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)

 

Walnut, Dark Chocolate and Honey Flourless Cake

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Some unions seem to make perfect seasonal sense. Think spring and a bowl of freshly picked, oozy strawberries to dip in cream, comes summer and hardly anything will come as close as the perfect marriage of stone fruit and almonds. Autumn is heralded by an abundance of figs best served along with pistachios and ripe cheeses and as the weather cools ever further, what could we crave more than opulent, dark chocolate and freshly shelled walnuts? As much as they are wonderful enjoyed as they are, as an after dinner treat (better still with a shot of Grappa…), they give their very best when turned into a rich, molten cake batter, enriched by Italians cream cheese of choice, mascarpone.

INGREDIENTS, serves 8

170 gr of dark chocolate chips

170 gr of Mascarpone

2 tablespoons of Cointreau

2 tablespoons of honey

120 gr of shelled walnuts, ground in a food processor

200 gr of brown sugar

2 tablespoons of dutch cocoa powder

1 scant tablespoon of baking powder

3 eggs, whole

HOW TO

1. Melt the chocolate in  a double boiler or in the microwave. Add honey and liquor and mix through. Add the mascarpone and set aside to cool slightly.

2. Process the nuts with the sugar and cocoa. Add the baking powder and mix through.

3. Add the eggs, one at a time, into the chocolate mixture. Fold in the nuts mixture.

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4. Line a cake tin (or a muffin tin, if making individual cakes) with grease-proof paper, pour in the batter and bake in a medium over (170 C, 340 F) for 35-40 minutes or until the sides are slightly cracked but the centre is still a little wobbly (if using a muffin tin, baking time will shorten by 5-10 minutes). Allow to cool at room temperature in the tin before serving.

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5. Serve dusted with icing, sugar, cocoa powder or drizzled with honey, preferably along with a generous helping of vanilla gelato or whipped cream.

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6. Start dieting tomorrow…

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Note:

Check out my other flourless chocolate cake recipe, Torta Gianduja (hazelnut and Chocolate Cake)

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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Valentine’s Day Treat: Coconut and Dark Chocolate Macaroons

DSCN0036Have you been looking for a last minute Valentine’s Day treat recipe? Have you forgotten about today or have you been in denial about it, only to wake up this morning feeling a slight sense of guilt because you didn’t get your better half any tokens of your appreciation? You are not alone! Welcome to my 6 am panicking thought “OMG, it’s Valentine’s Day and I forgot about it!”. And so, while my darling man was still soundly in bed, I quietly rushed downstairs, whipped up a batter in less than 5 minutes, allowed it to rest in the fridge for 20 minutes while running on the cross-trainer (all the while wearing a face mask to make myself look pretty for our romantic date later on in the day) and by the time I had my shower and got dressed, these chewy, delectable coconut bites were out of the oven ready to be drizzled with thick, syrupy dark chocolate. Talk about multitasking… Happy Valentine’s Day!

INGREDIENTS, makes 12 large cookies

3 egg whites

pinch of salt

2/3 cup of caster sugar

1/3 cup brown sugar

2 cups desiccated coconut

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract or paste

1/4 cup dark chocolate chips, melted

HOW TO

1. Whip the egg whites with a pinch of salt for a couple of minutes or until soft peaks form.

2. Add the sugar, a little at a time and keep whipping the egg whites until thick and glossy.

3. Gently fold in the coconut and vanilla.

4. Dollop 1 tablespoon of mixture onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper. MAke sure to leave them well distanced as they will grow a little whilst baking.

5. Rest in the fridge for 20 minutes. In the meantime, bring your oven temperature to 170 C (340 F).

6. Bake the macaroons for 20-25 minutes or until the bottom in dry and golden and the top is slightly browned and firm. They will feel a little soft but they will continue to firm up as they cool down, at room temperature.

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7. Allow to cool for 20 minutes, then drizzle with melted chocolate. Rest until the chocolate has hardened, then surprise you beloved with your home-baked, love-filled treat.

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No-bake Chocolate, Mascarpone and Espresso Fudge Cake

Hang in there, Chocoholic friends!

I have got what you need…

Pain no more, just go over to the stove and start melting some chocolate… You can also lick the bowl!

This is the ultimate chocolate  fudge cake for me: flourless, creamy, opulent and unapologetically chocolatey.

