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Sacher Torte

Sacher Torte

One of Central Europe’s iconic desserts, Sacher Torte was made famous after Austrian Franz Sacher made the dessert for Prince Wenzel von Metternich in 1832. 

Since then, Hotel Sacher has served it to countless visitors, and will even mail its cakes to devotees around the world who aren’t able to enjoy it in person in Vienna.
Fortunately, I’ve had the pleasure of eating Sacher torte in Vienna a few times, including on my honeymoon several months ago when we stayed at the hotel.
After arriving home, I had to try making it and it wasn’t difficult – just a little time consuming.
 I used a recipe from Lidia Bastianich, who knows a thing or two about the dessert since she was born in what’s now present day Croatia, once part of the Austria-Hungarian empire.
I baked it in a springform pan, and while the the top of the cake puffs up a bit while baking, it deflates when it cools.

Most recipes call for two layers, but Lidia’s called for three, so I split this into three parts, then filled the interior with the traditional apricot jam.

Pour a thick ganache glaze over the top, but save some to decorate with the traditional “S” for Sacher.

It’s a really rich cake, so you don’t need a large slice to feel satisfied.

But you do need to serve it with a generous portion of whipped cream.
Anything less would be sacrilegious.

Speaking of religious, here are a few photos of the beautiful city of Vienna, including St. Stephen’s cathedral, with its multi-colored tile roof.
This is one of the entrances to the vast Hofburg – now home to Austria’s president, but once the imperial palace of the Habsburg empire.
You can visit the palace rooms and even enjoy a performance of the famous Lipizzaner stallions here.
Of course, one palace is never enough, so in the summer the Habsburgs retreated a short distance away to the Schonbrunn palace, with its cozy 1,441 rooms,

If you’re in Vienna during opera season, try to get tickets to a performance. Even if there’s no opera or symphony scheduled while you’re there, take a “behind the scenes” tour of one the world’s most elegant opera houses, or just step inside to gaze at the beautiful architecture.

Lovers of Gustav Klimt’s art have myriad venues to view the Austrian artist’s work, including the famous Beethoven frieze at the Secession building, and his painting of Judith with the head of Holofernes, in the Belvedere museum.

But don’t forget to end the day at the Sacher Hotel, with a slice of their incomparably delicious, eponymous cake.

Even if you can’t get to Vienna, you can make the cake at home with the recipe below.
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Sacher Torte
recipe from Lidia Bastianich
For The Torte:
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) butter, plus 1 T. for the cake pan
1 cup sugar
6 large eggs, separated
5 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted and lukewarm
1/4 t. salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 c. almond flour
For filling and glazing the torte:
1 3/4 c. apricot preserves
2/3 c. light corn syrup
6 T. water
2 T. dark rum
pinch of salt
10 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped in small chunks
whipped cream for serving
Butter the bottom of a 9″ springform pan, lined with a parchment circle. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of a mixer, using the whisk attachment, until light and smooth. Incorporate the egg yolks, one at a time, and then pour in the chocolate gradually, mixing it in thoroughly and scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. On low speed, incorporate the flour. Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites into the batter with a rubber spatula. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan, and spread in an even layer.
Bake until a cake tester come out clean — or until the top springs back when lightly pressed — 35 minutes or longer. Put the pan on a wire rack,  cool briefly, then remove the side ring of the springform pan and let the cake cool completely.
Lift the cake off the metal pan bottom, and peel off the parchment. Slice the cake horizontally into thirds, making three thin layers. Take the top layer and place it upside down on your cake plate, so the crusty baked top becomes the base of the torte.  Place narrow sheets of waxed paper or parchment paper, all around the bottom of the cake, to catch drips when you pour the chocolate glaze.
Whisk 1/2 cup apricot preserves with the water and heat, stirring, until the preserves dissolve into a loose syrup.  (I used a stick blender to break down the large chunks of apricot.)Brush 1/3 of the syrup on the bottom layer and let it soak in. Then take half of the remaining apricot preserves and spread it over the apricot syrup. Repeat with the remaining layers, ending with the top layer and the thin apricot syrup.
For the chocolate glaze: Heat the corn syrup, rum, salt and water in a small heavy saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring. Turn off the heat and put the chopped chocolate into the pan, stirring, until the chunks have melted and the glaze is smooth and shiny. Let is cool slightly until it just starts to thicken, then pour the glaze over the top and sides of the cake, smoothing the sides so there are no bare spots. Save a little of the chocolate glaze to make an “S” shape, or to write “Sacher” on top of the cakeif desired. If so, let the glaze solidify at room temperature and for the glaze to become a little thicker. Then use a piping bag to pipe an “S” on the top of the cake.
Struffoli

