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Candied fruit are made by cooking and soaking fruits in sugar syrup. The fruit is saturated with sugar which conserves it. They have been prepared by many cultures worldwide for centuries. Depending on the amount of sugar absorbtion, the fruits can last for years.
In Italy they are commonly used in desserts such as Spumoni, (Sicilian ice cream), Panettone, (a sweet bread commonly made at Christmas), preserves, Florentins, Cassata, (a Sicilian cake), gelato, tarrone, and biscotti.
Baskets of candied fruit are traditionally given during Christmas. This time of the year you can find stands in Christmas markets all over Italy filled with all sorts of colorful candied fruit selections.
We make candied fruit biscotti as part of our Christmas biscotti tray. These biscotti are colorful and are also very pretty in a Torta di Biscotto di Nozze (Italian wedding biscotti cake). It needs no frosting and is very easy to make.
Candied Fruit Biscotti
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20-25 minutes @ 375º F
Yield: 5 Dozen
2 cups sugar
5 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup of walnuts, chopped
3/4 cup candied fruit, chopped
2 teaspoons anise extract
2 sticks butter
Cream the eggs and sugar, and add the butter and extract and beat until smooth. Gradually add the flour and baking powder. Fold in the nuts and chopped candied fruit. Place the dough in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
Form the dough into long cylinders about 12” long. Place the loaves on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a Teflon mat.
Bake at 375º F for 20-25 minutes. Remove them from the oven and slice the loaves diagonally when cooled. Place the slices on their side and return them to the oven. Bake for another 2 minutes on each side.
Ricotta torta is a much lighter cheese cake then the traditional NY cheese cake. It has less fat content then cream cheese and like most Italian desserts is far less sweet. This is a large cake and only has 3/4 cup of sugar. Fruit, such as strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, honey or jam glazes not only add color but additional sweetness. We don’t usually add anything as it has a lovely lemon flavor.
Ricotta is made from sheep’s, goat, buffalo or cows milk whey, it containes a little less fat and is less dense as well. Ricotta is used in both dessert and savory recipes in Italy. Torta Di Pasqua Al Formaggio is an Easter speciality.
Torta Di Pasqua Al Formaggio
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour or until done @ 350º F
Yield: 12 Servings
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups solid vegetable shortening
1 egg, mixed with 2 tablespoons cold water
Additional cold water to mix the dough, if needed
2 pounds whole milk ricotta
3/4 cup sugar
1 lemon, zest only
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Other things needed
1 9” x 13” baking dish
Mix the dough ingredients and roll the dough into a 9” x 13” rectangle. Reserve 1/4th of the dough to make lattice strips to go on the top of the torta. This step is optional. Place it in a baking dish, fitting it so that it covers the bottom and sides of the pan. Trim the edges so that are the same size as your baking dish.
Cut the strips about 1” wide the width of the baking dish with a fluted cookie cutter. Lay one set of strips about 4” apart on the diagonal over the filling. Make another set of strips layering them over the first layer in the opposite direction. Cut the edges so that they fit against the sides of the pan.
Mix all the ingredients for the filling beating in one egg at a time.
Pour the mixture into the shell and place it in a 350º F oven for 1 hour or until done. Stick a toothpick into the middle; it should come out clean. Let it cool and place it in the refrigerator.
Cut the torta into squares. Serve fresh strawberries, or other toppings of your choice served on the side. You can also make a berry syrup, pureeing berries in your blender. Strain the berries to remove all the seeds. Add a few teaspoons of liquor and sugar to taste depending on how sweet the berries are. The syrup can be poured on the bottom of the plate; place the slice of cake on top and drizzle the syrup over the top.
Traditional Italian food of Easter typically includes: capretto o agnello al forno (roast lamb), carcioffi fritti (fried artichokes), pizza rustica (a pie stuffed with ricotta, sausage and hard boiled eggs), la colomba di Pasqua (a dove-shaped sweet bread). Taralli, cassatelli, biscotti di pignoli, pena di Pasqua (sweet bread with hard-boiled, pastel colored eggs baked in the center), and torta di ricotta (Ricotta cheese cake) are prepared in every Italian home.
Chocolate Easter eggs are a special treat for children in Italy. The “uovo di pasqua” – a large decorative chocolate egg that comes with a gift inside are beautifully wrapped in elaborate and colorful decorative foils weighing from a few ounces to about 18 pounds. Stores are filled with “uovo di pasqua” creating a psychedelic and festive atmosphere. In past times, parents would take the gifts to their cioccolataio (chocolate maker) and it would be placed inside the chocolate egg.
