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Chocolate Hazelnut Cake

  • May 12, 2022

If ever there were a cake to knock the socks off you chocolate lovers, this is it. Picture a light chocolate sponge cake, with a luscious mousse and chopped hazelnut filling, smothered in a decadent chocolate ganache.  We first tried it at Bàcaro, our favorite restaurant in the Cayman Islands where we spend a week each winter. After enjoying it twice in one week, I asked for the recipe and Head Chef Federico Destro generously gave it to me. It was written in metric measurements, but I’ve converted them into the cups more familiar to Americans. However, if you buy a kitchen scale, I recommend using the metric system measurements, since baking by weight is always more accurate than using cups.

Federico’s recipe says it makes 30 portions, but the portions at Bàcaro are much smaller than what I served at my recent dinner party. I cut mine into 24 portions, still a huge amount for most home cooks, but I froze half of the cake for later gratification. It freezes perfectly with the chocolate mousse inside, but wait until the day you serve it to pour on the ganache, otherwise you risk losing that lovely sheen and soft texture.

Make sure you sift the dry ingredients and have the eggs at room temperature before beating them with the sugar. Beat for the required 10 minutes to give them the volume necessary for the cake to rise, since it contains no other leavening.

Pour into a pan that’s been buttered and floured. I also lined the bottom with a piece of buttered parchment paper to help release the cake without sticking.

When it cooled, I cut the cake in half down the middle since half serves 12 people, and cutting it in half then makes it easier to cut it into horizontal layers. You’ll spread the mousse between the two layers.

In my experience, the mousse is the hardest part to make, since it uses Nutella, which is stiff and difficult to incorporate smoothly with the melted chocolate, egg whites and whipped cream.

Blend in just about a third of the egg whites with the melted chocolate and Nutella to get the mixture a little lighter. Keep whisking until it starts to loosen a bit.

Add another third of the egg whites after the initial egg whites have been whisked in. It will still be stiff, but a little easier to whisk.

By the time you add the last third of the egg whites and the whipped cream, it will become much lighter in color and texture.

Spread the mousse over the bottom layer of the cake and sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts.

Place the top layer of cake over the mousse, then drizzle some of the diluted espresso coffee over the cake. As you can see, I lined each section of the cake in the pan with plastic wrap, to make it easier to remove one section and leave the rest in the freezer. Place the cake in the freezer for at least 4-6 hours.

After removal from the freezer, carefully cut into 12 sections.

This is the messy part — pouring the ganache on top. The recipe below includes more of the ganache than Chef Destro recommended, partly due to the fact that I’m not a chocolatier and wasted a good bit of chocolate, and partly due to the fact that I’ll take any occasion to eat more dark chocolate!

Here’s the way it’s served at Bàcaro, and you can see how much smoother the outer coating is, when a real professional is pouring the chocolate!

Still, there were no complaints about my version either. Place the cakes in the refrigerator, but set aside about 1/4 cup of the ganache and refrigerate it too. When it starts to harden just ever so slightly, scoop a little out with a demitasse spoon to make a chocolate ball on top, and place a hazelnut on top of the chocolate. I also added a small sliver of gold leaf — totally optional, but don’t forget the whipped cream!

The recipe may seem daunting, but you can make it the day before a dinner party or event, and keep it refrigerated. One caveat though – they look really tempting to husbands grazing for a midday treat. You’ve been warned.

