Cornetti (Italian Croissants)

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For those of you who have travelled to Italy this is old news: we love a sweet breakfast. We also love a fast breakfast. Often standing by the counter of a busy bar after we have elbowed our way to the front line, where we are inevitably seduced by an array of sweet offerings. From Crostatine (mini tarts), bomboloni (donuts) to our one true love, the Cornetto, an Italian version of the famous French croissant. And if you think that standing by a busy counter to sample such treat defies the purpose or having the treat in the first place, think again! We don’t need to savor it. In fact we Italians devour it with gusto, especially once we have decisively dunked it into our espresso or cappuccino (no soy lattes or frapuccinos where I come from…). Although I am a fierce admirer (and consumer) of the French croissant,  with its buttery, flaky layers of pastry, my loyalty lies with the denser, richer Italian version. A masterful combination of brioche pastry laminated with butter and shaped into perfect crescents. Yes, you get the flaky, buttery layers as well as a sweeter, more perfumed dough that will make all your resolution crumble at the mere sight of it. Arguably these babies are a bit of a labour of love. Do not go near this recipe if you need instant gratification in the kitchen. However, if, like me, you love a baking challenge, don you apron and get the flour ready! See you on the other side. With coffee!

INGREDIENTS, Makes 16/20

For the pastry

500 gr of strong baker’s flour
60 gr of sugar
2 tablespoons of soft butter
pinch of salt
2 eggs, beaten
finely grated zest of 1 orange or lemon
1/2 cup of water at room temperature
1-1/2 tablespoons of dried yeast
For the lamination
200 gr of soft butter
For the glaze
1  beaten egg mixed with 2 tablespoons of milk
a little raw cane sugar for dusting on top
 WARNING!!!
Start this recipe the day before. Better not to attempt this unless you have a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook… Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
HOW TO
1. Dissolve the yeast in the water and stand for 5 minutes or until frothy. In the meantime put 3/4 of the flour in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook (I told ya!), pour in the yeasted water and mix on low speed for 1 minutes. Add 1 egg and mix well, then add the second egg and mix until well incorporated into the dough. At this point the dough will be very sticky. Don’t panic, it’s all ok! Add the rest of the flour and the sugar and beat on low-medium speed for 5 minutes, the add the 2 tablespoons of soft butter, the orange zest, the vanilla and mix well. If the dough is still too wet add 1 or 2 tablespoons of four, but keep in mind that the dough needs to be a little sticky.
2. Place the dough into an oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and rest for 30 minutes. After that time, take the dough out of the bowl, stretch it into a rectangle and fold it onto itself. Place it back in the bowl, covered. Repeat after 30 minutes. After the second folding of the dough, allow to rise at room temperature for 3 hours or until doubled in size.
3. Roll the dough onto a floured working bench to shape a rectangle about 1 cm thick. Distribute the cubed, soft butter onto the rolled out dough, then fold into three like you were folding a business letter and roll gently with a rolling pin. Cover with plastic film and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, roll the dough into a rectangle then fold into three again, cover with plastic film and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes. Repeat two more time.
4. After the dough has rested for the fourth time, roll it out to shape a circle. Using a pastry cutter or a butter knife, cut the circle into 4 sections and each section into 4 or 5 isosceles triangles, according to how many cornetti you wish to shape and their sizes. You should end up with 16/20 triangles. Roll each triangle onto itself starting from the base and gently stretching the dough. The idea is that the more you can roll it up, the prettier it will look. However the taste will be the same, so if this is too finicky for you, don’t stress! Tuck the thinner tip under the belly of your newly shaped crescent to make sure they don’t come apart during baking. Repeat with the remaining dough.
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At this point you can let them rise at room temperature for 1 hour and then bake them (and eat them!) otherwise you can lay them onto a tray lined with baking paper, cover the tray with plastic film and slow prove them overnight, ready to be baked in the morning. Alternatively, you can freeze them in the tray. Once frozen, transfer them into a freezer bag. When you want to bake them, simply thaw them out for 3-4 hours, glaze and bake! I often do that as we are unlikely to eat 16-20 cornetti in one sitting…however tempting it is!
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5. When you are ready to bake them, bring your oven to 200 C (350 F), glaze the cornetti, dust the with sugar and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
Dunk away!
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Adapted from Anice e Cannella

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Overnight Healthy Rye and Spelt Loaf

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I would love to make you believe that I spent days elaborating a new recipe for a healthy and delicious bread. That I experienced, tried and tested various formulas until one day, exhausted but elated, I triumphed…Alas, the truth about how this bread came to be is that a few weeks ago, as I was setting up to mix a loaf, I realized I only had near-empty packets or various flours! Then epiphany hit me: mix them together and hope for the best! My, was I happy with the result! A crusty, dense and flavorsome loaf, perfect for sandwiches, divine with jam!