Struffoli

If you’ve ever been to a Christmas eve or Christmas day feast at the home of Italians or Italian-Americans who hail from Southern Italy, struffoli – fried dough balls bathed in honey and covered with sprinkles – are sure to appear at dessert time.
They’d also be perfect for the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah, which features fried foods and whose first night coincides with Christmas eve this year.
I didn’t grow up eating these, but my friend Lily, who is from Salerno (near Naples), introduced me to this Neapolitan treat years ago.
Last year, my father brought them for dessert following our fish extravaganza on Christmas eve.
He followed a recipe from Lidia Bastianich’s book, “Lidia’s Italy in America.”
What’s on your dessert table this holiday?

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Struffoli
recipe from Lidia Bastianich’s “Lidia’s Italy in America”
serves 8 to 10
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 1 T. sugar
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
finely grated zest of 1 orange
1/4 t. cinnamon
pinch kosher salt
4 large eggs
1 t. vanilla extract
2 T. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 cups honey
vegetable oil, for frying
sprinkles, for garnish
Pulse together the flour, 1 T. sugar, the lemon zest, orange zest, cinnamon and salt in a food processor. Whisk together the eggs and vanilla in a separate bowl. Pour the egg mixture into the food processor with the motor running, and then drop in the butter pieces. Process until a smooth dough forms, about 30 seconds. Knead the dough on the counter a few times, then wrap in plastic and let rest at room temperature at least one hour.
Make the syrup: Combine the honey, the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and 1/3 cup water in a medium skillet over medium heat. Bring to a boil and cook until syrupy, about 6 to 7 minutes.
In the meantime, heat 1 inch of vegetable oil in a pot or straight-sided skillet to about 365 degrees F., or until a piece of dough sizzles on contact. Pinch off a golf-ball sized piece of dough, and roll into a rope about 1/2 inch wide. Cut the rope of dough into pieces the size of a hazelnut and roll into balls. Repeat until all the dough is used.
Fry the struffoli in batches until puffed and golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes per batch. Drain on a paper-towel-lined baking sheet, and repeat with the remaining struffoli.
Toss the struffoli in the hot honey syrup, in batches, as many at a time a you can fit without crowding. Roll the struffoli in the syrup until well coated, then scoop them up with a slotted spoon or strainer, and drain off the excess syrup. Stack the struffoli in layers on a plate to form a cone, or circle, sprinkling each layer with the sprinkles as you stack. Repeat until all the struffoli are coated in the honey syrup and covered in sprinkles. Drizzle the completed stack of struffoli with any remaining syrup, if you wish.
Busiati With Pesto Trapanese

Busiati with Pesto Trapanese

  The tomato love continues — Here’s yet another way to use up some of those tomatoes ripening by the bushel in your garden. For those of you without your own vegetable gardens, get yourself to a farmer’s market or roadside stand to buy some, because this recipe is not only delicious, but fast and easy to prepare. A food processor is all you need – no cooking required, except for dropping the pasta into boiling water (and when Italians are ready to boil the pasta, they say “butta la pasta” which literally means “throw the pasta”).

In this case, I used busiati, a long, twisty, corkscrew-like pasta, but if you can’t find it, use fusilli.

Busiati is the traditional pasta shape that’s used with pesto Trapanese, a sauce that hails from Trapani, a city on the western coast of Sicily. The origins of the dish are unclear. Some say it was inspired by pesto Genovese, from Ligurian sailors who were stopping off at Trapani’s port. Others claim it’s derived from Liguria’s agliata, a pasta dish using only olive oil, garlic, walnuts and tomatoes.

Whatever its origin, it’s now become part of my summertime repertoire when tomatoes are plentiful and at their peak.
Here are the cast of characters for this dish: cherry tomatoes (you can use plum or heirloom or any type, really), extra virgin olive oil, whole almonds, garlic, salt, basil, and red hot pepper flakes. I used parmesan cheese but you could also use pecorino cheese.
Keep some of that hot pasta water handy in case you want to thin out the sauce.
My favorite way to eat this dish is hot, although it tastes good lukewarm or cold too.
Everything gets thrown into a blender and whirred until it’s creamy. It may not be the most attractive looking pesto, but it sure tastes great.

