Wednesday, December 31, 2008


HOLIDAY GIFT TIME (all wrapped up & somewhere to go!)

Who doesn’t love to receive scrumptious, homemade gifts for the holidays? Well, maybe we are still a bit too stuffed from our festive meals, the refrigerator still a bit too overloaded with leftovers to really appreciate the goodness, the love put into gifts from the kitchen. But this is the perfect way to share old family heirloom recipes as well as to offer a bit of ourselves.

This kind of gift giving in France is quite easy for an American. Any of my reliable staples, both the everyday and the seasonal, are considered exotic foreign delicacies by the gourmet-minded French. From banana bread to chocolate chip cookies or gingerbread men, I can give the gift of the most traditional yet simplest goodies to heartfelt delight and thanks.

This year, I decided to offer a bevy of fresh-from-the-oven quick breads : Chocolate Chip Banana Bread, a lovely Chocolate Loaf and a traditional Cranberry Orange Walnut Bread. I wrap them in shiny foil, tie them up in pretty ribbons and carry them around town, offering them to friends throughout the holiday season.

The Banana Bread recipe is one I make almost weekly, so quick and simple to put together and an ideal and delicious way to use up those old, mushy brown bananas that nobody wants to eat. Throw in either mini chocolate chips, chopped walnut or pecan meats and this is a wonderful loaf – somewhere between a bread and a cake – to keep on hand for breakfast and snacks.

I made several one-loaf recipes but divided each into 2 liter-sized (just under 4.5 cups) aluminum loaf tins, in order to be able to offer 2 or 3 smaller loaves to each friend. I have found in the past that each recipe can easily be divided into 3 half-liter mini-loaves as well. Do not change the oven temperature whether making 1 large, 2 medium or 3 small breads, but rather watch the cooking time closely and adjust where necessary.


This Cranberry Orange Walnut Bread, festive in itself, so ideal for any holiday meal, tangy, delicately sweet and crunchy, is the recipe I have been using, like the Banana Bread, since my college days; both recipes scratched down in my old, battered and food-stained notebook that has traveled the world with me. Debbie, my college friend Chris’ sister, passed this recipe on to me one glorious Christmas Vacation that I spent with their family in that snow-covered, quaint, historical Massachusetts town. I find cranberries so quintessentially Christmas-y, their bright ruby-red glow and their tangy snap, that as soon as the season rolls around, my kitchen counter is always laden with muffins and breads, coffee cakes and fruit tarts studded with this most magical of berries. And while they are fresh, I purchase package upon package and stuff them into my freezer so I can bake with them all year round.

1 orange, preferably untreated
2 Tbs (30 g) unsalted butter, ideally at room temperature, cubed
1 egg
1 cup (200 g) sugar
1 cup fresh cranberries, thawed if frozen (I used a container of 6.7 oz/200g)
½ cup (50 g) coarsely chopped walnuts
2 cups (250 g) flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°F).

Grate the zest of the orange. Juice the orange into a glass/pyrex measuring cup.

Add enough boiling water to the orange juice to make ¾ cup (160 ml) of liquid. Add the orange zest and the cubes of butter immediately and stir until the butter is melted.

In a larger mixing bowl, whisk or beat together the egg and the sugar until blended, light and fluffy.

Pour the orange mixture into the egg/sugar mixture and stir together.

Fold the cranberries, whole or coarsely chopped, and the chopped walnuts into the batter.

In a separate bowl, blend the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir this mixture into the batter until well blended.

Spread the batter into one large, 2 medium or 3 small loaf pans or aluminum loaf tins.

Bake for 55 minutes to 1 hour until the center is set and the top is golden brown. Allow to cool on racks.


I had the choice between a few different recipes for Chocolate Bread and finally decided to make Rose Levy Beranbaum’s version from The Cake Bible. I absolutely love her cake recipes, rich and moist and following her instructions leads to a perfect cake every single time. This is much more like a sweet bread rather than a cake, ideal for breakfast and snack times.

3 Tbs + 1 ½ tsps (21 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
3 Tbs boiling water
1 ½ tsp vanilla
3 large eggs
1 ¼ cups (125 g) flour
¾ cup + 2 Tbs (175 g) sugar
¾ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
13 Tbs (6.5 oz / 185 g) unsalted butter softened to room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease and flour a 4-cup loaf pan, or two 2-cup loaf pans.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder with the boiling water until smooth. Whisk in the eggs and the vanilla. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients and, with an electric beater, mix on low speed for 30 seconds to blend. Add ½ the chocolate mixture and the softened butter in cubes and mix on low until all of the dry ingredients are moistened.

