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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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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Pumpkin Seed Wholemeal Bread Rolls

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I was overjoyed when my friend Alessandra, the talented woman behind Dinner in Venice, asked me if I could write a guest post on her blog. I had been inspired by her writing, her photography and her honest quest for the authenticity of Italian food since I started my own blog back in 2011. Like Ale, I am an italian-born woman, recently migrated in an English speaking country (Australia) and, just like Ale, I have been fascinated and enamoured with the bounty of local produce and diverse cuisine my new home-land had to offer. But, after migrating, I could not help missing my Bella Italia, the very scent of it, it’s flavor. My most unsatisfied carving was bread, real bread,  Il pane. Fragrant, crunchy and bronzed, with its inviting crackly crust and a moist and airy crumb. I have learnt to make it at home, from slow-prooving sourdoughs to yeast-risen ones, for more immediate gratification. And everytime a loaf is baking in my oven, I can simply close my eyes and smell my beloved Italy from my sunny Sydney kitchen.

INGREDIENTS, makes 6-8 rolls

2 cups of wholemeal (wholewheat) flour

1 cup of strong baker’s flour (or plain, or 00 flour)

300 ml (1-1/4 cup) of lukewarm water mixed with 1-1/2  tablespoons of dried yeast

1 teaspoon of honey or barley malt syrup

2 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil

1-1/2 teaspoons of salt

milk for brushing

2-3 handfuls of pepitas or any seeds you prefer

HOW TO

1. Place the flour in a large bowl, add the water and yeast, honey (or barley malt syrup) and oil.

2. Knead onto a floured bench for 3-4 minutes, then add the salt and keep keading for 3-5 minutes or until the dough is smooth and soft.

3. Rest the dough into a floured bowl and cover with a tea-towel.

4. After 30 minutes, stretch the dough to shape a rectangle, then fold it into three and onto itself. Place the dough back in the bowl. Repeat a second time after 30 minutes. Folding the dough will ensure the softest, moistest crumb.

5. Prove the dough in a warm spot until it has doubled in size.

6. Shape he dough into 6-8 rolls and place them closed together onto an oven tray lined with baking paper. Brush the top with milk, or buttermilk and top them with pepita seeds. Rest the rolls covered with a tea-towel for 30-45 minutes. In the meantime bring your oven to 200 C (390 F)

7. Bake the rolls for 30-35 minutes or until crusty and bronzed and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Allow to cool at room temperature before eating.

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Frittelle, Italian savoury donuts

No matter how loudly nutritionists will speak against deep-fried food, I do allow myself and my children the occasional indulgence. I fiercely stand by my credo that “once in a while” will do you no harm, and, quite frankly, if it makes you happy when you eat it, than it’s got to be good for you! In moderation, that is…

When we were children, my mamma used to apply pretty much the same rule, and her home-cooking was predominantly healthy and very nutritious. So, on special occasions, if we’d been really, really good, she would set off in the kitchen to fry off these delicious, golden nuggets, while we, children and Papà, would patiently wait, slowly inebriated by the savory and warm smell of what was to be our Sunday dinner.

The memory alone is worth the occasional intake of deep-fried food…

These savoury donuts, frittelle, are made using a slowly fermented pizza dough. You can make them using a larger amount of yeast and less rising time, but I have to warn you that they won’t be as light, crispy and easy to digest.

To make the dough, simply follow the same steps as if you were making pizza dough.

Ingredients for the dough

3 1/2 cups  00 type flour (or plain)

1/2 cup  wholemeal flour

1 teaspoon of dry yeast

1-1/4 cup  lukewarm water

1/2 teaspoon of sugar

2 teaspoons of salt flakes

Extra-virgin olive oil, to grease the bowl and to drizzle on top.

How to

Dissolve yeast and sugar in water. Stand for 5 minutes or until frothy.

Place flour in a large mixing  bowl, add the yeasted water and mix for 1-2 minutes, then tip the dough onto a floured surface, add the salt and knead vigorously for 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Shape it into a ball.

