Christmas Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti (Vegan and Gluten-Free)

by Maria Theresa Maggi on December 11, 2013

Christmas Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti

I graduated from high school in January of 1974, three weeks after I turned 18. I couldn’t wait to graduate, and after that, I couldn’t wait to move out. My friend Susy and I looked for an apartment together in the old downtown of Sacramento. We settled on a one bedroom apartment with the address 1917 18th Street. It was, I believe, between the lettered streets “S” and “T.” My half of the rent was a whopping forty-seven dollar and fifty cents. Our one bedroom was on the alley. Susy thought it best that we each keep a weapon under our beds, just in case. She had a cleaver, and I had a hammer (like the song). We never came close to using either one.

I had a great time in that first apartment. My friend Randy gave me a white kitten I named Jenny. We weren’t supposed to have pets, but we thought it would be fine if the manager, who was a relatively young man, didn’t know. But Jenny would find her way up onto the window sill in front of the drawn curtains (of course), so we got found out. But the manager liked the cat so much he relented, and let us keep her.  I can still remember sitting on the front porch slab, the front door open, with John Denver belting Rocky  Mountain High out on my stereo. Oh, the 70s. And when the actual graduation ceremony came in June, we had a party. An older friend who was 21 bar-tended on our ironing board, making tequila sunrises for everyone. The cat even had a few sips and wound up asleep in the laundry basket, but unharmed.

My Dad had not been at all excited about my moving out. In fact, he spent the day I moved out in bed, ostensibly with the flu. I think he was actually sick, but my Dad was rarely sick, and so part of it was a kind of broken heart. He thought I was throwing my life away, taking a “break” from full time college courses, and working at a family owned department store. I was giddy with independence and new found freedom, and couldn’t understand why he would be worried about me, or think I was wasting my life. It was a tough time in our relationship.  We rarely spoke.

When it came time for his birthday in late April, I wanted to do something to ease the strain. It was a stretch to think of anything we wouldn’t butt heads on. Then I remembered my Aunt Ann Melchiorre’s biscotti. My Dad loved these, along with a commercial version of them Stella Doro makes, called Anisette Cookies. I went to my Aunt, and copied down her directions for biscotti.  I still have the smudged and stained recipe card, written in my young woman’s hand:

Biscotti recipe card

I made these with all the care I could muster, and they came out great. I picked out a card at the department store for a father and daughter that did not sugar-coat the problems, but said how the love carried us through them. I gave these to my Dad. And he cried.  It was the only time I had seen him do that up to that point in my young life.

It would become my pride and joy to make these biscotti each year at Christmas, knowing they were something he loved, and that I had been the first in our family to master the technique of how to make them. My sister would go on to culinary school, and make amazing variations of biscotti based on this basic recipe. For a season she went into business selling them herself, and I drew her a logo with a trullo on it (the name of the unique ancestral house in the village Alberobello, Puglia, where my father’s side of the family is from, but actually not where the biscotti recipe is from, since my Aunt Ann Melchiorre’s family was from Naples.)

Alberobello Trullo Drawing

Once I began eating this way, of course I was curious to see if I could create a biscotti that would taste like a biscotti to me, but be egg and milk and butter free. A big challenge. I found two recipes that gave me the basic shape of a lower fat biscotti: Susan’s Fat-Free Gluten-Free Gingerbread Biscotti at Fat Free Vegan Kitchen, and Karina’s Anise Seed Biscotti at Gluten Free Goddess.

In the first year, before I admitted to myself I needed to go back to being gluten free, I made wonderful variations on Susan’s recipe. Delighted with myself, I made the basic gingerbread one for my Dad, who by that time was in assisted living, and experiencing some age related dementia. But not enough dementia that these did not seem quite right to him.  Knowing he liked things crunchy, I had overcooked them a tad, and by the time they arrived in their tin, they were apparently rock hard. “Maybe your sister can do something with them,” he said.  The verdict was clear. I knew no amount of experimentation would pass his muster. And that was okay with me.

I’d made a pact with myself that I would no longer cook or bake things for others I could not at least taste myself, without sliding down a slippery slope.  I was fine with my sister continuing to make the old Christmas treats for him with the ingredients that were now off limits for me.

When I had to be gluten free, I was excited to read yet another of Karina’s versions of biscotti at Gluten Free Goddess, which you can find here. But I needed to make them low fat. So I tweaked. And tweaked. Going back and forth between Susan’s recipe, Karina’s recipes, and the traditional instructions I had known for years, mixed in with my sister’s innovations. And though they aren’t low fat in the usual way I eat, they are low fat, and low sugar, and, well, they don’t get as hard as rocks anymore.  I’d like to tell you I follow this recipe exactly, but the truth is I improvise with what I have, what I think will go together, what tastes good, and when the “sturdy batter” needed to form the loaves comes together. This version was created in 2011, a year I was experimenting with making my own nut milks and I had a lot of leftover nut meal to use up. If you aren’t doing this, you can buy almond flour/meal or even hazelnut flour instead. The most important thing is the technique for forming, baking and toasting the loaves that become the biscotti.

Karina recommends storing the biscotti in the freezer. If you’re not serving them all right away, this is a good idea, since freezing gluten-free baked goods seems to enhance their flavor and help them hold texture. But they never make it to the freezer at Christmastime around here. And last year, when they were all gone, Mike made another batch following this recipe. And all those got eaten too. This year, I’ll make them again, and the richness of all the good memories from years of baking traditional ones will become further entwined with this newer healthier tradition. And best of all, if you are a person who likes to dip your biscotti in coffee, tea, soy nog, or even wine, these gluten free ones will hold up to that pretty well. (That’s what the almond meal helps with.) My Dad, who was a dedicated biscotti dunker, might even say they pass muster.

