Every year about this time, Biscotti Man hits his holiday zone. He clears his calendar, lets the answering machine take his phone calls and bakes more than 2,000 biscotti from 12 different recipes, all in a week. It's his annual gift-making marathon: six days of baking multiple batches of biscotti - one flavor in the morning, another in the afternoon - then bagging and tagging the bounty from his kitchen. On the seventh day he boxes and ships out the goodies to some 100 lucky family members and friends.

Biscotti Man is Kip Keller, who has spent the past 10 years perfecting his gift, starting ironically, with a couple of recipes he got from the Austin American-Statesman and still makes today.

Why biscotti?

"I love it, and originally they were so expensive in the stores. ... I can make them a whole lot cheaper." (Still, because of the quantity he bakes, he figured he spent $550 on 2,500 biscotti for his 2008 holiday baking season, including shipping.)

A decade ago when Keller began baking the sophisticated cookie, biscotti and all things Italian were the rage. His gift was well-received. Still is, but as anyone who has made biscotti will tell you, there is a downside if you are the cook. As their name ("bis," twice; "cotti," cooked) indicates, biscotti must be twice-baked - once as a log of dough, again after being sliced - to achieve the hard texture that makes them so divinely dunkable.

But, Biscotti Man, who is a freelance editor/writer by paycheck, does not mind as long as he can carve out the hours. It's when he gets an assignment in the middle of baking - and as a freelancer, he never says no - that things can get a little nuts, necessitating all-nighters or labeling cookies at 3 a.m.

"What have I gotten myself into? Why am I doing this at Christmas?" he wonders on those occasions.

In fact, two years ago the biscotti tradition got dicey. "I had just signed on to do a big project and could not bake 40 hours a week. That was the only year I almost quit. We did not send any to families, which doubles the amount."

Fine-tuned operation

But most Decembers, he is in his element in his 14-foot-by-14-foot modern kitchen in South Austin. From the first notes of Handel's Messiah - he will play it a dozen times in its entirety during the week - he becomes Biscotti Man.

Last year on Day 2 of his biscotti baking session, his 7-foot Pottery Barn dining table was covered with racks of biscotti from the day before, left out overnight because, after weeks of drought, the weather changed and the humidity was making the chocolate glaze slow to dry. (He glazes one side of half of each recipe in white, dark or milk chocolate.)

In his kitchen, six air-cushioned cookie sheets (his preference for biscotti) and seven racks waited on one counter, ready for use, along with half a dozen boxes of parchment paper, to expedite baking. Another countertop was piled high with the raw ingredients: 25 pounds of flour, 20 pounds of sugar, 12 cups of walnuts, 22 cups each of pistachios, almonds, cashews, dried cranberries and golden raisins, and boxes of dark, milk and white chocolate. The refrigerator had been taken over with 11 dozen eggs and 10 pounds of butter. (Regular home cooking is suspended during Biscotti Week.)

Focused, Keller multiplied each of the 12 recipes by four in his head as he cooked. He separated eggs for some, not for others. He zested oranges, blended butter with sugar in his mixer, incorporated 3 quarts of flour by hand. Wearing jeans and a T-shirt, his typical biscotti-baking uniform, he mixed carefully because he was multibatching, and mistakes cost time and money. He baked two pans (four logs) at once, rotating them halfway through to speed the process along. If he had a convection oven, it would shine here, but he does not.

He says he could not make all this biscotti without his Kitchen-Aid stand mixer, the Microplane zester or his Calphalon bread knife for slicing the logs into pieces. "You can cut someone's hand off at the wrist with this knife."

He paused as he began to slice one of the baked logs of pistachio biscotti. "How many pieces do I need out of this log?" He checked his notes: 21. He sliced the log on the diagonal and stood the cookies up with space in between for the second baking. This stand-up method of his departs from the more traditional placement of the cookies cut-side down and flipping them halfway through the second baking. His method is faster. The traditional method would require 5,000 cookie flips with the quantity he bakes.

Rarely does Biscotti Man have a failure, though one year he was not happy with a couple of batches because he had patted them too thinly. Now he keeps a ruler in the kitchen to measure the dough height. Another time there was a recipe that he didn't like and it made way more than it was supposed to. He dropped it from the list the next year, to his mother's disappointment. It was one of her favorites.

Other recipients have tried to influence the assortment choice, on occasion, suggesting ones to drop as if they were finalists in some Biscotti Idol competition. But Biscotti Man rules. He does not take orders. Lucky recipients get the same number, the same kinds.

At the end of last year's biscotti week, he had baked more than 2,500 with only one hiccup. He got an editing assignment halfway through and lost a day of cooking. That meant two of his other eight-hour baking days became 12-hour ones.

His partner American-Statesman columnist Michael Barnes' contribution to the effort, he says, is "staying out of my way, not using the kitchen and not committing me to anything for the week."

For a cook with a mission, that kind of understanding and cooperation is valued. It doesn't hurt that Barnes' family is on the list. (Keller/Barnes family members alone make up 41 names on the list.)

Keller confesses relief when he completes his annual biscotti-baking marathon. "I've done my part. I can enjoy the holidays."

And his recipients get gifts to open early.

When's biscotti day?

