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Torta Dolce di Ricotta with cranberry topping

Are you wondering what to serve for dessert during the holidays? This delicious and beautiful ricotta cheesecake would be perfect on your table, with its festive cranberry topping.

The recipe is from a wonderful cookbook called “Feast of the Seven Fishes” by Daniel Paterna. While the book contains many seafood recipes and is an ode to the Brooklyn neighborhood where Paterna was raised, this showstopper of a cheesecake really captured my attention. It’s shown without any topping in the book, and you could surely enjoy this cake even without any embellishment. Containing ricotta, rather than cream cheese, it’s not at all heavy and it’s easy to make too.

One tip — I didn’t roll out the crust with a rolling pin as the recipe says. I didn’t even refrigerate it for the recommended half hour. Using my hands, I pressed it into a disk over a piece of parchment paper, then kept pushing with my palm and fingers until it reached 14 inches in diameter.

I then lifted the parchment and pressed it into the greased pan. Don’t worry if some breaks off. It’s easily patched together.

Here’s what the cake looks like as I pulled it from the oven. It puffs up a bit from the eggs, but will sink a bit after removal from the oven.

The little recess on top is a perfect nest for the topping, if you choose to add one. I love cranberries and typically have leftover cranberries after Thanksgiving, but you could serve this plain and simply dusted with confectioner’s sugar, or use other fruit — raspberries, strawberries or whatever you like — to crown this beauty. Buone feste!

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Torta Dolce di Ricotta with cranberry topping
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • CRUST:
  • 2 cups all purpose flour, plus extra to dust board and pan
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • zest of one lemon
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened, plus extra to grease the pan
  • 2 large eggs
  • FILLING:
  • 8 large eggs
  • 3 pounds ricotta cheese, drained of excess water
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • zest of 2 oranges
  • juice of 1 orange
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • FOR THE CRANBERRY TOPPING:
  • 1 bag of fresh cranberries
  • ¾ cup water
  • ¾ sugar
  • zest of one orange
  • ¼ freshly squeezed orange juice
Instructions
  1. FOR THE CRANBERRY TOPPING:
  2. Place the cranberries, water, sugar, orange juice and orange zest in a pan.
  3. Turn the heat to high and cook until the cranberries are popping and release their juices.
  4. After about five minutes, remove from heat and refrigerate for a couple of hours, to thicken.
  5. FOR THE RICOTTA TORTA:
  6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter and flour a 10-inch springform pan, then set aside.
  7. To make the crust, place the flour, sugar and zest on a pastry board or clean, dry flat surface.
  8. Mix thoroughly to combine.
  9. Add the butter and work it into the dry ingredients.
  10. Gather the mixture into a mound and create a well in the center.
  11. Add the eggs, beating with a fork and grabbing the dry mixture until the dough begins to form.
  12. Shape into a disk and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  13. Meanwhile, make the filling by combining the eggs, ricotta cheese, vanilla, sugar, orange zest, orange juice, lemon juice in a large mixing bowl.
  14. Mix thoroughly and set aside.
  15. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and place on a large board or clean, dry flat surface, lightly dusted with flour.
  16. Using a floured rolling pin (I just used my fingers and palms of my hand and pressed it onto a piece of parchment paper) roll the dough out into a large circle, approximately 14 inches in diameter.
  17. Now roll the dough over the rolling pin and carefully unwind it over the baking pan, gently easing it to fit evenly in the bottom and up the sides of the pan.
  18. (I lifted up the parchment paper and placed the dough into the pan. Don't worry if some of it breaks. You can easily patch it.)
  19. Pour or spoon the filling mixture into the crust, leaving about ¼ inch below the rim of the pan.
  20. Place the pan in a preheated oven and bake for 1 hour and 45 minutes, until the center is slighy firm.
  21. Cool for at least 2 hours.
  22. Spread the cranberry topping over the cake.
  23. Carefully run a knife or spatula around the sides of the pan to remove it, so that no crust is pulled away when you release the spring of the pan.
 

Chocolate-Filled Paris Brest

Have you eaten a Paris Brest? It’s a delectable cream puff pastry commemorating a bicycle race that took place in 1891 between Paris and Brest, a city in Northwest France (hence the circular shape.) I ate individual ones recently at a great bakery not in Paris, but in Prague, Czech Republic. (shout out to Pekárna Nostress Bakery on Vezenská 8, Prague – a place that became a daily obsession.) One was made with a vanilla pastry cream and berries, the other with the traditional praline filling. Both were sensational.

