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Torta di Ricotta e Riso
Ricotta is typically made from the whey of mozzarella, provolone, and other cheeses in Italy. It is made from sheep’s, goat, buffalo and cows milk whey. It is a sweeter, dryer cheese then the version made in the US, which is made of cow’s milk. It is lighter and is naturally low in fat. Used in many dishes in Italy such as cassata, biscotti, pizza, and pasta i.e. lasagna and ravioli, Ricotta is the favored cheese in Easter dishes in Italy. Calzone, Pizza Rustico, cassata, torta di riso, cannoli are made in every household on Easter.
Torta di Ricotta e riso is an Easter specialty in my family. Some might call this a calzone or pizzagaina, but we call it a torta or pie. If you are a vegetarian this torta is the original recipe and requires no adjustments as it contains only rice and ricotta. I have added a little lemon zest to the original recipe. This happened by mistake one Easter as I had in my mind another of our Easter recipes and mistakenly add the zest. I really liked it and kept it in my torta recipe. You can use orange zest also, which goes very well with Ricotta. We also make a pizza rustico, ravioli and a torta de formaggio or Italian Ricotta cheesecake.
Torta di Ricotta e Riso makes an impressive luncheon dish.
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 30-40 minutes @ 350 degrees
Yield: 4 loaves. 8-2” slices per loaf
7 cups flour
2 eggs (allow them to come to room temperature)
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons shortening
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup warm to mix as needed
2 lbs. whole milk ricotta
1 1/2 cups cooked long grain rice
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon water
Dough in a food processor
Make the dough by mixing the eggs, and flour, baking powder, shortening and salt in a food processor using the dough utensil. Add the water slowly and allow the dough to form a ball. Remove it to a board and knead it for 15 minutes until it becomes smooth. Cover it with plastic wrap or with a clean kitchen towel.
Put the flour on a board and make a well in the middle. Add shortening and salt and baking powder. Put the eggs in the middle and using a folk, begin to bring the flour into the well until you have all the mixture and flour blended into ball. If you need to add water, do so but only a little at a time. Knead and set-aside covered with a cloth or plastic wrap.
Cook the rice for about 20 minutes until done and allow it to cool. While the rice is cooking prepare the ricotta mixture. Mix the ricotta, eggs, and lemon zest (zest is optional) and salt. Combine the rice after it has cooled with the ricotta mixture.
Roll the dough out to a 12”x 8” oblong shape. Place the filling in the middle and fold the dough over the filling in an envelope shape. Crimp the edges by folding the dough over one section at a time starting at one end. Brush with an egg wash (egg yolk and 1 tablespoon of water beaten together) and bake until golden brown. Cool before cutting the torta.
A traditional sweet bread made at Christmas time, panettone was created in the Lombardy region of Italy and is the undisputable holiday favorite. Scholars have traced panettone back to the middle ages. The dome shaped sweet bread is traditionally made with candied fruits, zest and flavored with liquors. Today you can find it with chocolate chips and other ingredients. It is less like a cake then light fluffy sweet bread. The use of natural yeast results in a dough that rises slowly. The rising time can be as long as 48 hours. The long leavening contributes to the long shelf life, which can be as long as 6 months. Italian bakers take pride in the age of their leavening and some are maintained over many years.
It is eaten in Italy with a glass of white wine and in earlier time generally served as a dessert. Panettone is recognized in Italy as a very special greeting gesture of the Christmas season. Restaurants and shops offer panettone to their customers as a Christmas greeting and they can be found in all bakeries and markets in all sizes. At Christmas time you can be overwhelmed with gifts of panettone and I often use them to make panettone bread pudding or French toast for my overnight guests and I also freeze it. Panettone has become so popular that you can find it year round not just in Italy but all over the world.
They are baked in greased paper molds, which is removed like a cupcake. The greased paper molds help to maintain their freshness. The molds are available on Internet sites as well as metal panettone pans. The disposable molds are traditional and I prefer them to the pans. Usually packaged in brightly decorated boxes or colored decorated foils in blue and red – they are stacked high in markets.