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Chocolate Hazelnut Cake
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • FOR THE SPONGE CAKE:
  • 10 eggs
  • 2 cups (300g) sugar
  • ¾ cup (50g) cocoa powder
  • ¾ cup (50g) corn starch
  • ½ cup (50g) all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup hazelnuts (150 g)
  • 1 cup diluted espresso (250 ml)
  • FOR THE MOUSSE:
  • about 1⅓ cup (300g) dark chocolate
  • 1 13 ounce jar (300g) Nutella
  • 1¾ cup (400g) heavy cream (whipped to medium hard peaks)
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 4 tbsp rum
  • 4 eggs
  • FOR THE GANACHE (This is enough for half the cakes, since I froze half the cakes unfrosted. Just double if frosting the entire cake).
  • 2 cups (about 425 grams) heavy cream
  • 12 oz. chocolate (I used three, 4 oz. bars of Hershey's Special Darrk)
Instructions
  1. TO MAKE THE SPONGE CAKE:
  2. Whisk the eggs and sugar at high speed for about 10 minutes.
  3. Sieve the cocoa powder, flour and corn starch and add them to the egg mixture gradually and folding slowly.
  4. Pour the mass into a half-size hotel pan (my pan measured 15" by 10" x 2.5" but the chef used a pan that was 20" x 10" x 2.5")
  5. Bake at 350F for 30-40 minutes or until cake pulls away from sides of pan.
  6. Let cool at room temperature, then wrap with plastic film and store in the fridge or freezer until needed.
  7. Cut the cake in half to make for easier handling, then cut each half in half horizontally, in order to have two layers.
  8. Then put some plastic wrap on the bottom and sides of the pan where you baked the cake, and put the layers inside, with separate pieces of plastic wrap for each half of the cake.
  9. That way, you can easily remove only half the cake and leave the rest frozen for later use.
  10. Each half of the cake made 12 servings, (30 for Chef Destro who cuts smaller portions) so unless you have a crowd of 24, you can keep half frozen.
  11. TO MAKE THE MOUSSE:
  12. Separate the egg whites from the yolks and set aside.
  13. Whisk the yolks with sugar and rum.
  14. Add the chocolate (previously melted) folding it slowly, then add the Nutella and combine (This is the hardest part because the Nutella is quite stiff. But keep at it.)
  15. Whisk the egg whites to hard peak, then gradually fold them into the chocolate mixture (again it's hard because the Nutella is so stiff, but once you have all the egg whites added, it loosens up and when you add the whipped cream, it will be just right consistency.)
  16. Fold in the whipped cream and set in the fridge until ready to use.
  17. TO ASSEMBLE THE CAKE AND FILLING:
  18. Leave the cake in the pan and remove the top layer.
  19. On the bottom layer of the sponge cake, drizzle with half the espresso.
  20. Set half the mousse on top of it and sprinkle with the hazelnuts.
  21. Place the top layer over the mousse and drizzle with the other half of the espresso.
  22. Cover and chill in the freezer for at least 4-6 hours.
  23. FOR THE GANACHE:
  24. Heat the cream, turn off the heat and add the chocolate, stirring to combine until smooth.
  25. TO FINISH THE CAKE WITH THE GANACHE:
  26. Cut the frozen cake in 24 portions, if you plan to serve all at one time.
  27. In that case, double the ingredients for the ganache.
  28. Otherwise, place half the cake in the freezer and cut the other half into 12 portions.
  29. Place them on a perforated rack and quickly coat them with the warm ganache.
  30. Place back in the freezer to harden.
  31. Repeat the coating process once more and place in the fridge until ready to serve.
  32. Save a bit of the ganache to use as a center dollop with a hazelnut perched on it.
  33. If you have any gold leaf, add a small piece to the top.
 

 

Cannoli Ciambella Bundt Cake

  • February 4, 2022

If you’re looking for a delicious cake that only improves as the days go by, look no further. This recipe, from Rosella Rago’s Cooking With Nonna website, is moist and packed with flavor — and it tastes even better a day or two after it’s baked. That’s because it contains ricotta, orange peel, chocolate chips and pistachios. How’s that for a winning combination? Feel free to substitute almonds if pistachios are not your thing, but they are classic flavors in a traditional cannolo and I love them all.

I made a couple of small tweaks to Rossella’s recipe and you can choose to follow them or leave the recipe exactly as she wrote it. In her recipe she says to put the pistachios in a food processor and process until fine. I found that the pistachios will turn to a paste if you’re not careful, so I added part of the flour to the food processor while processing the nuts. This way, you can be assured they’ll grind to a powdery consistency, just like the flour. For the glaze, I added orange juice to the confectioner’s sugar instead of milk, to give it a light orange flavor. I also didn’t have any candied orange peel (a situation I hope to remedy soon), so I used orange peel shavings to decorate the top, along with some of the mini chocolate chips and chopped pistachios. This is a recipe I’m sure will become a regular in my household.

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Cannoli Ciambella Bundt Cake
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • For the Cake:
  • ¾ cup pistachios, crushed
  • 2¼ cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2¼ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2¼ cups whole ricotta
  • 4 large eggs
  • ¾ cup mini chocolate chips
  • For the glaze and toppings:
  • 2 cups confectioners sugar
  • ¼ cup orange juice or whole milk
  • Candied orange peels, orange zest, mini chocolate chips and extra pistachios for decorating
Instructions
  1. To make the cake:
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Spray a Bundt pan with baking spray, or butter and dust with flour.
  4. Set aside.
  5. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.
  6. Set aside.
  7. If using whole pistachios, add the pistachios to the bowl of a food processor and process until fine, about 30 seconds.
  8. (I added some of the flour mixture to the pistachios in the food processor. It helps avoid getting a pistachio paste and encourages a texture more like the fine texture of flour.)
  9. Set aside.
  10. In another mixing bowl, combine the butter, sugar, orange zest and vanilla extract.
  11. Beat with an electric mixer until fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  12. Beat in the ricotta until fully combined.
  13. Beat in the eggs one at a time until fully combined.
  14. Beat in the dry ingredients until just absorbed.
  15. Do not over mix.
  16. Fold in the chocolate chips and ground up pistachios.
  17. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50-55 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
  18. Cool completely before glazing.
  19. To make the glaze and decorate:
  20. In a bowl, whisk together the confectioners sugar and orange juice, or milk until smooth.
  21. The glaze will be thick.
  22. Pour the glaze over the cake and top with candied cherries, orange slices (or orange zest) and crushed pistachios.
 

 

Apple Streusel Pie

  • November 21, 2021

 I don’t care if it’s two-crusted or streusel-topped, but I’m a big fan of apple pie. But it’s much easier to make this streusel topping than tackle two crusts, and with so much to do for the Thanksgiving meal, why not save yourself some time?  The crumb topping gives this dessert extra crunch, especially with the addition of some walnuts. Use your favorite pie crust recipe, or buy one already packaged, like I did this time, with one from Trader Joe’s. Roll it out, place it into your pie plate and crimp the edges. I sprayed my pie plate first with some PAM, to ensure easier removal of the slices. Prick the pastry all over, then put it in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes before baking.