 

The sauce is also delicious on broiled or baked chicken or fish, or vegetables, or even as a spread on sandwiches.

But first try it on pasta. I’ll bet it becomes one of your favorite summer meals.



Ciao Chow Linda is also on Instagram, as well as Facebook and Pinterest. Click here to connect with me on Facebook, here for my Pinterest page, and here for my Instagram page to see more of what I’m cooking up each day.
And if you live in the Central N.J. area, join me this Saturday, August 29 at 11 a.m. at the West Windsor Farmer’s Market, when I’ll be on a panel discussion with other food writers and photographers, including Rome-based Katie Parla and NJ Monthly columnist Pat Tanner.



Pesto Trapanese
From Lidia’s Italy
printable recipe here
¾ pound cherry tomatoes, very ripe and sweet
12 leaves fresh basil
⅓ cup whole almonds, lightly toasted
1 garlic clove, crushed and peeled
¼ teaspoon peperoncino
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for cooking the pasta
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound pasta
½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated

Rinse the cherry tomatoes and pat them dry. Rinse the basil leaves and pat dry.

Drop the tomatoes into the blender jar or food processor bowl followed by the garlic clove, the almonds, basil leaves, peperoncino and 1/2 tsp salt. Blend for a minute or more to a fine purée; scrape down the bowl and blend again if any large bits or pieces have survived.

With the machine still running, pour in the olive oil in a steady stream, emulsifying the purée into a thick pesto. Taste and adjust seasoning. (If you’re going to dress the pasta within a couple of hours, leave the pesto at room temperature. Refrigerate for longer storage, up to 2 days, but let it return to room temperature before cooking the pasta.)

To cook the spaghetti, heat 6 quarts of water, with 1 tablespoon salt to the boil in the large pot. Scrape all the pesto into a big warm bowl.

Cook the pasta al dente, lift it from the cooking pot, drain briefly, and drop onto the pesto. Toss quickly to coat the spaghetti, sprinkle the cheese all over, and toss again. Serve immediately in warm bowls.

Baccala Mantecato And Lidia’s Holiday Special

Baccala Mantecato and Lidia’s Holiday Special

 There was always fried baccala on Christmas eve. And fried smelts. And fish as small as minnows that stuck together in clumps when they were fried. When you ate them amid a boisterous family at a table that stretched to include neighbors too, it was like munching on a cluster of crunchy, salty, baby fish – which they were. There were other fried fish too, including eels – slaughtered in the kitchen one year, leaving the porcelain sink and the white curtains bathed in red.

There was pasta too – with squid or with crabs – always in tomato sauce. There was sometimes conch, especially when I was a teenager and my brother in the Navy got leave and brought home the freshly caught seafood. There was a nod to American cuisine too (and the 1960s), usually at the beginning of the meal when my mom placed a fluted glass holding six plump shrimp and cocktail sauce on each plate.

After I married, my mother-in-law introduced me to her stuffed squid recipe, which then also became part of my Christmas eve tradition, even after I scrapped most of the fried fish. Now I include a seafood risotto, which soaks up the tomato sauce from the stuffed squid so beautifully. Some years I’ve made seafood salad, or octopus and potato salad – always a hit, but a budget buster. But hey, it is Christmas eve, or “La Vigilia” as it’s known in Italian.

I can’t drop the baccala completely, even if it’s no longer dredged in flour and fried in deep fat. Now I’m more likely to use it in codfish cakes, or as an appetizer of baccala mantecato, a dish that is typical of the Veneto region, where it’s frequently served with grilled polenta.

salt cod or “baccala”




These are some of the foods that will be on my table for La Vigilia, and I’ll bet on a lot of your tables too, if there are Italians in your household. Strangely though, none of my mother’s relatives (in Northern Italy) follow this custom. Even in my husband’s family in Abruzzo – the south-central part of Italy –  the so-called “Feast of the Seven Fishes” or “Feast of the 13 Fishes” is not commonly observed. There might be a pasta with seafood, followed by a whole roasted fish, or maybe a platter of fried fish instead. But not the “abbondanza” of dishes that we here in the states think of as the gluttonous Christmas eve repast. By the way, it’s said that the seven fishes represent the seven sacraments in the Catholic religion, while the 13 fishes are symbolic of Jesus and his twelve disciples.

