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Torta Paradiso Al Limone

Torta Paradiso al limone

Before National Blueberry month is over (yikes, that’s today!) and before all those sweet/tart local berries disappear from farmer’s markets, I thought I’d post this cake that I made a least a month ago.
Blueberries not only taste delicious, but the plump berries are packed with healthy nutrients for you. They’re a good source of fiber and manganese, which plays an important role in bone development and converting proteins, carbohydrates and fats into energy. They’re also high in levels of vitamin C. and they’re low cal – only 80 calories per cup and no fat — making them the perfect summertime snack.
I used them as part of the filling on this cake called “torta paradiso al limone” — a recipe that popped up in my Facebook feed a long time ago from an Italian site called “Strabuono – Solo Cose Buone” (translates to “Extra special – Only Good Things.”)
The recipe was written with metric measurements, and I’ve included those for you — actually measuring by weight is always more accurate than using the standard American method of 1/4 cup, 1/2 cup and so on. Be aware that the original recipe didn’t include the whipped cream in the filling, nor the blueberries, but I’ll take any excuse I find to include seasonal berries (and cream) in a recipe.
The cake includes plain Greek yogurt, but I had some lemon Greek yogurt in the fridge, so used that instead (hey, does that yogurt counter the calories from the whipped cream? – Don’t answer that.).
It’s a little firmer than a sponge cake, but not as dense as a pound cake.
The filling recipe calls for making your own lemon curd, which I did. But you can always buy a jar of it if you don’t want to go through the trouble.
Homemade lemon curd however, is infinitely better than what you can buy. Make sure you strain it to get out any solids. (As you can see, I almost curdled the curd — not good, but straining it saved the day.)
You can use the curd just as is, which is the original recipe, but warning – it’s really, really tangy and lemony. Instead, I thought the strong lemon flavor needed to be tamed a bit, so I combined the curd with some whipped cream (also because I lost a bit of the curd from overcooking and nearly curdling it.)  Spread the filling over half the cake, then place blueberries all over the filling. Top with the other half of the cake and refrigerate.
Warning – the filling may be too soft and start oozing out the sides, making for a messy looking cake. But once you refrigerate it for an hour or so, the filling will start to firm up. Smooth out the sides with a spatula to tidy things up.
Decorate the top with more berries (I added some fresh currants in addition to the blueberries).
A little sprig of mint completes the decoration.
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Ingredients for the cake:
3 eggs
1 cup sugar (180 grams)
pinch of salt
zest of one lemon
3/4 cup plain or lemon flavored Greek yogurt (125 grams)
1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil (60 grams)
1 3/4 cup flour (200 grams)
1 tablespoon baking powder (1 bustina lievito per i dolci)
1 tsp. vanilla
for the filling:
juice and peel of two lemons – (this makes a very lemony filling. If you like it less tart, use one lemon only)
1 1/2 Tablespoons butter (20 grams)
1/2 cup sugar (100 grams)
2 eggs
1/2 cup whipping creamblueberries – enough to cover the middle
confectioner’s sugar – to dust over the top

Directions:

Beat the eggs, sugar and salt together until fluffy. Add the lemon peel, yogurt, oil, flour, baking powder and vanilla and beat until combined, a couple of minutes.
Pour into a 8 or 9″ prepared cake pan (buttered and a dusting of flour.)

Bake at 320 degree Fahrenheit (160 degrees Celcius) for 35-40 minutes.For the filling, place the juice and lemon peel, plus the butter and sugar into a saucepan. Simmer until the sugar dissolves and the butter melts. Add the two whole eggs and cook for a couple of minutes over low heat until it thickens enough to coat a spoon. (Be careful, it’s easy to overcook and for the eggs to curdle.) Strain through a sieve and let cool, covering with a piece of plastic wrap directly over the curd, to avoid a “skin.” Whip the cream until the point just after soft peaks start to form (but not too much or you’ll have butter!) Fold the cream into the lemon curd.
Cut the cake into two sections. Spread the lemon cream over the bottom half, then fill with a layer of blueberries. Cover with the top layer of cake, and dust everything with powdered sugar.
Decorate with more berries and a sprig of mint.

Pandoro “Christmas Tree”

Pandoro “Christmas Tree”

At this time of year, in every Italian family, there’s a decision to be made. Will it be panettone, or pandoro at the table? There are those who stand by their fruit-studded panettone, and those who swear by its plainer cousin, the golden pandoro. Me? I love both of these rich, yeasty cakes, and can’t do without a panettone at Christmas. I love to eat it warmed up for breakfast on Christmas morning, but it also makes the best bread pudding on the planet.

