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Pandoro Zuppa Inglese and Alkermes

  • December 30, 2016

Pandoro is a staple in Italian households at holiday time, along with its cousin, Panettone. Unlike panettone, pandoro has no raisins or candied fruits, and is typically served with a dusting of powdered sugar.

But with all the cakes, cookies, candies and ice cream eaten in our household in the last week, there is still plenty of Pandoro to be eaten.
If you’re like me and have leftover pandoro, here’s a way to use it up – a zuppa inglese – a classic Italian dessert whose name translates to “English soup,” although it’s not at all a soup, but more of an English trifle. The words “pan d’oro” mean golden bread in Italian, and it’s easy to see why once you slice into the egg-rich confection.
Zuppa Inglese is typically made with sponge cake and layers of pastry cream. The cake is usually sprinkled with Alkermes, an aromatic red liqueur that’s used in Italian desserts and as a digestivo.
Recipes for Alkermes date back to the Renaissance, and generally contain a variety of spices including cardamom, cloves and cinnamon, along with rose water and other ingredients. Its scarlet red color is derived from a small parasitic insect called kermes, or cochineal. These are parasitic insects growing on paddles of prickly pear cactus in Mexico and Central and South America. They look like a white fungus on the prickly pear paddle, but when when scraped off, give off a brilliant red color. On a trip to Peru earlier this year, I saw the insects first hand, and observed Incan women dying fabric using coloring made from the insects after they were dried and ground.
Here in the U.S., it’s nearly impossible to find alkermes (sometimes spelled alchermes) but the last time I was in Florence, I brought some back from the Santa Maria Novella Farmacia, one of the oldest pharmacies in the world, dating back to 1221, and well worth a visit.
The farmacia has expanded its product line to include perfumes, soaps and other items, but still makes alkermes, using the same recipe since 1743.
The company now has branches all around the world, including one in New York City, but alas, alkermes can’t be bought there.
If you can’t get to Florence, Italy, you can always try making your own alkermes. Francine Segan has a recipe in her book “Dolci,” (using red food coloring, not cochineal insects). Email me if you’d like that recipe. Or use a combination of kirsch and the liquid from maraschino cherries. It won’t taste the same, but it’s a pleasant substitute and it will be the right color.
Anyhow, to assemble the zuppa inglese, make some chocolate pastry cream and some vanilla pastry cream. I “cheated” and used a box of instant chocolate pudding, to which I added some rum, and a box of instant vanilla pudding, to which I added some whipped cream.
Place the chocolate pudding on the bottom of large glass bowl, followed by a layer of the pandoro (or sponge cake or savoiardi biscuits.) Sprinkle the pandoro with the alkermes, then cover with  the vanilla pudding/whipped cream mixture, followed by another layer of pandoro and more alkermes.
Whip some heavy cream, spread it over the layers and top with sprinkles. Grab a spoon and dig in.

 

For more recipes using pandoro, click here for a Pandoro “Christmas tree”,
 here for a zuppa inglese “alla Napoletana,”
and here for a fruity zuccotto.
Want more Ciao Chow Linda? Check out my Instagram page here to see more of what I’m cooking up each day.
You can also connect with Ciao Chow Linda here on Facebook, here for Pinterest or  here for Twitter.
Pandoro Zuppa Inglese with Alkermes
1 large Pandoro cake (or sponge cake or savoiardi biscuits)
1 small box instant chocolate pudding
1/4 cup dark rum
1 small box instant vanilla pudding
1/2 pint whipping cream
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
alkermes (I diluted it slightly with a simple sugar syrup made by boiling some sugar with water)
sprinkles
Mix the packaged instant pudding according to directions on the box (or make pastry cream from scratch.) Add the rum to the chocolate pudding. Whip the 1/2 pint of cream with the sugar, and fold 1 cup of the whipped cream to the vanilla pudding. Save the rest for the top.
Slice the pandoro cake. Place the chocolate pudding on the bottom of a large glass bowl and cover with slices of the pandoro (or sponge cake or savoiardi biscuits.) Sprinkle alkermes on top, then cover with the vanilla pudding. Place more slices of pandoro on top of the vanilla pudding and sprinkle with more alkermes.
Spread the remaining whipped cream on top and decorate with colored sprinkles.

The Salt Pans of Salineras, and the Sacred Valley of Peru

  • May 25, 2016

 I’ve given you a hint in the title of this post, so you probably already know what you’re looking at in the photo above. They’re not terraces of snow or white marble — they’re thousands of individual pools of salt in Peru’s Urubamba River valley.

Years ago, I’d visited underground salt mines in Austria and felt claustrophobic riding down a wooden slide where the salt was mined. But that felt like child’s play compared to the descent to the salt pans of Salineras, Peru. It was a little too close to the edge for most of the harrowing ride down the valley, but our driver assured me he had done it many times before.
The 6,000 individual salt pans of Salineras de Maras have been mined since Incan times.
Individual salt pans form cascading terraces along a hillside.

 

They are all family-owned and passed down through generations.

The pools are filled with heavily salted water from a natural spring. The water is diverted into the pans through a series of channels, which can be blocked off, controlling where the water flows.

Once the pan is filled with water, the sun does its job and helps evaporate the water in a few weeks, leaving layers of salt about one meter deep (about 40 inches).

The top layer is used in the leather industry; the middle layer is used for animals and the very bottom, and finest salt layer, is for human consumption. I’m sure many of you have purchased fleur de sel from France for your cooking. In Spanish it’s called “flor de sal” or “flower of salt.”
At Salineras, they sell lots of different kinds of salts, including some flavored with herbs and spices.
I bought several bags, including one type of salt that’s used for medicinal purposes — very useful after my ankle injury on this trip.

I was sidelined at the edge, due to my injury, but my daughter explored, walking carefully along the paths between the salt pans.
When it’s time to harvest the salt, families arrive with shovels and start filling bags with the salt.

Salineras is in a beautiful area of Peru called the “Sacred Valley” — an area of rolling fields and fertile farmland between Cusco and Machu Picchu.

It’s also an area of many ancient Incan sites, all crowned by the magnificent backdrop of the Andes mountains.

One of the most unusual places we visited was Moray. These concentric circles are thought to have been a center for Incan agricultural research, where crops were grown at different levels, and where temperatures changed precipitously from the lowest to the highest terrace.

We also stopped at Chinchero, where there are more Incan ruins and where we got a demonstration on natural dying and weaving from two Quechua women who were spinning baby llama wool.

Most of the colors came from plant material, such as this purple corn:

But one of the colors came from a small beetle that lives on cacti, called the cochineal beetle. It appears to be white, but once it’s scraped off the protective white covering on the cactus and crushed between the fingers, it turns as red as bright lipstick.

The beetles are dried,

Then crushed into powder before mixing with water.

Artists and textile experts have long used the natural dye in their work, and it’s also been used in food coloring for centuries as well as in cosmetics. It fell out of favor for a while, but after some synthetic red food colorings were found to be carcinogenic, the natural cochineal red is making a comeback.
Similarly, Italians produce a liqueur called alkermes, whose intense red color also comes from an insect. The liquid, infused with flavorings like cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, is widely used there in baking and as a digestivo.

 

There are so many more Incan sites to visit in the “Sacred Valley” and we barely scratched the surface.
The people we met were so friendly and warm, we were sorry we couldn’t spend more time there. I hope you get a chance to visit too.
Hasta la vista.