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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Italian Cream Puffs (Bigne’ alla Crema)

I have developed a very new, and somewhat scary, compulsion for choux pastry lately…

I have spent more time that I wish to confess in the search for the perfect puff, the kind that is light as a feather and hollow inside, to accommodate gooey, slurpy fillings…

I have tried countless proportions of eggs to butter, flour to water and I just couldn’t not seem to settle..Until a few nights ago, when these perfectly risen, crackly buns emerged from my oven, perfuming the kitchen with their delicate vanilla scent…

Ingredients

(For the Custard)

500 ml of milk

4 egg yolks

4 tablespoons of white sugar

40 gr of cornstarch

Rind of 1 lemon

1 vanilla bean, split in half

Finely grated zest of half a lemon

1 handful of dark chocolate chips

(For the Puffs)

150 ml of water

40 gr of butter

Tip of a teaspoon of salt

90 gr of all-purpose flour

2 eggs, beaten

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla paste

1 teaspoon of icing sugar + more for serving

Cocoa powder for serving

Makes 8 medium-sized cream puffs or 12 small ones

(My recipe, inspired by many home-cooks before me who developed the same compulsion…)

How to

In a medium saucepan, heat up the milk to just before simmering. Turn the heat off, add the lemon rind and the split vanilla bean and allow to infuse for 10 minutes, then discard the rind and the vanilla bean.

(You can dry the vanilla bean and keep it in your sugar tin, for home-made vanilla sugar).

In a medium bowl, beat the yolks with sugar until pale and fluffy. You can do this by hand using a whisk or you can let your hand-held electric beaters do the work for you in 1 minute.

Add the cornstarch and mix it with a wooden spoon until combined.

Gently pour the milk into the egg mixture, whisking continuously until the two mixtures are homogeneous.

Pour the custard mix back into the saucepan, turn the heat back on on low and, always stirring, bring to gentle simmer.

Keep mixing with a wooden spoon for 3-4 minutes or until it turns thick and luscious.

This is a classic Italian custard.

Divide the custard  into two bowls while still hot.

Mix one with chocolate chips and let the residual heat melt them into the custard.

Finely grate some lemon zest and mix it through the other bowl.

Set aside.

While the custard is cooling, make the choux pastry for the Bigne’.

Place water, salt and butter in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer.

Turn the heat down, quickly add the flour and mix vigorously with a wooden spoon for 1-2 minutes or you have a smooth dough that easily comes away from the sides of the pan.

Turn off the heat.

Add 1 teaspoon of icing sugar (just to remind it it’s a dessert) and ½ teaspoon of vanilla paste (or seeds of 1/4 vanilla bean) and mix well.

Allow to cool for 5 minutes.

Add the egg mixture, a little at a time, being mindful to incorporate it well before you add more.

Keep beating  until you have a shiny, glossy paste that you can dollop with a spoon or pipe through a bag.

Heat your oven to 200 C.

Place a small metal bowl in the oven to heat up.

Line an oven tray with baking paper and dollop tablespoons of the mixture leaving 3 cm between them to allow room for rising.

Insert the tray into the oven, fill the metal bowl with cold water to create steam and close the oven door immediately after.

Bake for 10/12 minutes, then turn the temperature up to 220 C and bake for a further 5-8 minutes, or until the dough has puffed and has turned golden.

Take the tray out of the oven, pierce each puff with a skewer to allow the steam to escape so that they can dry inside.

Cool at room temperature and fill with the chocolate or lemon custard just before serving.

To fill them, slit the top with a serrated knife to create a flap. Lift the flap and spoon or pipe the custard in.

Dust the lemon custard ones with icing sugar and the chocolate ones with cocoa powder and serve straight away.

You can also fill them with vanilla ice-cream, enriched by dark cocoa and orange peel or simply with sweetened whipped cream.

Don’t worry about how to keep leftovers, there will be none…

Note

Cooked puffs will keep for up to 1 day in an air-tight container, although they will lose a bit of texture due to humidity.

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Almond, Orange and Blackberry Cakes

As I opened my freezer a few days ago, I noticed a couple of punnets of blackberries I had been keeping for a rainy day.

Rainy it was indeed. In fact it had been so wet in Sydney that I was starting to wonder whether we’d have any dry days at all this year!

The decision of devouring those dark, gleaming gems had been promptly made, but how to turn them into a heart-warming, scrumptious delight?

With the aid of a few usual suspects, flour, sugar, almonds and perhaps the citrusy kick provided by a splash of Cointreau, I felt sure I could give it my best shot.

INGREDIENTS

(this will yield 8 cakes baked in large muffin tins and there with some left over batter for mini cakes)

190 gr (just under 1 cup) of castor sugar

1/8 teaspoon  of salt

200 gr (just under 2 cups) of self-raising flour, sifted

50 gr (just under 1/2 cup) of almond meal

3 eggs

70 ml (1/3 cup) of grape seed oil

4 tablespoons of Greek yogurt

3/4 cup of blackberries

3 tablespoons of icing sugar

juice and zest of 1 orange

1 tablespoon of Cointreau (or any other orange flavored liquor)

HOW TO

Put the berries in bowl and dress with the juice of 1 orange, the Cointreau and the icing sugar. Macerate for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, cream the eggs with the sugar and the salt until they are pale and fluffy.

