Almond, Pear and Olive Oil Cake

The seasonal change has hit our southern shores, swapping the warm breeze for a crisp chill. I have packed away my summer dresses and sandals to wrap myself in wooly layers, scarves and boots. To accompany the cooler weather, the stalls now abound with glorious winter produce, whose main purpose is to nourish and comfort. As I type this I’m embracing this sunny yet cool day, sipping tea and indulging in my second slice of this incredibly moist pear and almond cake, lightly scented by cinnamon and mandarine. Cold months to come, I fear you not! INGREDIENTS, makes1

3 small pears

3 eggs

1 cup of brown sugar (plus 2 tablespoons to sprinkle over the pears)

Cinnamon

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup of buttermilk

juice of 1 mandarine

1 cup of almond flour (almond meal)

1-1/2 cup of self-raising flour (gluten free flour will also work)

METHOD

1. Preheat your oven to 180 C (350 F)

2. Line a round cake tin with baking paper. Sprinkle the base with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and a little cinnamon

3. Cut the pears into two, scoop out the core, then cut each half into two, lenghtways. Line the base of the cake tin with the pears.

4. Beat the eggs with sugar until fluffy, add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, oil, buttermilk and mandarine juice and whisk well. Add the almond flour and the sifted self-raising flour and gently incorporate them into the batter without over mixing. Pour the batter over the pears and bake for 40-45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the center of the cake.

5. Turn up side down and leave to cool on a rack for 30-45 minutes before serving. Enjoy as it is or with vanilla gelato, cream or thick Greek yoghurt.

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A X’mas special! Edible Gifts, made Easy

This is indeed the season to be jolly! My mum and dad have arrived from Italy to spend Christmas with us and I truly feel like I have turned back into a little girl. My parents are not only the best Nonni (grandparents) my boys could hope to have, they allow me to be a daughter again, as they discreetly, but resolutely look after me, Richard and the little ones. There is one other reason my mum is a great presence in the house at this time of the year, she cooks like a goddess! And what could be better than spending time in the kitchen with her as we pickle vegetables, stew strawberries and shape almond cookies, that will be turned into home-made edible gifts for friends and family?

Have a great festive season, share, laugh and, most importantly, love. A lot!

(This post is the collective effort of food and interior photographer Denise Braki, food stylist and interior designer Jon Fleming and myself)

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PICKLED CARROTS, makes enough to fill 3 1 lt (8 cups) jars

INGREDIENTS

1.5 lt (6 cups) white wine vinegar

1.5 lt (6 cups) water

2 tablespoons of mixed peppercorns

2 tablespoons of fennel seeds

1 cup of sugar

2 tablespoons of salt

1 tablespoon of dried tarragon

peel of 1 orange

3 bunches of heirloom or dutch baby carrots

HOW TO

1. Sterilize the jars according to instructions

2. In the meantime, make the pickling liquid, by placing all the ingredients, but the carrots, in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer then boil gently for 4-5 minutes or until the sugar has dissolved.

3. Clean and peel the carrots. Place them in the (still hot) sterilized jars and cover them with the hot pickling liquid. Close firmly with the lid, turn the jars upside down to create the vacuum, until the jars are cool. Keep in the fridge.

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MACERATED STRAWBERRY AND VANILLA JAM makes enough for 4 x 250 gr (1 cup) jars. Recipe adapted from here.

INGREDIENTS

1.3 Kg of hulled strawberries

800 gr of sugar

juice of 2 lemons

2 vanilla beans

HOW TO

1. Place the strawberries (whole), sugar, lemon zest in a large ceramic of plastic bowl. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pods and add them to the strawberries. Cut the pods into smaller pieces and drop them in the bowl too, to further the vanilla flavour.

2. Cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight. The maceration will intensify the strawberry flavour to its maximum.

3. The next day, tip the content of the bowl into a saucepan, bring to a simmer, then turn the heat down and cook gently for 35-40 minutes or until the jam has thickened slightly. You can skim off the foam that appears on the surface with a slotted spoon as the jam cooks. To make sure the jam is cooked, place a small plate in the freezer for 10 minutes. Take it out and spoon a little jam onto it. If it thickens, the jam is ready. Pour the hot jam into the hot sterilized jars, close firmly and tip the jars upside down to create a vacuum. Allow to cool down, then refrigerate.

