venetian chocolate walnut cake

venetian chocolate walnut cake

I believe with my whole heart in the act of cooking; in its smells, in its sounds, in its observable progress on the fire. – Marcella Hazan

Here’s a simple, rustic cake, right at home presented on a plain old cutting board, dolled up with nothing more than a lavish dusting of cocoa (powdered sugar would do just as well).

The basis of this recipe comes from Marcella Hazan’s masterpiece, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, a book I tote around with me like a cherished friend. And now I realize that it is just that.

venetian chocolate walnut cake

I bought my copy at the Strand Bookstore in New York City, just about twenty years ago when I was teaching myself to cook, and I still have it. On those days when I feel slightly uncentered and overwhelmed, Marcella’s words and recipes help me feel grounded again.

I only have to read the recipe title for Roast Chicken with Two Lemons (a version of that chicken appeared here as Marry Me Roast Chicken) to be reminded that no matter how discouraging a day seems, a person can always replenish the soul by making something simple and delicious to eat.

venetian chocolate walnut cake

Marcella’s recipe uses almonds, but I was craving walnuts and needed to make a dent in what seems to be a stockpile of them in my freezer (I must have been a squirrel in another lifetime). I also added a bit of chocolate (just because).

I love this cake, and I hope you will, too. It’s light, moist, rich, not too sweet…making it one of a few desserts that can be savored along with the last drops of red wine – or better yet, a glass of nocino - after dinner.

venetian chocolate walnut cake

Yield: one 8 inch cake

Marcella writes in the headnote to the original recipe that almonds are “ by a wide margin the most favored nut in Italian cakes, particularly in the Veneto...” but I think walnuts are a wonderful substitute.

Ingredients

  1. 1 ¾ cups shelled walnuts
  2. 1 cup sugar
  3. 3 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
  4. Grated zest of one lemon or orange
  5. 8 egg whites
  6. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  7. ½ cup all-purpose flour or brown rice flour
  8. 1 tablespoon nocino (Italian walnut liqueur) or brandy
  9. Unsweetened cocoa powder and/or softly whipped cream for serving

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat the sides of an 8-inch springform pan with olive oil or softened butter and line the bottom with a piece of parchment.
  2. Put the walnuts and sugar in a food processor and grind until fine crumbs form; add the chocolate and zest and pulse a few times to chop the chocolate into small chips.
  3. Whip the egg whites and salt in a mixer with the whisk attachment until they form stiff peaks.
  4. Sift the flour over the egg whites and fold it in gently. Add the walnut mixture in 2 or 3 additions and fold it in carefully (the volume will decrease slightly); stir in the nocino or brandy.
  5. Transfer the batter to the pan. Bake on the middle oven rack 30 – 35 minutes, until the cake is puffed and a toothpick inserted in the middle emerges without crumbs but with a little melted chocolate.
  6. Cool in the pan 10 minutes before releasing the sides of the pan; invert onto a rack, remove the parchment paper. Turn the cake right side up and cool completely.
  7. Sift cocoa powder over the cake before slicing and serving, with a side of whipped cream of you like.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/03/venetian-chocolate-walnut-cake/

italian cherry doughnuts

bomboloni - italian cherry and cream doughnuts

Bom-bo-LONI: It’s a fantastic combination of vowels and consonants, don’t you think? Not only do I love to roll the sound of the word around, I’m once again wandering into deep-frying territory with these crazy-good Italian filled doughnuts.

I won’t lie; going to the trouble of deep-fat frying combined with having to mess with a piping bag lies right outside my comfort zone of carefree cooking, and right up next to pain-in-the-culo.

I brainstorm and then procrastinate ideas for a small mobile business (more than a few have taken my gelato truck and driven away with it)…why not a Bombolini Bus? Or maybe something more bricks and mortar; like The Bombolini Bar – a hole-in-the-wall serving up fresh, hot doughnut holes alongside cold glasses of pink Prosecco.

italian cherry jam and cream filled doughnuts

It doesn’t seem likely I’ll be doing that anytime soon, but if you do, please invite me to your grand opening.

