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A Taste For The Past

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Almond-Orange Cake (Focaccia alla Portoghese)

Posted by bakinghistory on April 9, 2008

A light and delicate sponge cake made with almonds and orange zest

The original name of this cake is Focaccia alla Portoghese which means Portuguese-Style Cake in Italian. In fact, the word focaccia in Italian does indicate both a savory flat bread and a sweet leavened cake. Artusi does not tell us anything more about the origins of this recipe besides its name, however the combination of almonds and oranges is an unmistakable characteristic of the cuisine of Sephardi Jews. This recipe might then have been inspired by those brought to Italy by Portuguese Jewish merchants or by the refugees that settled in many Italian cities at different times in history, such as following the expulsion of Jews from Portugal in 1497.

Incidentally, Artusi mentions a number of ingredients and dishes in his cook book that were introduced by the Jews and became part of mainstream Italian cuisine, for instance eggplants, pumpkins, and Pan di Spagna (sponge cake).

This cake has a wonderfully moist and spongy texture and is nicely flavored by the orange zest and the almonds without being too sweet. It keeps fresh for many days and it is actually better when made one day ahead. It is excellent served with tea or coffee, cut into tiny squares (or other fancy shapes) .

It is important to grind the almonds until they are reduced to a very fine powder, and even the granulated sugar should be ground briefly in the food processor or coffee grinder, especially if you use—as I do—organic sugar that tends to be relatively coarsely grained. The ground almonds need to be sifted and the larger pieces that remain in the sifter should be ground again until of the necessary fine consistency. These steps require an extra amount of time and might be tedious but are necessary to ensure a successful result and make a significant difference. Of course you can prepare the ground almonds ahead of time.

It is also essential to bake the cake at a very low temperature.

Artusi suggests to cover the cake with a crisp icing made with egg whites and sugar syrup. Personally I find that a light sprinkle of powdered sugar is more suited to the delicate texture of this cake.

From the original recipe by Pellegrino Artusi

In: “La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiar Bene”, 1891—Italy

Ingredients:

1 cup (150 g) whole Almonds, blanched, raw

3/4 cup (150 g) Granulated Sugar

1/3 cup (50 g) Potato Flour (starch)

3 Eggs

1-1/2 (organic) Oranges (juice and zest)

Powdered sugar to sprinkle on top of the cake

Preheat the oven to 300° F (150° C). Line a 9-inch (23 cm) round cake pan with aluminum foil and grease with vegetable oil (I used almond oil, grapeseed oil is also good for this).

Grind the almonds with 1/3 of the sugar in the food processor or coffee grinder until very finely powdered. Sift the almond mixture with the potato flour and grind again any large pieces of almonds that might have remained in the sifter. Set aside.

Grate the zest of 1/2 orange. Squeeze the oranges and strain the juice; set aside.

Grind the remaining sugar with the orange zest until fine and powdery.

In the bowl of a stand mixer using the balloon whip attachment beat the egg whites until stiff and glossy; set aside.

Beat the yolks at very high speed until light and pale yellow (using the balloon whip attachment). Gradually add the ground sugar and beat until well incorporated.

Switch to the flat beater attachment and add the ground almond mixture to the yolks and beat at high speed until light and well incorporated, taking care to scrape the sides of the bowl with a silicone spatula.

Add the orange juice and mix well.

Finally gently fold in the whipped egg whites, by hand, making sure they are well distributed and without deflating them. Pour the mixture in the prepared pan and bake in the preheated oven (place the rack in the middle position) for about 45 minutes. A cake tester in the center must come out clean and dry when the cake is ready.

Place the pan on a rack and let cool for 10 minutes. The cake will slightly deflate and shrink from the sides of the pan. Unmold it and let it cool on the rack. Sprinkle powdered sugar on top once the cake is completely cool.

Note: I had inadvertently forgot to write when to add the orange juice to the batter. I have just corrected the text.

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Posted in Cakes, Dairy-Free, Desserts, Flourless Cakes, Fruit, Gluten-free, Italian Cuisine, Italy, Pareve, Tea, Treenuts | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

Yellow Cornflour Cakes (LiveSTRONG with a Taste of Yellow 2008)

