Santa’s Cinnamon Cookie

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Christmas eve is finally here! How many of us have been longing for this day to arrive, each passing hour accented by the scent of vanilla cookies baking, the surprise in opening a new window of our advent calendar, and that manic joy of wrapping a bottomless pit of presents whilst humming carols? My advise, from a Christmas celebration enthusiast to you, is to shameless enjoy this magical time, indulge, give, share and receive with glee, it is only once a year after all. And, of course, make sure you leave a good supply of home-made cookies for the Old Fella himself! Word has it that he is an avid consumer of cinnamon cookies, and so these russet, spiced beauties await his arrival…

And so do I.

Merry Christmas to all! xxx

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 teaspoon of vanilla extract or paste

1 tablespoons of ground cinnamon

1-2 tablespoon of milk (optional)

cinnamon sugar for dusting on top

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 into  1/2 cm rounds and  put them back in the fridge for 10 minutes.

5. Bake at 170 C, 340 F,  for about 15 minutes, or until the edges start to color. Cool at room temperature. Dust with cinnamon sugar and and serve with a tall glass of milk and a note to Santa…

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Panettone

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Panettone is the ultimate Italian Christmas enriched bread. It’s more than a cake or a brioche, it is a piece of our culinary history and no Italian would dream of not slicing into this delectable treat at Christmas time. However it has to be sad, most Italians buy Panettone from reputable bakeries or pasticceria, the reason being that is it mind-blowingly laborious to make. But, you know me, the baking addict, no challenge is too scary for this fearless baker!

I don’t mean to write this to discourage you from trying, but I do feel it is important to issue a warning with the release of this recipe: it is for advanced bakers only, those who understand gluten, how the bonds develop and how butter, eggs and sugar work together to create a rich dough. Also, for those who own a sturdy standing mixer!

For this reason, I have not translated my measurements in cups or oz, as I only ever work in grams and ml when it comes to this creation, and I would hate for things to get lost in translation.

Christmas is 4 sleeps away… are you ready for the challenge?

Step 1 – making the ferment

1 x 7 g sachet dried yeast

3 tablespoons lukewarm water

4 tablespoons plain flour

grated zest of 1 mandarin

Dissolve the yeast in the water and stand for 5 minutes. Add the flour and mandarin zest and mix well. Rest the soft dough at room temperature, well covered with a tea towel, for 11/2– 2 hours or until it looks bubbly and it has doubled in size.

Step 2 – Building the dough

the ferment from step 1

150 ml water, at room temperature

100 g plain flour

Work the ferment with the water, then mix in the flour with your hands or a wooden spoon until combined. Cover with a tea towel and rest at room temperature for 1 hour.

Step 3 – Building the dough

the dough from step 2

2 tablespoons caster sugar

90 g plain flour

80 g softened unsalted butter

If you have a stand mixer, you might want to get it out now. The next two stages require a lot of strong kneading and I would never attempt this by hand. Mix the dough from step 2 with the sugar, then add the flour and knead on low speed for 5 minutes. Add the butter and knead for a further 2 minutes. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and rest at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours or until it has doubled in size.

Step 4 – Building the dough with the addition of flavourings

the dough from step 3

100 g mixed sultanas, currants and raisins

1/2 cup (125 ml) water

3 tablespoons rum

290/320 g plain flour (according to the size of your eggs. Start with 290 gr, then add more if needed)

100 g sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 tablespoons honey

60 g softened butter, cut into cubes

3 eggs

grated zest of 1 orange

grated zest of 1 mandarin

80 g mixed candied peel, mixed with 1 tablespoon plain flour (to stop them dropping to the bottom of the cake)

Soak the sultanas, currants and raisins in the water and rum for 1 hour. Drain, discarding the soaking liquid.

Add 290 g flour to the rested dough and knead on low speed for 1 minute, then add the sugar, vanilla and honey and knead for a further 3–4 minutes. Add the butter, a little at a time, until well incorporated, then add the eggs, one at a time, kneading all the while. Don’t panic if the dough looks really wet at this stage – the constant kneading will make it come together. Knead in the mixer for a further 15–20 minutes (see why you’d never this by hand?) or until it looks transparent if stretched. If it struggles to come together as it is too wet, add the remaining flour, a little a time, until the dough is smooth and soft, but not sticky.