I knew I had to make this dessert for my book group, who met this week for a French dinner and discussion of “Babette’s Feast” (actually a short story) by Isak Dineson. I wanted to make it filled with fresh strawberries and whipped cream, but since I seem to have missed strawberry season in New Jersey, I decided on this chocolate and whipped cream version by well-known French chef Jacques Pepin. Like all his recipes, this one did not disappoint, although it is a bit tricky to make if you’re a novice in the kitchen. I’ll take you through the various steps.

First you have to make the pate a choux – or cream puff pastry. You cook the milk, flour and butter until it starts to pull away from the pan. It’s kind of hard to keep stirring because it really gets dry and lumpy. But that’s ok. It will smooth out later in the food processor.

Let it cool for 1/2 hour, then break it into bits and put it in the food processor and add the eggs one at a time. The recipe says to whir it for about 20 to 30 seconds, but that wasn’t long enough to attain a smooth dough. I’m sure I processed it for at least a couple of minutes.

Here’s what it looked like after the eggs were incorporated. It’s a very smooth, sticky dough.

Next you’ll want to pipe it, using a piping bag. I always fill the bag after placing it into a tall glass. It’s much easier than trying to hold it in one hand, while filling with the other.

I didn’t even use a piping tip. You don’t need one. Just cut a hole at the bottom of the bag that’s about 3/4 inch wide in circumference.

Pipe a circle onto the silicone mat about 8 inches in diameter, as shown below. You can use parchment paper if you don’t have a silicone mat. Then pipe another circle inside the first one, and a third circle on the top of the first two (sorry I forgot to take a photo of all three circles).

Before you pipe the second circle and the third circle, press the filling in the bag toward the tip so it doesn’t squirt out the top. The recipe makes EXACTLY the right amount of dough with no extra, so if you lose some out the top, you’ll come up short when piping the circles.

Brush the circles with beaten egg, then sprinkle slivered almonds over everything. Brush off the excess almonds.

While the dough is baking, make the chocolate filling. No need to buy expensive chocolate. Hershey’s Special Dark works great, and came out number one in a blind taste-testing on America’s Test Kitchen several years ago. It’s what I always use in baking. Whip the cream and keep it in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Here’s what the ring looks like right out of the oven. It rose a bit, but isn’t as huge as you’d expect. But that’s ok because the filling increases the height at least double!

Slice it in half and separate the two halves.

Here’s a great tip from Jacques Pepin to avoid a mess when you serve it. Take the top part and slice it into 8 to 10 pieces. Keep them in order for when you assemble, and they will give you a good guide when slicing through with a knife, without crushing your beautiful concoction.

Spread the chocolate filling evenly over the ring.

Then pipe the whipped cream over the chocolate (or just spread it with a spoon but the piping does give it a more polished look).

Place the sliced top pieces over the whipped cream and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

All that’s left to do is to serve it and eat it. Best served within two or three hours of making it, but be prepared for no leftovers.

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Paris Brest
 
Author:
Serves: 8-10 people
Ingredients
  • DOUGH
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons sliced almonds
  • CHOCOLATE CREAM
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken into 1-inch pieces
  • GARNISH
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum
  • 1½ tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon confectioners’ sugar
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. FOR THE DOUGH: Combine the milk, butter, salt, and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
  3. Remove from the heat, add the flour in one stroke, and mix well with a wooden spoon.
  4. Then place back over the heat and cook, stirring constantly, for 15 to 20 seconds, until the mixture comes away from the sides of the pan.
  5. Transfer the dough to a food processor and let cool for 10 minutes.
  6. Crack the eggs into a small bowl and mix them well with a fork.
  7. Set aside 1 tablespoon of the beaten egg for use as a glaze.
  8. Pour the remaining eggs into the processor bowl and process for 20 to 30 seconds, until the eggs are well incorporated and the dough is smooth.
  9. Line a cookie sheet with a nonstick baking mat, or use a nonstick cookie sheet.
  10. Spoon the dough into a pastry bag fitted with a ¾-inch plain tip.
  11. Pipe a ring with an outside circumference of 8 to 8½ inches on the cookie sheet.
  12. Pipe another circle of dough inside and another on top of the rings until you have used all the dough and have a circle that is 1½ to 1¾ inches high with a hole in the center that measures about 5 inches across.
  13. Do not start and end the dough circles in the same spot, since this can cause the pastry to open at the seam during baking.
  14. Brush the dough with the reserved tablespoon of egg.
  15. Using a fork, mark the surface and sides of the dough, running the tines of the fork gently around the circle to create a crosshatch effect.
  16. Sprinkle with the sliced almonds. Bake for 20 minutes.
  17. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 35 minutes, or until browned. (If the pastry begins to brown excessively, cover it loosely with a piece of aluminum foil.)
  18. Turn the oven off and let the pastry remain in the oven for 30 minutes with the door partially open to evaporate some of the moisture.
  19. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature before removing from the cookie
  20. sheet.
  21. FOR THE CHOCOLATE CREAM: Bring the milk to a boil in a medium saucepan.
  22. Meanwhile, combine the yolks and sugar in a bowl, mixing them with a whisk for about 30 seconds. Add the 1½ tablespoons flour and mix it in with the whisk.
  23. Pour the boiling milk in on top of the egg yolk mixture and mix it in well with a whisk.
  24. Return the mixture to the saucepan and bring to a boil, mixing constantly with the whisk.
  25. Boil for about 10 seconds, then remove from the heat and add the chocolate.
  26. Stir occasionally until the chocolate has melted and is incorporated into the pastry cream.
  27. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and let cool, then refrigerate until chilled.
  28. FOR THE GARNISH: Whip the cream, rum, and sugar in a bowl until stiff. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  29. TO FINISH THE CAKE: Use a sharp knife to remove a ½-inch-thick horizontal slice, or “lid,” from the top; set it aside.
  30. Using a spoon, spread the chocolate cream in the bottom of the pastry round, pushing it gently into the cavities of the pastry.
  31. Transfer the whipped cream to a pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch star tip, and pipe the cream on top of the chocolate cream. It should come at least 1 inch above the rim of the cake.
  32. Cut the pastry lid into 8 to 10 equal pieces, and reassemble them in order on top of the pastry to make it easy to cut into portions.
  33. Sprinkle with the confectioners’ sugar.
  34. (The pastry can be assembled a few hours ahead and refrigerated.)
  35. At serving time, using the separations on the lid as guides, cut through the bottom half of the pastry, and arrange on individual dessert plates.
 

