Just Cook It Ep. 8 – 7/20/13 Special Guest Boncora Biscotti

Bonnie Tempesta and her dog, Ella

Jul 20, 2013

On The Menu – Mario and Bill discuss some interesting news in the world of food. They also talk about the upcoming weeks food holidays that include ice cream, penuche fudge, tequila and more.

Bonnie’s company started the national biscotti craze in the 1980’s. Now she’s back with Boncora Biscotti and we are going to talk all about that and more!

Listen to Bonnie Tempesta’s interview at minute 25:40 here:


[Start Transcript.]

M: My name is Mario Porreca and we have a very special guest here today with us. We spoke about the guest before the break and even spoke about her in the, uh, on last week’s program. So, I am very excited to have Bonnie Tempesta from Boncora Biscotti with us. Welcome Bonnie and thank you so much for giving us a few minutes of your time today.

B: Aw, thank you so much for having me. This is great.

M: Yeah, we are super excited to have you because, uh, low and behold I don’t know if you could tell by my name, Mario Porreca, but I am Italian…

B: I can tell.

M: …and biscotti is something that I grew up on and my family grew up making, so I was really excited to touch base with you and get a real biscotti expert on the show to tell us all about the cookie.

B: Oh, great. What kind of biscotti did your, uh, family make?

M: Um, it was a family recipe and I, I have tried your biscotti and they are excellent, by the way. They’re a little different than yours though. Ours were, I want to say, they were a little heavier…

B: Uh-huh.

M: …and a little texturally different. But we always had like the anise flavored biscotti…

B: Right, right, right, right.

M: …so, because the town that my grandfather was from in Italy is one the leading, um, producers of anisette. So, there was…

B: Oh, what town is that?

M: It’s, uh, Oscarli Puccino, it’s in Marche.

B: Oh, in the Marche?

M: Yes.

B: Okay. Beautiful.

M: So, there’s a brand of anise that comes from there called Maletti.

B: Oh.

M: And so, we actually through the liquor stores here, we can order it by the case. They don’t carry it, but we can order it and we’ll usually get a case and then we’ll have it for, for the entire year.

B: Oh, that’s great.

M: So, yeah. So, we’d use that in making the biscotti, but your biscotti they come in almond and, uh, chocolate-dipped.

B: Exactly.

M: And that, that’s, from what I understand, it’s a family recipe. That goes way back with you.

B: Yeah, yeah. It’s a family recipe. It was my aunt’s recipe and, um, it’s a traditional biscotti di Prato. So, there’s the city of Prato, which is right outside of Florence. It’s famous for the almond, just pure almond, biscotti. They don’t use anise or anything like that. And they’re, if you go to a restaurant or anything like that in Firenze or Florence, um, you will usually see on the menu a little plate of biscotti and vinsanto, which is the desert wine that is also made in Tuscany.

So, um, yeah my aunt was from Prato and I got the recipe from her, um, when I was very young, actually. I was sixteen years old and I just loved her biscotti. My mother and grandmother made the anise kind and I happen to be not an anise fan and, um, so I never really made those. But when my aunt, um, you know let me taste hers I went, “Oh these are really good.” So, that’s when I started making them as a young person.

M: That’s very cool. So, you said, do you remember when you had your first biscotti?

B: Oh yeah, I grew up with, you know, the ones that my mom and, uh, and grandmother made, they were always in the house. But I think I was about sixteen when my mother and I used to walk around the corner to my aunt’s house to have tea in the afternoon and she brought out this, her, her bowl of biscotti di Prato and that’s when I got the recipe from her. And so, yeah that stuck out in my mind. That’s the recipe for the most part that I used with my first biscotti company in the 80s and now again with Boncora.

M: So let’s, let’s talk a little bit, now that you mention it, about your first biscotti company. It was what La Tempesta? After your last name, I believe.

B: Yes, mhmm. Yes.

M: So, you started that in the 80s and you’re actually known as the “Queen of Biscotti.” So, which is a very exclusive title.

B: A very. Well, yes. I am flattered. I’m flattered.

M: So, you started your biscotti with La Tempesta in the 80s and how long did you, did you carry that company? And then what made you decide to, uh, to kind of take a break and then come back again as Boncora Biscotti?

