Baking History

A Taste For The Past

Posts Tagged ‘Italian Cuisine’

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
Ingredients
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

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.

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

Crostata di Marmellata (Jam Tart)

Posted by bakinghistory on January 23, 2008

crostata-artusi-4.jpg
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.
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From the original recipe by Pellegrino Artusi
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In: La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiar Bene” , 1891–Italy
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Ingredients
2 cups (250 g) AP flour, unbleached
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1/2 cup (125 g) unsalted butter, diced
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1/2 cup (110 g) sugar
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1 medium egg
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1 yolk
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1 cup (260 g) fruit jam (such as apricot, plum, or sour cherry)
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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.
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Wrap the dough in wax paper and let it rest in a cool place for at least 30 minutes.
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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.
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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.
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You can see how the lattice should look here.
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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.
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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.
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Posted in Blog Events, Desserts, Fruit, Italian Cuisine, Italy, Pies & Tarts | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »