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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Almond and Pomegranate swirl Meringues

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My undeniable attraction for whipped egg whites has struck again! Yes, I am not new to posts dedicated to the ineffable and weightless world of meringues. The truth is that I can barely contain my excitement when recipes call for egg yolks only because I know I can turn the leftover whites into whimsical, frothy creations, so irresistible in their snow white perfection, or eager to be enriched by a vibrant touch of pink. And if you don’t feel confident whipping a batch of these, here are my top tips on meringue making:

1. Make sure your egg whites are at room temperature

2. Mix them in a clean and dry bowl

3. Add a pinch of salt to encourage the frothing action

4. Don’t over whip

5. Weigh the egg whites (I know, a little bit of a pain in the neck, but well worth it)

6. Be patient, bake them in a really slow oven to keep their pristine white shells

7. Store your cooked meringues in an airtight container for up to 3 days (less in very hot and humid weather)

Off you go!

INGREDIENTS, makes 10-12 medium sized meringues

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

2 tablespoons of flaked almonds + more for sprinkling on top

3 tablespoons pomegranate juice (you can either squeeze it yourself or buy it in conveniently packaged bottles!)

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 have, and will also keep them stable and preserve their crisp whiteness.

4. Add the almonds and mix gently. Swirl the juice in. Don’t over mix!

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 or accompanied by whipped cream, sweetened mascarpone, gelato…I could go on and on…

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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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Ravioli di Zucca, Cannella and Amaretti (Pumpkin, Cinnamon and Amaretti Ravioli)

DSC_2737A large platter of home-made filled pasta, such as ravioli, tortelli and cannelloni, is always on offer at the Italian Christmas table. Any pasta that is home-made requires that extra amount of labour in the kitchen, and Christmas is the perfect occasion to show your love for friends and family by treating them with the fruits of your work. Or, you can share the load and create a beeline of helpers to roll, fill and shape these delectable nuggets.  If the idea of making your own pasta still scares you, you can use store bough egg wanton wrappers. I won’t judge! You will need about 60 squares. Tortelli with roasted pumpkin and cinnamon, topped with crushed amaretti cookies have been on my family Christmas eve table for as long as I can remember. Yes, this is a laborious dish to prepare, so make sure you are armed with plenty of love, dedication and, most importantly, Christmas spirit!

Love,

Silvia

INGREDIENTS

For the dough (serves 4-6)

4 eggs

400 gr (3- 1/2 cups) of 00 flour

a pinch of salt

For the filling

500 gr (1 pound) of pumpkin (skin on), cut up into chunks

4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar

2 cloves of garlic, skin on

1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

salt and pepper for seasoning

3-4 sage leaves

100 gr (1 cup) of breadcrumbs

50 gr (1/2 cup) of grated parmesan

For the sauce

120 gr (1/2 cup) of butter

8-10 sage leaves

a pinch of salt

freshly ground black pepper

8-10 crunchy amaretti cookies (from Italian delis)

(You can make the filling up to 1-2 days as head and keep it in the fridge)

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HOW TO 

1. Preheat the oven to 200 C, 390 F

2. Place the cut up pumpkin in an oven tray lined with baking paper, season with oil, cinnamon, salt and pepper, scatter the garlic and the sage leaves and bake for 45-50 minutes or until soft

3. Scoop out the pumpkin flesh, squeeze the garlic out of its skin and pulse in a food processor until smooth. Add the breadcrumbs, the parmesan, taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly. At this point I always like to add a little extra cinnamon, but it it entirely up to you to do so or not.

4. Rest the filling in the fridge for up to 48 hours.

To make the dough:

1. Place eggs, flour and salt in a food processor fitted with blades and pulse for 10-12 times or until the mixture resemble wet sand.

2. Tip the mixture onto a floured surface, press it together with your hands and knead it for a few minutes or until smooth

3. Cover the dough with plastic film and rest for 30 minutes to relax the gluten

4. Cut the rested dough into quarters. Work with one piece at a time and keep the rest wrapped in plastic film to prevent it from drying out. Flatten the piece of dough with the palm of your hand, then pass it through the machine’s widest setting three or four times, folding the dough into three each time. Continue passing the dough, each time through a thinner setting, until you get to the second-last setting or the sheet is roughly 2.5 mm thick

5. Dust your working bench with semolina, lay the long sheets of pasta onto it then dot them half way through with one teaspoon of the filling. Make sure to leave about 3 cm between each dollop.

6. Brush around filling with water to moisten. Fold sheet over; press down to seal.

7. Press around each mound to get rid of air bubbles (or the tortelli may burst when you cook them)

8. Cut into 4×4 cm squares with a pastry wheel. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

9. Lay the tortelli onto a platter dusted with semolina and try not to over lap them

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10. You can cook the Tortelli straight away or freeze them for up  to two weeks.

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To assemble the dish

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil

2. In the meantime, brown the butter with sage and a pinch of salt in a large heavy-based pan until the butter is a pale caramel color and the sage is crispy

3. Cook the Tortelli for 2-3 minutes or until ready and still nicely al dente

4. Using  a slotted spoon, lift them from the water and drop them onto the brown butter pan and sautee for 2-3 minutes or until all the torelli are nicely coated and slightly caramelized. Season them with freshly ground black pepper

5. Arrange the tortelli onto a large serving platter and top them with the fried sage and the crushed amaretti cookies. Serve hot!