In the meantime, I have to admit it was worth the effort to make homemade doughnuts. My kids really had no idea, no benchmark, for fresh, real doughnuts in a landscape saturated with drive-through junk.

bomboloni: italian cherry doughnuts

If you take the doughnut plunge, definitely plan to make these when there are enough people around to devour them right as they’re done. Although they are nicely, manageably bite-sized, that also translates into all the more easy to make disappear.

I “tested” a good half dozen bomboloni before I realized I would be depleting the entire output of the recipe if I kept going. So you’ve been warned.

bomboloni: italian cherry jam and pastry cream doughnuts

bomboloni: italian cherry doughnuts

Yield: about 3 dozen small doughnuts

If using cherry preserves, mash or puree to remove pieces of fruit that may clog the pastry tip.

The bomboloni are wonderful plain too, if you don't want to go the trouble of filling them. Another option - split them in half and spoon over preserves or filling of your choice.

Ingredients

  1. 1 tablespoon instant yeast
  2. 3/4 cup lukewarm milk (heat in microwave)
  3. 3 cups flour
  4. 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  5. 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)
  6. ¼ cup softened butter
  7. ¾ cup granulated sugar, plus more for coating
  8. 2 eggs
  9. 4 – 6 cups neutral tasting olive oil or other vegetable oil
  10. 1 cup cherry preserves and/or 1 cup pastry cream (recipe below)

Instructions

  1. Dissolve the yeast with the milk in a medium bowl; stir in 1 cup of the flour. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it proof until bubbly, about 1 hour.
  2. Whisk together the remaining flour with the salt and nutmeg in a bowl.
  3. Beat the butter in a standing mixer with the paddle attachment until creamy, about 30 seconds; add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at time, until blended.
  4. Add the yeast mixture along with the flour mixture. Mix on medium speed until the flour is incorporated and a soft dough that pulls away from the side of the bowl forms, 2 or 3 minutes. Transfer the dough to a lightly buttered bowl, cover and leave at room temperature 1 hour. (The dough can also be refrigerated up to one day ahead of frying at this point – leave out for one hour before proceeding.
  5. Place the dough on a floured surface and pat or roll it out ½-inch thick. Cut out circles using a 1 ½ - 2-inch diameter biscuit cutter; arrange the doughnuts on a baking sheet, lightly cover with a towel and let them rise for an hour.
  6. Pour oil to a depth of 4 inches in a heavy pot or saucepan (I used a 3-quart All Clad) and heat to 350 degrees.
  7. Drop the doughnuts into the oil 3 or 4 at a time. Fry until puffed and golden all over, turning once. Remove the doughnuts as they’re done and immediately roll them in sugar, then onto a rack to cool.
  8. Put the jam and/or pastry cream in a piping bag or a sealable plastic bag fitted with a plain pastry tip. Gently poke a hole into each doughnut with a wide skewer (or use the pastry tip) and fill each bomboloni. Serve freshly made.

Notes

*To make pastry cream, heat 1 ½ cups whole milk and a vanilla bean broken in half, until it comes to a boil. Whisk 4 egg yolks, 1/3 cup sugar and a pinch of salt in a bowl until thickened; sift over ¼ cup flour and stir it in. Scoop out a few tablespoons of the boiling milk and whisk into the eggs; then pour the eggs into the milk. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the cream is thickened to the texture of mayonnaise. Remove from heat and stir in 1 tablespoon butter. Strain into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate until cold. Stir in some heavy cream to thin before piping, if needed.

http://familystylefood.com/2013/03/italian-cherry-doughnuts/

olive oil and vanilla pots de crème

olive oil and lemon pots de creme

I was going to call this post Little Vanilla Custards, but due to a frisson brought on by the food media I’ve been indulging in lately, I had to change course a bit. It started with the food-celebrity crush I have on Rachel Khoo. Have you seen her show Little Paris Kitchen?

My almost-sixteen year old daughter and I were having some girl time; lazing around on a Sunday afternoon and finally getting caught up on episodes of the show I’d recorded a while back on The Cooking Channel.

“Oh! Look how cute she is, mom! Can I have bangs like that, and red lipstick, and pouty lips, and that little apartment in Paris? And can I draw those fun pictures with watercolors and talk with her accent?” I won’t lie; part of me knew exactly how she felt.