As all flours tend to differ slightly, you may have to add a little more water of a little more flour in order to have the perfect dough. You want a soft, pliable dough, but not too sticky.

Rest the dough in an oiled bowl, covered with a tea-towel for 30 minutes, then lift it out, place it back onto a floured surface, stretch it with your hands and fold it into three and then back into a ball. Put the dough back in the bowl to rest for another 30 minutes, then stretch and fold again.

As tedious as this process sounds, this is paramount for obtaining a light, crispy and easy to digest base.

After the second stretch-and-fold, place the dough in a large oiled container fitted with  lid (like a Tupperware one). Place in the fridge (with the lid on) and slow-prove for a minimum of 6 hours, up to 36 hours.

When you are ready to make you pizza, take the dough out of the fridge and place it in an oiled bowl and cover it with a tea-towel. Rest at room temperature for 30-45 minutes.

Roll the dough onto a floured surface to 1/2 cm  (0,2 inches) thick.

Cut the dough into rectangles and score each in the middle to allow even rising when fried.

Fill a deep-fryer or a frying own with vegetable oil and. To test of the oil temperature is ready, drop in a cube of bread: if it sizzles straight away and turns golden in 30 seconds, the oil is ready. Fry the cut dough in 3-4 batches,  2-3 minutes on both sides.

Drain on kitchen paper, sprinkle with salt flakes and serve hot with cold cuts of meat, torn mozzarella balls, cherry tomatoes or whatever takes your fancy.

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Pane all’Olio (Italian Olive Oil Bread)

Silvia is back in her Cucina! After two and a half months away in Melbourne threading the boards at the Malthouse theatre, playing the role of a dilemma-stricken bride who runs off with her ex-boyfriend on her wedding day, I feel an utter sense of well-being walking around in my kitchen, re-familiarizing with my tools, pots and pans, as I watch my little boys play in the front verandah…Ah the bliss of domestic life! To say that I have missed my kitchen is an understatement. My urge to be dusted in flour is not merely physical. I need that sense of inner peace that the knowledge that a dough of some sort is proving in my house will bring. Acting is a wonderful way to express creativity, but it can at times take a toll on your soul, especially when the role you play every night is so tormented. My therapy is baking. Bread, needles to say.                                                                                        I came across this wonderful recipe in one of my favorite bread books and I am so happy to be sharing this with you. I hope, no matter what you are going through in your lives, the act of baking bread may bring serenity and balance. And a house that smells like an Italian bakery.

Love,

Silvia

Recipe adapted from Jan Hedh’s Artisan Breads

Makes 2 medium loaves or 3 smaller ones

For the Ferment (biga)

1/2 teaspoon of dry yeast

2 cups of lukewarm water

1 cup of durum wheat flour

3 cups of stone ground wheat flour (baker’s flour)

Dissolve the yeast in the water, add the flour and work it with a wooden spoon until you have  thick batter. Cover it with plastic film and rest in the fridge overnight or at room temperature for 2 1/2 -3 hours, or until bubbly and risen.

For the Dough

The risen ferment, at room temperature (take out of the fridge 1 hour before kneading if you rested it overnight)

2 teaspoons of dry yeast

2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

1 egg

2-3/4 cups of strong stone gourd flour (baker’s flour) plus 3 or 4 tablespoons more if the enough is too sticky.

2 teaspoons of salt

Method

1. Put the risen ferment in a large bowl, add the yeast and mix it in with a wooden spoon until combined.

2. Add the oil, egg and the flour and combine with a wooden spoon.

3. Tip the dough onto a floured surface and knead well for 5 minutes. If the dough feels to sticky , add a little flour. Bare in mid that this is supposed to be a soft dough, but should come away easily from your fingers.

4. Stretch the dough into a rectangle, add the salt and knead well for another 5 minutes or until shiny and smooth. Roll into a ball, place in a large , oiled container. Cover with a damp tea-towel and leave it to prove at room temperature for 1 hour. take the dough out of the container, knock it back, stretch it tint a rectangle, fold it into three and then shape back tint a ball. Place the dough back into the oiled container and leave to prove for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until it has doubled in size.

