Witch’s fingers: you are still in time for a creepy but cool Halloween treat!

Although I usually have a lot of Halloween spirit (no pun intended!) 😉 this year I have been quite indifferent to it all, a little bit as if I still lived in Italy. I think it is because we’ve been seeing Halloween decorations, costumes, and candy in the stores since the day after “unpack your backpack” night at the kids’ school. Lucky my little girls brought me back to reality, reminding me that in the next few days there will be Halloween parties at schools and daycares.  And although treats are not expected, they’re definitely welcomed!

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So, I decided to give this very popular recipe a try (I bet you have  already seen these cookies in  Halloween articles, blogs or magazines.)  After picking this one from my favorite Italian cooking blog (giallo zafferano),  I created these (BELIEVE ME!) super fast, easy, and awesome creepy butter cookies! Well, truth to be told, I should not take all the merit, since Letizia (6 years old), Livia (almost 4 years old) and Lorenza (almost 2 years old) helped a lot! Because this recipe requires very few steps, and the modelling part (I mean to give the dough a finger shape) is really easy, the kids loved helping! Plus, the pastry doesn’t need to rest in the refrigerator before to be worked: you can start making the cookies right away!

If you’d like to to refresh your memory on how Italians celebrate Halloween, take a quick look at my past post about Black cats and Ghosts Halloween pastry cookies.

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INGREDIENTS FOR ABOUT 20-22 FINGERS

1 stick of butter (cut into pieces)

14 oz. (or 1 and 3/4 cup) all purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 medium sized egg

3/4 cup powdered sugar

2 tsp. vanilla or almond extract

1 pinch of salt

22 blanched almonds

1 Tbs. light colored preserve (apricot, orange or peach) to attach the almonds to the cookies

strawberry preserve for the pretend “blood”

DIRECTION

In a big bowl, mix the sifted flour with the baking powder, powder sugar, butter pieces, egg, salt, and vanilla or almond extract. USE YOUR HANDS!

Once the dough reaches a compact and uniform consistency, form a loaf and make small balls of dough, using about 0.8 (25 gr.) of dough for each one. I have to be honest: since it was the first time I’ve tried this recipe, I use the kitchen scale to make balls of the right weigh/dimension.. ERGO, my daughters helped me ONLY in the next steps.

Now, you (and your kids!) can start rolling the dough balls into fingers. With the palms of the hands, roll each ball until it creates a tube shape of about 4 inches (10-12 cm). I have to be honest again: I didn’t have the patience to take out the ruler, so I used MY index finger as a model! To make the fingers look lifelike, I suggest making them thinner just before and after the knuckle joint and then, to add detail, using the dull edge of a knife to create the wrinkles in the knuckles. Again: I used my index finger as model. You can do the same!

To finish the fingers, take one of the peeled, blanched almonds and dip one side in the light colored preserve of your choice, and apply it to the tip of the cookie finger with a little pressure: it will look like a fingernail.

Pre-heat the oven to 365 F. (180 C.).  Cover a baking sheet with parchment and arrange the fingers at least one inch apart.

Cook for no more than 12 minutes…. and before serving, dip the end of the fingers in strawberry preserves to make it appear even more horrific!!!

HOW COOL! YOUR KIDS WILL ADORE THESE COOKIES!!! Now it will be even more fun deciding how to present your cookies… Arranged next to a skeleton skull? Covered with creepy spiders? Your choice!

LEARN IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

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 Tip: – These cookies can last a week if stored in a cookie jar or in a dry and cool room.

          – My favorite way to enjoy these cookies is soaking them in warm milk or tea, for a perfect SPOOKY HALLOWEEN TEA PARTY!

I really hope you like this recipe, and please, if you do,

share it, like it, leave a comment, and subscribe to receive a new recipe each week for free,

and help support my blog!

Much thanks,

Silvia

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Chocolate and Ricotta Tart: let’s try to sweeten the end of summer!

Here I am, posting for the second week in a row, a cake recipe! I blame the approach of summer’s end, the shortening of the daylight, and the turning of tree’s leaves, that lately I have been really craving comfort foods! Or perhaps, making this recipe, which has been in my mom’s recipe book as long as I can remember, is my way of overcoming my recurrent homesickness. This ricotta tart is, without a doubt, a fond memory of my Italian youth. It’s the cake my mom use to make for my birthday, since it was (actually, it still is) my favorite. This is the cake that, on my birthday, I now prepare for myself!! I know the recipe by heart, and I can not help but make it at least one a month… because it’s that good!

