Almond, Pear and Olive Oil Cake

The seasonal change has hit our southern shores, swapping the warm breeze for a crisp chill. I have packed away my summer dresses and sandals to wrap myself in wooly layers, scarves and boots. To accompany the cooler weather, the stalls now abound with glorious winter produce, whose main purpose is to nourish and comfort. As I type this I’m embracing this sunny yet cool day, sipping tea and indulging in my second slice of this incredibly moist pear and almond cake, lightly scented by cinnamon and mandarine. Cold months to come, I fear you not! INGREDIENTS, makes1

3 small pears

3 eggs

1 cup of brown sugar (plus 2 tablespoons to sprinkle over the pears)


1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup of buttermilk

juice of 1 mandarine

1 cup of almond flour (almond meal)

1-1/2 cup of self-raising flour (gluten free flour will also work)


1. Preheat your oven to 180 C (350 F)

2. Line a round cake tin with baking paper. Sprinkle the base with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and a little cinnamon

3. Cut the pears into two, scoop out the core, then cut each half into two, lenghtways. Line the base of the cake tin with the pears.

4. Beat the eggs with sugar until fluffy, add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, oil, buttermilk and mandarine juice and whisk well. Add the almond flour and the sifted self-raising flour and gently incorporate them into the batter without over mixing. Pour the batter over the pears and bake for 40-45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the center of the cake.

5. Turn up side down and leave to cool on a rack for 30-45 minutes before serving. Enjoy as it is or with vanilla gelato, cream or thick Greek yoghurt.

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Overnight Healthy Rye and Spelt Loaf


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

INGREDIENTS, makes 1 loaf

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

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

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

1 teaspoon of dry yeast

1 pinch of sugar or 1 teaspoon of honey

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

2 teaspoons of salt flakes


1. Start this recipe a day ahead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Cocoa Swirled Meringues (Meringhe variegate)


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.


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


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.


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.


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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Walnut, Dark Chocolate and Honey Flourless Cake


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.


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


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.


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.


5. Serve dusted with icing, sugar, cocoa powder or drizzled with honey, preferably along with a generous helping of vanilla gelato or whipped cream.


6. Start dieting tomorrow…



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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


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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Hazelnut Amaretti (Amaretti alle Nocciole)

Just when I thought I couldn’t make Amaretti because I was out of almond meal (and in no way inclined to take a trip to the supermarket with child and toddler in tow) I found a half-packet of hazelnut meal hidden in the cupboard. The idea struck me immediately, but what if it wouldn’t work? Good news, it did! The savoury nuttiness of the hazelnuts , combined with the gentle sweetness of the meringue and the bitter kick of cocoa powder turns this classic Italian cookie into an irresistible grown-up affair. The addition of chocolate chips has the potential to lure children into tasting them and enjoying them with gusto.


1 egg white, at room temperature

75 gr (1/3 cup +1 tablespoon) of sugar+extra for sprinkling

140 gr (1 cup +2 tablespoons) of hazelnut meal (roasted ground hazelnuts*)

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1 scant tablespoon of cocoa powder

24 dark chocolate chips

How to

1. In a clean dry bowl, beat the egg white with the sugar until they are stiff and shiny. If you are impatient, like I am, I suggest using a hand-eld electric beater to do the job.

2. Gently fold in the hazelnut meal, add vanilla and cocoa and mix well until all the ingredients are well amalgamated. Don’t panic it , at first , it looks like the egg white won’t be enough to bind the dry ingredients. It will come together in 1 or two minutes and you will be left with a soft, sticky batter.

3. Shape the dough into 12 balls, they size of a walnut and dust each ball with  sugar.

4. Gently push your index finger in the middle of each ball to create a little crate. Push two chocolate chips into each crate.

5. Put the shaped amaretti on a cookie sheet lined with baking paper and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

6. In the meantime bring your oven temperature to 170 C (340 F).

7. Bake for 25/30 minutes or until the amaretti are slightly cracked, but retain some softness. To make sure they are cooked through check that the base is firm and tanned.

Cool them at room temperature (not in the oven,as my friend Helen did…) and enjoy with coffee, gelato, hot chocolate or, if you can handle it, some fiery Grappa.

* Toast shelled hazelnuts in a hot oven for ten to fifteen minutes. As soon a you take them from the oven, rub the nuts vigorously with a towel to remove their bitter brown skins. Grind in a food processor fitted with a sharp blade.

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Espresso-spiked Almond and Cocoa spread

You may call this “homemade Nutella for grownups”.

This morning I found myself battling against the will of a stubborn 5 year-old, convincingly arguing his point as why he shouldn’t go to school today (or any day, really).

I tried to kindly, yet firmly persuade him that “school is fun”, but who am I kidding? I had no choice but use bribery.

” I make you a Nutella sandwich for breakfast, you stop pestering me”

Not surprisingly, the proposition was accepted.

As I was spreading the scrumptious paste on a slice of home-made sandwich bread (a little bragging here…) I suddenly had an epiphany! What if I made him a sort-of-nutella-thingy that didn’t include the dreaded palm oil?

Better still, what if I made it for me??

After I bit of brain churning, this is what I have come up with.

Ingredients (this will yield around 500 gr/16 oz of chocolate spread)

395 gr/14.10 oz  sweetened condensed milk

1/3 of a cup of ground almonds

1/2 cup of good quality cocoa powder

3 table spoons of grape seed oil

1 teaspoon on vanilla extract

1 scant table spoon of ground coffee beans (you can substitute with instant coffee)

In a food processor combine the ground almonds, the cocoa, the oil, the coffee and the vanilla.

Process for about 2 minutes, or until you have obtained a sticky paste.