Weigh down the crust with some pie weights that are nestled on a piece of aluminum foil. I also sprayed the bottom of the foil with some PAM, so it wouldn’t stick to the crust. If you don’t have pie weights, use some hard beans, like I did. I keep reusing mine year after year and I think they’re at least 30 years old by now — and still have more life in them.

I like to cook the apples a bit before putting them in the crust. Otherwise, the pie has a tendency to sink a lot — especially important if you’re making a double crust pie and don’t want a big gap between the apples and the crust. Just cook them a little, so they still maintain their integrity as slices. You don’t want them turning into applesauce!

After you’re prebaked the pie shell a little bit, gently place the partially cooked apples inside, cover with the streusel topping and bake.

If the edges seem to be browning too quickly, cover them with strips of aluminum foil.

Let the pie rest at least a couple of hours before digging in.

And don’t forget that it tastes even better with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream!

Click here to find the recipe for this other great apple pie – an upside-down apple pie with a gooey pecan topping.

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Apple Streusel Pie
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 purchased pie crust or your favorite home made pie crust
  • 7-8 apples, peeled and sliced evenly (about 9-10 cups of sliced apples)
  • (I used a combination of mostly Honey Crisps and Granny Smiths)
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • a pinch of cloves
  • a few gratings of fresh nutmeg
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 2 T. cornstarch
  • FOR THE TOPPING:
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 cup flour
  • ⅔ cup brown sugar
  • ¾ cup chopped walnuts
  • a pinch of cinnamon
Instructions
  1. FOR THE PIECRUST:
  2. I rolled out the pie crust and placed it gently in a pie plate that was sprayed with PAM.
  3. Then, I crimped the outer edge and pricked the bottom with a fork.
  4. I preheated the oven to 375 degrees F. and placed the uncooked pie crust in the refrigerator while the oven was preheating.
  5. When the oven reaches 375 degrees, place a buttered piece of aluminum foil in the pie shell, and weigh it down with pie weights or beans.
  6. Place in the oven and bake for 10 minutes.
  7. Remove from the oven, remove the pie weights and aluminum foil and bake the crust for another 10 minutes.
  8. FOR THE PIE FILLING:
  9. Peel, core and slice the apples into slices about ¼ inch thick.
  10. Place the butter in a large skillet, big enough to hold all the apple slices.
  11. Cook the apple slices in the butter on a gentle heat for about 10 minutes or until they start to soften,
  12. Do not cook completely. They will continue to cook in the oven.
  13. When they begin to soften, turn off the heat and stir in the spices, the salt and the cornstarch.
  14. Spoon all the apples into the prebaked pie crust, then cover with the streusel topping and bake in a 375 degree oven for 25 minutes.
  15. Check the pie to make sure it isn't browning too much on the edges and bake for another 5-10 minutes, placing aluminum foil strips around the edges if it's getting too browned.
  16. STREUSEL TOPPING:
  17. Mix the flour, brown sugar, walnuts and cinnamon together, then using your fingers, blend in the butter.
  18. Carefully spread the topping over the apples and bake as directed above,
 

Disposable Pan Crostate

  • June 11, 2021

 

Jam-filled crostate (plural of crostata) are ubiquitous go-to desserts in Italy, from the north of the boot to the south, and are eaten at any time of day – even for breakfast. They’re typically baked in a round, ceramic or removable-bottom metal tart pan.  I’ve posted about them in the past, but I wanted to share with you a revelation I had recently when I baked a couple to take to my Italian chit-chat group’s annual picnic. We had just transferred to the beach house for the summer, and I hadn’t yet brought my tart pans, so I went to the grocery store and bought disposable aluminum pans to use instead. I sprayed them first with a little vegetable spray (PAM) and placed the dough and jam inside, wondering if the disposable pans would work as reliably as my old metal tart pans, although admittedly, even with my metal tart pans, I am sometimes disappointed, with soggy bottom crusts.

I needn’t have worried. I had to be a little more careful in handling the pan while transferring to and from the oven, since it wasn’t as sturdy, but the bottom crusts baked more evenly and more thoroughly than the metal tart pans I normally use. I may have to rethink tart-making from now on. The recipe below makes two tarts — using 7 1/2″ x 12″ disposable pans or two 8″ or 9″ metal tart pans. I filled one with fig jam and one with cherry jam, adding a little amaretto to both the crusts and to the filling.

They slice up nicely too, into square pieces, making them perfect finger food for a party dessert.

Dig in. Bet you can’t eat just one.