The taralli is a treasure from Apuglia and are eaten any time of the day. Simple yet delicious recipes are created with eggs and flour. Fennel seed, black pepper, red pepper flakes and wine added and formed into oval or round shapes. In southern Italy, taralli come in many sizes and flavors. These are typically referred to in Neapolitan dialect as “scaldetelli” little boiled things. Many, but not all taralli are dipped in boiling water before being baked creating a nice sheen on the outside. Some are baked and brushed with egg wash. Taralli are biscuits or snack food, but can also make an appearance as a dessert after a meal is over and dunked into wine. In our family they are the star of the Easter desserts along with the Ricotta Torta and Torta di riso. They are traditional desserts that make each and every day special and holidays a delight for everybody. The Italians have a saying “no matter what the argument it can be resolved over a glass of wine and handful of taralli”.
The Easter egg taralli (as I call them) are only made at Easter and have no other flavoring. Typically, taralli are not frosted, but there is a version called “Charmel” that are lightly frosted with a confectionary glaze and sprinkled with tiny colorful sprinkles. Egg taralli are hard, but as light as clouds. Our recipe for egg taralli are boiled and then baked turning a warm caramel color. I make large quantities of them and serve them in an Italian hand painted bowl from Apuglia. Taralli dunked in “Vino Santo”, a sweet Italian white wine coming from the Tuscany is like floating in air. Very appropriate for Easter!
Easter Egg Taralli
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 20 minutes at 400ºF or until light brown
Yield: 5 Dozen
7 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons oil
Add the salt to the flour in a large bowl. Mix the egg and oil into the flour and form a ball. This step can be done in a mixer. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes or until it is smooth. Cover the dough with a kitchen towel. Let it rest in a warm place for an hour.
Roll out pieces of dough into 6” x 1” cylinders. Take each piece of dough and bring the ends together to form a doughnut shape. Press the ends together with your thumb.
Fill a large saucepan with water and let it to come to a boil. Drop them one at a time into the boiling water. When they rise to the top, remove them to a dry board or kitchen towel. Make a cut along the outside edge of the doughnut. This allows them to rise.
Place them on a cookie sheet and bake them in a 400ºF oven until they are a light golden brown. The taralli will be hard on the outside, but light and airy on the inside. They are not sweet, but more like a biscuit. They will store in an airtight container for weeks.
Serve them with “Vino Santo”, a white sweet wine from the Tuscany.
I tried many carrot cakes and always feel as though I can’t ever finish it. They are usually heavy and all seem to be somewhat the same. This is a very old recipe of my mothers and is lighter with an Italian twist. The original recipe was topped with cornflakes, however I have replaced the cornflakes with chopped walnuts sprinkled at the bottom of the mold pan so that the top of the cake is decorated with walnuts and doesn’t need the cream cheese frosting. Put a dollop of cream cheese or Mascarpone maple cream topping on the side or make two carrot cake molds and fill the middle of the cake with the topping. I find that the cream cheese topping done this way helps to keep the cream cheese moist and prevents it from drying out and cracking.
Pecans can be substituted and the cream cheese topping can be substituted with Mascarpone Cream. Add little maple syrup and crushed walnuts or pecans to the Mascarpone for a different variation.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour @ 350ºF
Yield: 14 servings
1 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
2 cups solid vegetable shortening or half shortening and butter
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons lemon juice
6 cups grated carrots
Cream Cheese Frosting
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
4 oz. butter, softened
1 1/3 cups confectionary sugar
Mascarpone Maple Cream Filling
Yield: 1 1/2 cups
1 8 oz. container Mascarpone Cheese
6-8 tablespoons of maple syrup
1/4 cup pulverized walnuts/pecans
Other Things Needed
1 bundt pan, greased
In a mixer, place the shortening and sugar and beat until blended. Add the eggs one at a time while mixing. Put in the lemon juice. Mix the flour, salt and baking powder and add it a little at a time to the mixing bowl, blending it before you add more flour. Once the batter is smooth, fold in the carrots.
In a well-greased bundt pan, spread the walnuts/pecans over the bottom of the pan. Pour in the batter and place the pan in a larger pan of hot water. The water should come up to about the middle of the pan.
Put it in a 350ºF oven for 1 hour. Allow the cake to cool before adding the filling.
NOTE: Put the larger pan on the rack in the oven, pour the hot water in the pan and place your cake pan into it. This way you don’t risk dropping the hot water or splashing water into your cake batter. It is much safer than doing it on the counter and bringing it to the stove.
Two mold pans can be used instead of one. Fill the center of the cake with your Cream cheese or Mascarpone cream filling.
Mix the softened cream cheese with the softened butter and add the vanilla and sugar blending it until it is smooth.
Mascarpone Maple Cream
Bring the Mascarpone to room temperature. Pulverize the nuts in a food processor. Mix all the ingredients together until the cream is smooth. You can adjust the recipe to make it stronger. Add other varieties of syrup or chopped dates, chopped fruit etc. to compliment your dessert.