Flourless Coconut and Chocolate Cake

I ate one of these delightfully delicious little cakes in London not long ago, at Yotam Ottolenghi’s restaurant in the Spitalfields neighborhood. I was so glad to see he had included the recipe in his latest cookbook “Sweet,” and set about to make them a couple of weeks ago.

The recipe calls for them to be cooked in either a loaf pan or a round springform pan, but I wanted to make them in individual pans, since I remembered eating one in a small rectangular shape in London. I owned small rectangular pans, but opted to bake them in a pan that is traditionally used for Yorkshire puddings. After filling six of the cylindrical pans, there was a little more batter left over, so I used one of the little rectangular pans.

The cylindrical shape worked out beautifully, while the rectangular one didn’t release properly (I forgot to dust the pan with flour after buttering it and some of the cake stuck to the pan).

Either way, they were delicious, especially smeared with the chocolate “water” ganache. I had to toss out the ganache the first time I made it, since, in my experience, the recipe doesn’t have enough liquid. I made it a second time adding more water, and it was perfect.

Ottolenghi’s restaurants (there are several in various neighborhoods) sell the cakes with coconut shavings as decorations.

But since I had a bit of gold leaf in the cupboard, I chose that instead. This recipe makes an elegant dessert for company, but is rather quick and easy to prepare for everyday family meals too

.

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Flourless Coconut and Chocolate Cake
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • For the Cake:
  • ¾ cup plus 2 T. butter/200 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing
  • 1¼ cups/250 grams granulated sugar
  • ⅔ cup/60 grams finely shredded coconut (note: I put the coconut and the sugar in the food processor to ensure that the coconut was finely shredded.)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1⅔ cup/180 grams almond meal
  • For the Water Ganache:
  • 2 oz./55 grams dark chocolate, roughly chopped into ½ inch pieces
  • 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 3 Tablespoons water (note - You'll need more. I tripled this amount.)
  • scraped seeds of ¼ vanilla pod
  • 1½ Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into ¾ inch cubes
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. (180 degrees C.)
  2. Grease (and flour) six or seven small individual pans, or a standard 8½ " x 4½" /900 gram loaf pan or a 9 inch/23 cm round sprinform pan. Set aside.
  3. Put the sugar and coconut in a food processor and pulse until coconut is finely grated.
  4. Place the butter, sugar, coconut, vanilla seeds and salt in an electric mixer with the paddle attachment in place.
  5. Beat on medium high speed, until pale and fluffy, about three minutes.
  6. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  7. Turn the speed to low, add the almond meal and mix until just combined.
  8. Scrape the mixture into the pan and bake for 40 minutes (maybe 30 to 35 in the small pans) or 50 minutes if using the round pan, or until the cake is golden brown on top and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
  9. Remove the cake from the oven and set aside to cool in the pan before inverting onto a serving plate.
  10. Set aside until completely cool.
  11. To make the Water Ganache:
  12. Place the chocolate in a medium bowl and set aside.
  13. Put the sugar and corn syrup in a small saucepan and place over medium low heat.
  14. Stir to combine (I found this difficult, because it stuck to the spoon, so just let it melt together over low heat until it turns a light amber color.)
  15. Remove from heat and add the water.
  16. Return to the heat and add the vanilla seeds.
  17. Stir gently and continuously until it returns to a boil and the sugar is all melted.
  18. Remove from heat and wait for a minute before pouring the mixture over the chocolate.
  19. Allow to stand for a minute or two, then whisk to combine.
  20. Add the butter, a couple of bits at a time, whisking after each addition.
  21. Continue until all the butter has been added, whisking to combine until the consistency of thick syrup.
  22. Pour the ganache over the top of the cakes, letting it run down the sides a little.