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Crostata
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1½ sticks of butter, (12 Tablespoons) at room temperature
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 egg yolk (save egg white)
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 cups flour
  • ⅓ cup to ¼ cup amaretto, grappa, sherry or whatever liqueur you like
  • a few teaspoons of ice water, if necessary
  • fruit preserves (a 13 ounce jar or about 2 cups for each crostata), warmed to spreading consistency
  • ⅛ cup amaretto (or other liqueur of your preference) to add to the fruit preserves (for each crostata)
  • two disposable 7½" x 12" aluminum pans, or two 8" or 9" round ceramic or metal pans
Instructions
  1. Place flour and sugar into food processor and pulse for a few seconds.
  2. Add the butter in small pieces and pulse again, until it resembles coarse sand.
  3. Add the egg(s) and liqueur to the food processor, pulsing until the mixture starts to form a ball.
  4. Add a little ice water, a teaspoon at a time, if necessary.
  5. If you don’t have a food processor, mix by hand with pastry cutter or spoon.
  6. Let it rest for about ½ hour.
  7. Divide the dough into ⅔ for the bottom and ⅓ for the strips.
  8. Roll the bottom onto a floured surface and fit it into a buttered tart pan, letting any excess hang over the edge.
  9. Fill the crust with jam.
  10. Roll the remaining ⅓ of the dough on a floured surface and cut into strips.
  11. Place them lattice-fashion over the jam, attach them to the dough along the rim, then trim the edges of the crostata.
  12. Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 25 to 30 minutes until the dough is golden brown.
  13. I place the crostata on a cookie sheet that has been preheated in the oven to 425 degrees, then lower it immediately to 375 degrees.
  14. It helps ensure the bottom crust is cooked thoroughly.
 

Fresh Fig and Ricotta Cake

  • September 10, 2020

Are you lucky enough to have a fig tree growing in your yard? I’ve known many Italians (and non-Italians) with fig trees, either in the ground or in pots, and they all seem to get a prolific harvest each year. I wish I could say the same for my fig tree, or should I say fig trees, because I’ve tried year after year to grow them and never seem to get more than a handful of fruit, if that. Each year, I declare I’ve had it with my barren fig tree — no more relegating precious real estate to this freeloader. One winter I even followed through on my threat, refusing to protect a 10 year-old fig tree from its frigid fruitless fate. As expected, it died from the cold temperatures and what did I do? I went out and bought another fig tree in the spring. That was two fig trees ago. Long story short, the current fig tree died this last winter too, or so I thought. We had protected it from winter’s blast, but when we uncovered the tree in the spring, it had as much life in it as a Latin word at a rapper’s concert. But surprise! By June, the tree sprang back to life from its roots, and has even produced a half dozen fruits, although whether they ripen before the frost is doubtful. What’s a fig lover to do? Buy figs, naturally, which is what I did when I saw these zebra figs in the market.

I ate a few, gave some to my dad, but had a hankering to bake a cake with them, since my husband is such a dessert lover. In the past, I’ve posted recipes for several fresh fig desserts including a fig upside down cake, a lemony olive oil fig cake, a fig frangipane tart, a fig crostata, and a poached fig and almond crostata,  But I had never made a fresh fig and ricotta cake until now. In searching for a recipe, I came across many, and settled on one by Rosella Rago, whose website Cooking with Nonna, is always a great source of inspiration.  Rosella’s recipe calls for slicing the figs thinly.

Then placing them on top. Rosella’s recipe also called for using a round springform pan, but I didn’t have one handy at the beach house,where we spend our summers, so I used a rectangular one that measured 8″ x 11.”

The cake was moist, with a nice crumb and a lemony flavor, and is a perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea or coffee. Next time, I plan to double the amount of figs, and spread half the batter into the pan, cover with a layer of figs, then add the rest of the batter, and top it with more figs. Maybe I’ll even have my own stash of figs from my own tree by the end of next summer. Wish me (and our fig tree) luck.

Coincidentally, while I was baking my cake, my friend Stacey was also baking a fig ricotta cake, using a recipe from one of my favorite cookbook writers, Ina Garten. You can find that version here.

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Fresh Fig and Ricotta Cake
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • For the Cake:
  • ½ cup olive oil + 2 tablespoons
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling on top
  • 2 packets Vanillina OR 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 lemon, zest only
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta
  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt (preferably full fat)
  • 1¼ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 6 fresh figs cut into thin, round slices
  • confectioners sugar for dusting
Instructions
  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Butter and flour a 9 inch springform pan or spray with baking spray.
  3. (I used a glass baking dish that measured 8" x 11" - Linda)
  4. In a large mixing bow combine the oil, sugar, vanilla and lemon zest. Using an electric mixer beat the ingredients on medium speed until combined.
  5. Add in the eggs one at a time and beat until they are fluffy and pale yellow in color.
  6. Add in the ricotta and yogurt and beat until combined.
  7. Add in the flour and salt and finally the baking powder.
  8. Beat until the dry ingredients are just fully incorporated.
  9. Do not overmix!
  10. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and arrange the fig slices in a single layer on top making sure they are not overlapping one another.
  11. Sprinkle with granulated sugar and bake until the top is lightly golden and the center of the cake has set. About 40-45 minutes.
  12. (I baked the rectangular pan only 35 minutes,)
  13. Allow the cake to cool 20-30 minutes in the pan before opening the spring and slicing.
  14. Dust with confectioners sugar if desired.
 

