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Last Tuesday night my mom celebrated her bday. She threw a party for about 40 people and I was in charge for cakes! The menu itself was simple but very typical of our region: they started with a selection of cold cuts, such as mortadella, sopressa and prosciutto; hot home-made bread and some stracchino (a fresh cheese that melts perfectly on hot buns!!). The main course was a mix of hare and pheasant, with polenta as a side. I am not really big on this kind of food, but it is good to have it sometimes just to experiment new tastes.

Anyway, back to the cakes…I made three of them, plus some guests brought cupcakes and tiramisù (it would not be an Italian party without it Lol). My very first idea was to make a real Sachertorte, a delicious, fine, moist very chocolaty cake that is one of the famous historic foods from Wien, the capital of Austria. But, as long as I didn’t have enough chocolate for all the cakes I wanted to bake, I just slightly changed the recipe making a dough with cocoa instead (using Martha’s Stewart Chocolate Cake’s recipe). It turned out a wonderful, not that heavy, Almost Sacher Torte!

A new post concerning the second cake I baked for this occasion will come soon…

ALMOST SACHER TORTE

Prep Time: 1hr + cooling           Cooking Time: about 35 min

Ingredients:
Cake:
– 2 sticks/ 225gr unsalted butter
– 2 cups/ 200gr all-purpose flour
– 1/2 cup/ 60gr unsweetened cocoa powder
– 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
– 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 1 1/2 cups/ 300gr sugar
– 2 large eggs plus 3 large egg yolks
– 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
– 1 cup/ 240ml low-fat buttermilk*
– 8-9 tbsp home made apricot jam
*To make your home-made buttermilk add three parts yogurt, 1 part milk and 1 tbsp lemon juice. Stir and set aside for 5 minutes.
Icing:
– 5.2 oz/ 150gr dark chocolate
– 1 tablespoon oil
– 1 cup/ 200gr sugar
– 1/2 cup/ 240ml water
Steps:
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F/ 180°C. Grease and flour two 8-by-2-inch (20cm diameter) cake pans, tapping out excess flour. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  2. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. With mixer on low, beat in eggs and yolks, one at a time. Beat in vanilla. Alternately beat in flour mixture and buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix just until combined.
  3. Divide batter between pans; smooth tops. Bake until cakes pull away from sides of pans, 32 to 35 minutes. Let cool in pans 10 minutes. Run a knife around edges of pans and invert cakes onto a wire rack. Let cool completely.
  4. Place one cake, bottom side up, on a cake stand. Tuck strips of parchment paper underneath. Using an offset-spatula or table knife, spread top with apricot jam. Top with remaining cake;
  5. Make the chocolate icing. Melt the chocolate in bain-marie or double boiler and stir in the oil. Bring the sugar and water to a boil. A spoonful at a time, stir the cooled sugar solution into the melted chocolate until you have a smooth mixture.
  6. With the cake on a wire rack, pour chocolate glaze around edges to cover the sides. Fill in the center. Tap the wire rack to pop any bubbles.
  7. Chill while still on the wire rack until the chocolate glaze is set. Remove from the wire rack and trim the bottom. Place on a cake board or plate and serve with some whipped cream.
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I’m not baking treats since my last b(r)undt cake, as we received some cookies from a friend and we still have a lot of sweet stuff to eat. That’s why I’m focusing on cooking and, after the Mac&Cheese experience, I wanted to prepare something a bit healthier 😉

I choose to make a Herbs Orzotto. What’s Orzotto? well, it’s a risotto (this word comes from Italian word riso – rice) but made with barley (orzo, in Italian). The technique used is exactly the same: to let the barley cook, you have to add stock little by little and stir until done.

It’s a super-easy recipe but unfortunately not quick. Barley takes about 40 minutes to get ready, if you cook it this way…but creaminess and distinguishing taste of this whole grain will be worth your waiting! If you want to have an all-in-one course you can add some tuna fillets in olive oil, just before serving. And ‘Buon appetito!’.