And you don’t even have to turn your oven on.

Where’s the catch?

It is seriously, scarily addictive…

You have been warned…

Ingredients, serves 6-8

1/2 cup   of dark chocolate chips

3 tablespoons of  soft butter

2 tablespoons of espresso coffee

1 tablespoon of cocoa powder

2 tablespoons of brown sugar

1 teaspoon of vanilla paste or extract

1 tablespoon of Galliano or Rum

250 gr  (8 oz) of Mascarpone

2 handfuls of walnuts

How to

Melt the chocolate with the butter in a double boiler, bain marie or in the microwave.

Add the sugar, coffee, cocoa, liquor and vanilla and mix well, until all th ingredients are combined.

Add the marscarpone and , either by hand or with electric beaters, cream it into the chocolate mix. Be careful not to whip it too much or it may split:

1 minute on low using electric beater and a couple of minutes by hand should do.

Dry roast the walnuts in a frying pan over low heat fopr 1-2 minutes or until they smell fragrant.

Cool for a couple of minutes, then incorporate them into the fudgie mix.

Line a round, small cake tin with plastic warp, leaving some to over hang.

Pour the batter into the tin and flatten with the back of a spoon.

Lick the spoon clean then fold the over hanging plastic wrap over the top of the fudge to enclose it securely.

Leave to the fridge to set for 4-6 hours.

Take the cake out of the fridge 20 minutes before serving.

Turn in onto a serving dish, dust it liberally with cocoa powder and serve wedges with fresh berries.

You are about to experience utter bliss…

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Easter Scrolls and Hot-Cross Buns!

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As the Holy Week marches on, I feel the urge to get my hands in more festive doughs! What could be better than home-made hot cross buns and scrolls? With the warm tang of cinnamon, the liveliness of orange peel and the opulence of chocolate, they are definitely going to be on offer at my Easter table this year.

Ingredients

For the ferment:

1 tablespoon of dry yeast

150 ml (2/3 cup) ml lukewarm milk

1 tablespoon honey

100 gr (3/4 cup+1 tablespoon) all-purpose flour

Finely grated zest of 1 orange

Dissolve the yeast in milk. Stand for 5 minutes then add the other ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon until well incorporated.

Cover with a tea towel and rest for 1 hour or until it has doubled in size

Dough:

Risen ferment

250 gr (2 cups) of all-purpose flour

50 gr (1/4 cup) of soft butter, cubed

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground clove

100 (1/2 cup) gr of sugar

1 egg

3 tablespoons of floured, mixed peel

3 tablespoons chocolate chips

Criss-Cross dough

4 tablespoon of flour

2 tablespoon of water

Mix together of form a soft, pliable dough

Egg wash

1 egg+2 tablespoon of milk

Beat egg with milk and brush on the buns just before baking

Glaze

1/3 of a cup ml of milk, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon

Simmer of milk with 2 sugar and  cinnamon.

Stir until sugar is dissolved and the glaze is slightly reduced.

How to

1. In a large bowl, or using a stand mixer, add flour to the ferment, then the butter, a little at a time, the spices and the sugar. The dough will be a little dry at this stage.

2. Add 1 egg and knead for 15 minutes or until the dough is smooth and silky and is see-through if stretched with your fingers. Shape the dough into a ball and rest, covered with a tea towel for 20 minutes.

3. Stretch the dough with floured hands to shape a rectangle.

4. Sprinkle the surface with mixed peel and chocolate and roll the dough tightly, as if rolling up a cigar. Shape back into a ball and leave to prove in a floured bowl for 2-3 hours.

5. Stretch the dough one more time, fold it into three then shape into a log. Cut the log into 6. Shape 3 pieces into long ropes, roll them up to resemble snails and leave them to rest onto an oven try lined with baking paper. Shape the remaining 3 pieces into balls and place them next to one another on the oven tray.

6. Make the paste for the crosses. Roll it up and place on top of the balls in a criss-cross patters.

7. Leave to prove for 45 minutes.

8. Heat your oven to 180 C (340 F)

9. Glaze the buns and the scrolls with egg wash and bake for 20/25 minutes or until golden and cooked through.

10. While the oven does its job, make the milk glaze.

Take the buns and scrolls out of the oven, brush the milk glaze over them and allow to cool on a rack, at room temperature.

