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/

cookie kisses: chocolate hazelnut baci

chocolate-hazelnut-baci-cookies-recipe

I think the first time I tasted the perfect-for-each-other combination of chocolate and hazelnuts was at my grandmother’s house. It was probably around the holiday season, where I’d find pretty little boxes of Italian sweets like torrone and bowls of multicolored foil milk chocolates to explore.

I unwrapped what looked to me like a Hershey’s chocolate kiss and popped it into my mouth, only to be surprised that the crunchy nut under the chocolate shell wasn’t a peanut – as in an M & M – and the creamy nougat was unlike the inside of my favorite 3 Musketeers candy bar.

That was my introduction to Baci, the Italian chocolate kiss made by Perugina., and I fell right then and there. I learned that Baci were a special treat, and hard to find if it wasn’t Christmas or Valentine’s day. I had to grow up before I discovered Nutella was what European kids had on their sandwiches instead of peanut butter and jelly -really?! By then I was ready and waiting for anything with the flavor combo of chocolate and hazelnuts, also known as gianduja.

chocolate-meringue-kisses-recipe chocolate-hazelnut-baci-cookies-recipe

I have to confess that these days I find Nutella is a bit too sweet, and not as deep, dark and chocolately as I want. It must be that this 90 percent dark chocolate I’ve grown to like has changed my tolerance level; it has so little sugar that all you taste is the roasted complex notes of pure chocolate.

You can find the combination just about everywhere now – even Jif is marketing a version. I like to make homemade chocolate-hazelnut spread - it doesn’t much resemble the commercially made kind. It’s a bit rustic with its tiny bits of hazelnuts, but so rich in flavor it’s like tasting the essence of the ingredients.

chocolate-hazelnut-baci

I love looking at the food blog What Katie Ate, and her post on Chocolate Ganache Meringue Kisses inspired me to make baci, remembering my first Italian kiss.

chocolate-hazelnut-baci-meringue-kiss-recipe

cookie kisses: chocolate hazelnut baci

Yield: about 1 dozen baci

Ingredients

  1. ½ cup granulated sugar
  2. 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
  3. 2 egg whites
  4. 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
  5. 1/8 teaspoon salt
  6. 1 cup homemade chocolate-hazelnut spread or prepared spread such as Nutella

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 225 degrees and arrange an oven rack in the middle of oven. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Mix together the sugar and cocoa in a bowl.
  3. Whip the egg whites, cream of tartar and salt in the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer on medium-high speed until soft peaks form, about 1 minute.
  4. Gradually sprinkle the sugar mixture into the egg whites at medium-high speed, then continue to beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy; 2 – 3 minutes.
  5. Scoop and drop the meringue in small blobs onto the baking sheets 1 inch apart, using (1-1/2 –inch) cookie scoop or 2 teaspoons.
  6. Bake about 1 hour, or until the cookies are no longer tacky, but feel dry and firm to the touch. If necessary, lower the oven temperature to keep them from browning.
  7. Turn off the oven, prop the door open and cool the cookies for at least 30 minutes. Peel the cookies off the paper.
  8. Spread one cookie with some chocolate hazelnut spread and sandwich with another; repeat until all the cookies are matched. Any odd cookies are the baker’s treat.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/02/cookie-kisses-chocolate-hazelnut-baci/

chocolate semifreddo

chocolate semifreddo

Semifreddo – literally “half-cold” in Italian – is a dessert with varied interpretations. Basically it’s a creamy frozen mousse, sometimes layered with sponge cake or cookies and sometimes flavored with nuts or fresh fruit.

Making semifreddo forges a lazy path to homemade ice cream; all the benefits of a gelato or frozen custard without hauling out the old ice cream maker.

chocolate-semifreddo-recipe

Well… not so much lazy as it is a savvy shortcut. Because while there is no churning involved in the making of this recipe, there is some melting (chocolate), whipping (cream) and folding (together) that needs to be done.

chocolate semifreddo familystyle food

Typically, a semifreddo is set in a loaf pan or deep dish and sliced or scooped family-style for serving.

In honor of the Valentine’s Day tradition of shared desserts (how sweet), I molded this semifreddo in mini springform pans, which makes a nice serving portion for two. Using a springform pan makes it simple to unmold, but a regular 8-inch pan works perfectly, too.

chocolate-semifreddo-dessert-recipe

chocolate semifreddo

Serving Size: makes 8 servings

Each 4-inch dessert is the perfect size for sharing with another. If you have some warm chocolate sauce on hand, feel free to gild the lily.

Ingredients

    For crust:
  1. 30 chocolate wafer cookies
  2. ¾ cup sugar
  3. ¼ teaspoon salt
  4. 6 tablespoons melted butter
  5. For filling:
  6. 2 tablespoons plus ¼ cup sugar
  7. 4 ounces dark or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  8. 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  9. 4 egg yolks *
  10. 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  11. ¾ cup mascarpone cheese
  12. Chocolate shavings and freshly whipped cream to garnish

Instructions

  1. Make crust: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Pulse the cookies, sugar and salt in a food processor until fine crumbs form. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is moistened and holds together when you pinch it. Press about 2 tablespoons crumbs onto the bottoms of each of four 4 x 1 ¾-inch mini springform pans (or use one 8 – inch springform pan). Place the pans on a baking sheet and bake 5 minutes.
  2. Put 2 tablespoons of the sugar and ¼ cup water in a small saucepan over medium heat until the water simmers and sugar is dissolved; add the chocolate and cocoa off the heat and stir until completely smooth. Transfer to a large bowl and cool 10 minutes.
  3. Beat the egg yolks and remaining ¼ cup sugar with an electric mixer and the whisk attachment on medium-high speed until light colored and thickened enough to form a ribbon, about 5 minutes. Fold the egg yolk mixture into the cooled chocolate until evenly blended.
  4. Wash the mixer bowl; add the cream and mascarpone and beat on high speed until soft peaks form. Gently fold the cream into the chocolate mixture.
  5. Divide the mixture among the 4 pans (or, if using one 8 – inch pan, scrape it all in).
  6. Cover pans with plastic wrap and freeze at least 6 hours or overnight
  7. Remove semifreddo from the freezer 15 – 30 minutes before serving, depending on how firm it is. Unmold and serve with some whipped cream and chocolate shavings over the top, if you like.

Notes

Inspired by a recipe in Dolce Italiano by Gina DePalma

* The egg yolks in the recipe are not cooked; you can use pasteurized eggs if you have concerns about using raw eggs.

http://familystylefood.com/2013/02/chocolate-semifreddo/