B: Um, I started Boncora, um, La Tempesta in ‘83 and, um, we had, uh, La Tempesta for 15 years. And we grew from, you know, it started, one of those great stories, in my kitchen at home and grew to a very, a pretty big company with, you know, 50 sales reps across the country and, uh, it just was a wonderful thing. My mother was my partner, uh, in the company and, um, it kind of got to a point where it was really big and then, unfortunately, my mom got sick and, uh, it was just the right time to kind of let it go and pass it on to someone else. And, uh, so, uh, yeah 15 years later we sold it and I moved up to the wine country. I live in Sonoma, California, which is, you know, right next to Napa, the, uh, famous wine country up here and, uh, built a house and a garden and just, you know, did some teaching cooking classes and stuff like that. But, in my heart I always really missed, uh, the bakery and making the biscotti and especially making them the way we did originally, which was by hand, completely by hand. Of course, as a business grows then you bring in more machinery to, uh, you know, um, to make things faster. But, um, when we started everything was done by hand and that is what we are doing now with Boncora. Um, the cookies are, the dough is made by hand, they’re rolled out by hand, they’re cut by hand, each cookie is dipped in chocolate by hand. So, it’s a very artisanal, um, you know process, which is what I wanted to do. That’s really what I wanted to re-create. There’s plenty of machine-made biscotti on the market, but I really wanted to do something authentic.

M: Now, doing it by hand, which I think is fantastic, I think that’s a great way to do it and it really brings that family atmosphere along with it, that what you are used to and what you grew up with.

B: Right.

M: There’s such a nostalgia that comes with foods, especially something like biscotti. But, when you do it by hand, um, how many can you produce? How long does it take you to make them? And, uh, just how does that, uh, that compared to, you know, uh how’s your output being that you everything by hand?

B: Well, you know we can actually do, um, in about four hours, um, we can do 100 pounds of, um, of biscotti by hand and that’s…

M: Wow.

B: …that’s approximately 4,000, um, that’s not dipped. The dipping process is a separate, but actually baking the cookies. Um, you know, because they’re, I’m sure you’ve made them before, there’s a long loaf and you bake it in the loaf and slice it after it’s cooked. Um, so, we can get a lot of dough in the ovens at one time.

M: Wow, that’s a lot of biscotti.

B: Yeah.

M: Sounds like if I came there you’d have just enough to keep me happy.

B: Well, please come visit.

M: I would love to. Especially that Sonoma area I hear is beautiful. I’ve never been, but I’ve heard lots of stories about the area.

B: Yeah, you know it actually reminds me a lot of Italy, this area.

M: That’s fantastic. I’ve been to Italy twice and just beautiful, beautiful country and the food is the best food I’ve ever had in my life.

B: Oh, no kidding, huh?

M: Absolutely. But, um, so another thing about your biscotti, now, which is actually your favorite? If you’re going to have a biscotti do you go with almond or do you go with the chocolate-dipped? And what’s your favorite accompaniment to have with the biscotti?

B: Well, you know if I’m going to go traditional and all my, sort of, traditional Italian foodie friends we’ll only have the plain because that is indeed the traditional cookie from Prato, uh, with the vinsanto, some sort of a dessert wine or something like that.

The chocolate-dipped version is actually something that we kind of invented, um, in the late ‘80s at La Tempesta. I was, I was making another dessert at the time with chocolate and one of my sales reps said, “Wow, if you could put some of that chocolate on biscotti I could sell a million of them.” And I went, “Oh, okay. Let me try that.”

M: Cool.

B: And, so we were the first company to, uh, start doing that. It didn’t exist in Italy, I don’t know if it does now. So, of course the chocolate-dipped is the number-one seller. Everybody loves chocolate. Um, and it is, it is very good if I am in the mood for something chocolate, then I will have one of those with, uh, a cup of coffee or something like that. So, I think they’re two, you know it’s just the different, if you’re in a gotta-have-the-chocolate fix then that’s the perfect thing to have.

M: Yeah, I love them both. I mean, and especially the chocolate ones when you dip them in coffee…

B: Yeah.

