It takes a certain kind of pastry lover to pair biscotti with beer, but in Rhonda Hamlin’s world, biscotti really can go with everything.
Hamlin is the founder of Tacoma-based The Art of Crunch biscotti company.
“Have you tried salted caramel with a stout?” asked Hamlin following a tasting she conducted at Dystopian State Brewing Co. in late April.
The salted caramel, dark-chocolate dunked biscotti is a favorite and she said the deep chocolate flavor felt a natural pairing with Dystopian’s Imperial stout.
Her biscotti is built to be dunkable, the traditional way most people eat the Italian cookie that’s twice baked. Coffee is its natural mate.
“The crunch has to be perfect and it has to be crunchy because it is made to be dunked in coffee. You can dunk it, it’s not going to crumble off into pieces. It holds its shape,” she said of her style of biscotti.
Many versions of her biscotti are coated in chocolate, further helping her biscotti retain its structure when dunked into liquid.
She officially started her company six years ago, but the idea for her biscotti business started nearly a decade earlier. The Puyallup native entered biscotti in a baking competition at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup and to her surprise, she won a blue ribbon for her white chocolate-dipped cranberry biscotti. That was in 2002.
“It’s become my cornerstone, I sell a ton of it,” she said of her blue ribbon-winning cranberry biscotti. It served as the prototype for the 20-plus flavors of biscotti she sells through her website and every Saturday at the Proctor Farmers Market. She also sells either her biscotti or dessert bars at select locations of Cutter’s Point Coffee Co. and Martin Henry, as well as Sixth Avenue’s Bluebeard Roasters and Old Town’s MarKee Coffee.
Her flavors range from straightforward vanilla to lavender-caramel, cranberry-lime, ginger-lemon, lemon-poppyseed and tiramisu. She has a line of seasonal flavors that include pineapple-orange and apricot-lime this time of year, and peppermint bark and cherry-almond in the winter.
Has she ever created a biscotti flavor that didn’t work for her customers?
“I did a maple bacon one. It’s funny, everyone at the kitchen loved it, but nobody wanted to buy it. I don‘t know why, it’s really good.” She embedded the biscotti with bacon bits and drizzled with maple-white chocolate. “It definitely didn’t go like I thought it would,” she said with a laugh.
GETTING BY WITH HELP FROM FRIENDS
She developed her business — and flavors of biscotti — while working at a company that knows a thing or two about customer service, Nordstrom. She and her cosmetic counter cohorts would dream up flavor combinations. One former co-worker now works as a graphic designer for Hamlin.
It was another friend at work who referred her to a commercial kitchen that helped launch her business.
STRUGGLE TO START
The business almost didn’t get off the ground. “I put it on the back burner for nine years while looking for a space,” she said. “I found places, but I couldn’t afford a kitchen,” she said.
She needed a licensed kitchen to serve as her home base. At the same time she was starting her business, she was juggling young children, who then were ages 10 and 15. They’re 15 and 20 now and have roles in the business. “My son seals packages. My daughter cuts the labels for packaging. Oh, and my mom is the bookkeeper,” Hamlin said.
Affordable kitchens then — and now — are a difficult find in Tacoma. But her co-worker put her in touch with local caterer Bette Anne Curry. Curry operates her own catering company and also rents space to a number of local food companies at her Tacoma kitchen, The Gourmet Niche.
There are convection ovens, plenty of counter space, and more importantly, rates that keep the business affordable for the single mom.
SECRET TO SUCCESS IS IN THE FAT
If there’s one thing Hamlin’s learned about biscotti it’s this little gem home cooks can borrow: Skip the butter. “One of the tricks is to not use butter because it will make it more crumbly.” Her perfect source of fat? “Oil. It makes it more crunchy.”
Her basic recipe has always been based off the one she ripped out of a magazine years ago. That recipe helped her create her white chocolate cranberry biscotti. She’s tweaked and bent the recipe some. It’s a flexible recipe that allows for add-ins, such as the dried fruit, citrus zest and all kind of other flavorings.
“My basic recipe is pretty forgiving so I can flavor it anyway I want to. Yesterday, I had the idea of a ginger-lemon biscotti. It turned out good yesterday. I guessed how much ginger I should use and you just don’t know until you bake it, but it was a success on the first try. Sometimes you get lucky.”
The Art of Crunch
Contact: theartofcrunch.com; 253-720-6180.
Find her biscotti: Every Saturday at the Proctor Farmers Market and select locations of Cutter’s Point Coffee Co., and Martin Henry, Sixth Avenue’s Bluebeard Roasters and Old Town’s MarKee Coffee.