We make panettone in smaller paper molds similar to cupcake cups but larger, and individually wrap them in cello wrap. We sell them as wedding favors, for parties and business conference breaks. Make them yourself and give them as Christmas gifts to special friends and family.
Prep Time: 35 minutes
Cook Time: Yield: 375ºF for 35-45 minutes
Yield: 12 Panettone cups
2 1/4 teaspoons. active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 pinch of sugar
4 1/2 cups All-Purpose Flour
2 cups raisins, soaked in dry Marsala, rum or brandy for 30 minutes
3/4 cup sugar
1 pinch salt
6 oz. unsalted butter, softened and cut into pieces
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup candied fruit, mix with a tablespoon of flour
1 orange zest
1 lemon zest
1 teaspoon flour, to mix with the zest
1 egg yolk, beaten
2 tablespoons water
Combine the yeast, pinch of sugar and water and mix well to dissolve the yeast. Let it stand for about 10 minutes in a warm place such as the oven to activate. When foam appears on the top of the water, the yeast has been activated.
Put the flour, sugar, salt, butter and eggs in the large bowl of an electric mixer or food processor. Mix the dough with the dough hook at low speed. Add the yeast mixture slowly. When all the ingredients are incorporated, increase to medium speed or until the dough forms a ball.
Spread a little flour in a large bowl and place the dough in it. Cover it with plastic wrap and place in a draft-free place to rise for 4 hours. It should double in volume. Remove the dough and knead it for 5 minutes and return it to the bowl. Cover and let it rise again until it has doubled in volume, about 2 hours.
Strain the raisins and press down on them to remove the liquid. Lightly flour the work surface. Punch down the dough and make a large circle with your hands. Sprinkle the raisins, candied fruit, orange peel and lemon peel over the dough. Fold the dough over the mixture and knead it lightly until all of the ingredients have been incorporated. If you are adding the citron and/or zest, mix with the flour and add it to the dough.
Divide the dough into 12 round equally sized balls, approximately 4 1/2 ounces each. Butter each of the panettone cups lightly and place a ball in each cup. Cut a cross into the top with a knife. If using scissors make a small cut in both directions on the top or each ball of dough. Brush the dough with the egg wash and sprinkle some almond slices over the top. Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm place for another 1 to 1-1/2 hours or until it has doubled in volume again.
Preheat the oven to 375º F. Bake the panettoni for 30 minutes, or until they are golden brown. Allow them to cool on a wire rack. In this case we don’t have cups and we are cooking several cups.
Note: The Panettone can be made in one or two molds to make a larger cake. They are wonderful gifts as they have a long life and can be beautifully packaged.
My grandmother would make biscotti for days before Christmas and hide them in an armoire in her front hall under lock and key. If she allowed any of us to get close to them, they would have disappeared long before Christmas. But if we asked her nicely, she never said no. She took the key out of her apron pocket and unlocked that treasure chest filled with sweet, spiced biscotti and handed you some of your favorites.
She had a small white sideboard with a roll-down top. Here she made all her biscotti and that sideboard was our first stop when we entered her kitchen. We could never understand how so many wonderful desserts could be prepared on such a small surface. When I was young I remember her cooking on a black iron stove and blocks of ice being delivered for her wooden icebox. She was in her element even through she wore herself out during holidays. Her family showed their appreciation by filling her home with all their kids in a flurry of noise feasting on all her specialties made with a strong dash of pride. The variety of cookies, cakes, stuffed artichokes, pasta and breads, that came from that kitchen was like being in Grandma’s Christmas Wonderland. We all loved and looked forward to these holiday reunions.
The tradition continues with members of our family preparing their favorite biscotti for events such as wedding, showers and holidays. Every child in our family begins to take part in this tradition at an early age. You don’t have to encourage them, as they can’t wait to get their little hands in all of that dough. It is a way to bond with the kids and make them part of a family tradition. We know that future generations will enjoy these recipes and get to know a little about Grandma and our heritage.