Ricotta and Chocolate Crostata

  • June 12, 2020

As soon as I saw this recipe by Domenica Marchetti in Italy Magazine, I knew I had to make it. Domenica’s recipes are always sure-fire winners, from soups to stews to desserts. That chocolate topping! That ricotta base! It’s a seemingly simple recipe, with basic flavors that complement each other perfectly — from the slightly lemony tang of the crust to the sweetened ricotta and dark, bittersweet chocolate.

Yes, you can buy your own crust, and I sometimes do, but in this case, homemade is infinitely better. The recipe makes enough for two tarts — one of which went into the freezer — and with the trimmings, I eeked out enough for two mini tart tins as well.

Follow the directions exactly to make sure you don’t have a soggy bottom. That involves resting the dough in the refrigerator for a bit, then pricking the dough and “blind-baking” it for ten minutes or so.

Fill it with the ricotta/sugar mixture and bake some more.

Then cover it with a ganache of dark chocolate and heavy cream. It will be hard to resist cutting into this one right away, but refrigerate for an hour or two to firm up the chocolate.

Serve as is, with some strawberries on the side, or if you’ve got any growing in your yard, mince some pansy flowers for a confetti of edible color.

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Ricotta and Chocolate Crostata
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 2½ cups (390g) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • ½ cup (100g) granulated sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 1 small lemon
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon fine salt
  • ½ cup (115g) cold unsalted butter, cut into dice
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 pound (500g) fresh sheep’s milk or well-drained cow’s milk ricotta
  • ¼ cup (30g) confectioners’ sugar
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (250ml) plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 8 ounces (250g) bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
Instructions
  1. In a food processor, combine the flour, granulated sugar, lemon zest, baking powder, and salt and pulse to mix. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Add the eggs and process just until the dough comes together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, divide it in half, and pat it into two disks. Wrap one half in plastic wrap and freeze for another use. Wrap the second piece and refrigerate it for 1 hour.
  2. Remove the pastry disk from the refrigerator. On a lightly floured surface, roll the disk into a 12-inch (30-cm) circle. Carefully transfer the dough to a 10-inch (25-cm) round tart pan with a removable bottom. Gently press the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Trim the overhang. Refrigerate for 1 hour (or up to overnight).
  3. Preheat the oven to 350° F (180° C). Remove the tart shell from the refrigerator. Prick the bottom of the crust with a fork. Bake until the edges are just beginning to turn golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Leave the oven on.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and 2 tablespoons heavy cream and mix well. Spoon the mixture into the crust. Bake until the filling is set, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature.
  5. In a heatproof bowl, combine the chocolate and cocoa powder. Pour the remaining 1 cup cream into a small saucepan and heat on medium until small bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and cocoa and stir until the mixture id dark, glossy, and smooth and all the chocolate has melted. Carefully spread the chocolate ganache over the cooled filling, starting in the middle and creating a thick layer that stops just short of the crust.
  6. Refrigerate the crostata until thoroughly chilled, about 2 hours. Remove the sides from the pan and set the crostata on a serving plate. Let stand a few minutes, then cut into wedges and serve
 

 

Delizia al Limone

  • March 9, 2020

Delizia al limone is one of those desserts I can’t resist when I see it on a menu. Occasionally, I’ll spot it at the pastry counter of D’Angelo’s — an Italian specialty food store here in Princeton, N.J. But otherwise, it’s not easy to find, even at Italian restaurants in New York City. It’s such a regional dessert that even in Italy, you’re not likely to see it unless you’re in Naples or other towns in the Campania region of Italy, where lemon trees are as commonplace as a handsome ragazzo on a Vespa. I’ve been wanting to try for years to make it home but never got around to it until recently. Once you try it, you’ll see why it’s such a beloved dessert in Southern Italy — a sponge cake soaked with a limoncello syrup, stuffed with a lemon cream, then covered with a thinned-out drizzle of lemon cream. It’s so lemony and irresistible, but to be frank, it’s very laborious to make.

I followed a recipe on Manu’s Menu. You need to have these semi-spherical molds to achieve the proper look of the Delizie. This recipe made only enough for eight little “cakelets” — not nearly enough for all the work required, in my opinion. If I make it again (a big “if”), I would double the recipe for the sponge cakes.

I would also take a few shortcuts – like buying lemon curd rather than making it from scratch. Same goes for the lemon crema pasticcera. So much can go wrong as you’re making either of these two ingredients, including curdling (which didn’t happen to me, since I stood over the pot stirring constantly, but easily could have.) Instead, I would use a package of instant vanilla pudding, flavored with lemon juice and lemon peel, and add some homemade whipped cream to the pudding to create the lemon crema pasticcera.

There were so many steps to follow, so many bowls and pots to wash, that this recipe became a half-day project. Have I discouraged you completely? Well, I hope not, especially if you take the short cuts I suggested.

My friends in the weekly Italian chit-chat group loved these little lemon delights. If you’re like me and love lemon desserts, maybe you’ll give it a try. You’ll feel like you’re back in Capri – before the Coronavirus hit. Wash your hands and stay safe everyone.