 Maria (moonwatcher)

Leave a Comment

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Cathy December 11, 2013 at 11:32 am

I think this post need a high school photo of Maria. 🙂 I’ve never made biscotti; I should try it! Lovely writing.


2 moonwatcher December 11, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Haha Cathy! If I happen to come across one that’s passable and scannable, I’ll consider adding it! Thanks for your kind words about the writing. I bet you can top me with a completely flour free version. If anyone could, it’s you!! xo


3 Marcia December 12, 2013 at 11:43 am

I agree with Cathy. Maria, you are just a “puppy” (the name I give those that are younger than me)! Wish I was as talented, in so many ways, as you are.

Yummy recipe, thank you!


4 moonwatcher December 12, 2013 at 12:44 pm

Thanks, Marcia! I hear that from my friends here who are older as well. 🙂 And thanks for your kind words, too. I hope you enjoy the recipe if you decide to try it out.


5 Tami @Nutmeg Notebook December 11, 2013 at 11:57 am

Fantastic! I do miss a good biscotti on this plant based diet and can’t wait to give these a try and surprise my hubby with a home baked treat. Once again I enjoy your story telling as much as the recipe.


6 moonwatcher December 11, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Thanks so much, Tami–so gladyou enjoyed the story telling as much as the recipe. I think making good biscotti is an art, and making good low fat gluten free vegan biscotti is definitely an adventure. So glad you want to give these a try!


7 Susan Voisin December 11, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Maria, this is such a touching post. Something about it just brought tears to my eyes. I’m so happy you shared the story with us, along with your biscotti recipe. And I’m glad to hear that a vegan, gluten-free biscotti can be done well. The photo at the top just looks so delicious!


8 moonwatcher December 11, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Thank you, Susan! I really appreciate you telling me how this story brought tears to your eyes–it’s one that really means a lot to me, and it took a while to be able to tell it here. Thanks for the compliment on the photo, too, and how delicious the biscotti look!


9 MarieElena December 12, 2013 at 6:37 am

I love your stories along with the great recipes. Thanks for sharing all your hard work with us.


10 moonwatcher December 12, 2013 at 9:35 am

You are so welcome, MarieElena! Glad to have you along. 🙂


11 never give up December 12, 2013 at 7:37 am

Thank you for sharing this story with us Maria! Brought tears to my eyes, as well as memories of my own I hadn’t thought of in years!


12 moonwatcher December 12, 2013 at 9:36 am

Thanks so much, never give up! I had to be ready to tell the story, so I could share the recipe. Glad I was ready. Enjoy those memories of your own, too.


13 Lee at Veggie Quest December 12, 2013 at 8:42 am

Maria, what a touching story! And I love that you still have the original recipe you copied down from your aunt. Thanks for sharing! (Makes me want to go back through my family recipe box and see what gems are hiding in there.)

Also, thanks for posting a good-looking recipe! I’ve never attempted biscotti before, but I’m delighted to find a recipe that’s low-fat, vegan, AND gluten free. You’re the best!


14 moonwatcher December 12, 2013 at 9:37 am

Thanks so much, Lee!! I hope you find your own treasures to experiment with, too! Making biscotti gluten free and relatively low fat vegan is indeed an adventure. I’m happy to share the “fruits” of those adventures with you!


15 Veronica December 12, 2013 at 9:23 am

Such a beautiful story, Maria. Thanks for sharing. Change is hard for most people, and I think it’s harder for parents watching their kids grow up, and everything that comes with that. The photos of the recipe and logo transport me to the story – I have some recipe cards like that of my own! It’s wonderful you had the perseverance to keep at the recipe to make it just right – few have that patience! I’m going to start my own adventures in that next week… Keep your fingers crossed! I’m sure it’ll take many tries… And maybe I’ll start a new family tradition with one of my remakes!

I’ve made regular biscotti only a couple times before. This version looks delicious! And it’s something I can eat! I’m not a fan of licorice/anise, so I’ll leave that out, but everything else sounds perfect. 🙂 It’s great that gf items can freeze well – thus making large batches ok to do! I’m definitely a biscotti/coffee dipper, so I’m very excited to try this one out.

I’m loving your holiday cookie roundup!


16 moonwatcher December 12, 2013 at 9:39 am

So happy you are enjoying the holiday cookie roundup, Veronica! I will look forward to what your own adventures turn up on your blog. And thanks for the kind words about the story that goes with the biscotti. Yes, change is hard for all of us. I’m so glad you and others have appreciated the photo of the old recipe card and the drawing of the trullo, along with everything else. I have the best readers ever!!


17 moonwatcher December 12, 2013 at 11:43 am

Veronica, also meant to say that if you don’t like anise, almond extract would be good in these instead.


18 Pam Woods December 12, 2013 at 8:10 pm

What a beautiful post, Maria. I’m so grateful that you’re here sharing your stories and recipes!

We were just visiting with a neighbor the other day, and were talking about that part of Italy. He had been to Bari, and we were talking about Ostuni and trullos! We hope to visit that area in our travels.


19 moonwatcher December 12, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Thanks so much, Pam, for your lovely words about my words. And I’m so excited to learn you hope to visit that area in your travels! I’d love to see those trulli first hand someday. I have relatives I’ve never me that live in them. 🙂


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