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

Valentine’s Day Treat: Coconut and Dark Chocolate Macaroons

DSCN0036Have you been looking for a last minute Valentine’s Day treat recipe? Have you forgotten about today or have you been in denial about it, only to wake up this morning feeling a slight sense of guilt because you didn’t get your better half any tokens of your appreciation? You are not alone! Welcome to my 6 am panicking thought “OMG, it’s Valentine’s Day and I forgot about it!”. And so, while my darling man was still soundly in bed, I quietly rushed downstairs, whipped up a batter in less than 5 minutes, allowed it to rest in the fridge for 20 minutes while running on the cross-trainer (all the while wearing a face mask to make myself look pretty for our romantic date later on in the day) and by the time I had my shower and got dressed, these chewy, delectable coconut bites were out of the oven ready to be drizzled with thick, syrupy dark chocolate. Talk about multitasking… Happy Valentine’s Day!

INGREDIENTS, makes 12 large cookies

3 egg whites

pinch of salt

2/3 cup of caster sugar

1/3 cup brown sugar

2 cups desiccated coconut

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract or paste

1/4 cup dark chocolate chips, melted

HOW TO

1. Whip the egg whites with a pinch of salt for a couple of minutes or until soft peaks form.

2. Add the sugar, a little at a time and keep whipping the egg whites until thick and glossy.

3. Gently fold in the coconut and vanilla.

4. Dollop 1 tablespoon of mixture onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper. MAke sure to leave them well distanced as they will grow a little whilst baking.

5. Rest in the fridge for 20 minutes. In the meantime, bring your oven temperature to 170 C (340 F).

6. Bake the macaroons for 20-25 minutes or until the bottom in dry and golden and the top is slightly browned and firm. They will feel a little soft but they will continue to firm up as they cool down, at room temperature.

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7. Allow to cool for 20 minutes, then drizzle with melted chocolate. Rest until the chocolate has hardened, then surprise you beloved with your home-baked, love-filled treat.

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Home-made Calzone with Ricotta, Cherry Tomatoes and other lovelies!

Just when you think Italians could not possibly top their most famous export, pizza, enters a magnificent parcel of folded, slow risen dough, filled with oozy ricotta, oven-roasted cherry tomatoes and freshly picked basil leaves, coated with a shiny drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

As you cut the bronzed crust open, watch the filling slowly and inexorably spill out onto the cutting board, as you salivate yourself into oblivion…

My very personal tip to successfully reproduce this very humble joy of the palate is to use the freshest ingredients, never be tempted to stuff it with low-fat ricotta and allow for the dough to prove slowly, in the fridge for a minimum of 24 hours.

It is the slow rising of the dough that will provide that essential light and crispy crust. Not to mention easy to digest.

Even the fiercest ‘I don’t eat wheat’ person will have to reconsider….

The recipe for the dough is the same as the one I use for Pizza

Ingredients for the dough (makes 2 large calzone of 4 smaller ones)

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 slat 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 th enough 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.

Your dough is now ready to be stretched, topped, folded and baked.

For the filling

2 cups of cherry tomatoes, halved

3 tablespoons of extra-virgin oil + some for drizzling

2 tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar (or regular)

1 scant tablespoon of sugar

1 teaspoon of salt flakes

1 garlic clove, cut into half

a little freshly ground white pepper

1 spring onion, chopped up

1 cups of full cream ricotta

1 cup of bocconcini

freshly picked basil leaves

How to

Place the tomatoes, oil, vinegar, garlic, spring onion, pepper, salt and sugar in an oven tray lined with baking paper. Roast on a medium oven for 45 minutes or until the tomatoes are slightly blistered and juicy.

Set aside to cool for 10 minutes.

Increase the oven temperature to high. If baking using a baking stone, put in the oven to heat up now.

Roll the dough to the desired thickness ( I always prefer a thin base, but over to you and  your personal taste) and shape into two large (or 4 smaller) disks.

Fill one half of each disk with the roasted cherry tomatoes, 3-4 table spoons of ricotta, a few bocconcini and and basil leaves. Top with the other half of the disk and seal the edges by pinching them with your fingers. Drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil, a tablespoon of the cherry tomato juices and a pinch of salt.

Place the calzones on baking paper. Dust the baking stone with corn flour and place the calzones with the baking paper on top of the stone. Bake for 15 minutes, then slide off the paper to allow the base to crisp up.

