Chai Biscotti with Hibiscus Syrup and Serendipitea

I take part in Cooking Challenges more to feel part of the bigger blogging community than because I actually like the challenge of cooking to a specific theme.  Or within a specific time frame.  In fact, asking me to cook something within a deadline is usually a guaranteed way of stopping me from cooking it.  At least until past the deadline.
But this month's eggless baking challenge has me hyper-excited!  Gayathri says Orange Blossom - Pistachio - Apricot biscotti, but I am favouring different flowers, something local: lemon, rose, hibiscus or jasmine even.
Unfortunately the lemon tree in my balconey is a baby, not flowering yet.
My hibiscus is miserly, giving me one beautiful blossom at a time.
My jasmine is hibernating, it feels the reasonably cool weather (31 deg C) is fit for sleeping only.
I don't grow roses on principle.  They demand a lot of pampering, I have 2 kids a father and a husband for that already.
There are quite a few hibiscus plants in my apartment complex, but the chennai corporation goes around spraying for mosquitoes on an almost weekly basis, I worry about residual pesticide in the flowers. The Hibiscus syrup, diluted as it is by sugar and lemon juice, from Naturellment by Auroville is the only option.

Thinking of hibiscus flowers in food takes me back to my graduate school days in University of Texas at Austin. I lived in the women's co-op.  Across the street, Guadalupe, from us was a 711.  Behind the 711 was a Thai Restaurant.  They served an awesome Iced Tea - Tea, Condensed Milk, Hibiscus syrup and lots of ice.  Cold, Sweet, Delicious, Bursting forth with multiple flavours of hibiscus, cinnamon, anise.....  To get exactly how sweet and delicious this teas was, when I first tasted it, you have to get into a Pensieve and follow me around on my first day at UT.

I had got off the plane the previous night and taken a room in some Motel by I35.  The pigeon sounds, the traffic on the highway, the sick feeling from the only cup of coffee I had on my 18 hour flight all conspired to make me into a zombie.  The next day, I had to go to my department for registration.  I was dizzy with lack  of sleep and the 110 deg F Austin weather (totally unexpected for someone from Bangalore).  I passed by a  fast food place and bought the only familiar drink - Iced (though we prefer HOT) Tea and walked on to the department.  I took a sip enroute and nearly threw up - there was NO SUGAR in the tea!  Unsweetened coffee is good, great even, bu,t Tea NEEDS sugar!  Sugar does NOT dissolve easily in cold icy drinks.  I was thoroughly miserable and home sick.  My first day without filter kaapi.  and now No Sugar Tea! 

I had had a very sheltered life.  My only trip by myself, before the US trip, was to a successful BARC interview in Bombay.  My dad dropped me off at bangalore station and my chitappa picked me up from Bombay station.  A guy just sat next to me on the train to Thane, without a by-your-leave, giving me a severe culture shock.  You see, in the Bangalore of those days, a guy would never presume to sit next to a strange girl on a public transport, especially, without seeking permission first. 
A few months later, I left for the US, without making any arrangements for a place to stay or a friend to contact, arguing with my dad about the sensibility of graduate studies in the US until the day before I actually left!  But I coped.

I eventually found a room in the Women's co - op and made lots of friends.  They took me to the thai place when I recounted my miserable first day on campus and ordered the iced tea for me.  Finally after a week of no good coffee and yucky sodas, Nirvana!  I couldn't believe nasty drink I had on my first day and this terrific concoction were from the same base.  Probably Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

This was in the mid-nineties, long before cooking blogs.  But even after cooking  blogs, I somehow never sought to search for the Thai iced tea.  Even today, I am driving blind.  Making the biscotti from a visceral memory of the iced tea flavours.

Chai -Hibiscus Biscotti

2 cups chapathi flour
3/4 cup almond powder - almonds blitzed skin and all
1 tsp tea masala (substitute dry ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, pepper in preferred proportions)
1 tsp baking powder

1/2 - 2/3 cup sugar (2/3 was a bit too sweet)
1/3 cup Naturellment Hibiscus Syrup by Auroville.
1/3 cup whipping cream
50g butter - just for a richer taste
1 single serve packet of ENO regular

Mix the flour, almond, baking powder and tea masala in bowl. 

In another bowl beat the sugar, hibiscus, butter and cream for about 5 minutes until well blended and creamy.  The butter might look curdled, but the end product is fine.

Mix in the regular ENO powder.

Pour the dry ingredients into the wet, mix well.

Fold in the chopped nuts.

Shape the dough into 2 - 3 logs about 1 cm tall (1.5 may be better) and place in a greased cookie pan.
30 min in fridge before baking might improve appearance?

Bake at 175 deg C (350 deg F) for 30 minutes, until brown and somewhat firm to touch.

Let cool in pan.  Then slice each log with into 1 cm thick biscotti with a serrated knife.

Bake at 150 degrees for 10 - 12 minutes.  Only center will look wet.

Turn each biscotti over and bake for another 10 - 12 minutes.


Cool on a wire rack and store.

Serve with a cup of hot tea.  I prefer my coffee unadulterated.

Substitutes:

Egg white adds structure to the baking,  I hoped the almond powder and the cream would help.
Eggs incorporate air, I know baking powder only enlarges the holes, not creates them, so I used ENO, a fruit salt instead.  baking soda would also work, but I have always thought ENO was a lot more effervescent.
Eggs help bind the fats to the other liquids; I don't know what to do here... Soy had lechitin too.  I might try tofu next time
2 large beaten eggs = approximately 6.25 tbspoons of liquid, I used 3/8th cup of cream instead.


Results:
Taste. Kids loved it, hubby loved it and so did my neighbours.  I thought it was a tad too sweet.

Biscotti has an OK structure, I would prefer a bit less dense crumb than what I got, but I choose to use aata instead of maida.  That might have contributed to the dense crumb as much as not using egg.

The Biscotti tasted strongly of chai masala NOT tea - I consciously did not add any actual tea to the mix.  I prefer the tea flavour to reside in the cup into which I dunk my biscotti.  You might consider steeping warm cream in tea leaves.

The Hibiscus flavour did not really carry through, the biscotti tasted a lot like it was pomegranate flavoured...  Probably too much lime juice in the syrup? Hibiscus is not a popular flavour, people could simply be mistaking  hibiscus's earthiness for pomegranete.  Next time I want to try hibiscus flowers, dried.  I will leave out the chai masala then.

The biscotti log was a little brittle, breaking up a bit when I sliced the log to make individual biscotti.  It is a disaster if you don't wait for the log to cool for a good 20 minutes, an annoyance after that.  These biscottis' dont have a masterchef acceptable form, they are good, even great for a homebaker.

Serendipitea :)

Hibiscus Iced Tea

Boil 1 cup water, add 3teaspoons tea leaves and take the water off the boil.
Steep for 5 minutes then filter the tea.
Cool the tea.
Add 1 part Hibiscus Syrup, 1 part tea, few ice cubes, top off with 2 - 4 parts water, mix and serve immediately.
Awesome as it was in a cool, rainy evening, I can only imagine how lovely this would be at the end of a hot day!

Iced Tea and Biscotti.  Reminder of my graduate school days at UT Austin.  I am submitting this to Tangy Mind's An International Celebration  U.S.A round up.  This series was launched by Jagruthi and september's Host is Archana.
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