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Delizia al Limone
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • SPONGE (CAKE)
  • 150 gms – 3 large eggs divided
  • 90 gms – ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 40 gms – 1 ½ oz. all-purpose flour
  • 25 gms – 8 tsp cornstarch
  • 25 gms – ¼ cup almond meal
  • ½ lemon peel grated
  • ½ vanilla pod
  • 1 pinch salt
  • LEMON CREAM
  • 40 gms – 2 egg yolks
  • 40 gms – 1 ½ oz. sugar
  • 1 or 2 lemons
  • 40 gms – 1 ½ oz. butter
  • LEMON CREMA PASTICCERA
  • 180 gms – ¾ cup milk
  • 80 gms + 30 gms – 3 oz. + 1 oz. cream
  • 80 gms – 4 egg yolks
  • 60 gms – ⅓ cup granulated sugar
  • 15 gms – 5 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 lemon
  • ⅓ vanilla pod
  • LIMONCELLO SYRUP
  • 30 gms – 1 oz.water
  • 30 gms – 1 oz. granulated sugar
  • 50 gms – 1 ¾ oz. Limoncello
  • ½ lemon
  • GLAZE
  • Remaining Lemon Cream
  • Remaining Lemon Crema Pasticcera
  • 60 gms – ⅓ cup milk
  • 125 gms– ½ cup cream whipped and lightly sweetned
  • 30 gms – 1 oz. Limoncello
Instructions
  1. SPONGE (cake)
  2. Beat the egg yolks with 40 gms – 1 ½ oz. of the sugar, grated lemon peel and scraped vanilla until pale and fluffy.
  3. Add the almond meal and mix well.
  4. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with the remaining sugar and a pinch of salt.
  5. Mix together the cornstarch and flour and then sift it into the egg yolk mixture, alternating with additions of the beaten egg whites.
  6. Make sure to fold these in gently, so as not to deflate them.
  7. Grease and coat with flour some semisphere tins and fill them till ¾ with the batter.
  8. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 170°C – 340°F for 15 minutes, or until cooked through.
  9. When ready, unmould them and keep them on a wire rack to cool down.
  10. LEMON CREAM
  11. Grate the peel of the lemon and then juice it.
  12. Put the grated peel in a bowl with the lemon juice and keep it to infuse for 20 minutes.
  13. Beat the egg yolks and sugar until pale and then add 40 gms – 1 ½ oz. of the lemon juice and grated peel.
  14. Keep mixing.
  15. Put this mixture on a slow flame and cook it, while continuously stirring, until it reaches 80°C – 176°F.
  16. Then remove from the fire and put the pot in a double boiler filled with cold water. Blend it with a stick mixer until smooth.
  17. Let it cool down to 50°C – 122°F, then add the chopped butter and keep blending until smooth.
  18. Cover it with cling wrap (make sure that the cling wrap touches the surface of the cream so a skin doesn’t form) and refrigerate it until completely cold.
  19. LEMON CREMA PASTICCERA
  20. In a pot put the milk, cream, lemon peel, and scraped vanilla bean and bring to a boil.
  21. Then put the fire off, let it infuse for 1 hour and then filter it.
  22. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar, cornstach and salt until pale.
  23. Then slowly add the filtered milk.
  24. Cook this mixture until it reaches 82°C – 180°F, then cover the cream with cling wrap (make sure that the cling wrap touches the surface of the cream so a skin doesn’t form) and refrigerate it until completely cold.
  25. LIMONCELLO SYRUP
  26. Dissolve the sugar in the water and add the lemon peel.
  27. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1 minute. Put the fire off and let it get back to room temperature. Then filter it and add the Limoncello.
  28. ASSEMBLING
  29. Mix together the Lemon Cream and the Lemon Crema Pasticcera (make sure they are both cold). Add 30 gms – 1 oz. of Limoncello and 30 gms – 1 oz. of sweetened whipped cream and mix well.
  30. Put this cream in a piping bag and fill the sponge cakes by making a little hole at the bottom (you can use a knife to make the hole and then pipe in the cream).
  31. Try and fill them as much as possible. Reserve the remaining cream.
  32. Using a toothpick, prick the sponges on all sides and brush them with the Limoncello syrup.
  33. To the remaining cream, add 125 gms – ½ cup of sweetend whipped cream and 60 gms – ⅓ cup of milk to make the thick glaze.
  34. Cover the delizie with the glaze and refrigerate for a couple of hours.
  35. When ready to serve, decorate with some whipped cream and lemon zests.
 

 

Cherry Almond Skillet Cake

  • August 14, 2019

Quick, before cherries are still in season (not much longer here in the northeastern U.S.), run out and buy some to make this cake. It’s easy to put together, assuming you don’t mind spending 10 minutes pitting cherries.

Maybe you already own a cherry pitter, and in that case, go ahead and use it. But you don’t need one. I owned one many moons ago, given to me by my son after he spent a week helping a friend’s grandmother harvest and pit cherries from her orchard in upstate New York. But I didn’t use it often, so I gave it away. Now when I pit cherries, I just use the “smush-them-under-a-can” method. Just make sure you have a flat surface you don’t mind getting soiled, and place a cherry on the surface. Press down with a can (I used a can of baked beans) but don’t bang on it, or you’ll get juice splattered all over you too. Lift the can and remove the stem and the pit with your hands. The cherry will come apart in two pieces with a little tug. You’ll want it to come apart in two pieces for this recipe, because if left whole, they’re heavier and more likely to sink to the bottom of the cake.