Add the grated zest, mixed peel and soaked sultanas, currants and raisins, and gently mix to incorporate them into the dough.

Tip the dough onto your cooking bench, then fold it into three and onto itself to shape a ball. Put it in an oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and rest for 1 hour.

Place the dough on a floured surface and stretch it gently with floured hands to form a rectangle and fold it into three. Shape it back into a ball and rest it in the oiled bowl, covered, until it has doubled in size, approximately 2–3 hours.

Stretch and fold the dough one last time, then put it into the mould or tin you wish to bake it in. I order my supply of panettone moulds online, but you can also use a round cake tin. Grease it and flour the tin and line the sides with a 10–12 cm tall collar of baking paper. Place the mould or tin in the fridge, well tucked under a tea towel. Alternatively, put the tin in a plastic bag and put the whole bag in the fridge to prove. I often do this with bread too – it’s like a homemade proving cell!

Step 5 – Scoring and baking (finally!)
The dough, well risen in its mould
20 g softened unsalted butter

Confidence! You are nearly there …

Preheat your oven to 200°C (180°C fan-forced).

Take the panettone out of the fridge. Using a sharp knife or a razor blade, gently score the top in an X-shaped pattern. Be very careful not to score too deeply or you will risk deflating the dough! With the aid of your blade, lift up four flaps and place a teaspoon of butter under each. Close the flaps.

If this method scares you, simply slash a large X on the top and place a large knob of butter in the middle. The outcome will be just as good.

Step 6 – Cooling

Gently transfer the panettone to your oven and 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.

Take the panettone out of the oven. If using a metal tin, let the bread cool completely in the pan before slicing and serving.

If using a panettone mould, pierce two long metal skewers or knitting needles all the way through 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.

Although a bit finicky, drying and cooling your panettone this way will ensure it keeps its dome-shaped beauty and the roof will not collapse. You have come this far, you might as well go the full distance!

Panettone will keep fresh for 1-2 days and will still be delicious toasted and dusted with icing sugar after 4–5 days. It also freezes well and can be used as a base for bread and butter pudding, tiramisu and trifle.

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Merry Christmas!

SILVIA’S CUCINA is available in stores and online!

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Christmas Marbled Ciambella

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5 more sleeps… If the Christmas spirit is abundant in your house as it is in mine, you are probably busy in the kitchen baking cookies, getting high on ginger and nutmeg and humming carols on repeat.

It is no mystery that this is a time of the year I cherish and hold dear. I believe in the magic of Christmas, in the mystical power of the nativity story and I am known to spot Santa’s elves in every corner, helping the old fella compiling his “naughty or nice list”.

I do know for a fact that a sure way to fast track a prime spot in the “nice” list is by baking Christmas treats, so if you need inspiration, this cake is for you. It’s a rich Italian ciambella (bundt cake) infused with the classic spices that characterize baked good this time of the year, and is sure to be a hit amongst humans and elves alike…

INGREDIENTS

5 eggs

1+1/4 cup of brown sugar

3 tablespoons of thick Greek Yogurt

70 ml of olive oil or grape seed oil

1+1/2 cup of self raising flour (or all purpose flour mixed with 1 tablespoon of baking powder)

3/4 almond meal (ground almonds)

1/4 cup of milk

1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon of allspice

1 teaspoon of mace

1-1/2 tablespoons of Dutch cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg

2 tablespoons of Frangelico or Marsala Wine

METHOD

Preheat your oven to 170 C/340 F and grease a flour a bundt tin.

Beat the eggs with sugar until pale and fluffy. Add oil and yogurt and mix well. Add flour, almond meal, spices and milk and mix to combine. Divide the batter into two bowls. Mix one with the cocoa and Frangelico (or Marsala).

Pour the pale batter in the tin, then pour in the cocoa one and use a chopstick to swirl it though. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until  skewer comes out clean if inserted into the centre of the cake. Cool in the tin completely before turning out.

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Merry Christmas!

SILVIA’S CUCINA is available in stores and online!

MADE IN ITALY is available herehere   and here

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Mini bundt cakes with chocolate drizzle

Mini bundt cakes with chocolate drizzle

Yes, I’m playing the chocolate card, guilty as charged! As if mini, individual bundt cakes weren’t adorable enough, I had to go and drizzle a sticky, luscious dark lacquer all over them, thus rendering them utterly irresistible. These cakes incapsulate … Continue reading

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)