasant buttery flavor. The sweetness is tempered by chocolate and saffron, while pistachios provide another bright nuance.

To coax the most flavor out of saffron, I follow the method I learned in Iran. First, I toast the saffron filaments lightly and then I crush them in a mortar. If you don’t have a mortar, you can use the blunt end of a rolling pin. I add warm milk to the saffron and let it steep for a few minutes before using. The color will become a vivid orange.

Saffron lends itself to pairings with citrus, so I added orange zest to my biscotti dough to play up the spice’s effervescent top notes. However, it’s entirely optional. With saffron in the mix, the flavors are guaranteed to be dazzling.

Saffron Biscotti with Pistachios and Chocolate Chips

My recipe is adapted from the one published by the official site for the city of Prato. It can be adapted for other flavors and nuts. Try classical combinations like almond and anise seed, pistachio and lemon, or pecan and cinnamon.

Or you can try this hazelnut-orange version.

Yields 60 cookies

2 cups (250g) all-purpose flour
1 cup + 2 Tablespoons (125g) sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 Tablespoons (75g) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
zest of 1/2 orange (optional)
1/2 teaspoon saffron
1 Tablespoon milk, warm
1/2 cup (50g) shelled pistachios
1/2 cup (50g) dark chocolate chips

Glaze: 1 egg

Toast saffron in a dry pan on low heat until dry and crumbly. (Be careful not to burn them.) Crush in a mortar and pestle and add milk. Mix and let them steep.

Stir flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. Rub butter into the flour with your fingers until the mixture looks grainy.

Mix 2 eggs, orange zest, and saffron milk into the flour mixture and stir till the dough starts forming. It will be soft and pliable, but it should not be sticky. Be careful not to overwork the dough and stop once you have a rough lump.

Add pistachios and chocolate chips and mix them into the dough. By the time you’re done, there should be no traces of flour. Divide the dough into two pieces and transfer it onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Pat the dough into two cylinders about 3 inches in diameter and 15 to 20 inches long. Brush with the reserved egg.

Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Remove from oven, and cut diagonally into slices about 1 inch wide. Turn the oven down to 250F (120C). Place the biscotti cut-side down and return to oven to bake for another 10 minutes, or until they are golden brown. Turn biscotti over and bake for another 10 minutes. They should be firm and golden brown on both sides.

Stored in an airtight container, the biscotti keep for two to three weeks.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

Are you doing any baking for the holidays? What are your favorite cookies?

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24 Comments

  • Tourmaline: I love chocolate and pistachios, but I’ve still never tried saffron. I should take the opportunity provided by this recipe. Thank you! November 19, 2021 at 7:37am Reply

    • Tourmaline: P. S.

      Hey Nikos, I was finally succinct. It’s a miracle! November 19, 2021 at 7:40am Reply

      • Victoria: We enjoy all of your comments. 🙂 November 19, 2021 at 2:05pm Reply

        • Tourmaline: Thank you, Victoria! November 19, 2021 at 10:49pm Reply

    • Victoria: They work really well together! You can try them in other recipes too, but I like biscotti a lot, so I decided to make a batch. November 19, 2021 at 2:05pm Reply

      • Tourmaline: I’m looking forward to making them! November 19, 2021 at 10:46pm Reply

  • Andy: I loved your hazelnut and orange biscotti, and this version sounds luscious too. You get such unique flavors when combining chocolate with spices (I know I’ve commented before on the magic I find in chocolate with ginger), so I’m curious to try these just to taste the combination of saffron with chocolate. I’ve never thought to combine these two things before. November 19, 2021 at 8:58am Reply

    • Victoria: Do you use dry ginger or fresh in combination with chocolate? November 19, 2021 at 2:06pm Reply

      • Andy: I’ve tried various combinations in baking for ginger with chocolate—fresh, candied, dried. I think fresh ginger works especially well in combination with milk chocolate, where it cuts through some of the sweetness and unctuousness, much like orange zest or other citrus would. The impression is bright but velvety. I like candied ginger with dark chocolate for balance, and with dried ginger, cocoa powder is a natural fit, where I think there’s a kind of harmony with the earthier notes I get from ground dried ginger. November 19, 2021 at 2:31pm Reply

      • Andy: Reminds me, my gingerbread recipe, which comes from a confectioner in Philadelphia, uses a bit of cocoa powder alongside the spice blend, and it really works wonders. If I hadn’t tasted the gingerbread first from the shop (some of the best I’ve ever had), I might have been skeptical. The chocolate isn’t immediately obvious but adds a haunting depth and somehow makes gingerbread taste more gingerbread-y. November 19, 2021 at 6:15pm Reply

      • Amalia: Hi! Great recipe and on time! Try to plant a piece of ginger (the ginger we buy is a rhizome) It is very easy and has a beautiful, exotic greenery. Choose one with eyes. The new ginger you pick is so different from what we buy in the markets. It is soft, aromatic and most important without hard fibers. November 20, 2021 at 6:56am Reply

        • Tati: I never knew that. I will try! November 20, 2021 at 4:59pm Reply

          • Amalia: There are many videos on YouTube with instructions. you can try indoors in winter. I had one failure and two successes. November 21, 2021 at 5:56am Reply

          • Victoria: I am growing ginger and turmeric from a store-bought rhizome right now and both are doing well. You only need to make sure that your rhizomes are not radiated (some imported ones are.) Leave it in a brown paper bag for a few days for a sprout to appear and then you can plant it. It grows well and even the leaves are fragrant. November 24, 2021 at 6:08am Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: Oh this looks beautiful and I‘m convinced tastes even better. It‘s right up there on my list for my next baking expedition! November 20, 2021 at 10:11am Reply

    • Victoria: Anything with saffron tastes good, so I’m gilding the lily with chocolate and pistachios. November 24, 2021 at 6:09am Reply

  • Frances: I am a bit late to comment, Victoria, but we have the same kind of biscotti here, in Corsica (not a wonder, we share alot with Italy of course). I never thought of adding chocolat and saffron, it is a great idea, thanks for the recipe! November 22, 2021 at 1:16pm Reply

    • Victoria: You can also add some chestnut flour to biscotti (replacing a portion of the wheat flour). I know that in Corsica you have amazing chestnuts and chestnut flour. November 25, 2021 at 2:00am Reply

      • Frances: This is an excellent idea Victoria, I never thought of using chesnut flour for backing biscotti! And yes, thank you for mentioning it, our chesnut flour is really that good (no bragging intended…or maybe a little bit ;-)) November 26, 2021 at 2:14pm Reply

        • Victoria: It’s so good that it’s worth bragging about! 🙂 November 27, 2021 at 9:42am Reply

  • Klaas: These sound absolutely wonderful! I’ll try them soon! And who knew one can plant pieces of fresh ginger? This blog is the best! November 23, 2021 at 1:43pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s really easy to do! And the greenery looks beautiful. November 25, 2021 at 2:21pm Reply

  • Jeanne: Thank you for sharing this, Victoria. Wonderful! November 25, 2021 at 9:14am Reply

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