M: You don’t need, you know a lot of people put sugar, I drink my coffee black, but a lot of people put sugar in their coffee, you dip that in your coffee not only is it great on the cookie, but that sweetness from the chocolate will kind of get into your coffee…

B: Yeah.

M: …and kind of help you out there. But, um, yeah my grandmother actually used to make a biscotti with, um, but it wasn’t, um, dipped in chocolate, it was actually a chocolate cookie, but she’d put dried cherries in it.

B: Oh, yum.

M: And it was really, really good. It was one of my favorites. But that, that, when I saw your chocolate-dipped it kind of reminded me of that even though it was a little different, it kind of just gave me that reminiscent feeling of those, of those cookies.

B: Yeah.

M: So, the next question I have for you is, um, being the Biscotti Queen and having the, your second company now, you actually started the biscotti craze in the 80s, were you surprised at how well received your cookies were and how they just took off when you started your company?

B: Uh, absolutely. It was, um, really kind of the most, one of the most amazing things that has ever happened to me. I mean it was just, um, you know we were at the right time at the right place with a really good product and I kind of had a feel for where it belonged. You know, in the early 80s the whole Starbucks thing was happening and all of the gourmet food stores were really coming in strong, and it was a perfect fit. And, um, well my first way of selling the product was I had these really beautiful glass jars and I would fill the glass jars with the biscotti and sell them to coffee houses and, um, so that was just a novelty. It hadn’t been done before.  And so, you know everybody wanted them. It was really, really amazing.

M: Now, I want to talk one more thing about the biscotti and I’ve actually two questions here about biscotti and that whole process and then I want to talk about your company a little bit. But, uh, first there’s a lot of people in this area that are of Italian descent, um, just a ton and biscotti is one of those things that is just, um, a big time cookie, a big thing for Italians. There’s a thing we do here in Western Pennsylvania, at weddings they have a cookie table. And, uh, it’s a table full of cookies and obviously being in this area, there is always biscotti there. So, they’re this huge thing, very popular. If you were going to give one tip to someone who makes biscotti, what would it be?

B: Uh, well I guess it would depend on what kind they’re making, but, um I would just say use the freshest ingredients possible. Um, you know fresh almonds or whatever nut you’re putting in, um, I think that is always just great, great. High quality ingredients would be my, my tip.

M: Absolutely, the fresher the ingredients, the better. We are talking to Bonnie Tempesta from Boncora Biscotti right here on your local station 590 radio WNBS. And Bonnie, with, um, with your cookies I read that there is a, now one thing I love about your cookies are the ingredients and I can understand them all. They all make sense, I’m not tongue twisted trying to pronounce, they’re all real ingredients, which I really, really appreciate. And I noticed that your flour is actually culled with some spelt. Can you explain, number one, what spelt is. I mean, I know what it is but the listeners would like to know from an expert what spelt is, what it does and how you decided that it needed to be incorporated into the biscotti.

B: Well, spelt is an ancient grain. It’s, it’s kind of like a wheat berry, but it doesn’t have as much gluten as, uh, wheat and it’s more rustic, kind of almost like a brown rice or something like that. Um, and it, uh, what I think it does is it adds, uh, almost kind of like a nutty flavor to it, a more rustic flavor than just plain white flour. Whole-wheat flour can be a little too heavy to bake with, but spelt has this wonderful lightness about it. And, um, in Italy it is called faro, and I’m sure you’ve had you know a faro salad or a faro dish before and, um, then they make flour out of it. So, it’s a great way I think of lightening up the white flour and, um, and yeah it’s, it’s fun, it just adds a fun texture. And that’s something new that I’ve done here with Boncora, I didn’t, I didn’t do that with La Tempesta. But, um, over the last, you know, few years I’ve been studying different kinds of flours and, um, sort of fiddling around a little bit with the recipe and I thought that was a great blend.

M: And, and actually, with you, with the chocolate-dipped variety of the cookie, the chocolate’s a very special type of chocolate. You selected that specially. It’s a blend, correct?

B: Yeah, uh, Guittard Chocolate, right here in Northern California. I blend 50% milk chocolate and 50% semi-sweet.

M: Well, I want to thank Bonnie Tempesta of Boncora Biscotti. That was a great interview. I learned a lot about Biscotti.

[End Transcript. ]