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The combination of crust pastry and sweet, creamy, intense ricotta cream make this seemingly simple and frugal  tart a real surprise to the palate.  And here is a bonus… I don’t know if this has ever happened to you, but occasionally I forget a package of ricotta in the very back of the refrigerator, only to find it once it’s already expired. Super frustrating, if you hate to waste food as much as I do. Well, this tart is the perfect solution. If the ricotta hasn’t really gone bad yet, but you don’t trust eating it raw, make this tart, and not only will you avoid the food-waste guilt, but you’ll also be guaranteed a delicious outcome! And that is a WIN-WIN!! Absolutely easy to be prepared, it takes very little “hands-on” time. However, the crust pastry needs to chill in the refrigerator at least half hour before assembling the tart, and it does need to bake for about 40 minutes.

INGREDIENTS for a 9″ round pan

FOR THE PASTRY

1 stick room temperature unsalted butter – 100 gr. burro a temperature ambiente

1 egg – 1 uovo intero

4 Tbs. sugar – Quattro cucchiai di zucchero

1 Tbs. vanilla extract – 1 fialetta aroma alla vaniglia

2 cups all purpose flour – 300 gr. di farina

FOR THE RICOTTA CREAM

15 oz. (1 small package) ricotta cheese – 500 gr. ricotta

1 yolk – 1 tuorlo

1 tbs. melted unsalted butter – 20 gr. burro fuso

1/2 cup (4 oz.) sugar – 100 gr. zucchero

FOR THE DECORATION

dark chocolate or dark chocolate chips

SUGGESTION

If you can, use a springform cake pan.

DIRECTIONS

At least half hour before assembling the cake, prepare the crust pastry: In a bowl, combine the butter and sugar first until they are well mixed. Then add the egg and keep stirring. Add now the flour. Stir until all the egg, sugar, and butter have been absorbed into the flour and the mixture has a crumbly texture.

THE MIXTURE WILL BE LUMPY and that is right and normal. Put the bowl in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes (no covering is needed).  Now you can go for a thirty-minute walk (so you will gain the right to eat a piece of this delicious cake :-)!). Whenever you are ready, in a food processor mix together the ricotta cheese with the sugar and the vanilla extract. Then add the yolk, and finally the melted butter (be careful not to add a too-warmed butter: you will cook the yolk!). You will obtain a velvety and dense cream (absolutely good to be eaten raw!).

Now arrange the pie: Butter the pan and sprinkle with flour (or breadcrumbs). Spoon 3/4 of the crumbly dough mixture into the prepared pan (you will keep the rest to decorate the top of the cake). Spread the dough evenly, completely covering the bottom of the pan. Then, using your fingers, press the dough to create a firm crust. Be sure to press the dough up the sides of the pan at least 1/4 inch. This is important to contain the ricotta cream while it bakes.

Pour the ricotta cheese cream on top of the firmed crust, then sprinkle the top with chocolate chips or dark chocolate shavings. Decorate the sides of the cake using the tines of a fork. Crumble the remaining dough on top of the cream.

Bake at 365 F. (180 C.) for about 40 minutes. It will be ready when the crust becomes golden and the ricotta cream changes color.

Let the cake cool off before taking it out of the springform pan infact, even if the temptation to eat a piece right away is strong, this tart tastes better at room temperature (not too warm or too cool).

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LEARNT IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

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I really hope you like this recipe, and please, if you do,

share it, like it, leave a comment, and subscribe to receive a new recipe each week for free,

and help support my blog!

Much thanks,

Silvia

Tips: – If you want to make a less fat tart, you can use partskim ricotta cheese. Of course the taste would not be as delicious as the regular cream, but good enough to be enjoyed;

– This cake can last up to one week, even if not refrigerated.

Fluffy apple coffee cake: irresistible!