Fig, Orange and Mascarpone Cheesecake

Looking for a delicious showstopper dessert to serve this holiday season? The new cookbook “Sweet” by Yotam Ottolenghi  & Helen Goh is filled with possibilities, including this rich cheesecake I made for a party recently. The recipe includes dried puréed figs spread over a graham cracker and walnut base, but doesn’t require the fresh figs shown in the photo. But since my supermarket had some real beauties on the shelf last week, I couldn’t resist adding them as decoration, smeared with a little quince jelly to add some shine.

As if a graham cracker, walnut and butter base isn’t wonderful enough, the recipe calls for you to cook some dried figs in orange juice with spices and smear that over the graham cracker base. You can use American measurements, but whenever possible, I like to use metric measurements, (included in the recipe) which are so much more accurate.

After slicing the figs, they may weigh a teensy bit less (especially if you’re a taste-tester, as I am.)

After they’re cooked, I blitzed them in a food processor to obtain a purée,  something the book’s recipe doesn’t ask you to do.

But the technique avoids having lumps in the purée and provides a smooth spread to smear over the graham cracker crust.The recipe also doesn’t call for baking the cake in a hot water bath. In fact, at the beginning of the cheesecake chapter, the authors say they’re not huge fans of the technique. I am, however, and looking at the photo of this cheesecake is proof that the technique works. See the cheesecake pictured in the book below, included next to the recipe? You’ll see very raised and very rounded outer edges, as well as a very browned (too browned in my opinion) top and side crust.

However, after covering the bottom and outside edges of the pan with aluminum foil, and baking it in a bain marie, the cheesecake I baked came out of the oven with a perfectly even height from the center to the edge. You have to be really careful when putting the pan in the oven and removing it, though, since spilling hot water on yourself can be very hazardous. But it will be worth it once you bite into this beauty.

Fig, Orange and Mascarpone Cheesecake
 
Author:
Recipe type: dessert
Ingredients
  • =Base
  • 3½ oz/100 gr. graham crackers (about 6½ sheets), roughly broken
  • ¾ cup/80 g. walnut halves, finely chopped
  • 4 Tbsp/60 gr. unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for greasing
  • 9 oz/260 gr. soft dried figs, tough stems removed, sliced into ¼ inch/0.5 cm strips
  • 1 cup plus 1 Tbsp/250 ml orange juice
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ⅛ tsp. ground cloves
  • =Filling
  • 1 lb. 2 oz/500 gr. cream cheese at room temperature (I used 1 lb. only)
  • 1 lb. 2 oz./500 gr. mascarpone (I used 1 lb. only)
  • 1¼ cups/250 gr. granulated sugar
  • finely grated zest of 1 large orange (1 tbsp)
  • 4 large eggs, whites and yolks separated
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
Instructions
  1. To make the base, grease the base and sides of a 9-inch/23 cm round springform pan and line with parchment paper, making sure that the paper rises at least 2 inches/5 cm above the rim; the cake rises a lot in the oven. (I lined only the bottom and buttered the sides and it was fine).
  2. Place the graham crackers in a food processor and process to form fine crumbs; the consistency should be that of dried breadcrumbs. Place in a medium bowl and add the walnuts and melted butter.Use your hands or a large spoon to combine; the mixture should be the consistency of wet sand. Spoon the crumbs into the pan, using your hands to press them into the base, then place in the fridge for 20 minutes to firm up. (At this stage, I baked the base in a 400 degree oven for 8 minutes. Next time, I would bake it for 10-12 minutes, since the base still softened after the cheesecake was baked.)
  3. Place the figs, orange juice, cinnamon stick and ground cloves in a medium saucepan over a medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated but the mixture is still moist. (At this point, I blended it until smooth in a food processor - removing the cinnamon stick.) Set aside to cool, remove the cinnamon stick, then spread over the base. Return to the fridge.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  5. To make the filling, place the cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment in place. Beat on medium speed for 1 minute, until smooth, before adding the mascarpone, sugar, orange zest, egg yolks and vanilla extract. Continue to beat until all of the ingredients are incorporated and the mixture looks smooth and creamy, scraping down the paddle and sides of the bowl from time to time, if you need to.
  6. Place the egg whites in a separate clean bowl and whisk (either by hand or with an electric mixer) until firm peaks form. Fold a third into the cream cheese mixture, followed by the remaining two-thirds.
  7. Pour the filling over the chilled fig and graham cracker base. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 75-80 minutes, until the cheesecake is a light golden brown at the edges and the center is only just firm. (Before putting in the oven, I wrapped the bottom of the springform pan with aluminum foil, then placed the pan in a bain-marie, or hot water bath. It helps the cheesecake to bake more evenly and avoids formation of raised edges. I baked it for 75 minutes and it was still slightly wobbly in the middle. Don't worry, it firms as it cools.)
  8. Turn off the oven but leave the cheesecake inside for an hour or so, with the door propped open with a wooden spoon. Allow it to come to room temperature before covering in plastic wrap and keeping in the fridge for 4 hours.
  9. When ready to serve, release the springform pan, remove the parchment paper (that is nearly impossible to do without flipping it over, so I left it on) and transfer to a cake platter. (I decorated the top with sliced figs that were brushed with quince jelly.)
  10. The cheesecake is best served chilled, straight from the fridge, and cut with a warm knife (dip the blade in hot water and wipe dry before using.)

