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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.”

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.





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.

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.
Tiramisu

Tiramisu

 Tiramisu may be a cliche’ on Italian restaurant menus – but there’s a good reason why it was so ubiquitous during the late 1970s and 1980s. It tastes DIVINE – like eating a cloud dipped in coffee and chocolate and slathered in a rich, eggy, boozed up zabaglione. At least that’s how my version of tiramisu tastes. It holds true to its Italian translation as a “pick me up.”And I do hope you try it. It does require a few bowls to be dirtied, but the end result is totally worth it. Save a bit for yourself to eat in solitude – no distractions allowed. That’s the best way to savor every morsel of this heavenly dessert.
This recipe is based on a tiramisu I ate 20 years ago in Pettoranello, Princeton, N.J.’s Italian sister-city. We were there celebrating the newly established relationship and were invited to break bread at the home of local residents. Anna Maria Canzano and her family invited us into their home and created a memorable meal for us, starting with octopus salad, two pasta courses, a veal dish, several vegetables and two desserts – a baba au rum and this tiramisu. Over the years, I’ve tweaked the recipe a bit to indulge my preference for a boozy tiramisu – I use bourbon. But if you want to serve it to tea-totalers, or children, by all means leave out the alchohol.
One of the first steps is making what’s essentially a zabaglione. You beat the egg yolks with sugar over a double boiler until they’re silky and pale yellow, then add the booze.
Fold in the mascarpone and egg whites.
Make some strong espresso, let it cool, then add more booze (bourbon is my first choice, rum second). Quickly swirl the savoiardi biscuits in the liquid, but not for too long or they’re fall apart.

 

Line the pan with the biscuits (or start with the egg mixture and then biscuits next – your choice)
Repeat the process with more zabaglione, more biscuits, ending with a layer of zabaglione.
Sprinkle with cocoa powder and let it sit, covered, in the fridge overnight.
Optional – decorate with pansies or other flowers.
Retreat to a quiet corner and indulge. It may taste sinfully delicious, but no confessions necessary.

Tiramisu
printable recipe here

  • 16 oz. mascarpone cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 14 oz. package of savoiardi bisciuts
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup liquor (I used bourbon, but dark rum would be great too
  • 2 cups espresso coffee
  • 1/2 cup more of liquor
  • unsweetened cocoa powder
  1. Separate the eggs and cook the yellows with the sugar, over a double boiler, beating until ivory colored.
  2. Add the 1/4 cup liquor and whisk over simmering water until the mixture begins to thicken. Cool.
  3. Separate the eggs and beat the whites until stiff.
  4. Add the mascarpone to the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the beaten egg whites.
  5. Mix the coffee and the 3/4 liquor and dip the biscuits into it, quickly coating both sides.
  6. In a large serving dish, place a layer of the biscuits, a layer of the mascarpone mixture and then repeat, ending with a layer of the mascarpone mixture. Finish with a sprinkling of unsweetened cocoa and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. (Note, I have been making it for years starting with the mascarpone mixture on the bottom and ending with the biscuit layer on top, but I think I now like it better if you start with the biscuit layer on the bottom and end up with the mascarpone mixture on top. It’s up to you. Either way, it’s delicious.)