Pear Preserves with Star Anise and Vanilla

Please read my page on preserving before you attempt this recipe

I love pears but they are very low in pectin and thus problematic to use in preserves. There are a few solutions for this issue.

You can purée one third to one half the pears and keep the other half in large chunks. The purée thickens the preserves base which compensates for the looser gel. You can add a high pectin fruit to the pears. Nice pairings are, white or red currants, green apples, lemons or cranberries or pineapple quince. What’s important to respect is the delicate flavors of pears so when I mix in other fruits I use a ratio of 2:1: two parts pear to one part partner fruit. You can also use about two teaspoons of Ball pectin (not the low sugar pectin). I make sure you mix it with a few tablespoons of your sugar so it doesn’t clump. As an extra anti clumping step, I dissolve the pectin/sugar mixture in a small bowl with some of the hot liquid from the preserves. When I’m certain it’s dissolved, I throw it into the pot while stirring. The pectin will help the pears gel as long as you also use a pectin bag with the shells and seeds of the lemons you juiced for the preserves. I also save all my lemon seeds in the freezer and you can add whatever you have. Throughout the year, as I juice lemons for other preparations, I put the seeds in a zip lock bag and throw them in the freezer.

With this preserve preparation, I will be getting the pectin I need from the the juiced lemon shells and The body I need by puréeing half the pears.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1.2 kg (2 3/4 lb) ripe but firm Fetel or Bartlett pears or 1kg net
  • 750 g (3 3/4 cups) grams superfine sugar
  • 60 grams (1/4 cup lemon juice from tart lemons (about two Eureka lemons)
  • 4 star anise
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • Pinch of salt
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Pistachio and Cranberry Biscotti (with variations)

Being Italian, I remember biscotti always being in my grandmothers pantry or my mother’s cookie jar.

Every Christmas, my Grandma Natalia and my Aunt Nina made dozens of biscotti. Some they kept and some they gave away in great big tins, each cookie hand wrapped in waxed paper. They took one dough and made several different types of cookies: biscotti flavored with lemon and anise and studded with almonds, little pillows with cinnamon sugar, and little logs covered in sesame seeds.

Over the years my mother collected a variety of biscotti recipes and would bake them, put them in tins and freeze them. They freeze really well and we always had a variety of biscotti for dessert.

There are several formulas for biscotti, using different fats. My grandma Natalia and Aunt Nina used vegetable shortening. My mother has a few recipes that use butter and some that use only whole eggs or whole eggs plus yolks.

One of my favorites is a biscotti recipe with cranberries and pistachios. I have altered it a bit, to make it my own. They are very crunchy biscotti, meant to be dunked in coffee, tea or a glass of Vin Santo. If you like this formula, which uses no fat other than the egg yolks, you can keep the base and just substitute the additions. These biscotti have a very crisp bite. Hazelnuts or dried cherries and chopped bittersweet chocolate, chopped chocolate and candied orange rind, almonds and apricots and walnuts and dates are all nice combinations. You can add spices, Vanilla or citrus zest as well.

You’ll notice the Beth’s Little Bakeshop logo in the cup. It’s where I’m currently a pastry chef. If you come to Evanston Illinois, stop by for a biscotti and a cup of Intelligentsia coffee.

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Sorrento Lemon Marmalade Two Ways

Sorrento lemon marmalade

I’d like to share two easy ways to prepare lemon marmalade. Blanching or chopping peel by hand is not necessary.

I’ve used Sorrento lemons here but you might be able to use Meyer Lemons or Blood oranges. They key is to use citrus that doesn’t have bitter skin. With bitter skinned citrus you have to separate the peel from the fruit and blanch it anywhere from 5 times for oranges and lemons and 7 or 8 for grapefruit. It’s a tedious and time consuming task.

I discovered the joy of Sorrento lemons in Sicily. They are used in lemon salads, Marmalade and fish. They have beautiful perfumed skin and juice with almost no bitterness in the skins. The first time I tried them I was smitten. Imagine my joy when I stumbled upon Sorrento Lemons imported from Italy at Whole Foods at the beginning of the Covid-19 confinement in Illinois. It was the last trip I took to the grocery store and I bought about 8 pound of lemons figuring I wouldn’t be back anytime soon.

The two styles of whole fruit marmalade: Italian style English style. What is the difference? The Italian marmalade is more of a jam, thick and glossy but opaque. The English style has bits of peel suspended in a clear jelly. Keep in mind that for the most visually beautiful marmalade it is necessary to separate the peel from the rest of the lemon, supreme the segments and make a pectin bag with the seeds and membranes. It’s a lot more work.