INGREDIENTS, makes 1 loaf

300 gr of spelt flour (2-1/4 cup)

200 gr of rye flour (1- 1/4 cup)

70 gr of wholemeal spelt flour (1/3 cup +2 tablespoons)

1 teaspoon of dry yeast

1 pinch of sugar or 1 teaspoon of honey

370 ml (1-1/2 cup) of water, at room temperature

2 teaspoons of salt flakes

HOW TO

1. Start this recipe a day ahead.

2. Mix the three flours together in a large bowl, add the dry yeast and sugar (or honey) and gradually add the water, mixing with a spoon until a soft dough forms. Try not to add all the water at once. As flours always vary, it is better to start with 2/3 of the water and only then you can decide if you need the extra liquid. You are after a rather sticky dough, but not a wet one. If your dough feels too dry after you have used all the liquid, add 1-2 extra table spoons.

3. Once the dough has been mixed (you can easily do this by hand as it requires no kneading, just mixing until combined), add the salt and mix until well incorporated.

4. Cover the bowl with plastic film and leave at room temperature for 6-8 hours, then move to the fridge to rest overnight.

5. The next morning, take the dough out of the fridge and let it rest at room temperature for 2 hours.

6. Heat up your oven to 220 C (430 F)

7. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and very gently shape the dough into a loaf, being mindful not to knock out the air. Prove at room temperature for 40 minutes, then score the top with a sharp knife, sprinkle the loaf with a little water and place the tray into the oven.

8. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the top is crusty and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Cool at room temperature on a wire rack for 1 hour before slicing.

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Easy Spelt and Rye Onion Focaccia

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Many friends of mine seem to be under the impression that I spend my days covered in flours, hands stuck in sticky doughs ready to be shaped into extravagant breads and pizzas. Oh, how I have deceived you with my Instagram posts! The bare truth is that I make a large batch of dough once or twice a week, I let it slow prove in the fridge and only pinch some out when I need to bake starchy goods. I find this method to be very efficient. Basically, I make a mess in the kitchen only sporadically, but I can enjoy the benefits of home-baked goods daily. And so it happened that I had this left over batch of healthy dough fermenting at cold temperature, ready for me to roll, top with sweet onion and enjoy for lunch with a tomato salad and a cold beer. Heaven!

INGREDIENTS , makes 1 large Focaccia

200 gr (1-1/3 cup) of baker’s flour (strong white flour)

200 gr (1-1/3 cup)of spelt flour

100 gr (2/3 cup) of rye flour

1/2 teaspoon of yeast

340 (1-1/3 cup) ml of water

2 teaspoons of salt

(double the quantity of the above ingredients if you wish to make a double batch)

3-4 French shallots, thinly sliced

3-4 tablespoons of extra-vigin olive oil for drizzling on top

Rosemary sprigs

HOW TO

1. Mix flour, water and yeast together with a wooden spoon until combined. Add salt and mix well. Your mixture will look and feel quite sticky. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and let it prove for 10/14 hours at room temperature. The dough will look bubbly, wet and it will have grown in size considerably.  At this point, you can use the dough as your focaccia base or you can rest the bowl in the fridge, well covered with plastic film for up to 5 days. The flavour and structure of the dough will improve the longer you slow prove it. The dough used for the focaccia pictured here had been in the fridge for 2 days after the long fermentation at room temperature.

2. Preheat you oven to 220 C (430 F).

3. Line an oven tray lined with baking paper. Tip the dough onto the tray, spread the dough with wet hands to the deisred shape. Using a rolling pin won’t work as the dough is very wet. Be mindful when manipulating the dough not to burst the air bubbles that will have formed during the slow fermentation. Those coveted air pockets hold the secret to a light-as-a-feather crust.

4. Top the base with the sliced shallots, a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and salt

5.  Rest the focaccia at room temperature for 30 minutes.

6. Bake for 15 minutes then add the rosemary (adding in at the beginning will make it burn in the oven). Bake for another 10-15  minutes, or until the crust is caramel brown and the bottom is crisp. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Chia seeds Bread Rolls

One undeniable truth about being a food writer is the obsessive motivation to constantly think about recipes, ingredients and how to combine them to create something worth sharing. Testing and experiment is second nature to us, and although we all have more kitchen disasters than we care to admit, those moments when a new recipe works and we come up trumps are undoubtably worth the effort and frustration. When I test new bread recipes I get giddy with anticipation. I spend days conjuring up images of what I’d love the finished product to look like and I work backwards to create a formula to make the magic happen. For those of you familiar with my blog, it is no surprise to see me at work with doughs, I am a self-confessed bread addict. If you are new to this space…well I hope you love your carbs too! These are good carbs, by the way. The dough, which requires no kneading as such,  is fermented for a very long time and risen overnight, creating an easy to digest bread. The addition of super healthy chia seeds turns these delicious rolls into a palatable proposition to even my most resolute “I don’t eat carbs” friends. More importantly, my young children devour them with such gusto, I can barely contain my grin!