Shaping

1. Place the dough onto a floured surface. Divide into 2 or 3 portions , according to the size of loves you are after. You can even divide into 6/8 and make individual dinner rolls.

2. Flatten each portion of dough with your hands or a rolling pin. Roll the dough onto itself to shape a crescent or a cigar.

3. Leave the dough to prove for 45/60 minutes onto an oven tray lined with baking paper. Bring your oven to 210 C, 410 F. Place an empty metal bowl in the oven to heat up.

4. Just before baking, score the breads to your liking.

5. Carefully slide the tray in the oven, fill the heated metal bowl with cold water to create steam, close the oven door and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped with your finger.

6. Cool on a rack at room temperature. Enjoy as it is or fill with your favorite cold meat and cheese for the ultimate Panino experience!

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Bretzels

If you have travelled around those magnificent lands in the north of Italy, right on the border with Switzerland and Austria, you may have wondered if all of a sudden you had crossed the frontier!

Fair enough, the first language spoken in Trentino Alto Adige is German and the culinary traditions of the area borrow more from the neighbouring countries than the rest of Italy.

This is where local restaurants offer wonderfully rich cabbage and pork stews, spaetzle soup, apple strudel  and the ever-loved bretzel (or pretzel) to accompany pints of weiss beer.

The recipe for bretzels is a tricky one.

Far from being complicated, its challenge lies in one crucial ingredient needed to obtain that unique chewy crumb and bronzed, caramelized soft crust:

the very caustic and abrasive Lye!

It is true that you only need it at 3% of its strength, but reading that you need  to protect yourself with thick gloves and safety goggles immediately turned this recipe into a child-unfriendly affair.

With a nearly-five year-old and a 15 month-old boys around the house, I decided not to take the risk and after a few less-than-great attempt, I finally achieved a soft, chewy, light and utterly delicious bretzel using a solution of baking soda and barley malt syrup.

And no third degree burns either!

First off, make the pre-ferment.

This will ensure a wonderfully soft and moist crumb.

In a large bowl mix together

375 ml (1 1/2 cups) of lukewarm water, 1 sachet of dried yeast (about a table-spoon), 1 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour, 1 table-spoon of barley malt syrup (if this is too hard to source, try dark brown sugar or agave sugar, although you may not achieve the same  flavor color the malt imparts ).

Let the ferment stand for 1 hour or until it looks very bubbly and has doubled in size.

Add 2 1/2 cups of flour, 2 table-spoon of soft butter, a teaspoon and a half of salt and knead the dough for about 10 minutes of until it looks smooth and it feels elastic. Your dough shouldn’t feel too dry nor too sticky.

If you have a kitchen Aid or similar, this is a good time to use it!

As all flours differ a little, feel free to adjust the quantities slightly to obtain a soft and bouncy dough. You may need to add a tablespoon of water or a sprinkle of extra flour.

Baking is half science and half instinct!

Cover the bowl and allow to rise for 1 1/2 hours.

Gently scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a floured surface and form an oval shape. Cut it into 8 and roll each piece into thin, long rope.

Twist the rope around to form a bretzel shape.

Place your shaped dough in an oven tray lined with baking paper, well distanced apart.

Rest the dough for 20 minutes. You will notice the bretzels grow by 1/3.

Place a large pot of water on the stove, when it comes to a boil, add 1 table-spoon of baking soda and 2 tablespoons of barley malt syrup.

Working with a few  bretzels at a time, drop them into the simmering water for a minutes on each side, then lift them gently with a slotted spoon back onto the tray, sprinkle liberally with sea salt, poppy or sesame seeds and, using a pastry brush, coat them with a little more of the boiling liquid.

(For a child-friendly version, omit the salt)

Place them in a 200 Celsius (390 Farenheit) for 10/15 minutes. Try not to over cook them to preserve the softness of the crust.

Allow to cool a little before devouring them…

They will disappear very quickly!

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