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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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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9781921383373

Lemon and Olive Oil Ciambella

DSC_3497 Quite simply, my personal idea of comfort food. I suppose you can trace this back to when I was a child and mum would invariably turn to this treat for a Sunday afternoon tea. There was nothing more soothing then hearing those familiar kitchen sounds from my bedroom, where I’d be pretending to do my homework. By the third egg shell being cracked, I’d turn up in the kitchen offering to lend a hand, which in my world meant lick the bowl (and all the utensils). And so these days I make this cake for my two boys. The ritual is the same, I slave, they lick, but once the cake is out of the oven, we can all rejoice!

INGREDIENTS, serves 10/12

2 whole eggs, 2 egg yolks

1 cup of caster sugar finely grated

zest of 1 lemon

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

1/2 cup of olive oil (go extra-virgin if you like a bit of extra flavour, like I do)

1/2 cup of buttermilk

1-2/3 cup of self raising flour

HOW TO

1. Preheat your oven to 180 C, 350 F. Grease and flour a bundt cake tin

2. Beat the eggs with sugar until pale and fluffy

3. Add lemon zest, vanilla and oil and whisk well DSC_3469 4. Add the flour and mix gently, alternating with the buttermilk to create a smooth batter

5. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden and a cooked through. Insert a wooden skewer in the centre of the cake to make sure it’s baked to perfection. If it comes out clean, happy times! Otherwise give it another 5 minutes in the oven

6. Cool at room temperature in its tin for at least 1 hour, before turning out onto a platter

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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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Apple, Extra-Virgin Olive Oil and Ricotta Muffins

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We Italians are very opinionated, bordering on fastidious, when it comes to cakes and all things sweet. We proudly cook family recipes that have been passed on for generations without so much of a written note and each family strongly believes to be the sole keeper of a perfectly moist cake recipe. And then, one day, only a few decades ago, we heard about this miracle cake batter, an Anglo-Saxon recipe sure to produce the lightest, fluffiest afternoon tea treat: the muffin recipe! It was love at first bite. We all make muffins now, just as proudly as we whip amaretti cookie dough. We may have swapped the melted butter for extra-virgin olive oil and, in this case, added a few tablespoons of ricotta, but the miraculous principle has remained the same: lumpy batter=moist cake.

That’s Amore!

INGREDIENTS, makes 12

2 1/4 cups of self-raising flour, sifted

1 teaspoon  ground cinnamon, plus extra for dusting on top

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

2 eggs

2/3 cup caster sugar

70 ml Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

4 tablespoons of full cream ricotta

2/3 cup of milk

2 handfuls of semi-dried apples, chopped up (or 2 fresh apples, chopped up)

Demerara sugar and almond flakes for sprinkling

HOW TO

  1. Preheat  your oven to 170°C (390 F)
  2. Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 muffin cases or baking paper.
  3. Put flour, lemon zest and cinnamon into a large bowl. In separate bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar until apple and creamy. Add the ricotta, oil and the milk, mix well, then pour the liquids into the flour, lemon zest and cinnamon mix. Stir until just combined. The batter should be a little lumpy and slightly sticky and thick. Add a n extra splash of milk if too thick or another 1-2 tablespoons of flour if too runny. All flours then to vary, according to how they are milled and to how they react to humidity, so feel free to adjust quantities to suit your needs. I always do it.
  4. Add the chopped apples and spoon the batter into the muffin tin. Sprinkle with demerara sugar and almond flakes * and bake for 2-25 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool at room temperature, dust with cinnamon and consume with unrepentant pleasure!

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* If you’d like to top the muffins with a piece of semidried apple, like in the pictures, make sure to cover the muffins tray with oven paper for the first 15 minutes, otherwise the apples may color too much. Remove the paper after 15 minute to allow the top of the muffins to rise evenly and develop a healthy sun-kissed look.

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1-egg, Moist Apple and Mascarpone Cake

How many of you ever suffered a sudden Sunday craving for home-made  apple cake, went to the fridge to fetch the ingredients and looked in dismay at the sorrowful sight of 1 lonely egg left on the shelf?

How can you possibly make a lovely, fluffy rich cake with just one egg? My all-time favorite recipe for apple cake calls for three!