I was reminded that Christmas eve is right around the corner, when I viewed an advance copy of a program that will be airing Tuesday, Dec. 20 on public television stations featuring  Lidia Bastianich. It’s called “Lidia Celebrates America: Holiday Tables and Traditions.” Here’s a short clip to give you a preview:

The program really struck home with me when Lidia was shopping on Arthur Avenue with Mo Rocca and eels were slithering on the floor, and in her kitchen when she was preparing her Christmas eve feast with Stanley Tucci. “There’s no vigilia without baccala and there’s no vigilia without eel,” Lidia says, as she starts cooking with Tucci in the kitchen that’s familiar to viewers of her TV shows. This time, viewers are taken into her dining room too, as the abundant meal is spread out before guests, including Tucci’s parents and Lidia’s own beloved mother Erminia.

Aside from the Italian Christmas eve dinner, Lidia takes her viewers to San Francisco, inside the home of a Chinese family preparing for the lunar new year; to San Antonio, Texas where many generations of an immigrant family celebrate Christmas with Mexican traditions; and back to New York and the lower East side, where a Passover Seder is prepared at the home of one of the fourth-generation owners of specialty food store Russ & Daughters. Joining them is Ruth Reichl, former Gourmet editor, who prepares her mother’s recipe for brisket.

“Everyone is longing for a taste of the past,”  says Reichl. “That’s why holiday meals are so important. Everybody who has sat around the table in the past is joining us.”

I admit I’m more sentimental than most – especially in this past year – but the people and traditions that were so lovingly on display in this video made me smile, but also brought tears to my eyes – and not just in the Italian segment. Each of the ethnic groups in the program has at its base a common denominator that goes beyond the ingredients, the markets and the dishes that are prepared. Watch for yourself next Tuesday and see if you don’t agree with Stanley Tucci when he says that cooking and sharing these traditions is “… a way of passing on family history, emotions — it’s a way of connecting with somebody. It’s a way of expressing love … and that’s the thing for me that makes food so interesting.”

Here’s a little bit of love coming your way, especially to Kathy of Birdy Chat, who is the winner of the tea from Mariage Freres that I offered as a giveaway. For the rest of you, here’s my recipe for baccala mantecato.

Baccala Mantecato
Printable Recipe Here

1 pound salt cod, soaked for at least two days and cut into large pieces *see below
2 garlic cloves
1 medium potato, cut into chunks
3 cups milk
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup light cream
1/2 cup Italian parsley, minced
freshly ground black pepper
additional liquid from the poaching liquid, if needed
optional: 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

  • Place the milk into a large pot and add the potatoes and garlic pieces. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook until the potatoes are almost cooked, but need a little more time.
  • Add the codfish pieces and cook for about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on thickness of the cod.
  • Drain the potatoes, codfish and garlic, reserving the milk.
  • Place the potatoes, fish, garlic and black pepper into a food processor and add the olive oil and cream, and blend, keeping the machine running until you have a thick “paste.” If you need to add more liquid, use the poaching liquid.
  • Put in the parsley and blend again. If the mixture is too thick, add more of the poaching liquid.
  • Add the cheese if desired. (To some, combining cheese and fish is tantamount to sacrilegious. Use at your own risk.)
*Note: When you buy salt cod, it’s VERY salty and stiff as a board. Place it into a big bowl or pot that will fit into the refrigerator. Start by running cold water over the fish, in a bowl in the sink – for about 10 minutes straight. Then place the fish and the bowl filled with cold water in the refrigerator. At least twice a day, dump out the old water and replace it with fresh, clean water. The fish should reconstitute in less than a day, but it will still be salty. Sometimes I rinse the fish too many days (four or so) and I lose that familiar “salt cod” taste. Each year is different and each year the recipe turns out different.
This recipe will certainly keep overnight in the refrigerator, but it will stiffen up and become hard. It’s best eaten when it’s at room temperature or slightly warm and easily spreadable. If you don’t want to make the grilled polenta (which spritzes oil all over the range!), serve with crackers or bread.