HERBS ORZOTTO

Prep Time: 5 min             Cooking Time: about 40 min                Yield: 4 servings

  • 280 gr/ 1 1/4 cups pearl barley
  • 1/2 onion (I choose red variety as it’s sweeter)
  • a big handful fresh herbs mix (thyme, marjoram, sage, rosemary)
  • 1lt stock (I prefer vegetables one, as it has no big taste)
  • 60 gr/ 4 tbsp butter
  • 3/4 glass dry white wine
  • grated parmigiano or pecorino romano cheese
  • Coarse black pepper
  1. Heat the stock. In a separate pan heat 40gr/ 3tbsp of butter, add onions finely sliced and herbs chopped. Fry slowly for about 4 minutes. When they have softened, add the barley and turn up the heat.
  2. The barley will begin to fry, so keep stirring it. After a minute add the wine and keep stirring. You will smell the perfume of alchool which evaporates, leaving a tasty essence.
  3. Once the wine has evaporated, add your first ladle of hot stock and a good pinch of salt. Turn down the heat to a highish simmer. Keep adding ladles of stock when you see barley is getting dry.
  4. After about 40 minutes, your barley should be done and you can remove it from heat. Add the remaining butter and grated parmiagiano. Place a lid on the pan and allow to sit for 2 to 3 minutes. –> There’s a word in Italian that describes exactly this step: mantecatura. There’s no translation in English, but basically it means giving barley (or pasta, or rice…) a chance to absorb sauce, cheese, butter and all aromas. It makes such a difference, as it ensure the characteristic creamy aspect (and taste!)
  5. Serve the orzotto with a generous sprinkle of coarse black pepper on top.

To bake a casserole of mac&cheese was one of my hidden dreams. Yeah, hidden…’cause i did not know I wanted to cook them, ’till the day I received this book by Martha Stewart (there she goes again lol). It is amazing to read how the American cook is a-hundred-in-one. Meaning that it is a mix of cooks from all over the world, revised and adapted by the immigrants. The result is an interpretation of different original and traditional dishes, modified and enriched.

Like Mac&Cheese. We could say this is the evolution of the Italian ‘maccheroni al forno’ (oven maccheroni). With some big differences: first, Italian Maccheroni are not the American Macaroni (totally different shape); second, a huge amount of melted cheese to add.

Honestly, the idea of mixing besciamella (the sauce you obtain mixing flour, butter and milk – which is a foundamental of French and Italian cooks) and a ton of cheese scared me a bit…but I learnt to try before judging and this time I was right. Even my dad – who is by definition not very fond of other cooks, except for the Italian one – said it tasted ‘not bad at all!’. I took it as his higher expression of satisfaction 😉

MAC&CHEESE

Prep Time: 25 min             Baking Time: 30 min

  • 6 tablespoons (85gr) unsalted butter, plus more for dish
  • 5 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 4 1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar or gouda
  • 2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated gruyere or hemmentaler
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
Steps:
1. Heat the oven to 375°F/190°C. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside. Fill a large saucepan with water. Bring to a boil. Add macaroni; cook 2 to 3 fewer minutes than manufacturer’s directions, until outside of pasta is cooked and inside is underdone (bite a macarone, the inner part should be still white and quite hard. In Italy we call this way of cooking ‘al dente‘).  Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Set aside.

2. In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, heat milk (you can either use the microwave). Melt butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When butter bubbles (but it’s not brown yet!!), add flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.

3. Slowly pour hot milk into flour-butter mixture while whisking. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.

4. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar or gouda, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyere or Hemmentaler. Keep on stirring until smooth and perfectly mixed.
5.  Stir macaroni into the cheese sauce.
6. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar or gouda and 1/2 cup gruyere or hemmentaler; Bake until browned on top, about 30 minutes. To give a crunchier top, raise the oven temperature to the max and switch the grill on for 3 to 5 min (check the color).
7. Transfer dish to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes; serve.

Half way between a sweet bread and a bundt cake but soft, moist and so tasty! These are three adjectives I would use to describe this cake. The shape is the same as a sweet bread’s one. The consistency reminded me to a sort of bundt cake but not as crumbly and dry, thanks to the grated pears I added in the batter which gave moistness.

I choose a variety of pears I grow in my garden, called Kaiser. The fruit should be still firm and not too soft for two reasons: first, it comes easier to grate it; second, it will not be too jucy (as the batter has not to be too wet).

I also added some raisins, previously soaked in grappa (a tipical Italian spirit, really strong but perfect to come with the taste of pears and raisins). Grappa can be substituted with rum, which has a smoother taste or -if you have children- with some hot water. Last but not least, I put some pine nuts to add a crunchy touch.

This is perfect for breakfast (for the ones who love to have it sweet) or as a treat during the whole day.’Cause there is always a good excuse to stop for a minute and eat a slice of cake.