That’s when my friend Barbara over at Sunday at The Giacometti’s came to the rescue. Her simple and yet moorish marble cake recipe requires 1 egg only because the lack of protein is heavily compensated by the generous presence of butter and the luscious mascarpone cheese, an Italian must-have in the fridge.

I twicked her family recipe slightly, adapted it to suit my need to use up a couple of lackluster apples, and, Ecco Fatto!

A moist, rich, fluffy, apple cake that required no extra trip to the shops.

That’s a Sunday treat!

Ingredients 

1 egg

180 gr -3/4 cup of sugar

80 gr -1/3 cup of soft butter

2 tablespoons of soft mascarpone (substitute with thickened cream if mascarpone is not available)

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract or paste

1 teaspoon of cinnamon powder

1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves

small pinch of salt

1 tablespoon of Calvados or any liquor you fancy (omit if you don’t like liquor)

230 gr – 2 cups of self-raisin flour, sifted

2 apples, thinly sliced, skin on

almond flakes to sprinkle on top

How to

Preheat the oven to 180 C, 350F.

Line  a loaf tin with baking paper.

Beat the egg with sugar until pale and fluffy. Add butter and mascarpone and whisk until well incorporated. Add vanilla, liquor, salt and spices.

Sift the flour and pour into the bowl. Mix it with a wooden spoon or a spatula until well amalgamated. Try to avoid over beating the flour, you don’t want to stimulate the gluten too much, otherwise the cake will turn out bit too dense.

Add the apple slices and mix them through the batter.

Pour the batter into the tin, sprinkle with the almond flakes and bake for 35/40 minutes, or until nicely bronzed on top and a skewer come out clean if inserted into the middle of the cake. Cool in the tin, at room temperature for at least 1 hour before slicing.

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Italian Apple and Cinammon cake

My two months in Italy already seem so far away in the past. It has only been two weeks since I’ve been back, but, as it always is, all the things you put on hold and stop worrying about when you are on holiday, come back to haunt you and to kick you in the rear as soon as you return. If, on top of that, you add meetings for a new job within hours of arriving in Sydney after an excruciatingly long flight, a family reunion in Adelaide two days later (mind you, this was great fun and we could count on an endless supply of babysitters…), two -boring- visits to the Mac Genius Bar hoping to get my laptop fixed, and two children under five both sick with colds and sore throats, then you get a the pretty picture.
This morning I decided to wake up early and start the day the right way around.  Everybody  is still asleep as I type this, and I’ve already fed my baby and put him back to sleep, had a hot bath in a quiet and calm environment, with no rubber ducks or squirting toys of any sort floating around me, and, most importantly, the cake is already in the oven and I can smell the lemon and the cinnamon impregnating the house with their sweet and intoxicating aromas.

Today is going to be a great day!

INGREDIENTS:

3 eggs, separated

200 gr (1 cup) of brown sugar

130 gr (1/2 cup) of Greek yogurt

75 ml (1/3 cup)of grape seed oil (or light olive oil, non extra-virgin)

1 teaspoon of vanilla paste (or extract)

220 gr (2 cups) of sifted self-raising flour

50 gr (1/3 cup)of Almond meal

3 table spoons of sultanas soaked for 30 minutes (or 1 minute in the microwave) in Marsala wine (or Rum)

1 table-spoon of cinnamon powder

1 grated apple

zest of 1 lemon

2 apples cut in quarters, 2 table-spoons of butter, 1 table-spoon of castor sugar

How To

1. In a frying pan, caramelize the apple quarters with sugar, lemon zest and butter for 10 minutes.

2. Whisk the sugar with the yolks until pale and creamy. Pour in the yogurt, oil, the grated apple and vanilla and mix well then add your flours, cinnamon and the pre-soaked sultanas with two table spoons of the soaking liquid.

3. Whisk 3 egg whites until soft peaks form and gently fold them into the cake batter.

4. Pour cake mix into a cake tin lined with baking paper and top with the caramelized apples and almond flakes.

5. Bake at 170 Celsius (350 Farenheit) for around 35/40 minutes

As tough as it is, allow to cool before you cut yourself a large slice…


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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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