Add the yogurt and the oil and mix well with a wooden spoon.

Gently incorporate the sifted flour and the almond meal.

Add the berries and their juices, pour batter into a greased and floured 8-hole muffin tin and bake at 180 C (340 F) for 20/25 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

Take the tin out of the oven and cool for 30 minutes before taking the cakes out.

Dust with icing sugar and serve with fresh berries and a flute of Moscato, for extreme pleasure!

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Spiced Angel Cookies

150 gr (1 and 1/3 cup) sifted flour

50 gr (1/4 a cup) almond meal

1 egg yolk

95 gr (3/4 cup) of icing sugar

100 gr (a little less than 1/2 cup) of soft butter

2 tablespoons of milk

1 teaspoon of vanilla paste or extract or scraped seeds.

1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves

Plus ground cinnamon and icing sugar for dusting.

As I often do with cookie dough, I chucked all the ingredients in my Kitchen Aid and let the machine turn the messy assembly into a slightly sticky paste.

Naturally, you can do this by hand, and rather quickly too. Put your flours and spices into a bowl, then add your soft butter and quickly work it into the flour until it all looks crumbly and  wrong…Don’t panic! Simply add your yolk and milk and knead with the palm of your hands to release the gluten in the flour that will magically turn this goop into perfect cookie dough.

Add the vanilla, then roll into a ball, wrap in cling film and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Roll out your dough onto a floured surface. Cut out your angels and place them onto a baking tray lined with baking parchment.

Rest in the fridge for 10 minutes while you bring your oven to 170 Celsius (340 Farenheit).

Bake for 10/12 minutes. They will still feel quite soft, but keep in mind that they will firm up during the cooling time.

Dust the angles with ground cinnamon and icing sugar while they are still hot from the oven and surrender to the  X’mas Spirit!

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Lemon and Almond Cake with Vanilla frosting

It seems like every cake or cookie I make these days has to have lemon in it. This new-found obsession may be directly linked to my incredibly generous lemon tree.
This year it’s going crazy and there are only so many Gin&Tonics a breast-feeding mother can have…what to do with the rest of the lemons? Boil a few for two hours and blend them togther with eggs, sugar and almond meal and make yourself a deliciously moist lemon cake. And, yes, it goes well with Gin&Tonic, if you were wondering…

INGREDIENTS, serves 8

For the cake

2 large lemons, whole

250 gr of sugar

250 gr of almond meal (almond flour)

5 egg yolks

1 teaspoon of baking powder

5 egg whites, whipped to soft peaks

HOW TO

1. Boil two large lemons for two hours then blend them, whole, in a food processor with 250 gr of sugar, 250 gr of almond meal and 5 egg yolks.

2. Add a teaspoon of baking powder. Whisk 5 egg whites until they form soft peaks. Gently fold in the lemon mixture.

3. Pour onto a greased and floured cake tin and bake at 170 degrees Celsius (338 degrees Fahrenheit) for 40/45 minutes.

Cool down in the tin, then reverse onto a cake stand and ice with vanilla frosting.
For the vanilla frosting

75 gr soft butter
375 gr icing sugar ( I know, it’s a lot. Keep your kids away or they’ll be bouncing off the walls within seconds!)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 tbsp. milk

HOW TO

1. Blend butter and sugar until creamy then add vanilla and milk. Beat for a couple of minutes on medium speed, until frosting is smooth.

2. Spread frosting onto your cooled cake and decorate with toasted pistacchio nuts and lemon zest.

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Apple and Sultana Tart (Crostata di mele e uvetta)

This is one of my “Desert Island” dishes. I guess it’s because Mamma used to make this a lot when we were little ,and to me it still tastes of home and lazy Sundays snuggled up on the couch watching cartoons, fighting with my brother and my sister over the last slice of crostata. Legend has it that my brother Gianmarco once managed to snatch 14 slices all to himself and lived to tell the tale!

This is to show that cake is obviously good for you…

INGREDIENTS, serves 8

For the pastry (pasta frolla)

150 gr of cold butter cut into cubes

250 gr of plain flour

1 egg

120 gr of icing sugar

1 teaspoon of vanilla paste

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Pulse all the ingredients with a food processor until you have wet crumbs. Tip them onto a floured bench, press the touch together with your hands, shape it into a ball. Wrap it in plastic film and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

For the filling:

Soak a couple of handfuls of sultanas in Marsala wine and  slice up three apples and cook in a pot over a low flame with two table spoons of brown sugar, a tablespoon of butter and a splash of water. After 10 minutes add the sultanas and some of the soaking liquor as well as lemon zest and a cinnamon quill. Cook it together for 5 minutes, than pour the mixture onto a bowl I let it  cool down.

1. Bring your oven to 170 degrees Celsius.

2. Grease and flour a tart case and put 3/4 of your chilled flattened pastry onto it, trying not to over handle it. Place the rest of the pastry back in the fridge.

3. Pierce the base with a fork and blind bake until it starts to turn golden.

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4. Once the tart case is cooked and slightly cooled, pour in your apple mix and use the left over pastry to decorate the top of the tart. I always favour a criss-cross pattern. Sprinkle with flaked almonds and place in the oven for around 30 minutes.

Cool down before serving.

A generous helping of crostata and a glass of Vin Santo and I am  already in my desert island …

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