A good rule for being confident in cooking is using fresh and seasonal ingredients: this little trick significantly increases the probability of obtaining a great result (see reason #8 of “The 10 funny (but true) reasons why you are a disastrous cook). And since apple season is just around the corner (see this very useful chart for year 2016), I would love to share with you another precious family recipe that makes the most of all these delicious apples, and is guaranteed to amaze your family or guests. And if you still have leftover apples after making this, remember these other two delightful recipes: “Apple crumble pie” and “Golden Apple muffins”

This scrumptious apple coffee cake is almost totally made out of apples (about 2 or more pounds of apples for a 9″ round pan) and few other ingredients. It takes about an hour to be prepared. Most of that time is the tedious work of peeling and cutting the apples. With the use of a food processor the dough will be ready in the blink of an eye! As for the taste, this fluffy, moist, fragrant pie is perfectly suited for a tea/coffee snack, or considering the strange similarity to “brioches“, Italians opt for it as a perfect  sweet and “light” breakfast, or,  sided by a warm custard and sprinkled with sliced almonds could also be served as a fancy dessert.

INGREDIENTS for a 9″ round pan

about 4-5 apples (better if Golden Apples) – 4-5 mele Golden

1 stick plus 1 tbs. warm unsalted butter (9 tbs.) – 130 gr. burro

2 eggs – 2 uova

1 yolk – 1 tuorlo

1 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour – 200 gr. farina

2 Tbs. baking powder – 1 bustina di lievito per dolci

2/3 cup sugar – 150 gr. zucchero

2 tsp. almond (or orange) extract – 2 cucchiaini aroma alla mandorla o arancia

juice of 1 lemon (to prevent apple slices from browning/oxidizing) – il succo di un limone

3 Tbs. warm milk – tre cucchiai di latte tiepido

1 pinch of sea salt – 1 pizzico di sale

about 2-3 Tbs. apricot preserves – 2-3 cucchiai circa di marmellata di albicocche

(To assemble the cake use a springform cake pan) – meglio usare una tortiera a cerniera

optional: almond slices or powdered sugar to decorate – facoltativi delle mandorle a lamelle o zucchero a velo per decorare

DIRECTIONS

Remove the butter and the eggs from the fridge at least 20 minutes before making the cake. You need those at room temperature.  Butter the pan and sprinkle with flour (or breadcrumbs).  Peel the apples, cut them in two, remove the core and slice three of them in thin slices and cut the rest in small cubes (just to be sure about the proportions between slices and cubes, I usually arrange the apples slices in the bottom of the pan, and when it looks totally covered I start cutting cubes instead).

Move the sliced apples into a colander and cover them with lemon juice, to prevent them from oxidizing.

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Put the apple cubes and add 2 tbs. of butter in  small pan and cook them at medium heat for about 5-8 minutes, until they become golden, stirring sometimes.

Pre-heat the oven at 365 F (180 C.).
In the mean time you are cooking the apple’s cubes, in your food processor combine, in order:

a) the remaining butter (should be 7 tbs.) with the sugar and a pinch of sea salt;

b) then the 2 eggs and 1 yolk plus the flavoring you picked (almond or orange);

c) next add the flour sifted with 2 Tbs. of baking powder;

d) finally, add three Tbs. of warm milk (not too hot! you don’t want to mess up the rising process and/or cook the dough’s eggs!) that will make the dough liquid enough to be poured in the pan.

Now that the dough is ready, pour a thin layer of it on the bottom of the pan (just enough to not let free spot).

Then, spread out evenly the cooled off apple’s cubes.

Cover the cubes with all the remaining dough and dry the apple slices very well with a paper towel.

Decorate the cake arranging neatly the apple slices and few apricot preserve flakes.

Bake the cake for abut 50 minutes making sure the cake doesn’t burn on top. The right way to make sure your cake is ready is pinching it in the middle with a teeth stick. If the stick come out of the cake dirty with dough it means the cake it’s not ready (so cover the top of it with an aluminum foil and cook it for few more minutes).    Before to eat the cake, good rule (according to my mom) is to allow the cake to cool on the inside. On the opposite side, I love eating it still warm!!! To not ruin the estethic of the cake, though, better taking it out of the spring pan only when it is completely cooled off.

By the way, whatever you decide to serve it, I highly recommend to sprinkle it with almond slices or (and this options suits better kids tastes) dust with powdered sugar. The apotheosis would be serving it with few tbs. of warm custard aside, but I understand that would mean more work!

LEARNT IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

I really hope you like this recipe, and please, if you do,

share it, like it, leave a comment, subscribe to  receive every week one new recipe for free,

and help support my blog!

