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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.

Strawberry Ice Cream

Strawberry Ice Cream

It’s strawberry season for a wee bit longer here in New Jersey, so there’s no better time than the present to make strawberry ice cream. If you live in a place where they’re juicy and sweet right now, take advantage of the short time strawberries are still available at farm stands and farmers’ markets.
I have a few of my own plants growing in the garden this Spring, but not nearly enough are ripening all at once to make this recipe. These ruby beauties came from a local farm stand and were luscious – perfect for making strawberry ice cream.
I put the strawberries and some sugar into the food processor, and added a few tablespoons of this strawberry liqueur. It not only gives the strawberries a flavor boost, but the alcohol keeps the ice cream from becoming rock hard in the freezer. If you can’t find it, add some kirsch, or even vodka, or a liqueur that you love.
I don’t like to use raw eggs in recipes, so I cooked the eggs, milk and sugar together for a short while, until it coated a spoon. Make sure you use low heat, or you may end up with a curdled mess. Then let it cool, preferably overnight.
Mix all the ingredients together at this point, pop it into your ice cream machine (I got mine at a garage sale several years ago) and turn on the switch. It will do its own thing and start forming ice cream. The colder the mixture you pour in, the quicker it will become ice cream. I kept the mixture in the refrigerator overnight and once I poured it into the machine, it took about 15 minutes to turn into ice cream.
This recipe makes a large amount and I made a mistake in churning it all in at once, instead of in two batches. As you can see, I had quite a bit of spillage.
After I removed some of the ice cream from the machine to store in the freezer, I added some dark chocolate that I cut into bits to the remaining amount.
 The result – strawberry chocolate chip ice cream.
Enjoy.
Don’t forget – Ciao Chow Linda is now on Instagram, where I post many more food photos. You can also connect with me on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. 
And if you’re in the mood for Italian gelato, instruction on memoir writing, fabulous food and a dreamy setting in Italy, consider signing up for our workshop in beautiful Varenna on Lake Como – “Italy, In Other Words.” You’ll be lodged at Villa Monastero, below, right on the lake, with exquisite gardens to wander through. Click here for more information and to enroll.

Strawberry Ice Cream
printable recipe here

1 quart fresh strawberries
2 T. fresh lemon juice
3 T. strawberry liqueur (or any other liqueur you like)
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
optional: 4 ounces dark chocolate, cut into bits

Put the washed strawberries in a food processor and pulse until you have small pieces. Don’t totally liquify it. Put into a bowl and add 1/4 cup of the sugar and the strawberry liqueur.  Let it sit a couple of hours or overnight in the refrigerator.
Beat the eggs in a bowl and add in the rest of the sugar (3/4 cup), the milk and the cream. Put the mixture into a pot and heat it over low to medium heat, stirring until it thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Be careful not to overheat it or boil it, or you may end up with a curdled mess.
Put the mixture into the refrigerator overnight if possible. You could let it sit for as little as four hours, but the colder it is, the less your ice cream machine will have to work and the sooner you’ll have ice cream.
The next day, pour the milk, cream and egg mixture into the ice cream maker along with the strawberry mixture. Process according to your manufacturer’s instructions.
Optional: Mix in small bits of dark chocolate when it’s almost at the point where it’s thick enough to eat.

