Baking History

A Taste For The Past

Archive for the ‘Italian Cuisine, Italy’ Category

Anise Biscotti (Pan d’Anice) Think Spice… Think Anise

Posted by bakinghistory on November 26, 2008

anise-biscotti-2Delicious and crunchy anise biscotti

anise5logo3As the host of Think Spice… –a monthly event founded by Sunita–for the month of November I chose Anise, and this was the best opportunity to finally feature these wonderful biscotti. Once toasted they turn incredibly crunchy and light, with an intense flavor of anise provided by both anise extract and aniseed. They are also very thin and great to have with tea.The recipe comes from an old Italian professional pastry making manual; it is very simple, without baking powder or any type of fats, just eggs, flour, sugar and anise. I scaled down the original formula which called for over 3 lbs. flour so that it could be easily baked in a home oven—however they are so good it is a pity not to be able to make the full amount.

From the original recipe by Giuseppe Ciocca
In: “Il Pasticcere e Confettiere Moderno”, 1907—Italy
1-1/4 cup, scant, (150 g) AP flour, unbleached
3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar
5.30 oz (150 g)  eggs weighed without the shell (about large eggs)
1 large yolk
1 tsp pure anise extract
1 tbsp aniseed
Preheat oven to 325F (170C), line a rectangular 6×10-inch baking pan  (or one of equivalent volume) with aluminum foil and slightly grease bottom and sides.
Place some hot water in a bowl and in it put another small bowl containing the eggs (keep the yolk aside for now). Start beating the eggs at high speed and add the sugar little by little. Beat at high speed until all the sugar has been incorporated and the mixture is very light and lukewarm to the touch. Keep beating until the mixture cools and then add the yolk, and finally the anise extract.
Finally add the flour little by little letting it fall into the egg mixture through a strainer. Once all the flour has been incorporated with a spatula mix in the aniseed.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes until golden and springing back when pressed with a fingertip.
Let the cake cool 5 minutes in the pan, and meanwhile lower the oven temperature to 200F. Slice the cake starting at one of the narrow ends, use a good serrated knife to make thin slices (scant 1/4-inch, 0.5 cm), place them on a cookie sheet and let them dry in the oven until crunchy. Make sure the oven temperature is not above 200F, or the cookies will burn at the edges before they are dried through. Let cool on a rack and store airtight.
P.S. The Roundup of this event will be posted soon

Posted in Blog Events, Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti, Italian Cuisine, Italy, Spices | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

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


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.

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

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
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 »

Ovis Mollis

Posted by bakinghistory on February 28, 2008

A classic vanilla flavored Italian cookie with a meltingly soft texture
These plain vanilla cookies are truly an example of the best among Italian pastries. Their wonderfully tender texture is achieved by using hard-boiled yolks in the dough as well as some potato or corn starch. They are not too sweet, even with the confectioners’ sugar topping. Ideal to have with tea, they can also be paired with a jam filling.
From the original recipe by Giuseppe Ciocca
In: “Il Pasticcere e Confettiere Moderno”, 1907—Italy
14 tbsp (200 g) unsalted butter
1-1/2 cups (200 g) AP flour, unbleached + extra to roll the dough
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
3/4 cup (100 g) potato starch or cornstarch
5 hard-boiled yolks
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
confectioners’ sugar
Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C)
Place the flour and starch in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until well mixed. Add the butter, diced, and pulse until the mixtture looks like wet sand. Add the sugar and pulse until well incorporated. Add the yolks, and pulse until they are crumbled. Add the vanilla extract, and pulse until the dough forms (it might take a few seconds, and it might look like the mixture is too dry, but if the machine keeps working the dough will eventually form. Gather the dough in a piece of wax paper and leave to rest in a cool place (not the refrigerator).
Sprinkle a little flour on the work surface and roll the dough to a scant 1/4-inch (5 mm) thickness. With a cookie cutter cut the cookies (the traditional shape is a ring, which can be made with a donut cutter). Place the cookies on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil (greasing is not really necessary, especially if you use insulated baking sheets).
Bake for about 10 minutes, taking care that the cookies do not darken.
Let the cookies cool on the baking pans. They are extremely fragile while hot, and they will literally disintegrate if removed from the pans while hot.
Once the cookies are cool sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and store in airtight containers.
Note: to hard-boil the yolks saving the egg whites for other dishes, place a pan filled with about 2 inches of water on high heat. As soon as the water starts simmering, break each egg, separating yolks and whites. Place each yolk on a spoon and lower it ever so gently in the barely simmering water. Repeat with the remaining eggs. Let the yolks cook for about 2-3 minutes, scoop them out of the water with a skimmer and drain on paper towels.