An Italian family can have many versions of the same biscotti and every person takes great pride in their recipe. Pizzetts are a family recipe that is used on almost every tray we make. Pizzette are a double chocolate biscotti scented with spices, roasted almonds, orange zest, expresso and chocolate chips. They are the star attractions on our cookie trays for Christmas and every special event. You can make these cookies in advance and freeze them for up to 2 months unfrosted.
My Christmas greeting to all my readers and let me know if pizzettes are on your Christmas dessert table.
Prep Time: 35 minutes
Cook Time: 8-10 minutes @ 375ºF
Yield: 4 Dozen
4 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 cup roasted almonds, cut in half
4 oz. Semi-sweet chocolate. chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground clove
2 teaspoons baking powder
Zest of one orange
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup warm water, orange juice or coffee
1/2 cup vegetable oil
12 oz. of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon light corn sryup
2-3 tablespoons Brandy or Cointreau, Grand Marnier or tablespoon Kahlua
Mix the cocoa powder into the water or juice. Place all the dry ingredients in a large bowl including the nuts, add orange zest, almonds and chocolate chips. Make a well in the center and add the eggs and the water cocoa mixture. Slightly beat the liquid while in the center well and begin to bring in the dry ingredients (you may have to add a little more liquid if it is too dry). Gradually add vegetable oil to form the dough. You may need to wet your hands with oil. The Dough will be thick and will have an oily glaze. Place the dough in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
Place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Cut small portions and roll out the dough in the form of a cylinder. Pat down the top and cut into 1” slices on a diagonal to form a diamond shape. Place the cookies on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
Bake 375º F for 8-10 minutes. Do not over-bake the cookies as they will be become dry and hard.
Melt the chocolate with the butter over a double boiler or in a microwave oven. Add the liquor a little at a time. Taste and add more if needed. The original recipe did not include liquor and is fantastic just with the chocolate, butter and a little syrup.
Frost the cookies when they are completely cool.
Umbra’s hilly landscape is known for its many medieval hill-top towns that are surrounded with olive groves and vineyards as far as the eye can see. Stretching from Perugia to Spoleto it is a rich agricultural area producing olive oil, black truffles and wine. Tourists will also find beautiful textiles items such as scarf’s and linens produced in the region.
I was impressed to discover the renovation of some of the hilltop towns that today are being occupied, not only by part-time summer residence, but are beautiful vibrant communities. This trip we set out to visit Spoleto, Montefalco, Trevi and some of the restored towns such as Campello Alta and Castello di Postignano.
We found the lovely Argriturismo Pettino in Campello sul Clitunno, after driving along a windy road overlooking the valley, on top of a mountain. The food was outstanding with homemade pasta, perfectly grilled meats, local specialities and black truffles collected by the family around the surrounding mountain. However a warning, after drinking wine and eating large and delicious meals, driving down the mountain could be a risk, so staying at Argriturismo Pettino is a good idea.
Nonna, who was there before breakfast and stayed until after the dinner service was a joyful woman who loved to talk to the guests. I got to know her a little during my stay and one morning she was making homemade ravioli, I really wanted to stay and help her, but we were going to visit Spoleto that day and I had to make a choice, Spoleto it was. But I was in heaven at dinner eating the best ravioli I have ever had that evening.
As I left Umbria, a plan began totake shape in my head about how I was going to return, but that will be another trip and another story.
Enjoy some of the photo’s I took of the landscape and look for a future post about Montefalco and Spoleto.
I have written several posts in the recent weeks with recipes that make great gifts. Giving something you have spent your time and effort on is always a great way to show people the importants of their friendship. During the holidays I prepare several of my favorite recipes-those that lend themselves to the spirit of the holidays and prepare gift packages for each of my friends.