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COFFEE AND ALMOND AMARETTI COOKIES, makes 20-24 large ones

INGREDIENTS

500 gr (2- 1/2cup)of caster sugar

600 gr (1 lb 5 oz) of almond meal

4 egg whites

1 teaspoon of vanilla essence

1/4 teaspoon of almond extract

1 tablespoon of ground coffee beans

1 cup of flaked almonds

Icing sugar for dusting

HOW TO

1. Place sugar, almond meal, egg whites, vanilla, coffee and almond extract in a standing mixer and beat together for 1-2 minutes or until a sticky dough is formed.

2. With wet hands, roll bits of dough the size of a crescent, coat them with flaked almonds and place them onto an oven tray lined with baking paper.

3. Bake at 180 C, 350 F for 18-20 minutes or until the bottom is firm, but the cookies are still pale in colour

4. Allow to cool on a rack and firm up further at room temperature before serving. Dust with icing sugar, if liked.

5. They will keep for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container

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Gluten-free Lemonade Cakes (Tortine alla limonata senza glutine)

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A lot of my friends have suddenly gone gluten-free. None of them are allergic to gluten… All of them keep telling me gluten is bad for you… I think you can safely assume that I slightly disagree with their views! Without going into the specific science of why gluten is or is not good for you, I like to think I can be grown-up enough to set aside my fervent “i love gluten credo” and accommodate the requests of my beloved. Jokes aside,  serious gluten-free allergies affect so many people these days that the need for creating options that cater for them is necessary and, quite frankly, a challenge I am ready to embark upon. Whether you are celiac or just not a fan of wheat and its derivates, I have high hopes you will enjoy biting into these bubbly, moist cakes, perfumed with tangy lemonade and a hint of vanilla. By the way, they are also dairy free, just saying’….

INGREDIENTS, makes 8-10 mini cakes using a muffin tin

3 eggs

3/4 cup of brown sugar

1/2 cup olive oil

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, paste or the seeds of 1 vanilla bean

3/4 cup fizzy lemonade

2-1/4 cup of  gluten free self-raising flour

1 cup of icing sugar (confectioner sugar) mixed with a few teaspoons of lemon juice to make the lemon icing

HOW TO

1. Preheat your oven to 180 C (350 F)

2. Line a medium sized muffin tin with wrappers (I used an 8 hole jumbo muffin tin)

3. Beat the eggs with sugar until pale and fluffy and the sugar crystals have dissolved

4. Add oil, vanilla, and lemon zest and mix well.

5. Add the lemonade and gradually incorporate the flour, beating gently, until a wet batter is formed

6. Pour the batter into the muffin tin making sure not to fill to the rim as the cakes with grow a lot whilst baking

7. Bake for 20 minutes or until cooked through if tested with a skewer

8. Cool at room temperature. When cooled, drizzle the lemon icing on top and allow 10-15 minutes to set before serving out

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Easy Raspberry Tart (Crostata di Lamponi)

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The appeal of weekend baking is undeniable. What could be better than the smell of starchy goods slowly developing a golden tan in your oven as you sip coffee, tea or herbal infusions all sorts? Getting my hands floury and sticky is my ultimate Sunday pleasure, whether it’s bread, a savory quiches or a luscious, ruby red tart. And this last weekend I hit the jackpot, delivering the three! As my no-knead bread dough was safely baking, I made a batch of rich and flakey pastry, suitable for both sweet and savory dishes. I used some for a lip-smakingly delicious leek and pancetta tart and turned the rest into the perfect shell to contain a crimson concoction made with frozen raspberries, sugar and  a few other favourites. It’s Monday now…only 6 days until I can revel in this ritual again…Hang in there, Silvia!

INGREDIENTS, serves 8/10

For the flaky pastry

100 gr (3.5 oz) of butter, cut into cubes and frozen for 30 minutes

180 gr (6.5 oz) of plain (all purpose) flour

1 tablespoon of sugar

1-2 tablespoons of cold water

For the filling

2 cups of frozen raspberries

5 tablespoons of sugar (add more if you like it very sweet)

1 scant tablespoon of butter

1 scant tablespoon of corn flour

1-2 tablespoon of sugar to sprinkle on top just before baking

HOW TO

1. Start by making the filling. Place frozen berries, sugar and butter in a pot and stir over low heat until the berries have released their natural juices and the liquid has reduced by 1/3. This will take about 2-3 minutes. Add the corn flour, stir well and cook for a further 2 minutes until it starts to thicken. Turn off the heat and allow to cool at room temperature, then you can refrigerate it for up to 3 days.

