BACI DI DAMA

I love these cookies and I hate them. They are teeny tiny. That means that making them and filling them is extremely time consuming. On the other hand, they are absolutely delightful. If you’re in the mood for doing some repetitive work that yields great results, go for it. If not, I think you could roll the dough out to 1/4”, cut them, bake them and drizzled them with chocolate. The texture of the cookie is akin to a delicate, crisp shortbread.

The name in Italian means “lady’s kiss” because some think that when you look at them sideways they look like pursed lips. Well, I guess if you squint………. The traditional ratio of ingredients is one part flour to one part ground almonds or hazelnuts to one part butter to one part sugar. There is a pinch of salt but no egg and no other flavorings. The cookies are sandwiched together with chocolate and it’s a simple but lovely pairing of nuts and chocolate with nothing else to distract you. I’ve seen recipes add coffee or vanilla to the dough. I think a little lemon rind might be nice. I love chocolate and lemon and lemon goes well with almonds and hazelnuts.

I have reduced the sugar and the butter in my recipe as I find the traditional recipe too sweet and with a little less butter it keeps its shape better. I honestly would not add back any sugar. If you want to add back the butter to 140 grams I would chill them before attempting to shape them. I would also bake the frozen cookies on frozen cookie sheets lined with a silicone mat or they’ll spread into flat discs. Thanks to Domenica Marchetti (domenicacooks.com) and Steve Dunn (Cooks Illustrated 10/1/2019) for guiding the way to my version of the recipe.

I’m only giving metric measurements for the flour, hazelnuts and butter because that is the most accurate measurement. For example, 115 grams is a bit more than 1/2 cup and 140 grams of flour is perhaps 1 cup and 2 tablespoons depending on whether or not you scoop and level or fluff up the flour and spoon it into the cup. Do you understand where I’m going with this? While weighing your ingredients in grams is better for all recipes, for this particular one it’s really critical in order to get the right shape.

INGREDIENTS

  • 140 grams roasted, peeled hazelnuts (You can also use roasted hazelnut flour but I prefer the texture of the slightly rougher grind when you do it yourself).
  • 140 grams bleached Gold Medal AP flour (You can use unbleached but the texture won’t be as delicate)
  • 100 grams (1/2 cup) superfine sugar (yes, superfine gives you a more delicate texture than regular sugar)
  • 115 grams (I used President. Please use a European cultured butter. It is more flavorful and has a lower water content than most American butters).
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 100 grams (3.5 oz) bittersweet (65 to 70%) chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used Lindt 70%)
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Sicilian Crostata di Marmalata

I took my eldest son to Sicily for his college graduation and my 60th birthday. For me it was particularly poignant as my mother’s side of the family are Sicilian immigrants. The first of the family to immigrate was my grandfather Vito. I remember him very well, although he died young. He had a heart attack shoveling out his car in the snow storm of 1967 in Chicago. He was a benevolent presence in the family and I recall him sitting down to every meal with a shaker of red Chili’s by his hand.

One of the excursions we made in Sicily was near Siracusa, a really beautiful town on the water. We were invited to lunch at the farm of a Contessa. She was a lovely down to earth woman and a great cook. As a pastry chef, the dish that caught my fancy was a crostata. A crostata is made with a sweet dough enriched with eggs, sugar and butter called a pasta frolla. It’s usually filled with homemade preserves. It’s every housewives go to dessert and you also see it in many pastry shops. When the Contessa made it for us she filled it with homemade orange marmalade from local oranges. It was so simple but delicious. It’s one of those simple pastries that is heavily dependent on excellent cultured butter and great preserves.

Aperitivo with the Contessa

Produce from the Contessa’s farm

Wood fired pizza with prosciutto and caramelized onions

Courtyard of the Contessa’s home

After returning home, I contacted the tour guide and asked if he could procure the Contessa’s recipe.

I’ve made a few changes to her recipe and improvised as well since she didn’t give instructions on how thick to roll the crust, what kind of flour she used or how much marmalade to put in the shell. I found hers a bit too sweet so I reduced the sugar in the pasta frolla and added lemon juice to my preserves. If you want to add the sugar back to the crust, add back 50 grams.

I’ve used my own homemade blood orange marmalade but you can find very good preserves on line and sometimes in the grocery store. The first time I made this I used Bon Maman Séville Orange Marmalade. Any tart and slightly bitter marmalade will work. Sour cherry preserves or raspberry would also be good. I’d stay away from sweet preserves like strawberry or peach.

This pasta frolla recipe is enough for a 9″ or 10″ tart tin plus extra for lattice, leaves and flowers.

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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 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.

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 Sorrento Lemons
  • 1500 grams of sugar
  • 2000 grams water
  • Pinch of salt

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Petite Bartlett Pear Tarts

Petite Bartlett Pear Tart

The last time I was in Paris I was lucky to have sampled Cedric Grolet’s William Pear tarts, just out of the oven. Smitten, I looked for William pears but the closest pears I could find were baby Bartlett pears. They appear at Whole Foods our my Midwest farmers market around The beginning of October. My almond cream does not have any flour. Never fear, it will set up just fine without it. I find it creamier and lighter than a traditional Frangipane that’s made with flour. Six 4″ partially baked Pate Sablée or Pate Sucrée tart shells (You can use your own recipes or find mine on my pages. You can also use the Pierre Herme recipe which appears in his own books as well as Doris Greenspan’s books. It is my preferred pate sucree recipe at this point in time).

YOU WILL NEED THE FOLLOWING COMPONANTS for six 4 inch tarts:

  • 9 fresh Bartlett pears about 2.5”-3” tall
  • 1 cup of almond cream
  • Six 4” pate sablée or pate sucrée partially baked tart shells (You can use your own recipes or find mine on my pages. You can also use the Pierre Herme recipe which appears in his own books as well as some of Doris Greenspan’s books. It is my preferred pate sucree recipe at this point in time). You need about 370 grams of dough for 6 tart shells. You will have to re roll the scraps. Make sure not to over bake them. They should be firm and pretty blond. They’ll take on quite a bit of color in the oven during the second bake.
  • 1/2 cup of sliced almonds for garnish
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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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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 with Fresh Fruit and Flowering Mint

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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