The English style looks beautiful but I really prefer the Italian style. You need to cook it less because you chop the peel really fine and it thickens the mixture even before you boil it. The flavor is a bit cleaner and brighter. The English style is lovely but I do cook it a few more degrees to get a decent gel.

Make them both and decide which you prefer. You can also add flavors like lavender, ginger or elderberry or a low pectin fruit, like pears, for a little variety. In that event, I prepare the pears separately, up to the point of the last boil and using my standard ratios (look at my page on preserving). I prepare the lemons separately, up to the point of the last boil and combine them for the last boil. If you use elderberry syrup, I’d add it a few minutes before the marmalade gels.

So, I hope I inspire you to make some marmalade with these lovely Sorrento lemons. Just a bit of a warning, the classic ratio of fruit to sugar in marmalades is 1:2, one part fruit to two parts sugar, far more sugar than I would use for non citrus fruits. I have reduced the amount of sugar with the Sorrento lemons because they are not as bitter or tart as Seville oranges, grapefruit or standard lemons. My ratio is 1 part fruit to 1.5 parts sugar. I would advise against lowering the amount of sugar because it will take longer to gel and you’ll risk over cooking it and risk losing the fresh lemon flavor. If in the end it tastes too sweet you can always add a bit of citric acid or Eureka lemon juice.

Please read my page on preserving before you make this recipe. I go over cooking vessels, sterilizing jars, making a pectin bag and testing for gel.

INGREDIENTS FOR BOTH MARMALADES

  • 1000 grams (1kilo) Sorrento lemons (imported from Italy)
  • 1500 grams of sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 6 sterilized jars and lug lids lined with Plastisol (you’ll probably only use 3-4 but I like to have extras)
  • Clean, lint free cloth
  • Wooden skewer
  • Borosilicate beaker or metal ladle and funnel
  • Jelly roll pan and silpat

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Cornmeal-Cardamom Thumbprints Cookies with Orange Marmalade

orange-marmalade-thumbprint-cookies

The origins of this cookie started with a recipe I fell in love with from Carol Walter’s Great Cookies book. It’s her Cornmeal/Cardamon Biscotti recipe which in turn was given to her by Sam DeMarco. So it goes with recipes. It is one of the best biscotti recipes I’ve tasted although I did significantly cut the cardamon so it is a whisper not a roar. Around the time that I made the biscotti I tasted a thumbprint cookie that someone had filled with orange marmalade. I thought the cornmeal/cardamom biscotti dough might make a nice little vehicle to house the orange marmalade.

I scaled all the ingredients to grams, which is much more accurate. I eliminated the raisins, thinking that the marmalade would be sweet enough. I altered the baking time since it’s a thumbprint cookie, not a biscotti. I believe it maintains the delicate crisp texture that drew me to the original biscotti recipe that inspired this variation on a theme of cardamon, cornmeal and almonds. I’m tempted to add a little sweet and or bitter almond oil to boost that flavor. If someone tries that please let me know how you like it.

INGREDIENTS

  • 185 grams AP flour (1 1/2 cups spooned in and leveled)
  • 75 grams cornmeal ( 1/2 cup spooned in and leveled)
  • 2 tsp double acting baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 143 grams slivered almonds (1 cup)
  • 150 grams superfine sugar (3/4 cup)
  • 114 grams whole eggs (about two large eggs)
  • 113 grams unsalted butter (1/2 cup)
  • 227 grams good quality Seville orange marmalade (1/2 cup)

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Grandma Nat’s Authentic Sicilian Cannoli

The only other cannoli I’ve had that rivals my grandmother Natalie’s was from a now extinct pastry shop in Chicago called La Pasticeria Natalina, which was owned by a talented young pastry chef called Natalie Zazour. Interesting that the two Natalies made the best cannoli I’ve had in this country. Daniel and I are going to Sicily this fall to celebrate his graduation from college so I’ll keep you posted about the cannoli in Sicily. Zazour’s cannoli were different than mine, made with imported sheeps milk Ricotta, dark chocolate chips and a strip of candied orange. They were lovely and I’ve tried them with my family but I always return to Grandma Nat’s, at their insistence.

The first key to good cannoli is to fill them to order, So, if you see pre filled cannoli in the refrigerator case at a bakery, walk away.

The second key to good cannoli is the shell, which must be light and crisp in order to contrast with the creamy filling. That is why you can’t pre fill them. Every minute they sit in the refrigerator they soften from the moisture of the filling and the inherent moisture in the refrigerator case or your refrigerator at home. You can fill them really fast with a pastry bag, so it barely saves time if you pre fill them and stick them in the fridge. And no, don’t fill and freeze them. Just don’t. This recipe makes about 40 shells. Grandma Nat used to keep them in a shoe box on the top landing of her two flat. The staircase to her apartment wasn’t heated so the shells kept well in the dry chill of that space. Hers lasted about 6 months.

