A X’mas special! Edible Gifts, made Easy

This is indeed the season to be jolly! My mum and dad have arrived from Italy to spend Christmas with us and I truly feel like I have turned back into a little girl. My parents are not only the best Nonni (grandparents) my boys could hope to have, they allow me to be a daughter again, as they discreetly, but resolutely look after me, Richard and the little ones. There is one other reason my mum is a great presence in the house at this time of the year, she cooks like a goddess! And what could be better than spending time in the kitchen with her as we pickle vegetables, stew strawberries and shape almond cookies, that will be turned into home-made edible gifts for friends and family?

Have a great festive season, share, laugh and, most importantly, love. A lot!

(This post is the collective effort of food and interior photographer Denise Braki, food stylist and interior designer Jon Fleming and myself)

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PICKLED CARROTS, makes enough to fill 3 1 lt (8 cups) jars

INGREDIENTS

1.5 lt (6 cups) white wine vinegar

1.5 lt (6 cups) water

2 tablespoons of mixed peppercorns

2 tablespoons of fennel seeds

1 cup of sugar

2 tablespoons of salt

1 tablespoon of dried tarragon

peel of 1 orange

3 bunches of heirloom or dutch baby carrots

HOW TO

1. Sterilize the jars according to instructions

2. In the meantime, make the pickling liquid, by placing all the ingredients, but the carrots, in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer then boil gently for 4-5 minutes or until the sugar has dissolved.

3. Clean and peel the carrots. Place them in the (still hot) sterilized jars and cover them with the hot pickling liquid. Close firmly with the lid, turn the jars upside down to create the vacuum, until the jars are cool. Keep in the fridge.

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MACERATED STRAWBERRY AND VANILLA JAM makes enough for 4 x 250 gr (1 cup) jars. Recipe adapted from here.

INGREDIENTS

1.3 Kg of hulled strawberries

800 gr of sugar

juice of 2 lemons

2 vanilla beans

HOW TO

1. Place the strawberries (whole), sugar, lemon zest in a large ceramic of plastic bowl. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pods and add them to the strawberries. Cut the pods into smaller pieces and drop them in the bowl too, to further the vanilla flavour.

2. Cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight. The maceration will intensify the strawberry flavour to its maximum.

3. The next day, tip the content of the bowl into a saucepan, bring to a simmer, then turn the heat down and cook gently for 35-40 minutes or until the jam has thickened slightly. You can skim off the foam that appears on the surface with a slotted spoon as the jam cooks. To make sure the jam is cooked, place a small plate in the freezer for 10 minutes. Take it out and spoon a little jam onto it. If it thickens, the jam is ready. Pour the hot jam into the hot sterilized jars, close firmly and tip the jars upside down to create a vacuum. Allow to cool down, then refrigerate.

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COFFEE AND ALMOND AMARETTI COOKIES, makes 20-24 large ones

INGREDIENTS

500 gr (2- 1/2cup)of caster sugar

600 gr (1 lb 5 oz) of almond meal

4 egg whites

1 teaspoon of vanilla essence

1/4 teaspoon of almond extract

1 tablespoon of ground coffee beans

1 cup of flaked almonds

Icing sugar for dusting

HOW TO

1. Place sugar, almond meal, egg whites, vanilla, coffee and almond extract in a standing mixer and beat together for 1-2 minutes or until a sticky dough is formed.

2. With wet hands, roll bits of dough the size of a crescent, coat them with flaked almonds and place them onto an oven tray lined with baking paper.

3. Bake at 180 C, 350 F for 18-20 minutes or until the bottom is firm, but the cookies are still pale in colour

4. Allow to cool on a rack and firm up further at room temperature before serving. Dust with icing sugar, if liked.

5. They will keep for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container

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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)

 

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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Silvia’s Cucina, the cookbook!

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My dear friends, it is with great trepidation and excitement that I can finally announce to you all that my first cookbook, Silvia’s Cucina will be released  in stores and online on September 25! This is just a day after the wonderful Matt Moran will host my book launch at his restaurant, Chiswick. Have I won the lottery, I wonder?                                                                              I have had the honour of being hand-picked by the delightful Julie Gibbs at Penguin Australia amongst a multitude of food bloggers. To this day I can’t quite fathom why she chose my blog and my story over so many on offer to her, but, here I am, exuding pride and joy as I share with you such exciting news. One thing is for sure, I would not be writing this post hadn’t I been so lucky to gather such a generous and loyal readership, so keen to explore my recipes, try them and share them with friends and family. To you all, GRAZIE MILLE! The process of writing this book has been exceptionally creative and fulfilling and it took about 18 months to go from first day of writing, to print. But there it is, my legacy in 220 pages!                         Take a look at a few images (photos by Chris Chen) and let me know what you think!

Love,

Silvia

My Mum’s Roasted Capsicum Salad

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Il Peposo, A Feisty Tuscan Stew

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Torta Gianduja, flourless dark chocolate and hazelnut cake

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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)

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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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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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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