Increase speed to high and beat for 1 minute to aerate. Scrape down the sides.

Add the remaining chocolate mixture and continue beating on high speed for another minute.

Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan(s) and smooth the surface with a spatula.

Bake for 50 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes then, using a sharp knife or a metal spatula, loosen the cake from the sides of the tin, then flip out, reinvert and allow to cool completely.

Saturday, December 27, 2008



Mascarpone, elegant, creamy and ethereal, just barely sweetened, a hint of Amaretto. Coffee-drenched biscuits, the whole dusted with dark, bitter cocoa powder. This is the way to this Mother’s Heart!

Mamma Mia! My son rarely leaves me speechless, I do assure you. But his TIRAMISU, fit for a King (or in this case, Queen), is so amazing, so utterly outrageously delicious, that a spoonful silences me completely, only allowing groans of joy to pass between my lips.

Like Mother Like Son? You may think so, seeing him in the kitchen concentrating on blending, measuring, layering. But the truth is, not so much. Pastry-making to him is women’s work, strangely enough. But when he decides that he wants to do something, he throws himself into it heart and soul. He perfected and mastered this glorious dessert and it makes my heart skip a beat when I see it chilling in the refrigerator.


About 30 Savoyard Biscuits (sponge fingers or ladyfingers)
4 very fresh eggs, separated
2 cups (16.5 oz, 500 g) mascarpone
½ cup (100 g) sugar or to taste
4 Tbs or more Amaretto
a few cups strong coffee

Separate the egg yolks from the whites. Set the whites aside is a large bowl.

Beat the yolks until thick and pale.

Add the mascarpone, all of the sugar accept 1 tablespoon, about 4 tablespoons of the Amaretto, and fold all together until very well blended and creamy.

Beat the whites until they start to stiffen. Add the remaining tablespoon of sugar gradually as you continue to beat the whites stiff. The whites are ready when you can turn the bowl upside down and they don’t budge (Clem refused to turn the bowl upside down over his head, which is traditional).

Carefully fold the beaten egg whites into the mascarpone/egg mixture, using a spatula. Start with about a third of the whites to lighten the mixture. Then add a second third, then the last, carefully folding the whites into the mixture after each addition so as not to break the air in the whites.

Taste the mascarpone, adding a bit more sugar or Amaretto to taste.

Prepare the Tiramisu:

Whether using individual molds or glasses/dishes or one larger serving dish, spoon and spread a thin layer of the cream mixture on the bottom.

Take one Savoyard or Ladyfinger at a time, trimming to fit your mold if necessary, and soak in the coffee, briefly but thoroughly, until soaked through and soft, but not too long that the cookie falls apart.

Line the mold with the coffee-soaked cookies, pushing them together so as not to leave spaces between the cookies.

Now spoon more of the mascarpone mixture into the mold, smoothing over the cookies, forming a rather thick layer.

Repeat with a layer of coffee-drenched cookies, then the mascarpone to the top of the dish.

Sprinkle the entire surface with unsweetened cocoa powder.

Chill well.

These can be made in one large, deep, preferably glass (to see the beautiful layers) serving dish or in individual glass bowls. Clément decided to mold them in circular molds, first cutting out a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom and placing on a small doily. To remove the mold, simply but carefully move the molded Tiramisu to an individual serving plate by lifting under the doily with a spatula, then very gently jiggle and twist slightly back and forth, lifting the mold straight up. Once you feel the Tiramisu release, just lift the mold straight up.

Tiramisu is best made in the morning to be served after dinner at night. Left overnight in the fridge, the cookies may release a bit of liquid, but it is still so exquisitely delicious!

(Do I really need a catchy ending after having given you 3 photos of Clément's Tiramisu?)

Thursday, December 25, 2008



Italian Week continues…. As does Hanukkah!