The third key to a good cannoli is a filling that is light and creamy and has the unique taste particular to ricotta. Whether you use sheep’s milk ricotta or cows milk, make sure it’s whole milk and it’s creamy. If it’s grainy, you’ll never be able to eliminate that grainy texture even if you work it through a fine mesh sieve or tami. If you live in or around New Jersey, I would recommend trying sheep’s milk ricotta. You can order imported sheep’s milk Ricotta from Pastacheese.com. I love it but it’s too expensive for me to get it shipped to me from New Jersey. When you shop for ricotta insist on tasting it. It should be smooth and creamy, tasting of fresh milk. My grandmother has a technique for lightening the ricotta that I’ve never seen elsewhere: she makes a biancomangiare, which is cornstarch pudding, with whole milk. It lightens the filling without adding richness or a competing flavor. I love mascarpone and I know those who use it for cannoli but in my opinion, it’s too rich and its flavor overpowers the ricotta. Some use whipped cream. It’s not traditional and not very stable and once again, you want your filling to taste like fresh milk, not cream. It would be worth trying to mix Italian Meringue into the ricotta instead of the biancomangiare. You’d have to reduce or eliminate the powdered sugar but the Italian Meringue might lighten the ricotta without affecting the flavor and would be more stable than the biancomangiare. I don’t know how it would affect the texture. However, for the home cook, the biancomangiare will be easier, and my family has forbidden me from altering the recipe. So, if you try Italian meringue let me know!

So, I offer you Grandma Nat’s cannoli and I hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

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Yuzu Curd Tart

Yuzu Curd Tart

I’m really not a gadget person. I don’t have a lot of pots and pans or electronics. I’m not very technical. That being said, I do have a sous vide and I love it for steaks, chops that need to be tenderized, shrimp and lobster tails.

And now, curds. The texture of a curd made in a sous vide has a silky quality that is difficult if not impossible to achieve on a stove top. You do have to wait. It takes an hour to cook as opposed to 15-20 minutes in a heavy pot or a Bain Marie. I think the texture is worth the wait. The original recipe was on the Chef Steps website and was for a lemon curd which is just as amazing. I substituted Yuzu and I altered the way the ingredients are processed before being cooked. In my eyes, that gives me bragging rights.

You can fill little tarts with this curd, layer it between sponge cake, serve it with fresh fruit, make a pavlova or stand at the kitchen counter and eat it with a spoon.

The following recipe makes about six 3″ tarts or one 9″ tart

INGREDIENTS FOR YUZU CURD

  • 175 grams sugar
  • 75 grams of first press Yuzu juice
  • 75 grams Yakimi Orchard Yuzu puree
  • 200 grams unsalted butter, melted and cooled but still liquid
  • 129 grams egg yolk (about 8)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon asorbic acid (you can usually get this wherever they sell preserving supplies)
    pinch of salt

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Cranberry Pomegranate Tarts

cranberry-pomegranate tart

I love curds: lemon, lime, grapefruit and passion fruit all make great curds because they are sour fruits. I recently came across cranberry curd tart recipes in The New York Times and the magazine ” Bake”. There are some differences in both those recipes and I also made some changes. The biggest difference is that I add the butter last, after the curd has cooled down a bit. This improves the texture of the cream.

This is a nice curd to do around the holidays. Both pomegranates and cranberries are in the stores fresh, from November-December which makes it a nice seasonal dessert.

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 fully baked Pate Sucree 4″ tart shells or one 9″ tart shell ( see recipe on another page of my blog
  • 340 grams (12 oz ) fresh cranberries
  • 200 grams (1 cup) granulated sugar
  • Zest of one large naval orange
  • Juice of one large naval orange and enough lemon juice to make up a 124 grams (1/2 cup) of liquid.
  • 114 grams (2 large) eggs
  • 36 grams (2) large egg yolks
  • 113 grams (1/2 cup ) unsalted butter cut in to 16 pieces
  • Salt

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Italian Spiced Plum Cake

This is quite a lovely recipe a version, of which was originally printed in The NY Times with the title “Plum Torte” and is deserving of all its devoted followers. It’s very like a cake my Sicilian grandmother used to make with apples. I made it last week and again this week. I’m obsessed! Fortunately, the season for Stanley plums, commonly known as Italian prune plums is coming to an end.

