Having a scone at a little tea room in Clovelly, England was a revelation. Clovelly is a little fishing village, my favorite kind because I love the sea. The cafe was built into the side of a cliff that bordered the beach. I remember the precipitous descent from the top of the cliff down rickety stairs, a thin white railing keeping us from plunging down to the beach below. The scones were the best we’d had in England. They were light and soft and not too sweet or rich, forming the perfect platform for thick Devonshire cream and strawberry preserves.
Since Clovelly, those many moons ago, I have fiddled around with a number of recipes, looking for that memory I had. I often start with Cooks Illustrated because everything is scaled and it makes it that much easier to sort out how to adjust ingredients. They have a recipe for a English style scones and it was good but not quite what I was looking for. In the end, I used it as an outline but made some changes. I also tried Mary Barry’s recipe and a few other British recipes that call for self rising flour. Getting self rising flour in the states is difficult and expensive. I didn’t find that it made a difference in the finished scone, so I wouldn’t no her with it. The difference between British self rising flour and US AP flour is that the British flour has baking powder in it and is milled from softer wheat. You can always try this recipe with pastry flour, which is lower in gluten than AP flour. Keep in mind, flours that are lower in gluten will need less liquid, so hold more back and add as needed.
425 grams (15 oz) all purpose flour (Gold Medal or Pillsbury)
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.
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.
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
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.
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
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 (this yields roughly 2 teaspoons lemon juice
Daniel is in a cook off with another boy in another fraternity, to raise money for charity. They are allowed a hot plate, a grill and a sous vide, since they both have one. I have to chuckle here as it’s not the customary possession of a college boy and yet, Daniel found possibly the one other boy in this huge University that owned one as well.
The boys were to prepare an entree using pork tenderloin, a side dish and dessert. Daniel is making prosciutto wrapped tenderloin which he will cook to temperature in the sous vide and finish in a hot pan. We discovered this technique at one of Jean-George Vonderrichten’s New York City restaurants, “Nougatine”. We had some unbelievable Berkshire pork chops which were tender with a crisp surface. The sous vide Is perfect for tough cuts of meat, like pork chops, because you can cook them for a long time to tenderize them without overcooking them. In addition to the pork, Daniel will make a butternut squash risotto with rosemary and sage.
I was tasked with finding a desssert that could be made solely on top of the stove, that didn’t require any pre made items or special equipment and could be cooked in 30ish minutes. Hmmm!
My family loves Earl Grey tea and begged me to try and tackle an ice cream cake with that flavor. Earl Grey tea is a black tea flavored with Bergamot, a citrus fruit. I love the combination of Earl Grey and chocolate. It also works well with other citrus fruits and with nuts, particularly walnuts. So I thought a moist walnut and chocolate cake would be a nice base for the cakes. If you don’t want to make a cake and prefer something crunchy, you can make a chocolate cookie crust. Or, you can do none of the above and just scoop some in a dish and eat it plain or drizzled with sauce
Finding a chocolate cake recipe proved tricky. I didn’t want something too rich, like a brownie. I thought about using my favorite chocolate butter cake recipe but butter cakes don’t like to be cold. They get hard and dry with refrigeration and I wanted to be able to assemble the ice cream on top of the cake and freeze the whole thing. So I started trying chiffon cakes which use oil instead of butter. Oil doesn’t freeze so I figured the cake wouldn’t freeze hard. One recipe by Rose Levy Barenbaum in “The Cake Bible” caught my eye. Apparently when her mother gave her the recipe she told her the texture was perfect even right out of the freezer. So I gave it a shot but it didn’t have a deep enough chocolate flavor and the texture was too fluffy so I tried again, adding another 25 grams of cocoa powder and that seemed to do the trick. It had a deeper chocolate flavor and the texture improved as well.
This recipe makes about a pint of ice cream. The number of cakes you get depends on the size of your molds. I use molds that hold about 4 oz so I get 8 cakes.
Earl Gray Ice Cream
Chocolate walnut chiffon cake
1/2 cup Caramelized walnuts ( see my post on Caramelized nuts)
1/4 cup chopped candied orange peel (see my post on candied fruit)