Summer Zuccotto

Summer Zuccotto

 Ready for a delicious showstopper of a dessert that’s easy to make too? 

Yes, that’s right, the hardest part of this dessert is cutting the pieces of cake (store purchased) to fit your bowl.
I’m calling this a “summer” zuccotto because it’s not a true zuccotto, but there are so many ways to make zuccotto, who really knows what a true zuccotto is, anyway?
However you make your zuccotto, whether with ice cream or a ricotta filling, or with my recipe using fresh berries and whipped cream, it must be in a semi-spherical shape to be called a zuccotto. In Italian zuccotto means “little pumpkin” after all, and it’s a Tuscan dessert meant to mimic the shape of Brunelleschi’s famed dome in Florence.
I made it recently for our end-of-the-year picnic of my Italian chit-chat group, and it was only one of the many desserts at the table.
And the desserts came after at least a dozen different vegetable and side dishes, plus too many pizzas to count, made by our host Tony, an architect who built a wood-fired pizza oven into the side of his house. They really were the best pizzas this side of Naples.
But back to Florence, and the zuccotto.
Start out by marinating some berries with sugar and lemon. You’ll need that juice later.
What makes this easy is using a store bought cake. I used a Pan D’Oro, the classic egg-rich sponge cake sold in Italian specialty shops. If you can’t find one, buy a sponge cake, or make your own sponge cake, called “pan de spagna” in Italian. My recipe for sponge cake is here, if you need one.
Trim away the brown crusts and fit the cake pieces tightly into a bowl lined with plastic wrap.
Sprinkle the cake with the syrup mixed with liqueur.
Then load in the whipped cream mixed with the drained fruit.
Cover it all with a top layer of cake (this will become the bottom), and sprinkle on some more liquid from the berries (or rum, or whatever you like).
Place in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours or overnight. Then flip it onto a plate, pour the raspberry sauce on top and decorate.
Dig in and watch it disappear quicker than you can say Brunelleschi.
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Summer Zuccotto
3 cups berries – strawberries, blueberries, raspberries or blackberries
1/2 cup sugar
juice of 1/2 lemonSlice the strawberries, then mix all the berries together with the sugar and lemon and let them sit for about an hour, or until juices have formed at the bottom of the bowl. While the berries and macerating, prepare the other ingredients:

1 Pan D’Oro, or a large sponge cake

2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp. gelatin, dissolved in a little water (1/4 cup or so)
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup creme de cassis or rum or other liqueur
juice from the drained berries
for the raspberry sauce:
Boil together one 10- or 12-ounce package of frozen raspberries, or a pint of fresh raspberries, 2 T. water and 1/4 cup sugar. Boil for about five minutes, then force through a strainer. Add 1 tsp. lemon juice and refrigerate.Line a bowl with plastic wrap. (Mine held approximately 2 quarts of liquid).
Cut the cake into large slices (about 1/2 inch thick) and fit them tightly into the bowl.

Drain the juice from the berries and add the orange juice and the liqueur and/or rum.
Spoon some of the juices all over the cake, wetting it all over.

Sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let it sit for a few minutes while you whip the cream.

Whip the cream with the confectioner’s sugar, adding in the dissolved gelatin. Fold the drained berries into the whipped cream, then spoon the mixture into the cake-lined bowl.

Cover with more pieces of cake, and wet cake with more liquid. If you run out of liquid, you can always use rum, or if you prefer less alcohol, use a simple syrup (make it by boiling some water with sugar and letting it cool).

Cover the whole thing with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator at least 12 hours, or overnight.