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Happy Easter!

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Hazelnut Amaretti (Amaretti alle Nocciole)

Just when I thought I couldn’t make Amaretti because I was out of almond meal (and in no way inclined to take a trip to the supermarket with child and toddler in tow) I found a half-packet of hazelnut meal hidden in the cupboard. The idea struck me immediately, but what if it wouldn’t work? Good news, it did! The savoury nuttiness of the hazelnuts , combined with the gentle sweetness of the meringue and the bitter kick of cocoa powder turns this classic Italian cookie into an irresistible grown-up affair. The addition of chocolate chips has the potential to lure children into tasting them and enjoying them with gusto.

Ingredients

1 egg white, at room temperature

75 gr (1/3 cup +1 tablespoon) of sugar+extra for sprinkling

140 gr (1 cup +2 tablespoons) of hazelnut meal (roasted ground hazelnuts*)

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1 scant tablespoon of cocoa powder

24 dark chocolate chips

How to

1. In a clean dry bowl, beat the egg white with the sugar until they are stiff and shiny. If you are impatient, like I am, I suggest using a hand-eld electric beater to do the job.

2. Gently fold in the hazelnut meal, add vanilla and cocoa and mix well until all the ingredients are well amalgamated. Don’t panic it , at first , it looks like the egg white won’t be enough to bind the dry ingredients. It will come together in 1 or two minutes and you will be left with a soft, sticky batter.

3. Shape the dough into 12 balls, they size of a walnut and dust each ball with  sugar.

4. Gently push your index finger in the middle of each ball to create a little crate. Push two chocolate chips into each crate.

5. Put the shaped amaretti on a cookie sheet lined with baking paper and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

6. In the meantime bring your oven temperature to 170 C (340 F).

7. Bake for 25/30 minutes or until the amaretti are slightly cracked, but retain some softness. To make sure they are cooked through check that the base is firm and tanned.

Cool them at room temperature (not in the oven,as my friend Helen did…) and enjoy with coffee, gelato, hot chocolate or, if you can handle it, some fiery Grappa.

* Toast shelled hazelnuts in a hot oven for ten to fifteen minutes. As soon a you take them from the oven, rub the nuts vigorously with a towel to remove their bitter brown skins. Grind in a food processor fitted with a sharp blade.

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Espresso-spiked Almond and Cocoa spread

You may call this “homemade Nutella for grownups”.

This morning I found myself battling against the will of a stubborn 5 year-old, convincingly arguing his point as why he shouldn’t go to school today (or any day, really).

I tried to kindly, yet firmly persuade him that “school is fun”, but who am I kidding? I had no choice but use bribery.

” I make you a Nutella sandwich for breakfast, you stop pestering me”

Not surprisingly, the proposition was accepted.

As I was spreading the scrumptious paste on a slice of home-made sandwich bread (a little bragging here…) I suddenly had an epiphany! What if I made him a sort-of-nutella-thingy that didn’t include the dreaded palm oil?

Better still, what if I made it for me??

After I bit of brain churning, this is what I have come up with.

Ingredients (this will yield around 500 gr/16 oz of chocolate spread)

395 gr/14.10 oz  sweetened condensed milk

1/3 of a cup of ground almonds

1/2 cup of good quality cocoa powder

3 table spoons of grape seed oil

1 teaspoon on vanilla extract

1 scant table spoon of ground coffee beans (you can substitute with instant coffee)

In a food processor combine the ground almonds, the cocoa, the oil, the coffee and the vanilla.

Process for about 2 minutes, or until you have obtained a sticky paste.

I like my chocolate on the bitter side of bitter-sweet. Add  2 tablespoons of brown sugar if you prefer a mellower chocolate spread.

Put the paste in a small saucepan over very low heat. Add 5 tablespoons of condensed milk and allow for the paste to melt, while you stir with a whisk.

Add the remaining  milk, stirring gently for 1 or two minutes to remove any lumps. Turn the heat off.

Pour the  luscious concoction in sterilized glass jars. Allow to cool to room temperature, then keep in the fridge.

As it cools down, the spread will thicken slightly.

Naturally, you can leave the coffee out and make this a more family-friendly treat.

I didn’t…Bad Mamma I am!

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