The word “darling” makes rare appearances in my vocabulary, but that’s the one that describes Rachel Khoo and her adventures cooking on two gas rings, in a charming old Paris kitchen hardly bigger than a pack of Gauloises.

olive oil and vanilla pots de creme

I just got The Little Paris Kitchen cookbook in the mail. There’s no recipe for little vanilla custards - pots de creme en Francais – in there, but that’s what came to mind while I flipped through it. The book is as appealing as the show, and I’m sure it will inspire more little French food for me to cook. Rachel trained in patisserie so there’s lots of sweet, simple recipes in the dessert chapter.

The other twist in today’s recipe story comes from Nigella. I’ve also managed to acquire her new book Nigelissima, and I really like it. I believe Nigella when she says “It was when I was sixteen or seventeen that I decided to be Italian.”

I was browsing through it, hearing her dusky Nigella voice as I read through the recipe introductions. I’d already planned to make my vanilla custards, but got caught up in the photo and description of a drop-dead gorgeous, mascarpone whipped-cream layered, pomegranate and pistachio-strewn Italian Christmas Pudding Cake on page 250. Nigella soaks panettone slices for the cake in Tuaca, the Italian vanilla liqueur which she says seems “panettone in alcohol form.”

tuaca Italian vanilla liqueur vanilla  bean

Hmmmmm. Okay. I think the last time I sampled Tuaca was back in the 1980’s, while on a date with a guy who drank amaretto sours. But I could see how that brandied-buttery-vanilla-citrus flavor sensation that is Tuaca would work in a rich custard just as well as in the creamy filling of Nigella’s spectacular cake.

I had to go on an extended journey to find Tuaca, which turns out is not available in just any old grocery store, or even three (booze is sold in food stores where I live), but required, finally, a visit to the liquor mega-mart in the suburb one over from mine.

Good thing, too. Because damn if that liquid panettone doesn’t taste like a beautiful thing in these little vanilla custards.

olive oil and vanilla pots de creme

My choice to drizzle olive oil over this smooth-as-silk custard concoction came about because I heard someone whisper “olive oil gelato” in my ear as I was falling asleep one night. No, not really.

I am enticed by the idea of olive oil gelato and will get around to making it soon. I just wanted to add a tiny bit more luscious mouthfeel.

I was sent some olive oil to sample from The Village Press, a New Zealand boutique producer. They have an innovative way of packaging their cold-pressed oil; it’s date-stamped and sealed both in a bag and a black box to protect it from light and oxidation. The oil is golden and tastes buttery and peppery, like an estate oil from Tuscany. It’s pretty special and I will be using this as a finishing oil while it lasts.

If you’re interested in trying Village Press estate oil it’s available at their Amazon store.

olive oil and vanilla pots de crème

You can use 8 espresso cups (3 - ounce capacity) if you have them. Otherwise bake the pots de creme in 6 (4-ounce) ramekins.

Ingredients

  1. 6 egg yolks
  2. 1/3 cup sugar
  3. 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
  4. 1 ½ cups heavy cream
  5. ½ cup milk
  6. 1 tablespoon Tuaca liqueur or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  7. 1 vanilla bean
  8. Extra-virgin olive oil, the best you have

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place custard or espresso cups in a roasting pan or baking dish large enough to hold them so they don't touch . Bring a kettle full of water to a boil.
  2. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar and salt together in a bowl until the sugar is dissolved.
  3. Combine the cream and milk in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and then immediately remove from the heat.
  4. Very gradually, dribble the hot cream mixture into the eggs, whisking at the same time. Stir in the Tuaca or vanilla extract. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise with a small, sharp knife; slide the dull edge of the knife along the bean to scrape out the seeds and add them to the bowl. Pour through a mesh strainer into a 3 or 4 cup measuring cup.
  5. Divide the custard among the cups and put the pan on middle oven rack; pour enough boiling water around the cups to come 2/3 of the way up the sides. Cover with a piece of aluminum foil and bake 35 – 40 minutes, until the edges are set and centers are a little quivery when you jiggle the cups.
  6. Carefully remove the cups from the water bath and cool on a rack 30 minutes. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
  7. Just before serving, drizzle a teaspoon or so of olive oil over each pots de crème.

Notes

Based on a recipe in the Joy of Cooking.

http://familystylefood.com/2013/03/olive-oil-and-vanilla-pots-de-creme/