Buying different dishes from flea markets for example or funky containers can be fun to search for during the year. You can also cover boxes with textiles or glue wrapping paper and items you find at a craft store to make your own unique packaging
I make my own greeting cards with photo’s that represent the items I include in my gift and print them on a photo internet site. Print out the recipe in colored script and rolled them up, tied with a ribbon. If I am using a bottle of lemomcello – I add small cordial glasses. With Crocante con Mandorle (Italian almond brittle), I might find a nice candy dish at a flea market, or package it in clear cello bags. Many craft shops or restaurant supply stores have items like this and if you keep an eye open for them year round you can buy them when they have sales and store them away for your holiday gifts. Handwrite your labels, or design your own label on an Internet site. It is easy and fun to have your own label on your homemade items.
Here are some of my suggestions from past posts that you might consider for a special Christmas gift.
Crocante con Mandorle – Italian Almond Brittle
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 18 minutes or until the thermometer reaches 238ºF, hard crack stage
Yield: 2 pounds
4 cups whole almonds, roasted
3 cups sugar
4 drops almond oil or
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup light corn syrup
OTHER THINGS NEEDED
TOASTING THE ALMONDS
Heat the oven to 400ºF. Place the almonds on a rimmed baking sheet and toast them until lightly golden brown (about 15 minutes) and set aside.
PREPARE THE COOKIE SHEET
Prepare a separate baking sheet and brush it with almond oil or 1 teaspoon almond extract. If you have a Teflon baking mat, place it on the baking sheet and brush it with the almond oil. If you are using extract, first brush the sheet with butter.
COOKING THE BRITTLE
In a medium or heavy-bottom saucepan, combine sugar and water and cook over medium-high heat until it registers 238ºF on a candy thermometer (hard crack stage). When the sugar and water turn to liquid add the honey and corn syrup and 2 drops of almond oil or 1 teaspoon of extract (almond oil is stronger). If you don’t have a candy thermometer, use a glass of cold water and after about 15 minutes, drop a little of the syrup into the cold water. If it turns into a hard ball the candy is done. If not, keep cooking it and testing the syrup until you get a hard ball. Do not stir; brush the sugar crystals from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water when necessary. This will prevent hard crystals from dropping into the candy. Once the sugar begins to brown, watch carefully and remove from the heat as soon as it reaches the desired golden deep copper color.
Immediately add the toasted almonds into the candy and stir quickly to coat them. They should be completely covered with the syrup. Work very fast at this point, as the candy will begin to cool and turn hard. Spread the brittle quickly to an even thickness in the pan. Let the almond brittle cool completely and then break it into pieces by dropping the sheet on the counter. At this point you can wrap each piece in cellophane wrapping paper or serve on a candy dish.
Note: Whole almonds are used in Italy and I find more flavorful. Sliced almonds are easier to eat; it is a matter of taste. This brittle is very hard. Roasted hazelnuts are also used in this recipe.
The day started with some rain and then the sky opened up with bright sunshine on Wynwood’s colorful wall art.
The international community has descended on the streets as artists and visitors alike speaking many languages open galleries and take paint brushes to the walls of buildings.
Connecting collectors and introducing new collectors with galleries and artists is in full swing.
It isn’t surprising that art fairs spread in satellite exhibitions around Miami with artsy Wynwood being one of the most popular.
The transformation of what was once a manufacturing district into an artist canvas with painters creating colorful images on everything from cars, buildings, walls and even garbage containers.
Photography, sculptures and experiential art have attracted an international community of artists and collectors.
Basel House and other pop up galleries displaying emerging artists draws tens of thousands of art lovers and opens up a world of “must see” art.
As the show begins and the parties start until the wee hours of the morning, I took to the streets to watch and join in the excitement.
What people are doing on the streets of Wynwood.