Serve with the sauce and decorate with more berries and mint leaves.

Fig And Lemon Olive Oil Cake And A Photo Tip

Fig and Lemon Olive Oil Cake and a photo tip

After conversing over the blogosphere with her for the last several months, I finally met Stacey of “Stacey Snacks” face-to-face.
Stacey’s recipes and photos gets me drooling first thing every morning, and I borrowed this recipe for fig and lemon cake from her blog. Lucky for me she lives in New Jersey and comes to Princeton fairly often for business. She was also kind enough to teach me a new function on my little point and shoot Canon camera that I’ll share with you now.

This shot of a bowl of frozen figs thawing out was taken indoors in my kitchen at night, with regular tungsten light bulbs overhead. Little did I know that you could change your camera’s setting to adjust for the light source, including florescent lighting. Here’s what my photo looked like before I changed it to the tungsten light bulb setting. It had been set on the default setting that came with the camera and doesn’t look so great with that yellow-y overtone does it?
A couple of little clicks on the back of the camera where you set it to a little icon that looks like a lightbulb and you’ve got this instead. What a difference. Thanks Stacey.
Now that it stays light longer into the evening, I will try to use natural light more often, but it’s great to know that my camera has this function for those times when I’m relying on indoor lights. If you’ve got Photoshop (which I don’t), you may also be able to change the white balance in the editing.

On to the cake! Stacey used dried figs for her cake, but I had stashed some fresh figs in the freezer last September and I figured it was time to use some of them. I had both the purple and the green kind put away and used a little of each variety. The cake was delicious with the fresh figs, but I have a feeling that for this recipe, the dried figs might be even better, with their concentrated sweet flavor and chewiness.Here’s the finished cake. Stacey’s recipe follows.Fig & Lemon Olive Oil Cake: (inspired by Martha Stewart)
Stacey’s recipe calls for a removable bottom tart pan, but I used a ceramic tart pan instead. Just make sure to grease it thoroughly first.

2/3 cup olive oil, plus more for pan
1/2 cup milk
1 large egg

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

8 oz. package of dried figs, chopped (I used about 1 1/2 cups of frozen figs that had been thawed)
zest of one lemon
1 tsp of fresh chopped rosemary

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom (or a cake pan lined with parchment paper) with oil; set aside.

In a medium bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together oil, milk, and egg; set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt; add milk mixture, and stir with a rubber spatula just until smooth (do not over mix).

Gently fold in figs and lemon zest and rosemary.
Spread batter in prepared pan; set pan on a rimmed baking sheet.
Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes.

Strawberry Almond  Cream Tart

Strawberry Almond Cream Tart

I was a good girl. I only ate one piece of this tart, even though I could have eaten the whole thing. But I played nice and let the seven other people sitting around the table have a slice too.

I’m still fantasizing about it though and I’m looking for an excuse to make it again. Has Arbor Day already passed? Grandparents Day? (Oh no, I’m not a grandmother yet. That won’t work.) There’s got to be a holiday today somewhere in the world that I can celebrate, no?

If you’re worried about rolling out that crust, have no fear. You don’t have to. You can just take it from the food processor and pat it into your tart pan with your fingers, as I did. The next time I make this, I may add a bit more sugar and try substituting some ground walnuts or pecans in the crust in place of some of the flour to give it even more flavor.

Be warned there are a few tricks to having the crust come out well. You don’t want to overwork it and make it as tough as shoe leather, and you don’t want the sides to shrink in the oven, leaving you with a flattish-looking tart shell. So pay attention:

For a 9 inch tart shell:
(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 stick plus 1 T. very cold butter
1 large egg, beaten
1 T. ice water

Place flour, confectioner’s sugar and salt in food processor and whir for a minute to blend ingredients. Drop butter into the processor in little pieces and pulse until it reaches the consistency of oatmeal or very coarse sand. Add the beaten egg and the ice water and pulse for another few times until the mixture sticks together when pressed between your fingers. The less you work it in the food processor or your hands, the better.

Remove from food processor and press it into a 9-inch removable-bottom tart pan, making a thicker area around the perimeter. Prick it all over so it doesn’t bubble up in the oven. Place it in the freezer for at least a half hour. Longer is better. Butter a sheet of aluminum foil on the shiny side and lay it over the pastry shell. Bake for 30 minutes in a preheated 375 degree oven. Remove the foil and bake 10 to 15 minutes more or until golden.
Let the tart shell cool. In the meantime, take 3/4 cup of sliced almonds and brown them in a nonstick skillet (don’t add butter or anything else to the pan) or toast the almonds in the oven until they turn color. They’ll burn really fast once they start to turn golden so watch them carefully. Cool the almonds. When the pastry shell has cooled, place the almonds inside like so:
You can start making the almond cream while the pastry is baking. Here’s what to do:
Recipe is adapted from a decades-old “Better Homes and Gardens Encyclopedia of Cooking”.