Italy is an extremely traditional country. Families still live on top of one another, sharing costs, babysitting duty, cases of tomatoes for the summer sauce-making ritual. Holidays, especially religious holidays, are made much of and are elaborate family affairs laden with tradition. Each city, each region pulls out all the stops, food shops and markets fill up with goodies, windows are decorated and, of course, bakeries fill their showcases with special treats found only at that time of year : Pan dei morti (Dead Man's Bread), also known as Ossi dei Morti (Dead Man’s Bones) on All Saint's Day, Cenci and Chiacchiere (or Chatterboxes, indicating the noise made while crunching them) and even Bugie ("Fibs") during Carnival, Frittelle on Saint Ambrose's Day and the list goes on and on.

Of course, in an extremely religious country like Italy, Christmas has a special importance and the Italians know how to do it right. Huge jars of Mostarda, glistening, brightly colored pickled fruit, a specialty of Cremona, pumpkin ravioli, mountains of creamy Almond Torrone, chestnuts roasting on darkened steel drums, and, of course, the Panettone, Pandoro, or Panforte take pride of place. Mountains of mouth-watering Cenci (“Rags”), twists of dough deep fried and dusted with sugar, welcome you in every bakery at this time of year. Italians love their fried dough treats, there seems to be a special one every holiday. And that is fine by me. Not only do I love them, can eat them by the dozens, but as I mentioned in my Cannoli post, fried foods are traditionally eaten during the week of Hanukkah by Jews all over the world, whether as potato latkes, fruit or cheese fritters, or donuts, plain or jelly-filled.

I had already decided to try a few new things for this Hanukkah season, more than just my usual potato latkes. I successfully adapted Italian Cannoli to Hanukkah, reasoning that both the fried shell and the cheese filling were traditional at Hanukkah. I have never made donuts and, this year, was determined to try.

A tub of leftover ricotta from the Cannolis kept staring at me every time I opened the refrigerator, just begging to be made the most of. Most fortunately, I stumbled across a beautiful and quite appropriate recipe in my new Nigella Lawson cookbook Feast : Baci di Ricotta, “Ricotta Kisses”. Loved it! Baci are small fried donuts, what we would call donut holes, the main ingredient being ricotta. It turned out to be the simplest of simple recipes, blended together in the blink of an eye, then just dropped by teaspoonfuls into heated oil. Sprinkled with powdered or confectioner’s sugar or, as I did, rolled in a cinnamon-sugar mix fresh out of their oil bath.

I saw no need to change the recipe beyond the sugar coating. It is perfect. I took her advice and made Bocconcini – “Tiny Mouthfuls”. This is highly recommended as the centers of most of the holes were creamy, and I imagine attempting anything more than a teaspoonful would give you donuts not quite cooked through. These should definitely be eaten fresh and hot, but then, who could keep themselves from eating the entire plateful of these incredible, cinnamon-kissed mouthfuls, one after another, standing at the counter, just as soon as they are ready? I had to keep mighty control over myself so that everyone else could taste!


Ingredients for 30

1 cup (250 g/ml) ricotta
2 eggs
½ cup (50g) flour
1 ½ tsps baking powder
pinch of salt
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbs sugar
½ tsp vanilla
vegetable oil for frying
2 Tbs sugar + ½ tsp ground cinnamon blended together for coating

Put the ricotta and the eggs in a medium-sized bowl and whisk together until well blended and creamy.

Add the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, sugar and vanilla and whisk again until smooth.

Heat the oil in a deep-fryer or large pot to a depth of about ¾ inch. When a pinch of the dough dropped into the oil sizzles and then cooks golden brown, the oil is hot enough to cook the Bocconcini. Drop the dough in by teaspoonfuls, only about 6 at a time. They cook very quickly and you want to have only a manageable amount in to take care of.

When you drop the dough in, they will sink to the bottom at first, but very quickly they will pop up to the top. Flip the Bocconcini over a few times to allow even browning.

Once they puffed up and are a deep golden brown all over, then lift them out of the hot oil and let drain on paper towels.

While they are still hot, and as the next batch starts to cook, toss them quickly in the cinnamon-sugar mixture that you have placed in a bowl. Scoop them up out of the sugar and pile them on a serving platter.

Continue working quickly, but diligently, until all of the Bocconcini are fried, drained and coated with the cinnamon-sugar.

Serve hot! And do try and make a valiant effort to share them.

IN BOCCA AL LUPO (as the Italians say) for the New Year! In the Mouth of the Wolf – Good Luck! One Bocconcino – or Bacio - at a time!


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