This recipe comes to you via fellow blogger and friend, Stacey, who made it with pistachios instead of almonds. I love pistachios but had more almonds in the house, so decided to use them both times I made it this week (yes, I made it both Monday and Tuesday!). I ramped up the almond flavor a little with more almond extract, but you can use vanilla extract if you prefer. After you’ve spread the batter in the skillet, lightly press the cherry halves into the batter, and sprinkle with the almonds.

Let it cool slightly, then serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or a simple dusting of confectioners’ sugar.

It’s got a delicious almond flavor and a very tender crumb, punctuated with those delicious cherries.

As one of my grandsons said as I was serving the cake earlier this week – “I want a grandpop-size slice.” After trying this cake, I think you will too.

Click here to connect with me on Instagram and find out what’s cooking in Ciao Chow Linda’s kitchen each day (and more)

Cherry Almond Skillet Cake
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing the pan.
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup of almond flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt (I USED ½ TSP.)
  • 1 cup sugar (I USED ¾ CUP)
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup buttermilk (or milk mixed with a teaspoon of lemon juice)
  • ½ tsp almond extract (I USED 1 TEASPOON)
  • 1 pound cherries, pitted (I USED ABOUT 2 DOZEN CHERRIES, PITTED AND CUT IN HALF)
  • slivered almonds to sprinkle on top
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350F and butter a 10" cast iron skillet (You could use a cake pan too.)
  2. Cream together the butter, extract, lemon zest, sugar and egg until nice and light.
  3. Mix in the flour, salt, baking powder and almond flour.
  4. Pour in buttermilk and mix together.
  5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and dot with the cherries, pressing the fruit lightly into the batter.
  6. Sprinkle the top with the almonds and bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean.
  7. Serve warm with ice cream, or sprinkle with confectioner's sugar before serving.
 

 

Upside Down Pear Gingerbread Cake

  • January 7, 2019

 

I’ve made dozens and dozens of gingerbread cookies, and baked and decorated many gingerbread houses when my kids were little, but a gingerbread cake? Well, I’d never made one, and if truth be told, had never eaten a slice of one until a few years ago. It wasn’t a flavor that I’d grown up with or ever had the yen to seek out on my own. But I have to say, I was a convert after tasting that first slice of gingerbread cake a few years ago at the house of friends.

Those same friends who served the gingerbread cake – Jan and Dave – also send us a box of Harry & David pears each Christmas. Last year, I made an upside down pear walnut cake with some of them last year here. We loved the nuttiness of this cake, but I wanted to try something different this year.

Eureka! I found a cake recipe combining gingerbread with pears in an upside down cake crowned with a luscious caramel-y top. It turns out pears and gingerbread were made to party together!

Although I’ve made many upside down cakes, with fruits of all kinds, most of them (not the walnut cake) have a basic white or yellow cake batter as the base. Like the walnut cake though, this gingerbread cake recipe is a welcome change from the standard upside down cake batter.  Lay the pear slices in a cast iron skillet (or a 9″ cake pan) and pour the brown sugar/butter mixture on top.

Then make the batter, which is very dark since it contains molasses and many spices.

It comes out of the oven looking like this. Run a butterknife around the edge, then using two pot holders, place a large platter (a wider diameter than the pan) over the cake and flip it over. Careful, don’t burn yourself on the pan or the hot syrup.

Top it with whipped cream or ice cream. Of course, the topping is not strictly necessary, but the coolness of the cream with the spiciness of the cake is divine. Besides, what are a few more calories when bathing suit weather is still months away?

This cake is best eaten warm from the oven, but it tastes delicious the next day too. Unlike most white or yellow upside down cakes, whose texture get denser the next day, this gingerbread cake maintains its tender crumb and moist texture even a few days after baking. The pears and the brown sugar topping do soften somewhat if you don’t eat it all the day it’s baked, however. It serves at least eight people, so plan on taking some to a neighbor as I did, or invite some friends in for coffee and cake.

 

Upside Down Pear Gingerbread Cake
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
moist and flavorful upside down pear gingerbread cake
Author:
Recipe type: dessert
Serves: 9-12 servings
Ingredients
  • TOPPING:
  • 4 firm medium pears
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • ½ cup packed light or dark brown sugar
  • ⅛ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • GINGERBREAD CAKE:
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1½ tsps. ground ginger
  • 1⅓ tsps. ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¾ cup unsulphured or dark molasses
  • ¾ cup hot water
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • ⅓ cup packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • whipped cream, to serve (optional)
Instructions
  1. Prepare the topping: Lightly grease a 9" square or round baking pan (I used a cast iron skillet).
  2. Peel, core and slice pears into thick slices.
  3. Tightly layer the pears in the prepared pan. Set aside.
  4. Whisking constantly, heat the butter, brown sugar and cinnamon together in a small saucepan over medium heat.
  5. Once butter has melted, vigorously whisk to ensure the butter is not separating from the brown sugar.
  6. Once it comes together, pour evenly over pears.
  7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  8. MAKE THE CAKE:
  9. Whisk the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and slat together.
  10. Set aside.
  11. Whisk the molasses and hot water together. Set aside.
  12. Beat the butter and brown sugar together on high speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute.
  13. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
  14. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract on high speed until combined, about 1 minute.
  15. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl as needed.
  16. Turn the mixer off and add the dry ingredients and molasses/water.
  17. Turn the mixer on low and mix just until combined.
  18. The batter will be a little thick.
  19. Carefully pour/spread batter on top of pears.
  20. Bake for around 35-45 minutes or until the cake is baked through (I put a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil on the rack below the cake to catch any butter/brown sugar that might spill out).
  21. To test for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake.
  22. If it comes out clean, it's done.
  23. If you notice the edges or top browning too quickly, tent the cake with aluminum foil.
  24. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, then invert onto a serving plate
  25. Best served warm.
 