In not using a baking stone, simply line an oven tray with baking paper, place the calzones on top and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the top is bronzed and nicely puffed and the bottom is crispy.

Serve hot, with cold beer and a green salad.

Panini alle Olive (Olive and Rosemary bread rolls, made in a food processor)

Happy 2012 to all!

Given my self-confessed obsession for yeasted baked goods, it only makes sense that the first post of the year is -yet another- bread recipe. I have been experimenting with doughs and flours and I really wanted to offer you an alternative to hand or machine kneading, and it turns out that some breads can be mixed in a food processor! No hard work+no floury mess= amazingly good bread rolls with a soft, moist crumb.

Ingredients

1x 7gr (0,2 oz) sachet of dry yeast dissolved in 1/4 cup lukewarm water

1/2 cup water

1/4 extra virgin olive oil

500 gr (3-3/4 cup) all purpose flour (or Italian 00 flour)

1-2 rosemary sprig

2 teaspoons salt

2 handfuls of pitted olives

How to

1. Stir the dry yeast in lukewarm water. Stand for 10 minutes until the liquid appears slightly creamy, than add1/2 cup of water and oil

2. Place  flour, a scant handful of rosemary springs and  salt in a food processor fitted with a sharp blade, cover with the lid and pulse a few times to combine the flour with the salt. Gradually add the yeast+olive oil liquid until it starts to combine. At this stage the dough will look quite dry. Don’t be tempted to add water or oil as the olives you are about to scatter through it will add a lot of moisture.

3. Sprinkle in the olives (I used green Sicilian and black Ligurian olives) and pulse until the dough starts to gather into a slightly sticky ball. If you think your dough it too wet, you can sprinkle a little extra flour. Likewise, if your dough isn’t moist enough, add a table-spoon of water or another couple of olives.

4. When the dough easily detaches from the sides of the bowl, take it out, dust it with a little flour, shape it into a ball and leave it to rest, well covered, until it doubles in size. In warm weather this will take 1 1/2  to 2 hours, allow a little longer if  it’s cold.

5. Cut the dough into 8 pieces, shape them into balls and place them to prove on an oven tray lined with baking paper. Be sure to allow some room for the rolls to grow. You can use this dough to bake loaves as well, as pictured below.

6. Allow to rise for a further hour. In the meantime bring your oven to 200 Celsius (390 Farenheit). Bake your rolls for about 20 minutes or until they look slightly golden and sound hollow when tapped with your fingers.

Serve with pecorino and salame or simply devour them as there are…

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Risotto with Porcini Mushroom

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Richard and I spent the best part of yesterday afternoon perched up on a builders plank, unsafely plonked onto our window sill and the top of the staircase, in the attempt to hang seven, beautiful, paintings made by Richard himself over the course of the last two weeks. A gargantuan task, if you add the demands of a 4 year-old on a sunny Saturday afternoon and those of a 12 month-old, desperately wanting adult attention! After we hung the seventh frame, we had just about 3 minutes to contemplate and admire the fruits of such hard labour and marvel at the fact that no one got injured in the process, when the paintings started to drop from the wall one after the other…I could think of only one solution to the problem: comfort food! And a glass of wine…Risotto sprang to mind, as I had just made a rich and flavorful vegetable stock. If you have read my other posts on risotto you know by now that the only ingredient that will determine the taste of your finished dish is the quality of your stock. Home-made always wins. Your risotto will only taste as good as your stock. You do the maths!

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

2 handfuls of dried porcini , soaked in warm water for 30 minutes. (They need to be soft and rehydrated before you can use them)

1 leek, well washed and sliced thinly

1-2 springs of thyme

3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon of butter+ 1 more just before serving

350 gr (2 cups) of Carnaroli or Arborio rice

1/2 cup of dry white wine

2 lt of stock, brought up to a gentle simmer

1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmigiano

Parsley leaves

Salt and pepper to taste

HOW TO

1. Stir fry  the leek gently with oil and butter, add the thyme springs, 1 couple of tablespoons of water and  pinch of salt. Cover with a lid and stew for 5 minutes over low heat to soften the leeks.

2. Add therice and toast with the leeks until translucent. Be mindful to stir your rice well.

3. Add the white wine and allow for the alcohol to evaporate, stirring gently. Pour yourself some wine, while you are at it…

4. Turn the heat down, add your softened mushroom and start adding the stock a ladleful at a time, while stirring gently. For added mushroom flavor, add the porcini soaking liquid to your stock. Taste for salt and adjust accordingly. Keep adding stock until the rice is cooked, this will take around 18 minutes.

