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

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 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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Cinnamon Butter Cookies (Biscottini alla Cannella)

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Life is at its best when the very simple pleasures it brings can be savored and enjoyed with unrepentant gluttony. A waffle cone filled with gelato on a hot summer day, warm apple pie served with cream as you snuggle up under a blanket and watch Downtown Abbey, freshly made cinnamon butter cookies to dunk in your morning espresso on a Sunday…Happiness is made of those brief, stolen moment of pure indulgence and I love nothing more than to allow myself the occasional treat when I most crave it. Are you with me?

INGREDIENTS, makes 12-16

100 gr (3/4 cups) icing sugar, plus more for dusting

150 gr (2/3 cups) of soft butter

150 gr (1 cup and 1/3) of self raising flour, 100 gr (3/4 cup) of plain flour

1 tablespoon of corn starch

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract or paste

2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

1-2 tablespoon of milk (optional)

HOW TO

1. Work the icing sugar and butter together until creamy and smooth (you can do it by hand or using a standing mixer)

2. When the mixture is creamy, add the flour, 1 table-spoon of corn starch, a teaspoon of vanilla paste and the cinnamon. If the dough is too dry, add 1-2 tablespoon of milk.

3. The cookie dough will look and feel sticky. Use a spatula to scrape it onto a sheet of baking paper. Roll it up in the shape of a sausage and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, preferably overnight.

4. Once it’s rested and feels firm, slice it up and place the biscuits on an oven tray, dust them with a little icing sugar and then put them back in the fridge for 10 minutes.

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Bake at 170 C, 340 F,  for about 15 minutes, or until the edges start to color. Cool at room temperature.DSC_0624

Dust with icing sugar and dunk into espresso coffee…DSC_0716DSC_0681

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Easter Dolls (Pupe di Pasqua)

My fondest Easter morning memory takes me back to Italy, to being a child, to being with Nonna Irene. Every Easter she used to make Pupe di Pasqua (traditional Abruzzese Easter Dolls) out of pastry, for us children to dunk in our bowl of milk on Easter morning. Me, my sister Ale and my cousin Elena would be the lucky recipients of lovely peasant girl-like dolls while my brother Giammarco and my cousin Giorgio would devour their horse-shaped dolls in no more than a few bites. As if part of some gruesome tribal ritual, the heads would be the first to go, leaving our dolls bearing a vivid resemblance to Anne Boleyn! And so, it is now my pleasure to pass on such precious legacy and make dolls for my children. Following the family tradition, the doll received the Henry the VIII treatment…

INGREDIENTS

3 eggs

3 tablespoons of olive oil (or EVOO)

4 tablespoons of sugar

75 gr (2/3 cups) almond flour

finely grated lemon zest

150 gr (1-1/3 cups)  flour, well sifted

100 gr (3/4 cup)  of self-raising flour, well sifted

1 teaspoon of vanilla paste or extract

1 egg+2 tablespoons of milk for the glaze

HOW TO

1. Whisk the eggs with sugar until pale and fluffy. Pour in the oil, add the zest and mix well with a wooden spoon.

2. Slowly add the almond flour and the self-raising flour to obtain a dough that is just slightly softer than short pastry. Wrap it in plastic film and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

3. Turn the oven on to 170 C (340 F)

4. Line an oven tray with baking paper. Craft the doll according to your esthetics straight onto the tray. Glaze it with the egg and milk wash and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden and cooked through.

Happy Easter! Buona Pasqua!

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Fig and Pistachio Frangipane Tart

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I am a summer person. I was born in summer. My true self seems to come to life at the early signs of the warmer months approaching. I hardly ever feel the heat, in spite of being feisty and hot-blooded, I don’t tend to perspire in excess either. Alas, summer is gradually fading here in Australia, the days getting shorter and cooler and, as I prepare for the months to come with stacks of home-made tomato passata and chillie oil in the pantry, I relish the bounty of seasonal fruit this time of the year brings, saluting the summer that has been and heralding a new autumn, in the way only figs can do. Sweet consolation!

INGREDIENTS, serves 8

For the pastry

250 gr/8 oz of  flour

110 gr/ 3,6 oz butter, cold and cut into small cubes

1 egg

1/4 teaspoon of vanilla paste or extract

For the Frangipane Filling

100 gr/ 1 cup of pistachio

100 gr/ 1 cup sugar

100 gr/ 3.5 oz butter, soft

2 egg whites

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons flour

6 figs cut into thin slices

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HOW TO
1. To make the pastry, put all the ingredients in a food processor fitted with blades and pulse until you have moist crumbs. If the dough is too dry add 1 or 2 tablespoons of cold water and pulse again until moist. Tip the crumbs onto a floured surface, press them together with your hands to shape a ball, wrap it in plastic film and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.
2. In the meantime, prepare the frangipane filling. Put the pistachio in a food processor and process until they resemble coarse flour (like almond flour). Add the rest of the ingredients, process for about 20- second or until nicely combined. Put the paste onto a bowl, cover with plastic film and rest in the fridge for 1 hour.
3. Bring your oven to 170 C (340 F). Take the pastry out of the fridge and roll it thinly between tow sheets of baking paper. Put the rolled pastry onto a tart dish (well greased and floured), cover with a sheet of baking paper, top with baking beans of rice and blind bake for 15 minutes. Take the tart shell out of the oven. Remove the paper with the beans (or rice) and put the tart shell back in the oven for 5 minutes until pale golden. Rest at room temperature until cold.
4. Fill with the pistachio frangipane filling, top with the sliced figs and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the frangipane has set and the sides are slightly crusty.
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Serve as it is or with a generous helping of vanilla ice-cream.
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Buttermilk, Olive Oil and Chocolate Chips Tea Cake