I like my chocolate on the bitter side of bitter-sweet. Add  2 tablespoons of brown sugar if you prefer a mellower chocolate spread.

Put the paste in a small saucepan over very low heat. Add 5 tablespoons of condensed milk and allow for the paste to melt, while you stir with a whisk.

Add the remaining  milk, stirring gently for 1 or two minutes to remove any lumps. Turn the heat off.

Pour the  luscious concoction in sterilized glass jars. Allow to cool to room temperature, then keep in the fridge.

As it cools down, the spread will thicken slightly.

Naturally, you can leave the coffee out and make this a more family-friendly treat.

I didn’t…Bad Mamma I am!

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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.


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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Panforte, an Italian Christmas treat

Panforte is as traditional Italian as it can get.

Legend has it, and some historical accounts may prove this too, that crusaders themselves used to carry, on the way to their quest, slabs of what was described as a durable confection made with honey and sugar syrup, spices, nuts and dried fruits: Panforte, that is.

It’s name means “Strong bread” , which refers to the generous amounts of spices such as clove and cinnamon as well as black pepper.

It is one of the most popular and loved Italian confections, that seems to be mostly consumed around Christmas, especially in Tuscany, its geographical home-land.

The recipe for Panforte is one of those controversial ones. The reason being that the Tuscan confectioners from Siena would rather set they hair on fire than share their century-old knowledge.

So, for avid home-bakers like myself the choice is to experiment in the kitchen until I get a good approximation of what they proudly produce in the Tuscan hills.

Experimenting may at times involve burnt caramel and a non-rescuable frying pan, but other than this minor set back, I think I may have come up with something worthy.

And guess what? Since I’m not Tuscan but Lombard/Abruzzese, I will happily share this with you….


  • 50g (1/3 cup)  whole blanched almonds
  • 50g (1/3 cup)roasted hazelnuts
  • 3 table spoons coarsely chopped dessert figs
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped dried apricots
  • 2 tablespoons mixed peel
  • 55 g (1/2 cup) plain flour
  • 1 tbs cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground cloves, 1/4 teaspoon of freshly found black pepper
  • 40 g chopped dark chocolate (70%, preferably)
  • 85 (1/4 cup) ml  honey
  • 3 tablespoons  sugar

Preheat oven to 170°C/ 340 Farenheit.

In the meantime, make a syrup by dissolving the sugar with the honey and the dark chocolate in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to the boil, then reduce and keep simmering, without stirring for around 2 minutes. Do not leave the stove at this stage or you will end up with burnt caramel….don’t ask me how I know…

Place almonds, hazelnuts and dried fruit in a large bowl.  Sift over the cocoa, the flour, the ground pepper and spices and stir to combine. Add the chocolate and honey syrup and mix well. At first to will look dry, have faith and keep combining until you obtain a dark, gooey paste. If it struggles to come together , add 1 tablespoon of honey.

Line an oven dish with non-stick baking paper, pour in your panforte mix and smooth and flatten the surface with the back of a spoon or by pressing baking paper over it.

Bake for around 20 minutes or until just set. As it cools down it will firm up more.

Cut into squares, dust with icing sugar and accompany with coffee or grappa. Or both!

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Torta Gianduia (Hazelnut and Dark Chocolate flourless cake)

Rain, rain and more rain! Sydney has been wet and cold for days now. As happens every winter, everybody is talking about the ‘wettest and coldest winter of the last 50 years’… Nevermind that, I know just what will turn this cold, wet long week-end into a warm, indulging, chocolate cuddle: A Piemontese chocolate and hazelnut Torta. Piemonte is a region in the north of Italy bursting with God-blessed products and culinary traditions ranging from the wonderfully pungent Bagna caoda to the utterly divine (and utterly expensive) white truffle, to  mellow richness of Langhe hazelnuts. The crafty Torinese Caffarel artisian chocolatiers, back in 1852, married the latter with chocolate out of necessity, since cocoa was rationed during the years that followed the Napoleonic wars, and named the offspring Gianduja. So, if you were wondering, yes, Italians did invent Nutella. It was in fact originally called Gianduia Spread.

Now, for the cake…


150 gr (3/4 cup) of unsalted butter

160 gr  (6 oz)of 70 % dark chocolate

45 gr (1/3 cup and 1 teaspoon) of dutch cocoa powder + extra for dusting

50 ml (1/8 cup)of hot water

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1 tablespoon of Frangelico or rum

250 gr (1 cup and 4 tablespoons) of firmly packed brown sugar

4 eggs

120 gr (1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon) of hazelnut meal

Pinch of salt

How to

1. Heat your oven to 160 C (340 F)

2. Melt the butter with the chocolate in a double boiler

3. Pour the hot water into a bowl with the cocoa powder and whisk until there are no lumps. Add the vanilla and the Frangelico (or rum). Add the cocoa mixture  to the buttery melted chocolate and stir to combine.

4. In a separate bowl, cream the yolks with the sugar with a whisk or an electric beater until fluffy then pour in the chocolate mixture. Add the hazelnut meal and stir to combine.

5. In a clean, dry bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form. This will take about 1 minute if using a hand-held electric beater.  A fair bit more if doing by hand…Gently fold the egg whites through the chocolate mixture using a large metal spoon. Pour the batter into a 20 cm round cake tin, lined with baking paper. Bake for 40/45 minutes or until the edges are firm and the surface it slightly cracked and feels soft in the middle.

As it cools down, it will sink in a little creating the perfect opportunity to be topped with strawberries, cherries, cream or both! You may dust it with icing sugar, cocoa powder or, if you feel exceedingly indulgent, coat it with molten dark chocolate…



Happy long week-end…

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