INGREDIENTS, makes 12-14

400 gr (3-3/4 cups) all purpose flour

50 gr (3 tablespoons) of rye flour

350 ml (1-1/4 cup) water at room temperature

1/2 teaspoon of dry yeast

2 teaspoons of salt

a few tablespoons of white chia seeds (you can replace with sesame seeds)

HOW TO

1. Mix flours, water and yeast together with a wooden spoon until combined.

2. Add salt and mix again. Your mixture will look and feel quite sticky. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and let it prove for 10/14 hours, or until it’s grown three times bigger and looks bubbly. The dough should feel quite wet, almost like a thick batter.

3. Line a muffin tin with baking paper to fit each hole. Spoon 2-3 tablespoons of mixture onto each hole. Top with chia seeds and allow to rise for 1 hour.

4. Turn the oven to 220 C (430 F).

5. Place the tin in the oven, bake for 10 minutes then reduce the temperature to 200 C (395 F) and bake for a further 10-15 minutes or until the rolls are golden and well risen. Remove the baking paper and allow to cool on a wire rack. They are best eaten 1 hour after baking.

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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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Wholemeal Focaccia with Olives and Chillie (Focaccia integrale con olive e peperoncino)

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It’s the weekend and this wondrous realization springs a few things to mind: sleeping in (we have trained the boys to entertain themselves for an hour or so, until we are ready to get out of our cave! So far so good, they are both still intact…), leisurely breakfast and baking! These three simple joys of mine incapsulate the intrinsic beauty of spending time at home with the ones I love and I cherish them dearly. Sleeping in is something I have always been terrific at, it’s embedded in my DNA, I’m Italian, as much as I try to disguise it, I am lazy! The long, indulgent breakfast is possibly not so Italian, we are famous for our quickies at the counter of a café as we rapidly ingest a short black and devour pastries. I suppose when I became an Australian citizen I acquired this new, lovely habit, along with excellent swear words and slang! Then there’s the baking… if you are familiar with my recipes, you know by now I’m a self-confessed baking addict, especially when it comes to yeasted goods. And so I can’t think of anything more perfect than kneading a silky dough, watch it grow and top it with some Italian favourites. This wholemeal focaccia with olives and chillie is just what I need.

INGREDIENTS, serves 8-10

1 tablespoon of dried yeast

1 cup lukewarm water

1 teaspoon of barley malt syrup or honey

1-2/3 cup of wholemeal (wholewheat) flour +1 cup of 00 or plain flour

2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons of salt

For the glaze : 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon of water

salt for sprinkling on top

1/2 cup of mixd pitted olives

1 chillie, sliced

HOW TO

1. In a large bowl dissolve  yeast with 3/4 water, add  flour, oil and  barley malt syrup or honey. Mix for for a few minutes, then add the salt. If you think the dough is too dry, add the remaining water. Wholemeal flour can require a little extra moisture than regular flour.

2. Knead vigorously until it looks smooth and elastic, this will take about 10 minutes if doing by hand or 5 if enlisting the help of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook.

3. Shape into a ball and rest for 20 minutes in a bowl, covered with a tea towel.

4. Stretch it with your hand to form a rectangle and fold into 3. This step will give strength and texture to your dough and is essential in order to obtain a soft,  airy and chewy focaccia. Repeat one last time after 30 minutes.

5. Place the folded dough in an oiled oven tray, cover it with a tea-towel and let it prove for around 90 minutes or until it doubles in size.

6. Once the dough has risen, stretch it out to cover the tray and sprinkle the surface with seasalt.

7. Let it rest for another 30 minutes, then, using your fingertips, press the dough down onto the tray to create lots of little holes.

8. Drizzle the holes with the glaze and sprinkle with some more salt. Top with pitted olives and roughly sliced chillies.

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9. Let your focaccia rest for another 20 minutes, while your oven heats up to 200 C (390 F).

10. Bake for 20-25 minutes  until it looks slighly golden and delicious. Allow to cool at room temperature in the tray for 10-15 minutes, then serve cut into pieces.