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Ah, the joys of lazy Sunday mornings! Sleeping in, waking up rested and in a pure state of relax, indulging in a long, blissful shower, perhaps even a facial mask and a hair treatment. All followed by a generous slice of moist cake to joyfully dunk into a creamy cappuccino. Naturally, as the mother of two young boys, I can only dream of sleeping in and frolicking under the shower for more than 2 minutes. I can forget about hair and facial treatments, but one thing I am yet to surrender: the cake to dunk in my Sunday morning coffee. This batter is mixed in under 3 minutes, just perfect for the busy family life, and produces a soft, moist cake that can become the conduit for bolder flavor such as lemon and almonds, mandarin and ginger, or my children favorite, orange and chocolate chips. Happy Sunday!

Buona Domenica!

INGREDIENTS (serves 8)

280 gr (2-1/2 cups) of self-raising flour, sifted

150 gr (3/4 cup) of caster sugar

finely grated rind of one orange

150 gr (3/4 cup) of dark chocolate chips

pinch of salt

200 ml (3/4 cups) of buttermilk

80 ml (1/3 cup) of olive oil

1 egg, beaten with a fork

1 teaspoon of vanilla paste or extract or the seeds from 1/2 vanilla pod

HOW TO

1. Preheat your over to 180 C (395 F).

2. Line a cake tin with baking paper.

3. Put flour, sugar, salt , 2/3 of the chocolate chips and the orange zest in a large mixing bowl.

4. Pour the buttermilk and the oil into a jug. Add the egg and vanilla and mix with a whisk for a few seconds.

5. Pour the wet ingredients into the large mixing bowl, mix with a wooden spoon just so the batter come together, but don’ try to make it smooth. If the batter feel a little dry, add a couple of extra tablespoons of buttermilk. If too wet, add 1-2 tablespoons of flour. As all flours vary slightly, it is always a good idea to adapt quantities according to the ingredients you are working with.

Lumpy, sticky batter=soft moist cake!

6. Pour the cake mix into the prepared tin, scatter the remaining chocolate chips on top and bake for 35-40 minutes or until the top is slightly golden and, if pierced with a wooden skewer, it comes out clean.

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Cool at room temperature, cut into large slices and enjoy with a tall glass of cold milk

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Home-made Panettone with Figs and White Wine

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For us Italians, very little speaks of Christmas as loudly as this dome-shaped famous bread. In fairness, to call it “bread” is a little far-fetched… May this be because of the generous presence of butter, eggs, sugar and dried fruits….yes, let’s be frank here, it’s a cake, and a very rich one! At Christmas though, I refuse to deprive myself of the joys and frivolities this season brings, even if it means accommodating a little extra cellulite along with merry spirit. I don’t know many people who would go through the trouble of baking Panettone at home. I won’t lie to you, this recipe is not for first-time bakers or for those who need instant gratification. It is not difficult, but it requires one thing that we all seem to lack a little these days: patience! My strongest advise is not to go near this unless to have some to spare. But if you are willing, and following detailed instructions is your strong suit, please, don your festive apron, play some merry carols and get ready!

 step 1

350 gr (2-1/4 cups) of sultanas, 100 gr (1 cup) of raisins, 250 (2 cups) gr of semi dried figs, soaked in a bowl with 200 ml (3/4 cup) of rum and enough water to cover them.

Soak for a minimum of 3 hours, preferably overnight

 step 2

Making the ferment (biga)

100 ml ( a little less than 1/2 cup)of milk

100 gr (3/4 cup) of flour

1 sachet of dry yeast

1 teaspoon of sugar or barley malt syrup.

Mix the ingredients in a bowl with a wooden spoon until combined. Cover with a tea towel and leave to prove for 1-1 1/2 hours, or until bubbly and doubled in size.

Step 3

Risen dough from step 2

200 ml (3/4 cup) of white wine or Prosecco

300 gr (2-1/2 cups) of 00 flour (or plain)

3 tablespoons of sugar

2 tablespoon of soft butter

Work the risen ferment with a spoon, then the wine (or prosecco, if you feel extra festive),  flour, sugar and the soft butter. Knead until all the ingredients are well incorporated and the dough is soft and smooth. Place back in the bowl, cover and leave to rest for 1 hour.

Step 4

Risen dough from step 3

290-320 gr (2- 3/4 cups) of 00 or Manitoba (or plain) flour

100 gr (1/2 cup) of sugar

3 tablespoons of honey

3 eggs

75 gr (1/3 cup) of soft butter, cubed

1 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract or paste

finely grated zest of 1 orange

dried fruit from step 1, drained

110 gr (1 cup) of candied peel dusted in a little flour.