There was no doubt what we would choose for lunch during our visit to the San Remo food market. The markets in Italy are a visual and gastronomic experience. Red, ripe, sweet tomatoes, huge bunches of basil, garlic and fresh olives filled our basket. How better to enjoy a beautiful village but to experience the local markets and fresh food. Next to the bread stand for fresh crusty Italian bread and a stop at the cheese vendor left only one more thing to buy. On the way back home we visited our new friend in the local store to purchase a bottle of wine from the vineyards of Dolceaqua. We were climbing the stairs to our apartment in anticipation of a lovely fresh tomato salad with basil, garlic and olive oil from the local olive groves. This is one of the advantages of renting an apartment rather then staying in a hotel. We were happy and content enjoying our lunch and the view of the village. How better to spend a vacation in a beautiful village experiencing the local markets and fresh food.
In France and many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern markets that I have visited, the selection of spices always draws me to photograph the alluring colors and take in the wonderful aromas. I buy small packets, take them home, and enjoy trying them in meals that I prepare. They even encourage me to experiment with new exotic recipes. The best part is that it brings me back to the places I visited for the evening.
Thirty years ago my husband and I drove along old one-lane winding roads on the edge of rugged cliffs and through stone tunnels in the Cinque Terre. The ride was unforgettable as the one-way road had little security overlooking an unbelievable view of the blue ocean. I could hardly keep my eyes open as this was beyond me, even though I’m pretty adventurous. The stone villages battered by the sea with color-faded houses tucked into the rock were breathtaking. The seascape with cliff cascading to the ocean was captivating and the vineyards, terraced along the cliffs seem to grow right out of the rock.
We decided to revisit the experience since we knew the old road had been closed and a new one built gave me the courage to relive the memories we had of this unique region. Today you can go from Monterosso al Mare to Riomaggiore by train, which is the fastest and easiest way to visit the villages as little parking is available and it is always crowded. The 5 villages are Monterosso al Mara, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Little remains of the old original natural beauty of the villages. They have been named a UNISCO site and although funds are given to maintain these areas, most seem to be used to create tourist convinces. Restaurants and mostly gift shops, a few offering some local products line the narrow streets. New hotels have been built intermingled with the old buildings making it difficult to imagine what the villages were like originally. There are a few places where the beauty of the villages can be seen and the 5 hour walk along the cliffs connecting the 5 villages still has beautiful panoramic views of the ocean and villages tucked into the cliffs. The walk from Monterossa al Mare to Corniglia is difficult and unless your capable of walking up and down stairs, it is not recommended. However the section from Riomaggiore to Manarola is an easy walk. The Corniglia section was closed due to a landslide so here you bypass it and take the train to reconnect with the walk.
The first evening we stayed in the hills above the villages in a small hotel of Locanda “da Marco”, which also had a Trattoria and outdoor terrace dinning with a wood burning pizza oven. After driving all day from Switzerland it was getting late and since we didn’t have reservations decided not to risk looking for a hotel in the villages. Little did we know that we would discover the beautiful stone village of Pignone. The region had been hit with an earthquake and tornado in October and many of the villages in the area had lost some ancient bridges and were in different stages of restoration. As usual the personal service and the food were authentic Italian. When we saw the fresh vegetable garden in front of the house, we knew we would have a good dinner. The hotel has 6 simple but comfortable rooms and the guests were from Austraila, France, Irland and Italy. As we have often found, these evening always end up with everyone talking to each other, sharing their life stories and travel experiences. This rarely happens in larger hotels that tend to be less personal. The owners spent time in the morning with their guests giving everyone information on how to visit the Cinque Terre and their advice saved us a lot of time. www.locandadamarco.it
As we drove down to Monterossa al Mare where we spent our second evening. The hills were covered with olive trees and the farmers were spreading nets under the trees to harvest the olives. After finding a hotel, we started out and went to Riomaggiore, walked along the cliffs to Manarola and took the train to Corniglia. There are also ferries that stop along all the villages, so it is possible to walk part of the distance and also take a boat to others.
After a long day we were ready for a nice dinner by the sea. I stopped an older woman and asked her were we could have a good meal. I have found that asking the locals is always the best way to get a good recommendation. She suggested Ristorante Belvedere in the old town of Monterossa al Mare. The seafood was excellent and view of the cliffs was perfect. We sat outdoors with a warm evening breeze off the ocean to a fresh seafood dinner. Their specialty was soupe de pesce served for two in a clay pot and poured into a large pottery bowl. Consisting of lobster, octopus, squid, shellfish and fresh fish in a tomato and fish broth was outstanding.