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2. To make the pastry, put the frozen butter cubes, flour and sugar in the food processor and pulse until wet crumbs form. Add the water, starting with 1/2 a tablespoon, keep pulsing and continue adding more drops of water until a soft dough is created. Tip the dough onto a floured surface, press with your hands to smoothen it, then flatten it with your palms, wrap it in plastic film and rest in the fridge for a minimum of 30 minutes, up to 3 days.

3. Heat up your oven to 180 C (350 F). Grease and flour a 20 or 24 inch tart tin. Roll the rested dough into a disk and reserve some to cut into strips and create a lattice pattern to decorate the top with. Line the tin with the pastry disk, pour in the filling and place the strips on top in a criss cross pattern. Sprinkle the tart with some sugar and bake until golden and gorgeous. DSC_4286

4. Cool at room temperature and serve as it is or with whipped cream.

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Spelt Brownies with Red Wine and Olive Oil

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Winter in Sydney is an altogether acceptable proposition. Yes, mornings and nights get cold, but the average daytime temperature sits in the comfortable zone where you can showcase your cool boots, a cute leather jacket and accessories like scarves and beanies, without looking like Kenny from South Park! The other undeniable perk of cooler weather is that you have a perfect excuse to indulge in what is commonly known as comfort food. On my list you will invariably find red wine, dark chocolate and moist cakes. So it is no surprise I devised this recipes that combines my three loves beautifully. And, get this, it is sort of healthy! I use wholemeal spelt flour instead of white flour for extra fiber and nutrition and ditch the butter for olive oil, the real secret to the irresistible moistness of these brownies.

INGREDIENTS, serves 12

1 cup of dark chocolate chips

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract or paste (or the seeds of 1 vanilla bean)

2/3 cups of olive oil

1/4 cup red wine

4 eggs

1 scant cup of brown sugar

1 tablespoon of cocoa powder

1 3/4 cups of whole meal spelt flour mixed with 1 tablespoon of baking powder (replace with regular wholemeal/wholewheat flour if spelt is not available)

icing sugar for dusting on top

HOW TO

1. Preheat you oven to 180 C (355 F). Line a brownie tin with baking paper.

2. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave oven. Add salt, vanilla, stir to combine and set aside.

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3. Beat eggs with sugar until pale and fluffy, then add to the chocolate mix along with oil, wine and cocoa powder and stir to combine.

4. Gradually add the flour mixed with baking powder until a wet batter is created.

5. Pour the batter into the tin and bake for 30-35 minutes of until cracked on top and still slightly wobbly in the centre.

6. Cool at room temperature and serve cut into squares, dusted with icing (confectioner) sugar and your favourite coffee.

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Chocolate Drizzle Hazelnut Biscotti

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Some exciting work commitment has brought me back to Italy for the last couple of months, and if ever I needed to reaffirm the love I feel for my home land, this time has provided just that. And more. Since moving to England first and then to Australia, I have only ever been back to Italy for a few weeks at a time, immersed in family gatherings and trying to catch up with all my friends at once. This time it’s been different. I’ve travelled, with the heart of an Italian but with the eyes of a tourist, trying to take in the simple and utter beauty of this blessed country, avoiding doing the thing that we Italians tend to do, taking Italy for granted. I have discovered, learnt, tasted and more importantly, I have fallen in love all over with my cultural inheritance. Ah, yes, and then there’s the food. The glorious Italian offering of exquisite produce, cooked simply and eaten with gusto and love for life. Mostly healthy, sometimes indulgent, at other times just downright opulent! These chocolate and hazelnut biscotti sit in the middle…one or two dunked in your morning coffee or afternoon tea won’t do enough damage to your waistline, but will still provide that often needed sugar hit!

INGREDIENTS (makes a lot!)