5. Turn off the heat and add a generous dusting of parmigiano, a tablespoon of  butter and one ladeful of stock. Stir vigorously to release the starch and create the classic all’onda* texture. Cover with a lid and let it rest for a few minutes to  create the perfect mantecatura, creaminess

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Serve it with freshly ground black pepper and parsley leaves.

* The way of the waves

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Sugo d’agnello (Slow-cooked Lamb and Tomato Sauce)

My maternal Nonna wasn’t the most sophisticated cook. She would always make the same two or three dishes, but, to this day, my siblings, my cousins and I are  yet to taste anything as comforting and delicious as her sugo di pomodoro, polenta con salsiccia and sugo d’agnello. It was always fascinating to observe her in the kitchen, effortlessly turning everyday, humble ingredients into delightful feasts. She never once measured anything, her only tools were her hands and her eyes. And her exquisite taste buds! For your sake, I have attempted  to provide measurements, but feel free to adjust to your liking, the way Nonna always did.

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

4 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 garlic cloves

2 small onion or French shallots, peeled and left whole

1/4  pepper (capiscum)

1 celery stick

1/2 cup of good red wine

1 table spoon of tomato paste (concentrate)

2 tins of good quality can tomatoes or home-made passata

1 rosemary or thyme sprig

a few origano leaves

500 gr (16 oz) of fresh tagliatelle or tagliolini

How to

1. Heat up the oil in a sauce pan; with the back of your knife, bash the garlic cloves in their skin and add them to the hot oil along with a few large chunks of yellow or red pepper (capsicum), the peeled French shallots (or onion), the celery stalk and rosemary sprigs.

2. When the vegetables have taken a bit a colour, brown a few large pieces of shoulder or shank of lamb. De-glaze the pan with a glass of red wine and cook on a high flame until the alcohol has eveporated.

3. Add the tinned tomatoes (home-made would be my Nonna’s preference, but feel free to use good quality tinned ones, like Mutti or Cirio). Turn the heat right down and cook slowly and covered with a mesh lid for 3 to 4 hours. After that time you can discard the garlic, the peppers and the celery stalks. Turn the heat up and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened. Season with salt and white pepper, to your liking.

Serve generously with home-made tagliolini (pictured below) or any pasta you prefer.

Buon Appetito!

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Home-made Sourdough

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Before you venture into the exciting world of sourdough baking, let me give you a word of warning: this method is not meant to be approached if you need instant gratification. Sourdough-making is a labour of love and it requires dedication, constance and patience. The mature and robust flavour of sourdough can only be obtained by proving the dough for a a very long time, and by that I mean something around 12 to 18 hours. And this is only after you have manage to create a living wild yeast…Why would anybody even attempt to make it at home then? The answer is that sourdough making is an addictive pleasure, one you may never get rid of…  These days I am committed to travel 40 km to source the finest ground milled baker’s flour, I plan my outings according to my starter’s feeding schedule and I have managed to initiate several friends to this ancient ritual, so that, in the event of a cataclysm and my starter cases to live, its offering still lives in someone else’s kitchen.. You do believe me now when I said I was addicted!

First off, let’s talk about the yeast, which is the rising agent of your bread. Making your own is relatively easy, but it requires daily care and attention. The principle is that if you mix flour and water in a bowl, the bacteria in the air and in the flour will react together creating a living organism that will then be fed by those same bacteria to become strong and lively. Like all living things yeast requires regular feeds and care in order to grow healthy and vigorous. You can create a sourdough starter, which is Italian is called Pasta Madre (mother dough) in about 10 days and , if kept well, it can last forever. And I mean forever. I know of some bakeries in Italy that have been using the same Pasta Madre for centuries. Talk about legacy! Once you succeed in creating the wild yeast, you have to sustain it to help it stay alive and strong. The flavour of your bread will be determined by the strength and fermentation of your starter. The older and the stronger your starter, the better tasting you bread will be. There are many methods you can try to follow in order to create you Pasta Madre. I have read countless books and spoken to many bread-making folks and I have had many more failures than I wish to recall. This is because each yeast will be slightly different from the next, therefore you have to take all tips and advise with a grain of salt and learn to trust your instinct. The method below is relatively quick and easy and it is tried and tested by me, and produces a lovely, crusty bread. I noticed that the more mature it gets, the better loaf it produces. I am looking forward to tasting my bread in the years to come, if I don’t kill my starter, that is!