(This recipe is a free interpretation of Pear Bread from Smitten Kitchen’s blog)

PEAR, RAISIN AND PINE NUT BRUNDT CAKE

Prep Time: 15 min             Baking Time: 60-70 min


– 3 cups all-purpose flour
– 1 teaspoon baking soda
– 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
– 1  teaspoon salt

– 1/2 cup grappa (or rum)
– 1/2 cup raisins
– 1/2 cup pine nuts
– 3/4 cup butter, softened
– 3 eggs
– 2 cups sugar
– 4 pears firm, ripe pears, depending on size (you’ll need 2 grated cups total, but I don’t recommend you grate them until you are about to use them, so they don’t brown)
– 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Steps:

  1. Heat your oven to 350°F (175°C) and lightly grease and flour or two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans.
  2. Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl, and stir with a fork to mix everything well.
  3. In a little bowl, soak raisins in grappa. Add some hot water to cover, if needed and leave them
  4. Peel and core pears, then grate them. You’ll want two grated cups total; set them briefly aside.
  5. Combine the softned butter, eggs and sugar in a medium bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle. Beat until batter is smooth and well combined.  Add grated pear, drained raisins and vanilla, and stir to mix everything well. Scrape the pear mixture into the flour mixture and stir just until the flour disappears and the batter is evenly moistened.
  6. Quickly scrape the batter into the prepared pans and bake at 350°F (175°C) for 60 to 70 minutes, or until the bread is handsomely browned and firm on top and a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.
  7. Cool the bread in the pan on a wire rack  Then turn it out onto a plate or a wire rack to cool completely.

A couple of days ago I was doing the shopping and I found the biggest chocolate chips ever. In Italy we have small ones (we call them gocce – drops, as they are really tiny). It goes without saying I had to make chocolate chip cookies! Usually, when i don’t have the right kind of chocolate chips, I use chopped dark chocolate and it works as well. But this time…Omg, the cookies turned out great!

Between a thousand recipes for Chocolate Chip Cookies I choose one from Martha Stewart’s book ‘Cookies’ my baby gave me (I love him also cause he perfectly knows a book like that makes me happier than anything else). It’s not the traditional recipe, as it’s rather cakey than chewy. But I definitely love it!

CAKEY CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Prep Time: 10 min             Baking Time: 10-12 min            

To make about 36 cookies

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups (about 12 ounces) semisweet and/or milk chocolate chips

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking soda; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter with both sugars; beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to low; add the salt, vanilla, and eggs. Beat until well mixed, about 1 minute. Add flour mixture; mix until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  2. Drop heaping tablespoon-size balls of dough about 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
  3. Bake until cookies are golden around the edges and set in the center, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven, and let cool on baking sheet 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, and let cool completely.

Yesterday was a nice fall Saunday. It started raining in the morning, temperature was quite cold. I had some apples in the fridge as I picked up a whole bunch last week (yeah, I’m lucky I have several trees I grow by myself!). So, I wanted to bake something but not the same old pie. I started looking for a recipe and I remembered I had downloaded an app from Primerose (a bakery shop in London) last week. The section Loaves & Slices immediately drew my attention! The first recipe was an Apple and Blueberry Loaf…I didn’t need to be told twice 😉 I slightly changed some ingredients due to what I had in the fridge, but still the loaf turned out really yummy!!

APPLE, CRANBERRY AND PINE NUT LOAF

Prep Time: 15 minutes          Baking time: 1 hr        Specific Tools:  900 grams \ 9-by-5-Inch Loaf Pan

– 225g \ 2cups self-raising flour

– pinch of salt

– 125g \ 1 stick unsalted butter (fridge temperature)

– 175g \ 3/4 cups + 2tbsp granulated sugar

– 2 eggs

– 2 big apples

– a handful dried cranberries

– a handful pine nuts

– 4 tbsp rum

– hot water

– 4 tbsp apricot jam

Steps:

> Preheat the oven to 190°\380F\gas mark 5. Grease and flour a loaf baking tin, tapping out excess flour.

> Take a little bowl and fill it with hot water and the rum. Soak the dried cranberries and let them soften.

> Peel and slice the apples.

> In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt and butter until it reaches a breadcrumbs texture.

> Add sugar and eggs beating until combined.

> Spoon half the batter into the tin and put half of the apples, cranberries (previously squeezed out) and pine nuts on top. Add the remaining batter and cover with the rest of the fruit.

> Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 60 minutes.

> Meanwhile, heat the apricot jam (either on the stove or the microwave) and when the loaf is done brush the warm jam over it.

> Cool in pan 10 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack (but it works aswell if you leave the loaf in its tin).

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