450gr. (4 cups) Self raising Flour
350gr.1 3/4 cups) Sugar
2 whole eggs
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon melted butter and 1 teaspoon of vanilla paste or extract (or the seeds of 1 vanilla bean)
1 tablespoon of milk
a pinch of salt
120 gr.(3/4 cup) hazelnuts, roughly chopped

To decorate

1/2 cup of dark chocolate chips melted

How to

1. Beat the eggs with  sugar and vanilla until pale and creamy.

2. Add the sifted flour, butter,salt, milk, then the nuts.

3. Shape the dough with floured hands to form into two logs and  baked them in a medium oven for around 25 minutes.


 4. Cool at room temperature for 3-5 minutes, then slice them at an angle using a sharp bread knife. You will notice than the inside of the biscuits is still a little wet. This is fine. Place the sliced, semi-cooked dough back onto the tray and into the oven and toast each side for about 5 minutes.

5. Cool the biscotti at room temperature. In the meantime melt the dark chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave. Drizzle the chocolate liberally over the biscotti. Ideally, allow to set before eating!

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Cocoa Swirled Meringues (Meringhe variegate)

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I often find myself planning recipes that only require the use of yolks so that I can have some egg whites to play with. As I type this I will concede that this may sound odd to many, but I cannot renounce who I am, a food nerd, really! How many times have you separated eggs, promising yourselves you will give the unused whites a new, worthy life, only to find them weeks later in the back of your fridge, a scary, ectoplasmic entity begging you to be put out of its misery! Here is my favourite thing to do with the protein-packed goodness: whip it, whip it and then whip it a bit more! With sugar, that is, and a little dusting of cocoa powder to turn them into a delectable treat to accompany your coffee or afternoon tea.

INGREDIENTS, makes 12

100 g (just over 1/3 cup) egg whites, at room temperature

pinch of salt flakes

75 g icing sugar (1/3 cup), sifted (icing sugar is the same as confectioner sugar or powdered sugar)

75 g (1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon) caster sugar

1/4 teaspoon lemon juice or cream of tartar

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla paste or the seeds of half vanilla bean

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

HOW TO

1. Preheat your oven to 100°C (212 F). Line a large baking tray with baking paper.

2. In a large, clean, dry bowl, whisk the egg whites with the salt until frothy and very soft peaks start to form. I always do this do with hand-held electric beaters on low speed as it gets the job done in 90 seconds, with no sore wrist. But feel free to do it by hand if you missed a day at the gym and need to burn off some calories. Gradually increase the speed of your beaters (or your biceps) to medium and start adding the icing sugar then, slowly, the caster sugar. Keep beating for 1–2 minutes (or 5–6 minutes by hand) or until the egg whites are shiny, smooth and stiff.

3. Add the lemon juice or cream of tartar and gently fold it in with a metal spoon, taking care not to beat the air out of the meringue mixture. These few drops of acid will neutralise the eggy flavour that meringue can sometimes have, and will also keep them stable and preserve their crisp whiteness.

4. Add the vanilla and mix gently. Swirl the cocoa in.

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5. Dollop teaspoons (or tablespoons, if you like them larger) of the mixture onto the baking tray, about 2 cm apart to allow for spreading. You can use a piping bag if you prefer, but I love a more whimsical, free-form meringue.

6. Gently place the tray in the oven and bake for 11/2–2 hours. If they start to colour, turn the heat down to 80°C (175 F). You know the meringues are cooked through when the base is touch-dry.

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Cool at room temperature and enjoy as they are with coffee, gelato or, as my dad favours, a big dollop of sweetened whipped cream. The man is known for his sweet tooth …

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Related recipes

Home-Made Marshmallows (http://www.theclevercarrot.com/2013/12/homemade-fluffy-marshmallows-corn-syrup-free/)

Raspberry cake with meringues (http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/05/02/raspberry-cake-with-whipped-cream-and-pink-meringues-2/)

Sicilian Amaretti (http://sundayatthegiacomettis.blogspot.com/2011/11/sicilian-amaretti-cookies-almond.html)

 

X’mas Hazelnut Cookies (Dolcetti alle Nocciole)

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The Christmas season is heralded in my house with the inebriating smell of sweet treats baking in the oven, may they be my almond pastries, favoured by my boys for their resemblance with Rudolph’s red, shiny nose, or my dad’s morsel of choice, soft hazelnut cookies. These rustic looking nuggets are simply irresistible and they can happily carry you throughout your busy festive day: perfectly dunked in your morning coffee, afternoon tea or after dinner digestivo, they are sure to become your new best friend. The fact that they are rolled and baked in under 30 minutes will make them highly addictive…You are warned!

