Apple, Extra-Virgin Olive Oil and Ricotta Muffins

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We Italians are very opinionated, bordering on fastidious, when it comes to cakes and all things sweet. We proudly cook family recipes that have been passed on for generations without so much of a written note and each family strongly believes to be the sole keeper of a perfectly moist cake recipe. And then, one day, only a few decades ago, we heard about this miracle cake batter, an Anglo-Saxon recipe sure to produce the lightest, fluffiest afternoon tea treat: the muffin recipe! It was love at first bite. We all make muffins now, just as proudly as we whip amaretti cookie dough. We may have swapped the melted butter for extra-virgin olive oil and, in this case, added a few tablespoons of ricotta, but the miraculous principle has remained the same: lumpy batter=moist cake.

That’s Amore!

INGREDIENTS, makes 12

2 1/4 cups of self-raising flour, sifted

1 teaspoon  ground cinnamon, plus extra for dusting on top

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

2 eggs

2/3 cup caster sugar

70 ml Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

4 tablespoons of full cream ricotta

2/3 cup of milk

2 handfuls of semi-dried apples, chopped up (or 2 fresh apples, chopped up)

Demerara sugar and almond flakes for sprinkling

HOW TO

  1. Preheat  your oven to 170°C (390 F)
  2. Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 muffin cases or baking paper.
  3. Put flour, lemon zest and cinnamon into a large bowl. In separate bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar until apple and creamy. Add the ricotta, oil and the milk, mix well, then pour the liquids into the flour, lemon zest and cinnamon mix. Stir until just combined. The batter should be a little lumpy and slightly sticky and thick. Add a n extra splash of milk if too thick or another 1-2 tablespoons of flour if too runny. All flours then to vary, according to how they are milled and to how they react to humidity, so feel free to adjust quantities to suit your needs. I always do it.
  4. Add the chopped apples and spoon the batter into the muffin tin. Sprinkle with demerara sugar and almond flakes * and bake for 2-25 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool at room temperature, dust with cinnamon and consume with unrepentant pleasure!

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* If you’d like to top the muffins with a piece of semidried apple, like in the pictures, make sure to cover the muffins tray with oven paper for the first 15 minutes, otherwise the apples may color too much. Remove the paper after 15 minute to allow the top of the muffins to rise evenly and develop a healthy sun-kissed look.

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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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Ciambellone della Nonna (Nonna’s Marble cake with Oil and Yogurt)

Those of you who have travelled to Italy know how much we favour a sweet breakfast. Cafes are crowded with Italians standing by the counter dipping a pastry into their morning coffee before they set off to work. Admittedly, this is not the healthiest way to start the day and it it possibly one of very few things Italian get wrong about food. These days I have become an advocate of oatmeal  and home-made muesli, however I do like to indulge on weekends and allow myself and my family the undeniable pleasures of white starch and refined sugar! There is hardly anything I crave more on a Saturday morning than diving a freshly baked, large slice of Ciambellone into a coffee artfully prepared by Richard. I feel no guilt, it is part of my DNA, it is my legacy. I have to oblige, at least one a week. So I say, if you  truly want to be Italian, get yourself a cake and practise an infallible dunking motion.
Any tea-cake or cookie will do, but my loyalty lies with this very cake my Mamma used to make for us on Sundays.

INGREDIENTS:

3 eggs

200 gr (1 cup) of caster sugar

250 gr (2 and 1/3 cups) of self-raising flour

2 tablespoons of corn starch

60 ml (1/4 cup) of grape seed oil (or lightly scented olive oil)

125 gr (1/2 cup) of Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

How To

1. Whisk eggs and sugar until pale and creamy.

2. Add the oil , Greek youghurt and the vanilla

3. Gently fold in the flour and the corn starch, well sifted. Mix until the batter is combined.

4. Pour 2/3 of the mix into a ring-cake tin (I used a silicon one so I didn’t have to grease it.).

5. Add 3 tablespoons of bitter cocoa and a good splash of Galliano* to the remaining cake batter and mix until smooth.

6. Dollop the cocoa mix on top of the vanilla mix and , using a fork or a chopstick, swirl the two batters together.

7. Bake in a preheated 170 C (340 F) oven for about 35/45 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Let the cake cool in its tin for about one hour before serving.

Make yourself a good coffee, and get stuck in….

* Galliano is an Italian vanilla-scented liquor. You can omit or substitute with rum.

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