The Italians use the term biscotti to refer to any type of cookie. In North America, biscotti is used to describe a long, dry, hard twice-baked cookie with a curved top and flat bottom designed for dunking into wine or coffee. The name biscotti is derived from 'bis' meaning twice in Italian and 'cotto' meaning baked or cooked.
Biscotti is said to have originated during Columbus's time and credited to an Italian baker who originally served them with Tuscan wines. They became so popular that every province developed their own flavored version. Because of their long storage ability they were an ideal food for sailors, soldiers, and fisherman. Most European countries have adopted their own version of biscotti: English - rusks, French - biscotte and croquets de carcassonne, Germans - zwieback, Greeks - biskota and paxemadia, Jewish - mandelbrot, and Russians - sukhariki.
Traditionally biscotti were almond flavored as almonds were readily available in Italy and nearby countries. Now your imagination is the only limiting factor to what can be added to these popular cookies; dried fruits, chocolate, different varieties of nuts, seeds, spices, etc. Frequently found iced with melted chocolate or frostings, and topped with nuts and even colored sprinkles.
The sticky dough is first shaped into a 12 inch (30cm) log and baked until firm. After a short cooling period, the log is sliced into diagonal slices and baked again to draw out the moisture thus producing a crisp, dry textured cookie that has a long shelf life. Recipes containing butter or oil will have a softer texture and will not keep as long as the traditional recipes that only use eggs to bind the ingredients together.