Walking back to the main part of the village though a tunnel that was part of the original road that we drove more then 30 years ago brought back those scary memories. However I was pretty safe as now it is a walkway connecting the old town and the beach of Monterossa al Mare. I was glad we were walking rather then driving it, but I wish they had preserved more the original tunnels.
It is always difficult to go back after many years and expect to relive memories, and this was no different. For those who have never seen the Cinque Terre, it is still a unique part of Italy and worth visiting.
My grandparents came from Vieste (FG) Italy. In my quest to learn more about my heritage I went to Vieste and took a cooking program. My husband and I had 4 chefs at a five star hotel to ourselves for a week and learned many traditional dishes made in the village and Gargano. I’ve had many people ask me how to make pizza dough at home. The recipe below was given to me by Chef Marco at the Pizzo Munno Vieste Palace Hotel.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: N/A
Yield: 1 large pizza, 2 medium size pizzas
3 1/2 cups flour 00, reserve 1/2 cup for working the dough
1 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup water, tepid
PREPARATION IN A FOOD PROCESSOR
Put the water in a bowl and mix in the yeast and sugar. Place it in a warm place such as the oven and allow it to activate for about 15-20 minutes or until it doubles in size.
Put 3 cups of flour and salt in a mixer with the dough element and pour in the yeast mixture. Process it until it forms a ball. If working it by hand, place it in a bowl and mix the flour and yeast mixture with a wooden spoon or your hands.
Knead the dough lightly and place it in a bowl brushed with the olive oil and cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Place it in a warm place and allow it to rise for at least 1 hour.
Punch the dough down and let it raise for another 1/2 hour covered. You can use as much of the dough as you might need and freeze the rest. When defrosting it, allow the dough to raise again.
Roll out the dough using the reserved flour and you are ready to prepare your pizza, calzone, cheese bread, stromboli etc.
When spreading the dough out, use your hands if you don’t want any air bubbles, use a rolling pin if for a flat crusty crust. I prefer stretching the dough with my thumb and the back of your hand. Use you finger tips to then rotate it on a board stretching it and turning it over a few times.
Most of us don’t have wood burning pizza ovens however; a pizza stone is the best solution for a home oven. You can also use terra cotta tiles, which can be bought in a home supply store. If you do this, purchasse 2 or 3 layers, they will keep the heat in really well and do the trick without spending a lot of money for a pizza stone. It is very important that you buy tiles that have not been made with chemicals.
Spread a medium grind semolina flour on the bottom of the pizza pallet, place the rolled out dough on the board and prepare your pizza. This will allow you to slide it off the board easily onto the tile or stone. flour will also do, but the dough slides off the wood palette more easily with semolina. You can also put parchment paper on the board and slide it onto the stone.
Cook the pizza in a very hot oven at least 500º F or as high as it will go. Put your pizza stone in the oven at least 1 hour until it is hot. If you are grilling it in a fireplace or on a grill, I have found that a metal grate works very well and makes it easy to turn it on the grill. I like this method because it also allows the heat to brown the bottom making it very crispy and gives it a smokey flavor. The coals should be red hot. The cooking time is about 15 to 20 minutes, but this depends on how high the heat is, so keep checking the bottom, it should be brown and crispy.
Don’t be afraid to use whatever you like. Goat cheese, Gorgonzola, Fete cheeses are great as are olives, most vegetables, meats and seafood. Be creative!
You can use fresh tomatoes, or Passate di Pomador0 or just pureed can tomatoes. An Italian home is not complete without a bottle of Passate de Pomadoro in the refrigerator. It is great for flavoring soups and vegetables as well. Some people like to use prepared tomato sauce that has already been flavored, but I really prefer the fresh taste of tomatoes adding the herbs that you prefer. Sprinkle with chopped garlic, oregano or basil, salt and pepper; add whatever you like on the top. Mozzarella is traditionally used layered on the top. Whatever cheese you use, add it a few minutes before the pizza is done. Just long enough so that it melts. This allows everything to cook on top without the crust getting soggy or the cheese overcooking.