Arts advocate and former performer Suzie Harriman of Austin counts herself lucky to be among those who receive six dozen cookies of 12 different flavors. She and her husband share their biscotti gift judiciously. "Usually it's when someone comes over to visit that we really like. Then I might get out four to six kinds and they get one (piece)."

Paul Talley, a longtime friend of Keller's from high school, says he has a ritual when he receives his annual "biscotti air drop" in California. He digs through the dozen bags of biscotti until he finds the chocolate chip walnut variety "and instantly eats it in its entirety ? I now actually associate biscotti with Christmas, so the holidays don't feel like they have fully arrived until I am furiously digging through the box for that first bag ? I used to take half of each bag that was left into the office and pretend for about five minutes that I had made the incredible bounty. That only worked the first year. After that, people would start to get antsy if it got past the 20th and there was no "biscotti day..."

Expectation and appreciation - two components of traditions that keep Biscotti Man baking as the "Hallelujah Chorus" soars.

Varieties from Biscotti Man

• White Chocolate Cashew

• Pistachio Orange

• Pistachio Sultana (golden raisin)

• Cranberry Pistachio

• Lemon Pistachio

• Chocolate Chip Walnut

• Caramel Walnut

• Toscano (almond)

• Moorish Apricot Delight

• Chocolate Dipped Mocha

• Di Prato (almond)

• Cioccolato Paradiso (chocolate)

Supply sources

For convenience, Kip Keller prefers to shop a single store, usually an H-E-B, for most of his ingredients; Costco, for his almonds. But he had to go elsewhere for his 9 pounds of unroasted, unsalted pistachios, which at $12 a pound were his most expensive and most elusive ingredient. (Central Market, Whole Foods Market and some H-E-B Plus stores stock them.)

Sometimes he goes farther afield. Paul Talley, a California foodie friend from high school, helps him collect the hundreds of cellophane gift bags and press-on tags, often hitting a dollar store after the holidays to stockpile for the next year's baking. On other occasions, he has found him deals on nuts or gourmet chocolate bars for glazing. Keller picks up the supplies during visits. 'One year it was an entire checked bag full of various nuts, which actually caused a lot of explaining at the airport,' Talley says.

Chocolate Chip Walnut Biscotti

Kip Keller says this is his favorite biscotti recipe.

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/8 tsp. salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature

1/2 cup firmly packed golden brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 Tbsp. instant espresso powder

2 eggs

1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

Combine the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar and espresso powder in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer set on high speed, beat until light and fluffy. Mix in the eggs, one at a time, and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to low, add the walnuts and chocolate chips and mix in. Add the flour mixture and mix in just until incorporated.

Divide the dough in half. Place each half on a prepared baking sheet. Using lightly floured or wet hands, form each half into a log 3 inches wide and 3/4 inches high.

Bake until firm to touch, about 25 minutes. (Logs will spread during baking.) Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Leave oven at 325 degrees.

Using a large spatula, carefully remove logs to a work surface. Using a serrated knife, cut on the diagonal into slices 1/2-inch thick. Stand slices up on cookie sheet with space between them. Bake 15-20 minutes more until brown and dry. Or place cookies flat side down on cookie sheet and bake 10 minutes on each side. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool. Store in airtight container up to two weeks. Makes about 3 dozen.

To glaze: Melt in microwave oven about 12 ounces of semisweet chocolate in a shallow dish as long as the biscotti. Using fingers or tongs, dip one cut side of biscotti into the melted chocolate. Flip over quickly and let dry glazed side up on rack. When dry, store or package in cellophane bags, glazed side up. Repeat with other biscotti as desired.

- Recipe adapted from 'Cookies & Biscotti' by Williams Sonoma

Pistachio-Orange Biscotti

The house smells wonderful when you make these orange-zested cookies. Serve plain or glazed with chocolate.

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/8 tsp. salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

2 Tbsp. grated orange zest

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups unsalted, shelled, unroasted pistachios

Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside. Combine the butter, sugar, orange zest and vanilla in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer set on high speed, beat until light and fluffy. Mix in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce the speed to low, add the pistachios and mix in. Add the flour mixture and mix just until incorporated. Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide the dough in half. Using lightly floured hands, roll each half on a lightly floured surface into a log 11/2 inches in diameter.

Arrange logs on baking sheet 5 inches apart. Bake until light brown and firm to the touch, about 25-30 minutes. Logs will spread during baking. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly on the baking sheet. Leave oven on.

Using a spatula, carefully transfer the logs to a work surface. Using a serrated knife, cut on the diagonal into slices 3/4 inches thick. Arrange the slices, with space between them, upright on baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes. (This method differs from the traditional one in which the cookies are placed cut side down on baking sheet, baked for 10 minutes, then flipped over to other cut side and baked 10 minutes more.)

Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool. Store in airtight containers for up to 2-4 weeks. Makes about 3 dozen.

To glaze: Melt in microwave oven about 12 ounces of semisweet chocolate in a shallow dish as long as the biscotti. Using fingers or tongs, dip one cut side of biscotti into the melted chocolate. Flip over quickly and let dry glazed side up on rack. When dry, store or package in cellophane bags, glazed side up. Repeat with other biscotti as desired.

- Adapted from 'Cookies & Biscotti' by Williams-Sonoma