INGREDIENTS, makes 20

2 egg whites

1 cup of hazelnut meal (ground hazelnuts)

1-1/2 cup of icing sugar, plus more for rolling the cookies in

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, or the seeds from half vanilla bean

HOW TO

1. Heat up your oven to 180 C (350 F)

2. Mix egg whites, gournd hazelnut, vanilla and sugar in a large bowl until a thick paste forms.

3. Pinch off small bits of paste to shape balls the size of a large walnut.

4. Generously roll the balls in plenty of icing sugar.

5. Place the cookies, well distanced apart, onto an oven tray lined with baking paper.

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6. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until cracked and beautifully puffed up.

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Cool at room temperature and merrily consume with glee.

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Paste di Mandorle (X’mas Almond Pastries)

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And so, the long-awaited jolly season officially begins at my house, with a tray full of these colourful, soft almond cookies, heralding the impending gluttonous days that this time of the year invariably brings. And although it only feels it’s been a couple of months since my last Christmas, which I spent back home in Milan with my folks, I cannot help feeling comforted by the glorious festive spirit that my children and I exude as we set off to the kitchen to shape these traditional Italian cookies. Some call them Paste di Mandorle, others call them Amaretti, but Raffi and Miro have duly renamed them Rudolph’s nose cookies!

INGREDIENTS, makes 18-20 cookies

275 gr (1 – 1/3 cup)of caster sugar

300 gr (2- 1/2 cups) of almond meal

2 egg whites

1 teaspoon of vanilla essence

1/4 teaspoon of almond extract

glaceè cherries

 HOW TO

1. Place sugar, almond meal, egg whites, vanilla and almond extract in a standing mixer and beat together for 2-3 minutes or until a sticky dough is formed.

2. Roll bits of dough the size of a large walnut and place them onto an oven tray lined with baking paper.

3. Make an indent in each ball of dough with your index finger, then sit a cherry onto each dimple. Shape the rest of the dough into small rectangles (this is the typical Ricciarelli shape), cover them liberally in icing sugar and place them onto the oven tray with the rest of the cookies.

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4. Bake at 180 C, 350 F for 18-20 minutes of until the bottom is firm, but the cookies are still pale in colour

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5. Allow to cool and further firm up at room temperature before serving

They will keep for up to 1 week in an airtight container

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Mascarpone Scones with Strawberries

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When I was a little girl, in Milan, I would always look forward to the first signs of spring. I’d eagerly pick garden daisies for my mum, who would accommodate them in a glass half full of water and sit them on the kitchen counter, to better capture the April light. Dad was always the first to be up on Saturday morning to take a trip to the local fruit and vegetable market. He’d invariably come home with trays of seasonal goods, but everybody eyes and hands reached quickly for those ruby red jewels, bursting with the promise of spring in each and every bite. My brother, my sister and I were allowed to gulp down a few strawberries on the spot, those with a few bruises and oozing crimson juice. The rest were reserved for later, to be paired with dollops of mascarpone cheese and mum’s home-made biscotti.

Although these days I may serve them with fluffy, crumbly scones, my childhood memory has remained untouched and still ever-so vivid.

INGREDIENTS

320g (2-1/2 cups) self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting

pinch of salt

1 tablespoon of sugar (optional)

150 gr (just over 1/2 cup) mascarpone cheese, plus extra for serving

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract or paste2 tbsp of sugar + an extra pinch for glazing

75 ml (1/3 cup) of cold milk + a few tablespoons for glazing

1 egg lightly beaten, for glazing

HOW TO

1. Preheat your oven to 200 C, 390 F

2. Put the flour, salt, mascarpone and sugar (if using)  in a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.  Add the milk, then pulse again for 3-5 seconds. Don’t add all the milk at once and you may only need 3/4 of it, depending on the type of flour you use

3. Tip the mixture onto an oven try lined with a sheet of floured baking paper and use you hands to bring it together into a dough. Do not over manipulate to avoid stimulating the gluten in the flour. Only knead lightly for a few seconds just to make the dough smooth and then roll out quickly with floured hands to  about 2cm thick.

4. Use a pastry cutter or a glass to cut the dough into disks. Place them close together onto the baking paper.

5. Make the glaze by mixing a few tablespoons of milk with a little sugar and brush the top of the biscuits with it.

6. Transfer the tray to the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes or until nicely golden. Cool at room temperature for 15 minutes, then serve with fresh berries and mascarpone.

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