If that oblong cookie in your hand is studded with almond slices, smells of anise and crunches when you take a bite, it must be a traditional biscotto. That would be the twice-baked Italian cookie that's been around in one form or another for centuries.
Traditionally, biscotti are what older generations of Italians dunk into their cappuccino, hot tea or sweet wine as an afternoon snack or later as a dessert.
Which is fine if you want to take a nap afterward. But if it's bold flavors and a sense of fun you want, break open a box of Naughty Biscotti, an under-the-radar player in the Sacramento market.
The company's biscotti have become so popular that it keeps outgrowing its factory and warehouse spaces. Its third and present home is in Santa Clara, but it's looking to relocate.
What is it about Naughty Biscotti that sets it apart? For one thing, it has a sense of humor, but that's not merely a cover-up for a weak product. The cookies are Sacramento Bee taste test-proven for quality and flavor, getting very high scores from our panel.
Let's start with the "Caution" text on the box: "The Biscotti General recommends this product not be eaten in public places where silence is required. Your taste buds could go into shock leading to uncontrollable belly giggles."
A bit over the top, sure (though the loud crunching does turn heads), but so are the names of the flavors: Chocolate Maniac, Sweet Ginger Ice, Lemon Squeeze, Peppermint Twist (topped with crushed candy cane), Muddy Peanuty, CocoMintopia and seven more. Some are chocolate-dipped, others are topped with vanilla icing or dusted with cinnamon and sugar. Not exactly your grandmother's Sunday-afternoon snack.
The packaging breaks with tradition, too, looking like miniature circus wagons parked on store shelves. Boxes in hues of purple and orange stripes and checks against green, yellow, orange and purple backgrounds shout out to consumers.
Company founder Pamela Frederickson of Los Gatos created the biscotti and designed the packaging.
"I wanted the package to be as special as the product inside of it," she said. "From beginning to end, it had to be a really fun gourmet experience."
Because Frederickson was inexperienced with illustration-specific computer software, she designed the boxes "using colored pencils and paper," she said. "I looked at what other biscotti companies were doing and I went completely the opposite way."
The name grabs attention, too, but why "Naughty"?
"Because the chocolate and fruits in them and on them make them so decadent," she said. "We use exaggerated flavors, so our Lemon Squeeze actually tastes like lemon. We use couverture chocolate (with extra cocoa butter) from Guittard. We've tried to mimic homemade biscotti on a commercial level."
Frederickson's story is one of the working-woman, spare-time home cook who creates a novelty dish that wows her friends and family, then takes a chance and goes commercial, growing the company as word-of-mouth spreads.
In the 1990s, she was at a high-tech Silicon Valley firm when she had an OMG! moment while standing in line at a coffeehouse. She spotted a jar of biscotti on the counter and thought, "Why not create an ultimate version of the Italian cookie, sort of what Ben & Jerry's is to the ice cream market?"
For months she invested nights and weekends to resetting ingredients, visiting potential purveyors and experimenting with small batches of cookies in her kitchen.
Soon, her home-baked biscotti were in such demand from friends and family that she rented time in a commercial kitchen co-op to keep up. Next came her own commercial kitchen, with financial help from her parents. Then orders were piling up and she was selling biscotti to co- workers from her desk.
In 1997 she left her job and became a full-time maker of biscotti. Now the cookies are sold in specialty-food markets in Northern California and around the country.
"Before we got distributors, my mom was driving the van across the Golden Gate Bridge to deliver to (high-end) Molly Stone's Markets," Frederickson recalled.
Are there any new flavors in the works?
"We sent out private invitations to taste the oatmeal with butterscotch chips, cinnamon and nutmeg, dipped in white chocolate," Frederickson said. "I don't have a name for it yet, but it's got to be fun and decadent, like our other names."
Does Frederickson have a favorite flavor?
"It's between Lemon Squeeze and pumpkin with freshly roasted pecans," she said. "I don't eat them every day, maybe a couple of times a week. They're a luxury."
What: Available in multiple flavors.
Where: At specialty-foods stores throughout Northern California. In Sacramento, find them at Corti Bros. Market, 5810 Folsom Blvd.; (916) 736-3800.
Cost: $6.75 to $8 for 10-ounce boxes in stores and online. Some flavors are sold online only for $15 a pound.
Call The Bee's Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128.