The NY Times recipe has a few versions, published at varying times. Depending on the publication, the cinnamon varies between 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 tablespoon. The sugar varies between 1cup and 3/4 cup. I think 3/4 cup of sugar is plenty sweet and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon is likewise enough. The recipe doesn’t call for any flavoring in the cake, just cinnamon sugar on top. I love a combination of cinnamon, star anise and vanilla for plums and often make plum preserves with these flavors. So I added a bit of vanilla to the batter and added some star anise to the cinnamon and sugar that’s sprinkled on top. I also changed the granulated sugar to sanding sugar for the top as I like a bigger crunch.

The original recipe also gives you a choice of baking in an 8″, 9″ or 9″ springform pan. I think 10″ would be too big because the resulting cake would be very flat and 8″ too small because there wouldn’t be enough of the crusty top or enough plums. 9″ is just right. The original recipe calls for unbleached AP flour but I prefer bleached for cakes. It gives a more tender crumb. Finally, the NYT recipe doesn’t call for any salt. I salt everything so I added a pinch.

INGREDIENTS

  • 150 grams (3/4 cup) superfine granulated white sugar
  • 114 grams, 4 oz unsalted butter, softened
  • 125 grams (1 cup)bleached AP flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 12 italian plums (Stanley variety), halved and pitted (24 halves)
  • Pinch of salt (1/8 tsp)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon Ceylon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground star anise
  • 3 tablespoons of sanding sugar or granulated for sprinkling on top.
  • 1/2 a small lemon plus it’s rind

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Mini Chocolate Rum Raisin Bread Puddings

Some time ago I had a marvelous, individual serving of a chocolate bread pudding, at a catered event. Too much time elapsed before I decided to make said bread pudding and I couldn’t find the caterer. I don’t know that they would have parted with the recipe in any event. That’s ok, I like a challenge. It was a bread pudding unlike any I’d had before. It was light and moist with no discernible cubes of bread. It had the texture somewhat like a flourless chocolate cake.

So why not start with recipe for a flourless chocolate cake? Well, for one, I wanted to take the catering server at his word and assume he knew he was serving a bread pudding and not a flourless chocolate cake and two, it was studded with dried fruit and I figured a flourless chocolate cake wouldn’t support those fruits. So, I hit the internet and found recipes from Cooks Illustrated, Dorie Greenspan and others. I tried them all and none really made the dessert I was looking for. Once again, on my own looking for the bread pudding in my memory.

There were multiple choices I had to make: what kind of bread to use, fresh or day old or toasted; the ratio of chocolate and/or cocoa powder, whole eggs or yolks only, cream and/or milk, leavened or not, and whether or not to bake them in a large pan and cut them to size or bake them individually. After I made a promising batter, I cooked some in a high sided pan oblong pan, some in ring molds and some in muffin cups. I cut out individual cakes from the batch in the high sided pan but didn’t like the exposed edge. Muffin cups with tulip shaped liners worked but I was looking for a more formal shape. Ring molds seemed to be the way to go. You get a bit of leakage coming out of the bottom but not too bad if your tray is completely flat. The silpat seems to help stop the leakage as does a cold sheet pan. Alternatively, you can buy some cylindrical liners to go inside the ring molds.

3” x 1.75” ring molds

Cylinder and tulip liners

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Ira’s Chocolate Raspberry Sandwich Cookies

img_1907

My father mottos in life were, “If it isn’t chocolate it isn’t dessert” (Ira Blitzsten) and “Whenever I feel the urge to exercise, I lay down and wait until it passes” (Robert Hutchins).

Chocolate cookies are problematic. Too much chocolate or cocoa and they are soft. Not enough and they lack a deep chocolate flavor. I have tried many a chocolate sandwich cookie recipe and I always circle back to this one. Somehow these cookies have the sandy texture of a sable and a deep chocolate flavor. Eaten alone they are lovely. Sandwiched with raspberry jam they are sublime. The jam does soften them but you won’t mind and they are just big enough so you can pop the whole thing in your mouth.

I would also try orange marmalade, apricot jam or a little coffee ganache (white chocolate ganache flavored with coffee), but for me raspberry jam brings special memories of my dad who passed away in 2008.

This is a soft dough and you can use a pastry bag to pipe it but I find it a bit faster and more uniform to use a cookie press. When filling the press you can either drop in bits of dough until you fill it up or use some Saran Wrap to make a little log a bit narrower than the tub and the same length. Then you can just slip the roll into the tube and you don’t have to worry about air pockets. The cookie press is easier for kids and they can help you press out the cookies. Make sure the cookie sheets are cold. They grip the cookie as it comes out of the press so it doesn’t lift off the pan when you pull the press up.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup sifted powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup superfine sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 oz 70% bittersweet chocolate
  • 9 oz bleached all purpose flour
  • 1T dutched cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 a jar of Raspberry preserves

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