Pandoro may be panettone’s plain Jane cousin, although its star-shape is anything but.
What’s really great about its plainness though, is that you can refashion it in many different and delicious ways, including this dessert that’s perfect for Christmas.
I’ve already made this pandora “tree” twice so far this holiday season, using a chocolate mousse filling.

Last year, I made it with a filling of mascarpone and lemon curd, as shown in the first photo of this post. Try it with whipped cream, vanilla pastry cream, or a combination of vanilla and chocolate. Pandoro is like a beautiful blank slate, so you’re limited only by your imagination.

Start by slicing the cake horizontally into six to seven layers.

Make a simple syrup and add some liqueur – anything you like, from rum, to limoncello, to Grand Marnier. For the chocolate mousse version, I used rum. Drizzle (ok, drench is more like it) each layer with some of the liquid, before spreading the mousse on top. As you add a new layer of cake, swivel the layer so that the points don’t line up. You want it to resemble a Christmas tree shape.

When I was finished, I sprinkled it with some powdered sugar, but it quickly gets absorbed by the cake. I also added some small holly leaves and a star on top made from melted chocolate, using a cookie cutter to get the shapes.

In this chocolate version, I also added pomegranate seeds as decoration, but in last year’s version, raspberries and blueberries worked well too.

It’s easy to serve too, slicing from the top. One of these cakes serves a crowd of about twenty.
Once you see how delicious and versatile pandoro is, you’ll wish you had a couple stashed away in your pantry to pull out for special occasions.
I’ve also used pandoro for making zuppa inglese, (an Italian version of English trifle) a recipe I’ll post early next year.
Where I live, pandoro cakes are easily available at supermarkets or specialty food stores. If you can’t find them in stores near you, you can order them online.
But hurry, because they disappear right after Christmas.
Even though they contain no preservatives, they last for months, so buy a few for pandoro “emergencies.”

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Pandoro “Christmas Tree”
printable recipe here

You can make this a day or two ahead of time. In fact, I think it tastes better if you make it ahead, giving the rum a chance to permeate the cake. The hardest part is finding a large enough space in your refrigerator.

Chocolate Mousse Version
1 large Pandoro
1 recipe chocolate mousse 
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup rum

Bring the water and sugar to a boil and cook a few minutes until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and add the rum.
Make the chocolate mousse recipe.
Slice the cake horizontally into five or six layers, and starting from the largest slice, take the simple syrup mixture and evenly pour some on the layer of the cake, then spread some of the mousse on top.
Take a second slice and place over the mousse, rotating the cake so the points are not in alignment with the first layer. Sprinkle with more of the simple syrup, then add more of the mousse. Continue doing this until you have used all layers, then spread a little more mousse on top. You’ll probably have some mousse leftover (not a bad thing).
Decorate as you like, with chocolate leaves, stars, berries, pomegranate arils.

Chocolate Mousse recipe

 

9 ounces dark or semisweet chocolate
1 1/2 tsps. instant espresso powder, dissolved in 2 T. hot water
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
5 egg whites
1/3 cup sugar
Melt the chocolate in a small bowl in a microwave oven at 1 minute intervals, stirring after each interval so it doesn’t burn. (If you don’t have a microwave, use a double boiler or place the ingredients in a heat-proof measuring cup or bowl set inside a saucepan filled halfway with water, and bring the water to a simmer over medium heat; stir occasionally until the chocolate has melted. While the chocolate is melting, use a mixer to whip the espresso and cream in a large bowl until you have whipped cream, but don’t overwhip. Set it aside. In a separate bowl, use the mixer (with clean beaters) to whip the egg whites until they start to look white and creamy. Then add the sugar and whip just to combine. Again, do not over whip. When the chocolate is fully melted, pour it into a large mixing bowl. Add a scoop of the whipped cream and a scoop of the egg whites, and stir them thoroughly into the chocolate. In small alternating batches, fold the remaining whipped cream and egg whites into the chocolate until the mousse is smooth and even.

Lemon Version
1 large Pandoro
16 ounces mascarpone cheese
1/4 c. confectioner’s sugar
11 oz. lemon curd
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup limoncello

Mix the mascarpone, confectioner’s sugar and lemon curd together. Whip the cream, then add to the mixture.
Bring the water and sugar to a boil and cook a few minutes until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and add the rum.
Slice the cake into five or six horizontal layers. Spread some of the simple syrup on each slice, then cover with some of the mascarpone/lemon curd/cream mixture. Continue adding layers in this fashion, rotating each one so the points don’t match up. Decorate with berries or other items, as you like.