HOW TO MAKE YOUR PASTA MADRE or STARTER or SOURDOUGH YEAST (they are all the same thing…)

 Day 1
In a large plastic bowl mix together 120 gr (1 cup) plain or baker’s flour with 95 ml (1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons) of filtered water at room temperature and 1 teaspoon of honey or barley malt. The sugars will kick-start the fermentation process. Cover with a lid and leave at room temperature for 24 hours.

Day 2

You will notice your dough will have risen slightly and may have already formed small bubbles. Get rid of half of the dough and add 50 gr of flour  (1/2 cup) and 40 ml (1/4 cup) of filtered water.
Repeat for 8 days. Every day you will notice the starter will grow bigger and develop more bubbles. It will smell a little like a cross between lemon juice and alcohol.

Day 10 – it’s alive!

This is the day your yeast will officially be born and may be used to mix your first loaf. You need to ‘refresh’ it and give it strength and vigor for your bread to rise. In simple terms, you need to feed it.

First feed

As soon as you wake up in the morning, discard 100 g of the ferment then add 2/3 cup (100 g) plain flour and 90 ml water. Cover with a lid and rest for 3 hours.

Second feed

Feed your ferment 2/3 cup (100 g) plain flour and 90 ml water. Cover with a lid and rest for 3 hours.

Last feed

Feed your ferment 2/3 cup (100 g) plain  flour and 90 ml water. Cover with a lid and rest for 3 hours.

After it has rested, your yeast will look healthy, airy and full of bubbles (in colder climate this may take longer than 3 hours). It will have a slightly sour, yet pleasant smell. Congratulations! You have succeeded in making a living wild yeast. You can now use it to mix your first loaf.

How to maintain your lievito madre

The wild yeast you have created will happily live in your fridge, stored in an airtight plastic container. You will have to feed it at least once a week to keep it healthy and alive. If you don’t have time to mix a loaf, but only need to give your starter some dinner, rest it at room temperature for 30 minutes, then discard one third. Add 1/3 cup (50 g)/4 tablespoons plain flour and 40 ml (or 2 tablespoons) of filtered water (at room temperature) for every 100 g of yeast you have left (aim to always have at least 100 g yeast in your container). Mix with a wooden spoon or a chopstick, cover the container with its lid and stick it back in the fridge until next time. A well-kept yeast will live a long, prolific life. Some Italian bakeries are known to be using centuries-old lievito madre. As a rule of thumb, the older your yeast, the more flavoursome your bread will be. No wonder sourdough bread is so good!

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SOURDOUGH LOAF RECIPE (Pane di casa):

240 gr (1 cup) starter
500 gr (4 cups) organic flour
300 ml (1 cup 1/4) filtered water
6 gr (2 teaspoons) of salt
A teaspoon of honey or barley malt (optional)

1. Mix flour and water in a large ceramic or plastic bowl with a wooden spoon, and let it rest for about 1 hour. This process is called Autolayse and it allows for flavour and texture to develop. It is not a mandatory step, but I recommend it.

2. Add your starter and knead for about 5 minutes, then add salt and honey , if using any. Knead well for about 10 minutes, until your dough is smooth and silky.

Shape it into a ball and let it rest, covered, for 20 minutes, then stretch it gently with your hands to form a rectangle and fold into three. This process will give your dough strength and texture.

3. Cover with oiled cling wrap and let it prove in a warm place for 3 to 4 hours.
Kead again, gently, for a minute ,  fold into three and shape into a ball and then place it a proving basket or a colander lined with a tea towel and dusted with semolina. Rest it the fridge covered, with a moist cloth, to slowly prove for 12 hours. I normally put it in the fridge at night before dinner and forget about until the next day. You can leave it to slow prove in the fridge for a few days, if you wish so. This process is called Retardation and it will develop the fermented flavour of the crumb and the characteristic crunchiness of the crust.

4. The next morning, leave your dough at room temperature for at least 2 hours. It should grow in size by 1/3 third.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA5. Preheat you oven to 200C (390 F). Place a small metal bowl in the oven to heat up. Gently, turn the bread onto an oven tray lined with baking paper, sprinkle it with a little water and score it in a X pattern. Immediately insert the tray into the even, pour a cup of cold water into the metal bowl to create steam and close the oven door. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until crusty and bronzed, the bottom sounds hollow when tapped and the fragrance of freshly baked bread is intoxicating. Rest at room temperature for at least 1 hour before slicing.

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