Sugar Cookie Christmas Tree

  • December 22, 2018

I know you’re all frantically trying to get everything done before Christmas, and may not have time to make this cookie Christmas tree, but you might want to tuck away this idea for next year, especially if there are kids in the family. This “Christmas tree” is composed of delicious sugar cookies, covered in royal icing, which acts as a sweet “glue” keeping the tower from toppling over.

I made a similar tree last year with the grandkids, cutting out templates for each size of the cookie layers with scissors and paper templates. Even though it was a little tedious to cut using a knife around pieces of paper instead of real cookie cutters, it all came together, and they were eager to dig into it, decorated with green frosting and red candies.

This year, however, I ordered cookie cutters online made just for such a project,  and it sure made things a whole lot easier. I decorated it only in white, using royal icing, and sparkly edible crystals to simulate the feeling of snow. I made the cookie cake in steps, so the job wasn’t so onerous, baking the cookies ahead of time and freezing them, then frosting and assembling the towering tree weeks later

Here’s a closer look at the layers, which you swivel to alternate the points, as you’re building the tree. The royal icing, made of egg whites and sugar, dries as hard as cement, but you might need to just steady each layer for a moment before moving to the next. Start by “glueing” the bottom layer to the plate so it doesn’t slip.

Before you know it, you’ll have a towering edible tree, that adults and kids alike will love. It may be hard to dig in and break up this beauty, but hey, you’ll be making a lot of people happy, and you can always make another one next year. 

I’m so fortunate to have so many family members sharing in the joy with me at Christmas time, including my 97-year-old father,  who still enjoys a good glass of wine (and still plays golf!),

and the newest and youngest member of our family – my two month old granddaughter, Aurelia. And we have another new granddaughter coming any day now, from my husband’s side of the family!! Our family has really grown in the last couple of years. I count my lucky stars every day!

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas holiday too, surrounded by good friends and family. Thank you to all my readers who followed me this year. I really appreciate your support. See you in 2019!

Buon Natale e felice anno nuovo!

Sorry for the formatting of this recipe, but WordPress updated and the icon for the “Easywrite” recipe (that allows you to print the recipe without printing the entire post) is missing. I’ll try to figure it out for the next post, but if any of my readers, who are also food bloggers and who also use WordPress, can clue me in, please drop me a line and let me know. 

Cookie Christmas Tree Recipe

5 cups flour

1 1/4 tsp. salt

3 sticks butter, softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 large eggs

2 tsps. vanilla

Beat the butter and sugar together at a medium high speed until pale and light, then beat in the eggs and vanilla. Reduce speed to low, then add the flour, mixing until well combined.

Form dough into four balls and flatten into disks. Keep each disk wrapped for about 1/2 hour or so.

Roll out a disk of dough onto a well-floured surface, about 1/4 inch thick. I found it easiest to roll onto parchment paper, especially for the large shapes, so I could easily transfer the parchment paper to the baking sheet without risk of ripping the dough. Cut the largest shapes first, and remove the excess dough from the parchment paper. Set that dough aside to reuse with other pieces later.

Keep cutting out the stars, using the largest shape cutters two or three times each, and some of the smaller shape cutters two or three times each, until you run out of fresh dough. Make more cookies, gathering the remaining scraps and reroll them, but try not to reroll more than once, or you’ll get a tougher cookie. 

Bake in a 350 degree oven about 10 to 12 minutes.

Royal Icing

3 egg whites

1 tsp. vanilla

4 cups confectioner’s sugar

Whip egg whites until frothy and add the vanilla, then the confectioner’s sugar, 1/2 cup at a time. Beat on high speed until the mixture is glossy and thick.

Pipe or spread some of the icing on the plate to secure the first star. Then pipe or frost some of the royal icing on the tips of each layer, sprinkling with decorations immediately. Once the icing dries, you won’t be able to sprinkle anything on top. Pivot the next cookie “star” so that the tips are in a different alignment than the layer below, frosting each tip and decorating with sprinkles. Continue doing the same until you reach the top, saving the smallest star for the top. You may have to hold the cookie tree at various levels for a few minutes if it feels like it’s going to topple, until the icing sets a bit. Once the royal icing sets, it is very secure.