Posted in Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti, Italian Cuisine, Italy | 7 Comments »

Crostata di Marmellata (Jam Tart)

Posted by bakinghistory on January 23, 2008

A traditional Italian jam tart
This is my entry for the event hosted by Erin from Skinny Gourmet, for which participants should post about a food that for them evokes memories and stories. My entry is a jam tart, a dessert rather simple and homey in itself, yet never boring or dull. This is the first kind of baked goods that as a little girl I learned to make from my mother. It was easy and quick to assemble, improved with time, and was our favorite to have with tea. In Italian we called it a crostata di marmellata. It evokes memories of many happy, precious hours spent with my mother in the kitchen, watching her preparing food and learning from her. We always used the following recipe to make pastafrolla—a perfect shortcrust pastry: sweet and buttery but not too rich, tender and crumbly yet sturdy enough to hold the filling.
From the original recipe by Pellegrino Artusi
In: La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiar Bene” , 1891–Italy
2 cups (250 g) AP flour, unbleached
1/2 cup (125 g) unsalted butter, diced
1/2 cup (110 g) sugar
1 medium egg
1 yolk
1 cup (260 g) fruit jam (such as apricot, plum, or sour cherry)
If the granulated sugar is coarse, it is preferable to process it briefly in a food processor or coffee grinder. Mix flour and sugar, then work the butter in with the tip of your fingers until the mixture resembles wet sand. Add the egg and yolk and work briefly until the dough just holds together.
It is important not to overwork the dough (do not knead it) or it will harden when baked.
A food processor works perfectly to make the dough: start by placing flour and sugar in the work bowl, process for a few seconds to mix, then add the butter and pulse a few times until the mixture looks like wet sand. Add the egg and yolk and process a few seconds more until the dough forms. Do not overprocess.
Wrap the dough in wax paper and let it rest in a cool place for at least 30 minutes.
On a lightly floured board roll 2/3 of the pastry dough to a 1/8-in (3 mm) thickness, and line with it the bottom and sides of a 9-in (23 cm) tart pan with scalloped edges and a removable bottom. The sides should be lined with a slightly thicker layer of pastry than the bottom, about 1/4-in (0.5 cm). Fold back in the dough that is hanging over the sides to make a thicker lining along the sides. Cut of excess. Prick the pastry bottom with the tines of a fork in a few places, then spread with the jam. Do not use a deep tart mold.
Roll the remaining pastry on a lightly floured board slightly thicker than 1/8-in (3 mm), then with a sharp knife or pastry cutter cut it in strips 1/4-inch (0.5 cm) wide and make a lattice on top of the jam layer. There might be some leftover pastry. I usually make a few cookies with it, or tartlets.
You can see how the lattice should look here.
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C) and bake the tart until golden, about 25 minutes. Unmold the tart as soon as it is ready and let it cool on a rack. If left in the pan it will turn irremediably soggy. It is great freshly baked but it definitely improves after a day or two, if kept in a closed container.
A note on the fruit jam: select a jam that is relatively low in sugar, 38% to 40% content of sugar is best; jams that contain a higher percentage of sugar tend to be adversely affected by the baking temperatures, turning sticky and ruining the final result.

Posted in Blog Events, Desserts, Fruit, Italian Cuisine, Italy, Pies & Tarts | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Amaretti I (Almond Macaroons)

Posted by bakinghistory on October 8, 2007


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


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 »

Semolina Cake (Torta di semolino)

Posted by bakinghistory on August 4, 2007


A classic Italian cake with a creamy texture and a nice flavor of almonds and lemon zest

From the original recipe by Pellegrino Artusi

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


1 quart (1 liter) whole milk

3/4 cup (130 g) fine semolina

3/4 cup (130 g) sugar

3/4 cup (100 g) blanched almonds (whole)

1-1/2 tbsp (20 g) butter (unsalted)

4 eggs

grated zest of 1 (organic) lemon

1/8 tsp (.5 ml) pure almond extract (or to taste)

1 pinch of salt

Confectioners’ sugar to sprinkle on top


Grind the almonds with the sugar until very fine and set aside. If the almonds are not ground fine enough this will affect the texture of the cake, making it gritty rather than smooth.

Bring the milk to a boil with a pinch of salt and the lemon zest, then add the semolina little by little, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Cook the semolina for about 8 minutes, on low heat, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Then add the almond-sugar mixture and cook for 1 minute more, finally add the butter and stir until well mixed. Take off the heat, mix in the almond extract and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350° F (180°C) and lightly oil a 10-inch (25 cm) springform pan.

When the semolina mixture is lukewarm add the eggs (the eggs should be beaten and put through a fine strainer). Mix well until the mixture is smooth and glossy. Distribute the semolina mixture in the pan and bake for about 45 minutes, or until golden on top.

Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack. When cold unmold the cake and cut it into diamonds or squares. Sift confectioners’ sugar on top only when ready to serve, or it will make the cake soggy.

Refrigerate any remaining portions.