1/2 cup sugar
3 T. cornstarch
3 T. all-purpose flour
1/2 t. salt
2 cups milk
1 slightly beaten egg

1/2 cup whipping cream
1 t. almond extract (or vanilla if you prefer)

Combine sugar, cornstarch, flour and salt. Gradually stir in milk. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Lower heat; cook and stir till thick and bubbly. Stir a little of the hot mixture into the beaten egg. (If you put the beaten egg directly into the hot mixture, you’ll end up with scrambled eggs.) Return to remaining hot hot mixture. Bring just to boil, stirring constantly. Cool, then chill thoroughly, placing a piece of plastic wrap over the top to avoid a “skin” from forming. Whip the cream and fold into egg mixture with the almond extract.

When everything has cooled, spread the almond cream over the toasted almonds in the pie shell. The recipe for this almond cream was meant to fill a pie shell, so you will probably have more than you need to fill the 9-inch tart shell. (Oh, too bad, guess I’ll have to finish up the leftover cream.)
Slice strawberries (about one quart) and arrange over the cream, starting from the outside and working your way to the center like so:
After you’ve covered the entire pie in strawberry slices, heat about 1/2 cup jelly (currant or apricot) in a saucepan. I used currant and thinned it with the juice of 1/2 lemon. Using a pastry brush, paint the strawberries with the melted jelly and place in refrigerator until serving time.The result is a luscious tart with a shortbread crust, velvety almond cream and plump berries coated in a viscous jelly. Who could resist?

Lemon Cake – A Repeat

Lemon Cake – A Repeat

Obviously I’m losing it. My mind, that is. And this recipe too. I must have accidentally deleted this post from a few months back. Fortunately, I found a copy of it in the “edit” file.
So enjoy it now – some things are better the second time around. But if my original brain shows up, I’d like to get that back please.

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Kulak – what is it?

a. a Hungarian pastry made with cinnamon and almonds
b. a lightweight garment worn by the Inuit people
c. a prosperous peasant farmer in Czarist and early Soviet Russia
d. a traditional Indonesian side dish served at weddings

What’s this got to do with lemon cake you ask?
Well nothing really, except I made this lemon cake to serve Saturday evening, when we gathered with our friends, the Johnsons and the Janis, to play a game of Dictionary. To play it you need a dictionary, some paper and pencils and a good sense of humor. The object for one team is convince the other team of a phony definition for a word. One of the players on a team finds a word in the dictionary that no one has heard of. Each of the players on that team creates a phony definition and all of them are read aloud, including the real one. The players on the other team vote for whichever definition they believe is the real one. The made-up definitions can sound pretty convincing and sometimes hilarious. We were all in stitches by the end of the night.

OK, so back to the lemon cake. This is a recipe given to me more than 25 years ago by my friend Carol, whom I met when our boys were in nursery school together. Carol has been living in Boulder, Colorado for decades and we’ve actually reconnected through this blog – another reason I’m glad I started this. Carol called this cake the “E. 62nd Street Lemon Cake,” and only today, after googling it, did I learn that it’s a classic recipe that originated with Maida Heatter, the doyenne of desserts. If anyone knows why it’s called “E. 62nd St. Lemon Cake,” please let me know. Maybe that’s where she lived when she created the recipe.

The recipe calls for the rinds of two lemons, but I would use another one the next time to punch up the lemon flavor. I would also double the glaze recipe below that soaks into the cake. The original recipe also does not call for the white frosting, but I added that because it just tastes great and looks nice too.

E. 62nd Street Lemon Cake

3 cups sifted flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 lb. butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup milk
finely grated rind of two lemons

Glaze: 1/3 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar
Stir lemon juice and sugar together.

Butter and flour a tube or bundt pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Sift first three ingredients. In a large bowl, cream the butter. Add sugar and beat for two to three minutes. Add eggs and mix a few more minutes. Alternately, add dry ingredients and milk. Stir in lemon rind. Pour into a tube or bundt pan and bake for one hour and 10 to 15 minutes.
Let cake stand about three minutes then cover with rack and invert. Remove pan, then flip back over and while still hot, brush with glaze. Let it cool.

If desired, make a separate glaze/frosting using about two cups of sifted confectioner’s sugar and about three or four tablespoons lemon juice. It should not be as thick as traditional frostings, but not as thin as a glaze either — somewhere in between. Continue adding either lemon juice or confectioner’s sugar until you get the right consistency. When cake is cool, drizzle on top and let some run down sides.

And for all those of you who stayed with me this far and are wondering about kulak:
The answer is c. a prosperous peasant farmer in Czarist and early Soviet Russia.