Posted by bakinghistory on March 6, 2008

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Buttery tea cakes with a sunny yellow color and a sandy texture
yellow_logo_3.jpg This is my entry for the blog event A Taste of Yellow supporting LiveSTRONG Day and hosted by Winosandfooodies.
The Lance Armstrong Foundation works to promote awareness and provide support to cancer patients fighting against this illness. This year LiveSTRONG Day is scheduled for May 13.
From the original recipe by Giuseppe Ciocca
In: “Il Pasticcere e Confettiere Moderno”, 1907—Italy
Ingredients
2-3/4 cups (325 g) whole-grain yellow cornflour (cornmeal is too gritty)
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp (75 g) sugar
2 sticks (225 g) butter, room temperature
3 hard-boiled yolks
grated zest of 1 (organic) lemon
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C)
Cream the butter at high speed until fluffy, then add the sugar 1 tbsp at a time beating well after each addition. Add the grated zest and the crumbled hard-boiled eggs and beat until well incorporated and creamy.
Mix in the flour to make a very soft dough. Form the cookies on a cookie sheet using a pastry bag fitted with a large star-shaped tip.
Place the cookie sheet with the formed cookies in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes to chill them so that they retain their shape better during baking.
Bake for about 10 minutes.
Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet, they are extremely fragile while hot and they will crumble if removed from the pans while warm. Once the cookies are completely cool, remove then gently with a thin spatula and store them in an airtight container.

Posted in Blog Events, Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti, Flourless Cakes, Gluten-free, Grains, Italian Cuisine, Italy, Sweetmeats, Tea, whole grains | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Mrs. Sulzbacher’s Chocolate Hearts

Posted by bakinghistory on February 15, 2008

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Airy and light, these chocolate meringue cookies are nothing less than excellent.
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A heart for your Valentine This is my entry for Zorra’s A heart for your Valentine blog event. These wonderful meringue cookies are featherlight and chocolatey and incredibly good. Really wonderful!

The recipe is rather simple but it is important to follow the instructions to the letter or results can go quickly from heavenly to disastrous.

From the original recipe by Amelia Sulzbacher

In: The Good Housekeeping Woman’s Home Cook Book”, c1909—USA

Ingredients

3 oz. (3 squares, 85 g) unsweetened chocolate

1 lb. (454 g) sifted confectioners’ sugar

1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla extract

3 egg whites (or as needed), slightly beaten

granulated sugar as needed

The egg whites must NOT be added all at once, but little by little or the dough will be too soft and the recipe will fail.

Melt the chocolate over hot water then add it to the confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer.Using the flat beater attachment mix briefly on the lowest speed, adding the vanilla. The mixture will be lumpy and most of the sugar will not be incorporated. Add the egg white 1 tbsp at a time, mixing on the lowest speed. You won’t probably need all of the amount indicated. The dough is ready when it is stiff and holds together when you work it by hand. The final consistency should be like play-dough.

choclate-hearts-dough.jpg (click on the thumbnail to enlarge)

Keep the dough in a bowl covered with a plate–plastic wrap does not work well—the dough tends to dry if left exposed to the air even for a few minutes.

Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C). If the temperature is higher, the cookies will puff up too fast and loose their shape.

Sprinkle a very generous layer of granulated sugar on a board and take an orange-size piece of dough, leaving the rest covered. Work the portion of dough briefly between the palms of your hands, then place it onto the sugar covered surface and roll it 1/8-inch (3 mm) thick (not thicker). Flip the flattened dough a couple of times while rolling it so that both sides are well covered with sugar.chocolate-hearts-rolled.jpg (click on the thumbnail to enlarge)

Form the cookies with heart shaped cookie-cutters and place the cookies on a very lightly greased baking sheet. The dough scraps cannot be kneaded again because of the granulated sugar, so try to minimize the spaces between cookies while you shape them. The scraps can be baked as well and will make cookies as delicious as the rest, albeit of less perfect shapes.

Bake the cookies for about 10-12 minutes, they will puff up a little and dry like meringues. When they are ready switch off the oven leave them in the oven for a few more minutes to ensure they are really dry.

Cool the cookies on racks and store in airtight containers.

Note: these quantities will yield approximately 4 baking sheets of cookies. You can halve the recipe, but they are so good it would be a pity to bake a smaller quantity.

Posted in American Cooking, Chocolate, Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti, Flourless Cakes, Gluten-free | Tagged: , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Chinese Almond Cakes

Posted by bakinghistory on February 5, 2008

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Traditional Chinese almond cakes

here is the ROUNDUP

This is my entry for the Chinese New Year blog event hosted by FoodFreak.

From the original recipe by Sara Bosse and Onoto Watanna [pseud.]

In: “Chinese-Japanese Cook Book”, c1914—USA

Ingredients

2 cups (320 g) rice flour + a little extra to form the cookies

1/4 cup (50 g) almond oil

1/2 cup (50 g) almonds, blanched

1-1/2 cups (180 g) confectioners’ sugar

2 eggs

To decorate: 10-12 almonds, blanched and split in half + 1 yolk mixed with 1/2 tbsp water

Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C)

Place the almonds, rice flour, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and process until the almonds are chopped very fine. Add the almond oil and pulse until the mixture resembles wet sand. Add the eggs and process briefly, until a soft dough forms.