Berry Cheese Tart

Berry Cheese Tart

 This was supposed to be a strictly strawberry tart with farm fresh Jersey strawberries. ‘Tis the season, after all. But I couldn’t resist snacking on a couple of those luscious red beauties nestled in the container beside me on my drive home from the farm. (OK, so I ate more than a couple if you must know, but how can you not at this time of year, when they’re so sweet and delicious.)
Hence, rather than make another 1/2 hour round trip to the farm, I opted for a two minute walk to my local health food store, where the organic raspberries and blueberries tempted me.
I’ve made berry tarts before, with different fillings, including this one with a traditional pastry cream, and this one with a mascarpone-lemon curd filling.
This time though, I opted for a cream cheese filling. I used only one eight-ounce package of cream cheese, and let the berries take the starring role, but if you prefer more filling, just double the recipe and bake it for another 10 minutes or so. Another feature of this tart is the layer of slivered almonds below the filling, above the crust. It adds more flavor but also helps to avoid a soggy crust.
I used Domenica Marchetti’s delicious recipe for the crust, but added a little almond extract rather than the lemon, to continue with the almond theme.
Berry Cheese Tart
tart crust:
Domenica Marchetti’s recipe:
  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
  • Finely grated zest of 1 organic lemon (I used one 1 teaspoon. almond extract instead)
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 large whole egg
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • Note: This makes a lot of dough – enough for two tarts. Or make one large one and several small ones, or one large tart and use the rest to roll out delicious cookies that taste like shortbread.
Filling:
1/2 cup sliced almonds
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 c. sugar
2 T. heavy cream
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 large or extra large egg
Topping:
1 quart strawberries (two if you want to use only strawberries)
or add blueberries and raspberries
quince jelly (or any clear jelly)
Put the flour, sugar, salt, and lemon zest in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse briefly to combine. Distribute the butter around the bowl and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Add the whole egg and egg yolks and process until the mixture just begins to clump together in the work bowl.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and briefly knead it together. Without overworking it, shape the dough into a disk, patting rather than kneading it. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or until well chilled.
Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and cut it in half. You’ll need only one of these halves for this tart. Use the rest for another tart, freeze it, or make small tarts or cookies.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to fit a tart pan with a removable bottom (mine was 9 inches in diameter, but you can use a smaller one) Gently press the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Use the rolling pin or the flat of your hand to press around the perimeter of the pan to cut off any excess dough. Prick the bottom all around with a fork. Put the lined tart pan in the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. I “blind-bake” the crust by buttering some aluminum foil and pressing that lightly over the raw dough. Then add some beans or rice to weigh it down. Bake for about 10 minutes, then remove the foil and beans and bake for another 10 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove from oven and let it cool completely while you mix the filling.
Put the cream cheese, sugar, cream, almond extra and egg into a food processor and pulse until well blended and smooth.
Spread the sliced almonds over the pre-baked crust, then pour the filling on top. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 15-20 minutes or until set.
Let the tart cool and place the berries on top. Heat some of the jelly in the microwave slightly to make it spreadable. Using a pastry brush, cover the berries with a thin layer of the jelly. Refrigerate and serve.
Very Berry Tart

Very Berry Tart

 “It’s spring! It’s spring!” Babar, the king of the elephants says one sunny day he opens his window and sees that the leaves and flowers seem to have opened overnight. Don’t ask me why that line stands out to me, (maybe because I read it hundreds of times to my kids), but that’s what I think of when I see this tart. It’s as pretty as a fine spring day, and tastes equally delicious too, with its luscious lemony filling.

The crust is really special too – it’s the same one I used for the ricotta tart I made for Easter from Domenica Marchetti. But I blind-baked it first this time, then added the filling. After you’ve placed the dough into the tart pan, use a fork to prick it all around.
Spray one side of aluminum foil with Pam, or butter it lightly, then press it down over the dough and add some beans or rice to keep the dough from puffing up during the baking.
Remove it from the oven and let it cool completely before adding the filling. (Hint – if you want to take the easy way out – go buy a pie crust all ready for the oven. I won’t tell. But Domenica’s crust recipe is so much better than anything store bought.) The filling is a snap to make, since all you do is open a jar of lemon curd and mix some of it with mascarpone cheese.
Now comes the fun part – arranging the berries in a pretty design.
Spread some clear or light colored jelly over the berries and chill before serving.
And don’t forget to open the windows to enjoy the spring flowers that seem to have opened overnight.

 

Very Berry Tart
tart crust:
Domenica Marchetti’s recipe:
  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
  • Finely grated zest of 1 organic lemon
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 large whole egg
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • Note: This makes a lot of dough – enough for two tarts. Or make one large one and several small ones, or one large tart and use the rest to make delicious cookies that taste like shortbread.
Put the flour, sugar, salt, and lemon zest in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse briefly to combine. Distribute the butter around the bowl and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Add the whole egg and egg yolks and process until the mixture just begins to clump together in the work bowl.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and briefly knead it together. Without overworking it, shape the dough into a disk, patting rather than kneading it. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or until well chilled.
Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and cut it in half. You’ll need only one of these halves for this tart. Use the rest for another tart, freeze it, or make small tarts or cookies.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to fit a tart pan with a removable bottom (mine was 9 inches in diameter, but you can use a smaller one) Gently press the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Use the rolling pin or the flat of your hand to press around the perimeter of the pan to cut off any excess dough. Prick the bottom all around with a fork. Put the lined tart pan in the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. I “blind-bake” the crust by buttering some aluminum foil and pressing that lightly over the raw dough. Then add some beans or rice to weigh it down. Bake for about 10 minutes, then remove the foil and beans and bake for another 10 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove from oven and let it cool completely before adding the filling.
filling:
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
1 cup lemon curd
berries for top
light colored jelly or jam for glaze
Blend the mascarpone and lemon curd together with a whisk. Spread it over the baked tart crust.
Top with berries (I used a combination of raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and blueberries), arranged in a pretty design. Spread a light colored jelly or jam over the top. I used homemade quince jelly, but apricot or apple or orange would be fine too. Warm it in the microwave first to loosen the jelly a bit so you’ll be able to spread it better.