Chocolate Amaretti Cake

Chocolate Amaretti Cake

I must be channeling a lot of other bloggers unconsciously since I made this cake the same week that Tuesdays With Dorie bakers chose chocolate amaretti cake as their project. Even though we use the same ingredients, the proportions for mine are different, with more chocolate, more amaretti and more almonds. This is one case where more is more.
I also serve it with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, rather than a chocolate frosting. Just mention the word cream and I’m in. Plus I like the contrast of vanilla and chocolate.

You don’t have to use those expensive, individually wrapped amaretti that come in a red tin. Just buy the kind you find in bags in the cookie aisle at the supermarket.

You’ll understand why this cake is worth blogging about once you try it. It’s rich with chocolate flavor, it’s elegant, and it’s ridiculously easy to make. I’ve been baking this for years for my Italian chit-chat group and by now many of them have adopted this recipe too.

This cake reminds me of the time we were living in a fully furnished apartment in Rome and I offered to contribute this cake to a dinner at a friend’s home. Trouble was we had no mixer. The kitchen was large but the batterie of pots, pans and other kitchen equipment was rather deficient to put it kindly. I asked the landlord if he could get us a mixer, a toaster and a corkscrew, and he did come through with the toaster and the corkscrew. But instead of a mixer, he brought over a stick blender – the kind you use to make pureed soups.
Something definitely got lost in the translation.
Oh well, you make the best with what you’re given and I managed to turn out a pretty terrific chocolate amaretti cake using the stick blender. Hopefully you have a real mixer in your kitchen.
Chocolate Amaretti Cake

6 ounces semi-sweet or dark chocolate
1 cup almonds
1 cup amaretti cookies
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
4 eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Butter a 9 inch round cake pan all around and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the paper and dust the pan with flour.
Melt the chocolate, either in a double boiler or in the microwave.
Put the almonds and amaretti cookies in a food processor and grind until it resembles sand.
Put the butter and sugar in a mixer and mix until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl occasionally.
To the mixing bowl, add the nut and amaretti mixture and the melted chocolate.
Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 30 minutes.
Let it cool and flip onto a serving platter. Remove the parchment paper and decorate with powdered sugar, using a paper doily as a pattern. I have also baked this in a pretty ceramic dish and served it without flipping it. Just be aware that the top may be a little crunchy and cracked if you serve it this way. You can still decorate with powdered sugar, which hides a lot of defects.

Serve with plain whipped cream, or whipped cream flavored with a little bit of coffee liqueur or instant coffee dissolved in a little liqueur, or with ice cream.

Hurry up. Get going. I know you’ll want to chomp down on this:

Pear Apple Crostata

Pear Apple Crostata

Last week I promised you this recipe, courtesy of my friend Jan who brought it for dessert recently following our dinner of stuffed shells. It was warm and beautiful. I wish I had thought to take a photo of the entire thing before we sliced into it, but one can only resist so much temptation. You can call it a galette, a croustade, a crostata or even an open-face pie. But whatever you call it, call it fantastic.

Jan used dried cranberries and dried cherries, but if you don’t have both, you can substitute more of one or the other. Eat this warm topped with a scoop of ice cream, and it could become your go-to dessert.

pastry crust:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel (maybe even a little bit more, but not a tablespoonful)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chilled unsalted butter cut cross-wise in 1/2 inch slices
1/4 cup or more heavy cream

Whisk flour, sugar, lemon peel, and salt in medium bowl. Add butter; using pastry cutter, blend butter with flour mixture until coarse meal forms. Drizzle 1/4 cream over; toss with fork until moist clumps form adding more cream by teaspoonfuls as needed if dry. I added 2 more teaspoons. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 1 hour. You may do this a day ahead. In that case, let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before rolling out.

Filling:
5 firm but ripe Bartlett pears, peeled cored, and thinly sliced
1 large granny smith apple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons dried cranberries
2-3 tablespoons dried cherries
5 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons all purpose flour
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons (maybe a bit more) finely grated lemon peel
1/4 teaspoon (generous) ground nutmeg
heavy cream for brushing
sliced almonds for edge

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Mix all fruit, sugar, flour, lemon juice, lemon peel, and nutmeg in a large bowl to coat. (I whisked together the sugar, flour, lemon peel and nutmeg before adding the juice or the fruit.)
Roll out pastry on sheet of floured parchment paper to 14inch round, Transfer crust on parchment paper to baking sheet. Mound fruit in center of pastry, leaving a 2 inch border all around. Fold pastry border over fruit, crimping slightly. Brush edges with cream and gently press on sliced almonds.

Bake until filling bubbles and almonds are lightly toasted, about 1 hour. Cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream if desired.

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