Sprinkle some rice flour on a wooden board and roll small amounts of dough into balls about the size of a small walnut.

Press the balls with the bottom of a glass (floured), then brush with egg wash and place a split almond in the center.

Alternatively, you can roll the dough 1/4-inch (0.6 cm) thick, then cut the cookies with a round cookie-cutter.
Bake the cakes on baking sheets for 1 hour, making sure the oven temperature is not higher than 325°F (160°C)

Let the cakes cool on racks and store in an airtight container

Posted in American Cooking, Blog Events, Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti, Dairy-Free, Flourless Cakes, Gluten-free, Pareve, Rice, Treenuts | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Amaretti I (Almond Macaroons)

Posted by bakinghistory on October 8, 2007

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Delicate almond cookies to serve with coffee or tea

From the original recipe by Pellegrino Artusi

In “La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiar Bene” 1891–Italy

Ingredients

1-1/4 cup (250 g) granulated sugar

1 cup (150 g) blanched almonds, whole

2 small egg whites at room temperature

1/4 tsp (1 ml) pure almond extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C)

Grind the almonds in a clean coffee grinder with a few tbsp of sugar until fine and powdery and set aside. Beat the egg whites until glossy, adding the remaining sugar little by little and the almond extract. Gently fold the ground almonds into the beaten egg whites, until well incorporated but being careful not to deflate the mixture.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and drop the almond mixture from a teaspoon, 2 inches apart.

Bake for about 25 minutes. Let the macaroons cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes then gently remove the cookies with a thin metal spatula and let them finish cooling on a rack.

 

Posted in Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti, Flourless Cakes, Gluten-free, Italian Cuisine, Italy | 8 Comments »

Indian Pound Cake

Posted by bakinghistory on August 15, 2007

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This is a lovely variation on traditional American pound cake, made entirely with very fine cornmeal–once called Indian meal. It has a delicate, velvety texture and the delicious flavor of butter, corn, and nutmeg.

From the original recipe by A Lady of Philadelphia (Eliza Leslie)

In “Seventy-Five Receipts, for Pastry, Cakes, And Sweetmeats” 1828 –USA

Ingredients

8 eggs

the weight of 8 eggs in sugar (1 lb–454 g)

the weight of 6 eggs in very fine cornmeal (corn flour) (12.5 oz.–354 g) + a little extra for the pan

1/2 lb (2 sticks–227 g) butter

1 pinch salt

1 whole nutmeg or 1 tsp (2.3 g) ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 325°F (170°C). Generously butter a 5.4 x 9.1-inches loaf pan (13.6 x 23.2 cm), then sprinkle with corn flour, shaking off excess. Lining the pan with aluminum foil (buttered and floured as well) makes it easier to unmold the cake.

Grate the nutmeg, if using it, then mix it with the sugar. Pulverize the sugar mixed with nutmeg in a food processor or coffee grinder. If you use cinnamon instead mix it with the pulverized sugar at this point.

Cream the butter, then gradually add the powdered, flavored sugar to the creamed butter and beat until fluffy. Add the eggs two at a time alternating with the corn flour (to which you have added the salt). Add the corn flour to the butter mixture through a fine sifter. Make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula once in a while to mix everything properly. Beat the mixture on high speed until light and creamy, for at least 7 minutes.

Delicately pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for about 1 hour–a cake tester must come out clean. If the top browns too quickly, lightly cover with a piece of aluminum foil.

Let the cake cool in the pan placed on a rack for about 10 minutes, then take it out of the pan and let it finish cooling on the rack. It will be fragile while still hot.

The cake should be made 1 day ahead to be at its best. It stays moist and fresh for a few days if kept wrapped in aluminum foil, and its flavor improves.

Notes: It is important for achieving the right texture to use very fine corn flour, not fine corn meal, which is still too gritty. If you don’t find corn flour, you can process fine cornmeal in the food processor. Also pulverizing the granulated sugar is essential as well as it is sifting the flour while you add it to the batter.

The oven temperature must be no more than 325 °F (170° C), or the cake will develop a hard brown crust too soon and remain raw in the center.

Miss Leslie indicated only nutmeg and cinnamon as flavorings, but I also tried with anise, lemon zest and almond extract and all work well.

Posted in American Cooking, Cakes, Flourless Cakes, Gluten-free, Grains, Spices | 2 Comments »