Work the risen dough onto a floured board or use a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook (better option, if at all possible, because at this point the dough will be hard to handle), add 290 gr (2 cups) of 00 or Manitoba flour (or plain flour, if specialty flours are hard to come by),  sugar, honey and the eggs, one at a time. The dough will be sticky and difficult to work, but don’t despair, it will come together in the end! Add the butter and knead well to incorporate, adding 30-50 gr of extra flour if needed. Mix in the vanilla and zest. Knead for 20 minutes by hand or 7-10 minutes using a standing mixer, or until the dough is transparent and shiny when stretched with your fingers. Drain the fruit that has been soaking. Stretch the kneaded dough to shape a rectangle, cover with fruit and candied peel (if using), fold onto itself, then shape into a ball and leave to rest in an oiled bowl covered with a tea towel for 30 minutes.

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Step 5

Stretch the dough with your hands to shape a rectangle, fold into three and then onto itself to form a ball. Put the dough back in the oiled container and rest for 30 minutes. Then repeat the stretching and folding one more time. Place the dough to rest in the bowl covered with a tea towel for 2-3 hours or until doubled in size. Folding the dough will ensure you an even and soft texture, with a moist, creamy crumb. Worth the pain!

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Step 6

Prepare the moulds. This quantity will be enough for 2 large Panettone, 4 medium ones or 12 mini ones (perfect for edible gifts). Only fill the mould until it’s 3/4 full as the dough will rise in the oven when baking.

If not using a special panettone mould, you can use a round tin, lined with baking paper. Make sure to create a ring of paper tall enough to accommodate room for rising.

Prove the Panettone in its mould or tin for 2 hours at room temperature, uncovered, to encourage  the formation of a slightly crusty top. Make sure to sit the mould or tin on a tray, to easily transport it to the oven when ready to bake.

In the meantime, bring your oven temperature to 180 C (380 F). Place an empty metal bowl or a skillet in the lower rack of the oven to heat up.

Slash a large X on the top of the panettone and place a large knob of butter in the middle.

Place the tray in the oven, fill the empty metal bowl or skillet with iced water to create steam and close the door. The steam will encourage even rising and moisture.

Bake for 45–55 minutes or until evenly risen and the colour of dark caramel. A wooden skewer inserted in the centre should come out moist, but not doughy. If it looks like it’s browning too fast, cover it with baking paper, but keep in mind that the crust is supposed to be quite dark.

As a general rule, a large panettone will take 45-50 minutes, a medium one 35-40 and mini ones 25-30.

 Take the panettone out of the oven. If using a metal tin, let the bread cool completely in the pan before slicing and serving.

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If using a panettone mould, pierce two long metal skewers or knitting needles all the way through the bottom half of the panettone and through the paper. Hang the panettone upside-down over a large stockpot or between two objects of equal height.  Cool it for a minimum of 6 hours.

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DSCN7266Buon Natale!

Love,

Silvia

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Christmas Meringue Nests and Wreaths (mini X’mas Pavlovas, anyone?)

You know Christmas is in the air when you rummage the cupboard for ground cloves to be used in conjunction with brown sugar. Those two best friends create that unique scent that bring the frivolities of the holiday season ever so close. Think Christmas fruit cakes, mulled wine and puddings all sorts. Or, in this case, little festive meringues. Then, why not turning them into one of Australia’s most loved Christmas dessert, Pavlova? Topped with generous dollops of sweetened cream and scarlet berries, you have secured yourself a mono-portion of jolly Christmas spirit!

Ingredients

6 egg whites

pinch of salt

2 cups of brown sugar (can use white sugar for a snow-white meringue)

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract or paste

1 tablespoon of ground clove plus some for dusting

1-1/2 teaspoon of corn flour

1/2 tablespoon of white balsamic vinegar, or regular white wine vinegar

How to

Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until slightly frothy. Add the sugar, a little at a time and keep whisking until soft peaks form and the meringue is shiny and elastic. This will take about 3-4 using electric beaters…a lot more , and a sore arm, if doing by hand!

Add vanilla, cloves, corn flour and vinegar and mix gently to incorporate them into the meringue.

To make the nests, spoon 1 tablespoon of meringue mixture onto a baking tray lined with baking paper, create a rim so that the centre can accommodate berries and cream after baking. Allow room for rising in the oven.

To make the wreaths, dollop teaspoons of mixture to create a disk that is hollow in the middle. Again, create a dent in the middle to accommodate the topping you prefer or keep smooth if no topping is required.

Bake in a low oven (150 C, 300 F) for 35-40 minutes or until the base is set, the top is lightly cracked and bronzed  but the middle is still soft.

Allow to cool at room temperature.

Top with whipped cream or mascarpone, berries, ruby red cherries or whatever your imagination suggests.

The cooked meringues will keep well if stored in an air-tight container lined with baking paper, at room temperature for 1-2 days in hot climate and up to three days in colder temperatures.

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