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Spelt and Oats No-knead Bread (pane con avena e farro)

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The benefits of oats and spelt have been glorified by the health conscious and seem to be living a new renaissance these days. How lovely to think that these have been staple ingredients in the Italian diet since time immemorial, proving once more that our traditional cuisine boasts health recipes to suit most dietary requirements. Naturally such perks are complemented by one other fundamental asset: the both impart a warm, nutty flavour to bread, making them you best allay in the kitchen. So, if you are trying to stay away from refined white bread, this recipe might be just what the doctor ordered.

INGREDIENTS, makes 1 loaf

300 gr (2-3/4 cups) of spelt flour

200 gr (1- 2/3 cups) of unbleached baker’s flour or all purpose flour

380 ml (1- 2/3 cups) of lukewarm water

1 teaspoon of dry yeast

1 teaspoon of honey

2 teaspoons of salt

1-2 handfuls of rolled oats for dusting on top

HOW TO

1. Mix the flours in a large bowl, add the yeast, honey and water and mix until combined.

2. Add the salt and mix through using a wooden spoon or a spatula. The mixture will be rather sticky and will not require kneading as such. Just mix until all the ingredients are amalgamated. If you think the dough is a little dry, add 1-2 tablespoons of water.

3. Leave the dough to prove in a bowl covered with a damp tea towel for 8-12 hours or until it has more than doubled in size.

4. Dust a working bench with flour, tip the risen dough onto it and fold it into three. Roll it back into a ball using floured hands (the dough will be very sticky, don’t be alarmed!) and place in on top of an oven tray lined with baking paper to prove for 1-2 hours at room temperature, covered with a tea towel.

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5. Heat up your oven to 220 C/430 F. Place an empty metal bowl or skillet on the bottom tray to heat up.

6. When the dough has risen for the second time, dust it with oats and slide the tray in the oven. Fill the hot bowl or skillet with cold water to create steam and close the oven door to block the heat from escaping. After 10 minutes, turn the heat down to 200 C/390 F. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.

7. Cool at room temperature on a wire rack. Allow to cool down to 1 hour before slicing.

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Chicken, Sausage and Pumpkin Bake (Pollo al forno con salsiccia e zucca)

Italian home-cooking can be explained in a simple equation: a few fresh ingredients + a bit of love = happy diners! This is always the case at my house, where we celebrate the abundance of the exquisite produce we get … Continue reading

No-knead Spelt Focaccia with Potato and Zucchini

Move over, white flour! The more recent diets trends have cast the spotilght on an ancient grain that has been enjoying a new-found popularity amongst home-bakers and those with a knack for healthy eating. Spelt, or dinkel wheat, contains a … Continue reading

Cannellini Beans Stew, my Italian Baked Beans

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Say hallo to the perfect winter warmer, and quite the healthy fix too, if you are watching your diet. Pulses and winter are a wonderful marriage. When you need that extra nourishment that will keep you warm and energetic without impacting on your digestive system and your waist line,  you can safely turn to beans. I love all varieties, but I confess a weakness for the pearly and silky Cannellini. You can buy great tinned ones these days and you shouldn’t be made feel guilty if you’d rather quickly open a tin a of goodness now instead of soaking your beans yesterday…This is fast food at its best. In a matter of minutes you’ll feel warm and cosy again.

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

2 tins of cannellini beans, well drained (or 1- 1/2 pounds of dried beans soaked over night and simmered for 2 hours or until cooked through)

2 French shallots, thinly sliced

1 celery stick, thinly sliced, 1 garlic clove, bashed with the back of a knife

1/4 cup of diced smoked pancetta, or speck, or chorizo (omit for a vegetarian option)

1/2 chillie, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

2 tins of tomatoes, chopped (or home-made passata)

1-2 sprigs of rosemary

a pinch of sugar

a drizzle of balsamic vinegar

celery leaves

salt to taste

bread or soft polenta for serving

HOW TO

1. Heat up the oil in a large, heavy based frying pan. Add the sliced shallot, garlic, chillie and celery and stir-fry over medium heat for 2-3 minutes or until fragrant and soft.

2. Add the pancetta or chorizo and cook together with the vegetables for a further 2-3 minutes.

3. Add the drained beans, combine the ingredients well with a wooden spoon, the add the tinned tomatoes (or passata), a pinch a sugar and the rosemary sprig. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and cook for 15-20 minutes or until the sauce has reduced. Taste for salt and adjust accordingly.

4. Turn off the heat, drizzle a little balsamic vinegar on top, scatter a few celery leaves and serve with grilled ciabatta  or soft polenta.

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