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X’mas Hazelnut Cookies (Dolcetti alle Nocciole)

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The Christmas season is heralded in my house with the inebriating smell of sweet treats baking in the oven, may they be my almond pastries, favoured by my boys for their resemblance with Rudolph’s red, shiny nose, or my dad’s morsel of choice, soft hazelnut cookies. These rustic looking nuggets are simply irresistible and they can happily carry you throughout your busy festive day: perfectly dunked in your morning coffee, afternoon tea or after dinner digestivo, they are sure to become your new best friend. The fact that they are rolled and baked in under 30 minutes will make them highly addictive…You are warned!

INGREDIENTS, makes 20

2 egg whites

1 cup of hazelnut meal (ground hazelnuts)

1-1/2 cup of icing sugar, plus more for rolling the cookies in

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, or the seeds from half vanilla bean

HOW TO

1. Heat up your oven to 180 C (350 F)

2. Mix egg whites, gournd hazelnut, vanilla and sugar in a large bowl until a thick paste forms.

3. Pinch off small bits of paste to shape balls the size of a large walnut.

4. Generously roll the balls in plenty of icing sugar.

5. Place the cookies, well distanced apart, onto an oven tray lined with baking paper.

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6. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until cracked and beautifully puffed up.

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Cool at room temperature and merrily consume with glee.

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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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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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DSCN7266Buon Natale!

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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Chocolate Covered Caramels

My dear choc-addicts, this post is dedicated to you!

Over a month ago I posted a photo of  Chocolate Caramels on my Facebook page announcing that the recipe for it would shortly follow… As it often is, life got in the way and a good 5 weeks later…here it is!

I’m sorry I let you down, but I promise you, the wait will be worth it…

For the Caramel layer

1 cup of unsalted butter

1 can of sweetened condensed milk

1 cup of firmly packed brown sugar

pinch of salt

For the chocolate layer

250 gr (8 oz)of dark chocolate)

2 tablespoons butter

How to

Put butter, brown sugar and sweetened condensed milk in a pot over medium heat.

Stirring continuously, melt the sugar and the butter with the milk and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat to low and keep stirring with a wooden spoon for about 7-10 minutes, or until the caramel appears thicker and golden brown and its intoxicating scent has you in convulsions…

Add a pinch of salt and, off the heat, whisk the caramel vigorously for 2 minutes.

(Please, be very mindful never to leave to the stove whist the caramel is on. Keep stirring, sing your favorite song twice and the job will be done without casualties. Leave the stove to chase your baby who has decided to take his first crawl today, and you will end up with burnt caramel and a burnt pot… Ask me how I know!)

Pour the caramel in a container lined with baking paper and allow to set in the fridge for 1 hour.

In the meantime, make your chocolate topping,

Melt the dark chocolate with 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a double boiler.

Once melted, stir for a couple of minutes with a rubber spoon to bring down the temperature slightly. If you are feeling adventurous and you wish to temper your chocolate, proceed like so.

Take the caramel out of the fridge, pour the chocolate over it and spread it into one smooth layer. Add toasted almond flakes if you wish to add a crunchy texture.

Allow to set in the fridge before slicing.

Cut into large chunks and individually wrapped in baking paper, they make a lovely edible gift.

I like to serve them cut into small squares with a hot espresso coffee.

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Italian Spiced X’Mas Slice, with figs, cranberries and roasted hazelnut

I had a pretty disastrous couple of days in the kitchen.

First, I charcoaled the left-over potato bake, then I dropped-and shattered-the just-bought, very extravagant jar of designer-worthy vanilla paste.

On the same day, as I was unstacking the dishwasher, I managed to snap the stem off two-two!– champagne flutes.

And so it was only  a natural course of event that I should burn the caramel (once again!) for my chocolate-covered caramel bites!

I didn’t even cry when it happened.  There were no more cook’s tears left in me…

But somehow I had to turn the week around and start fresh again.

And I had all that amazing 70% chocolate waiting to be used and, hopefully, not burnt…

A no-bake something or another was the safest way to go…

And, well, it looks like I may have just redeemed myself!

This easy-peasy chocolate slice makes the perfect Xmas edible gift, so make sure you have enough for yourself as well as your lucky recipients.

INGREDIENTS

200 gr (7 oz)of 70% dark chocolate, melted with 1 tablespoon of butter (in a double boiler or in the microwave, whichever suits you)

a handful of whole roasted hazelnuts, skin removed (roast your nuts for 10 minutes in a medium oven then rub them in a kitchen towel to ease the skin off)

2 tablespoons of ground hazelnut (hazelnut meal)

a handful of dried cranberries (or sour cherries)

three table-spoons of chopped up semi-dried figs

1 scant table-spoon of cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

a pinch of nutmeg

In a large bowl, mix together the nuts with the dried fruits, the spices, the cocoa and the ground hazelnut.

Add the melted chocolate white still hot and combine well.

Pour the decadent paste into an oven dish lined with baking paper.

Flatten with the back of a spoon and allow to set in the fridge for 1 hour before cutting it into rustic chuncks.

Serve with Grappa or Rum, or simply with espresso coffee, if you want to feel very Italiano!

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