There are many articles written about the health benefits of almonds. Low in saturated fat and containing calcium and magnesium, vitamin E and compounds called phytochemicals, which may help protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer. Jordan almonds are considered the best and are sweet almonds coming from Malaga. Bitter almonds are grown in the south of France, Sicily and North Africa. See the web sites at the end of this article for more information on the benefits of almonds and their origins.
Almond oil is extracted from both bitter and sweet almonds but the seed of the bitter almonds are used to make almond oil and almond flavoring are used in confections. Pure almond extract can be purchased at any market, but the intense flavor of almond oil makes a very big difference in baked goods. When using oil vs. extracts, you use just a few drops. Most Italian markets sell these oils and a little goes a long way.
In Italy desserts are often flavored with honey, chestnuts, pine nuts, hazelnuts and almonds. The biscotti originated in the Tuscany and it is thought that they were flavored with almonds from Prato. The cookies are known as “cantucci” and they can be found in every pasticceria in the Tuscany. Cantucci are mostly eaten with a glass of “Vin Santo” a sweet wine. Many restaurants serve small almond biscotti with coffee and some will have a bowl of them on the table at all times. It is probably the most well-known and popular biscotti. Almonds are used in many different varieties of biscotti and also mixed with fruits and chocolate.
Other desserts made with almonds in Italy are a rich bread or flat cake known as “panforte”. A cookie called “Cartellate” is made in Apuglia. It is fried dough in the shape of a cartwheel (cartellate means cartwheel in Italian) and filled with toasted almonds, honey, chocolate and spices. Amaretto is a liqueur with an almond flavor. The base of the liqueur is primarily made from apricot pits. Apricot and peach pits have similar oils and taste like almonds. The original version of Amaretto was made in Saronno, Italy and is also used to flavor many Italian desserts and coffee. Marzipan, which is a mixture of sugar and almonds is used in confections. One of my favorites is a candy called “Brocante con mandorle”, (Italian almond brittle). It is very hard and you must to be careful of your teeth when you eat it. Unlike most brittle, this is thick and hard made with toasted almonds, sugar, honey, corn syrup and almond oil or almond flavoring. Colorful sugar candied almonds known as “confetti” are arranged in exquisite decorations for wedding cakes and mixed with trays of biscotti.
Cantucci are use in all of our biscotti trays, they are one of our most asked for biscotti. Cantucci are hard so they make a good base for our “Torta Festiva” or “Torta di Biscotto di Nozze”.
Make a full recipe and stored in a metal container, they will last a few weeks. They can be frozen up to two months – they defrost very quickly. You will always have biscotti to serve with coffee when friends drop by.
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes @ 350ºF
Yield: 2 1/2 Dozen
3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 cups roasted almonds, cut in half
1/4 cup warm water
1/3 cup oil
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons water
ROASTING THE NUTS
Place the almonds on a cookie sheet and place in a 400ºF oven for 15 minutes. Shake the pan several times to turn the nuts so they cook evenly. Let the almonds cool. Cut the almonds in half.
In large mixing bowl, place the dry ingredients and toasted almonds. Make a well in the center and combine the remaining wet ingredients (water, oil and eggs). Oil your hands to mix the dough. Place the dough onto a floured board and work until completely combined. The dough will be sticky to work with. Refrigerate for one hour.
Make loaves about 14” long and 2” wide, and place them on a lightly greased or parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Brush the loaves with the egg wash and place them in a 350ºF oven for 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool and slice on a diagonal 1” apart.
To freeze, do not slice but wrap the whole logs tightly in plastic wrap. Slice the logs when you are ready to serve them. They can be frozen for up to 2 months.
Note: Cantucci can be double backed a few minutes on each side for a drier harder result.