Posted in Cakes, Grains, Italian Cuisine, Italy | 13 Comments »

Pignoli Tart (Torta coi pinoli)

Posted by bakinghistory on July 16, 2007


A crisp pastry shell with a creamy semolina filling speckled with crunchy pine nuts

From the original recipe by Pellegrino Artusi

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


For the pastry (Pasta frolla)

1-1/2 cup (200 g) flour

1 stick (100 g) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar

1 large egg

1/2 tbsp (7.5 ml) white wine–or as needed

1 yolk to glaze and confectioners’ sugar to decorate

For the Filling

1/2 cup (100 g) medium semolina

1/3 cup (65 g) sugar

2 cups (500 ml whole milk

1/2 cup (50 g) pine nuts

1/2 tbsp (10 g) butter

2 eggs

1 pinch salt

1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) pure vanilla extract (or better, vanilla paste)

Preheat the oven to 375° F (190°C)

Make the pastry: Place flour and butter (cut into small dice) in the bowl of a food processor and pulse briefly until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Add salt, sugar and pulse briefly again, then add the egg well beaten and pulse to incorporate. Add a little wine, as needed, with the machine running, until the dough just comes together. It is important not to overwork the dough. Gather the pastry in a piece of wax paper and refrigerate.

Make the filling : Chop the pine nuts with a sharp knife–they should be the size of rice kernels. Do not use a machine to do this or the pine nuts will be ground too fine. Bring the milk (with a pinch of salt) to a boil and then add the semolina little by little, stirring to eliminate lumps. Cook the semolina on low heat for about 5-6 minutes–the mixture will be stiff and smooth. Stir continuously to avoid scorching. Take off the heat and add sugar and other ingredients except eggs. Set aside to cool. When the semolina is lukewarm add the eggs, well beaten, stirring vigorously to incorporate well, until the mixture is again smooth and creamy.

Assemble the tart: On a lightly floured surface roll 2/3 of the pastry (leave the rest in the refrigerator) to an 11-inch round 1/8-inch (3 mm) thick and line a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom with the pastry, pressing gently with your fingertips to cover sides and bottom of the pan.

Roll the remaining portion of pastry in an 11-inch square and cut into strips about 1/4-inch (0.5 cm) thick.

Pour the filling into the prepared pastry shell smoothing the surface with the back of a spoon. Make a lattice on top with the prepared strips. Brush the strips with yolk and bake the tart for about 1 hour.pinolitart2.jpg

The tart filling will be golden and raised, but will fall as the tart cools. Take the tart out of the pan and let cool on a rack.

Sift confectioners’ sugar on the tart once cold. pinolitart3.jpg



Posted in Italian Cuisine, Italy, Pies & Tarts | 6 Comments »

Coriander Seed Ice Cream (Gelato di Crema)

Posted by bakinghistory on June 12, 2007


The almost citrusy aroma of coriander seed gives this classic Italian-style ice cream a somewhat unusual but really delicious flavor.

From the original recipe by Pellegrino Artusi

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

Vanilla, coffee or coriander seed are among the flavorings that Artusi suggested for this rich and smooth ice cream. Even if today coriander seed is not as commonly used as are vanilla or lemon zest in this type of frozen custard, in Artusi’s time it was often chosen given its lower cost compared to other spices.

An important note about preparing this custard is that since it does not contain any type of starch in its ingredients, it needs to be cooked on very low heat and stirred constantly. If heated at too high a temperature the mixture will invariably curdle. If this happens, the custard can be restored to (nearly) perfection by processing it in a blender until completely smooth–an immersion blender works also very well.


1 quart (1 Liter ) whole milk

8 yolks

1 c (200 g-7 oz) sugar

1/4 cup (30 g-1 oz) whole coriander seed

Crush the coriander seed in a mortar or with a rolling pin, then add them to the milk. Scald the milk then put it aside to cool to lukewarm, leaving the coriander seeds to infuse.

Meanwhile, beat the yolks with the sugar until the mixture is thick and pale yellow in color. Strain the milk and discard the coriander seeds. Add the lukewarm milk to the egg-sugar mixture, slowly, and mix well. Cook on very low heat stirring constantly, until it thickens slightly. Take off the heat and let cool. Place the custard in a covered glass container and refrigerate overnight. Process the very cold custard in an ice cream maker.

Posted in Gelato, Ice Creams, Sherbets, & Ices, Italian Cuisine, Italy, Spices | Leave a Comment »

Peach Ice (Gelato di Pesche)

Posted by bakinghistory on June 6, 2007


White peaches are preferable to make this simple and delicious frozen treat with a smooth, snowy texture and a pure fruit flavor.

From the original recipe by Pellegrino Artusi

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


White peaches (ripe) 0.882 lb (400g)

Sugar 1/2 lb (250 g)

Water 8 fl oz (500 ml)

1 large lemon (juice)

1/8 tsp pure almond extract (optional)

Put water and sugar in a small pan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Let the syrup simmer for 10 minutes, set aside to cool, then refrigerate, covered, for at least a few hours but preferably overnight.

Peel the peaches and cut in small pieces, taking care to save any juice, put them with the cold syrup, the lemon juice and the optional almond extract in a blender or food processor and puree, until very smooth. Freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker.

Posted in Gelato, Ice Creams, Sherbets, & Ices, Italian Cuisine, Italy | 4 Comments »