Cranberries are native to North America and it is known that Indians served cranberries at the first Thanksgiving dinner and served them with venison. They are an amazing fruit growing under sand and wetlands. European settlers actually gave them their name even though the Indians were eating them long before they came to North America. Massachusetts and Wisconsin are the largest producers of Cranberries in the world.
I spent my summers on Cape Cod where there were cranberry bogs in our back yard. After the harvest was over there were many berries lying on top of the bog that got left behind. We would collect them and make muffins and mix them with apple pie – they add a little tartness to the pie that I really like. They are only available in Switzerland in November for a few weeks and to my surprise I am able to buy Ocean Spray cranberries. I buy several bags and freeze them for the year. The European varieties don’t have the same flavor and are much smaller. For more information on cranberries log onto the Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc. web site. http://oceanspray.com/
We tend to think about cranberries only during Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I freeze them and use them as a salsa for meats, in apple pie and crumble, and cranberry bread. I dry them in the oven and toss them in my homemade granola, muffins, biscotti and scones. I make cranberry sauce year round serving it with venison, chicken and pork. Cranberries are a good source of vitamin C and are also full of antioxidants.
Cranberry Walnut Bread
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour @ 350º F
Yield: 12 slices
1 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons all purpose flour, for dusting the berries
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely broken, save 3 for decoration
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons orange zest or
2 tablespoon lemon zest
1/2 cup orange juice
1 1/2 cups cranberries
1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Other things needed
Parchment paper, cut the size of the bottom of your loaf pan
Cream the butter, sugar and eggs until they are fluffy. Add the sour cream, orange zest, and orange juice.
Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients a little at a time. Using the 2 tablespoons of flour – toss the cranberries into the flour coating them. Fold in the berries and walnuts by hand. Place the parchment paper at the bottom of the load pan. Pour the batter into a greased loaf pan with parchment paper at the bottom and three place whole walnuts on the top of the batter. Drop the pan onto the countertop a few times so that the batter settles evenly.
Bake in the oven for 1 hour at 350ºF. Test with a toothpick; it should come out dry when done. Remove it from the oven to a rack and allow it to cool before removing from the loaf pan.
Planning starts early for an Italian wedding with grandparents, aunts, cousins all allocated different jobs, including the preparation of the “Torta di Biscotto di Nozze”. This is by far one of the most important jobs of all. Italian weddings tend to be large and huge amounts of biscotti are made by all the members of the future bride’s family. Imagine what the kitchen looks like with everyone having a specific task to perform and making dozens of biscotti for weeks before the wedding!
The bride takes the “Torta di Biscotto di Nozze” and offers them to the wedding guests who fill their napkins and handbags. Everyone including each child gets their share of biscotti to take home. Then of course the critique begins as to which biscotti are the best. OURS are always the best as our family truly are experts in the preparation of this most enjoyable and important tradition.
“Torta di Biscotto di Nozze” is a biscotti wedding cake. It is layers of different biscotti arranged in a pyramid decorated with icing covered almonds called “Confetti” and ribbons. It takes center stage at Italian weddings. Members of the family bring the biscotti together the day before the wedding and arranged and wrape the torta with great fan fair, this is an event in itself. Of course, it is hard not to taste them as you are constructing the torta.
The layers can be placed such as described below, or you can randomly place them making sure that the bottom layers are sturdy cookies that can take the weight of the ones placed on top.
Placing doilies in between the layers helps to stabilize the cookies. If making larger trays another way of doing this is to dip the bottom of each biscotto into confectionary sugar frosting and attach it to your torta construction. This will keep the biscotti from moving or falling. In this case you would not use the doilies except to cover the bottom of the tray.
“Confetti”; candy covered almonds in colors symbolic of life’s events are randomly placed throughout the torta. Confetti arrangements placed on top of the “Torta di Biscotto di Nozze” are saved as mementoes. The nuns of Santa Chiara in the region of Abruzzi are famous for their confetti confections. The colors are traditional and represent the following:
Pink or blue-Children, girl or boy
Silver and Gold-Wedding and Anniversaries.
Bottom layer: 2 varieties of firm biscotti such as a sliced biscotti and sesame seed cookie.
Middle layer: 1 variety placed on a dolly
Top layer: 1 variety of lighter weight biscotti
And so on.
Biscotti can be frozen for up to 2 months. The cookies are prepared in advance; frosted and assembled the day before the wedding. Once the biscotti are baked and completely cooled they are placed in freezer bags or plastic containers and frozen. When you are ready to use them you must completely defrosted them before applying the frosting. Place the cookies in boxes in order to transport to the location where the torta will be constructed.
The tray is then placed on large sheets of cello wrap. It is important to place the cello wrap in both directions so that the cookies are completely covered with the wrap. The cello wrap is then brought up over the biscotti and tied with colorful ribbons.
Bomboniera or small decorative boxes or packets are often filled with the “Confetti” and given as gifts at Italian weddings. Today we often prepare Bomboniere filled with biscotti rather then passing them out.