Much thanks,

Silvia

TIPS:

– Be very careful with this cake: it could be really addictive! At my house, when I make it, it lasts no more than 24 hours! I’m warning you just because even if the fluffy consistency of the cake could lure you to think that it is a light one, well, considering the amount of butter in it, don’t yield to temptation of more than two slices in a row ;-).

Italian Style Cheese cake

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You are probably thinking, “How are you writing about cheese cake on an Italian food blog, considering that the most famous cheese cakes were created in New York?!? In the USA!”  The answer is: “YOU ARE RIGHT!”… but the first cheese cakes were actually made in ancient Greece, before the time of Christ by the Romans. Regardless, even if it never occurred to you, many Italians look around to pick up on other countries’ food traditions (and  I, for sure, am one of those Italians!). And as I have already mentioned, I think Italians have many things to learn from Americans!

By the way, this recipe has been in my recipe book forever, so I’m not sure exactly where it comes from or its true historical origin.

What I know for sure is that once you really like a certain dish, you try many alternative ways to make it, and become a connoisseur of sorts. So even if I believe this cheese cake is SUPER DUPER DELICIOUS,  I don’t have the vanity to say that it is the best of all cheese cakes ever. But, if you enjoy cheesecake, I humbly beg you to try out this recipe- you will not be disappointed! And, if you would leave me feedback after trying it, I would greatly appreciate it!!

Making this cheese cake takes three steps, and about one hour of cooking: first preparing the base; second, preparing the cheese cake batter, then last to bake it. Easy, pretty fast, and foolproof!

 

INGREDIENTS for a 12″ round cake (10-12 servings)

2 packs graham crackers (or other plain butter cookies)

2 blocks of cream cheese (8 oz each, softened)

1 pint (473 ml) heavy whipping cream

4 oz. or 1/2 cup sugar

3 eggs

1 stick melted unsalted butter

3 tbs. all-purpose flour

canned cherries (or chocolate or caramel) for garnishing

 

DIRECTIONS
For the crust :
Put the crackers or cookies into a food processor bowl, and pulse until finely ground.

Move the ground crackers into a mixing bowl and add the melted butter. Knead by hand to allow the butter to be evenly absorbed, but expect the mixture to remain grainy.

Line a 12-inch diameter round pan with parchment paper. (Ideally, use a spring-form pan, where the sides release from the base.) Then press the cracker-crumb mixture into the bottom of the pan, flattening it evenly.

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For the cream:

Whip the whipping cream and save it for later (remember to keep it refrigerated!)

Separate the three eggs yolks from the whites and, using an electric whisk, whip the whites until stiff (keep the whites aside for later).
With the same electric whisk (no need to rinse), beat the egg yolks with the sugar until they become fluffy and shiny.

Incorporate the cream cheese using an electric mixer. (I use a hand mixer with a rigid wire whisk/ beater, like those in the picture below, but if you are using a flimsy/ flexible electric whisk, you will need to switch to a more rigid whisk/ beater.)

Now fold in the egg whites- by hand, always gently and from the bottom to the top, to avoid the cream becoming watery.

 

Finally fold in the whipped cream, always stirring gently. Finally- only at the end- you stir in the sifted flour.

 

To arrange the cake:

Spread the cream evenly on top of the graham cracker crust.

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Bake in preheated oven at 320 F. (160 C.).
After 20 minutes, increase the temperature to 365 F (180 C.) and bake until the cake rises and becomes golden.

Before serving:
Let the cheese cake cool completely. Release the sides of the spring-form pan, then carefully peel off the parchment paper and arrange the cake on a nice dish.

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Garnish it with whatever you like- canned cherries or other fruit, jam, syrup, caramel, or melted chocolate.

Refrigerate at least a couple of hours before serving.

Serve the cake cold or at room temperature, according to your taste (my family likes it better cold).

LEARNT IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

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Tips: –  Since this cheese cake is rich in taste and calories, I suggest serving it in small slices.  You may have the occasional friend who asks for a second slice, but most will be satisfied with just a little bit of this decadent dessert.

–  This cheese cake, if kept refrigerated, tastes even better the day after (so don’t hesitate to make it in advance) and can last up to a week. I would discourage freezing it, because the cream cheese tends to change consistency and ruin the taste.

I really hope you like this recipe, and please, if you do,

share it, like it, leave a comment, subscribe, and help support my blog!

Much thanks,

Silvia

Semifreddo al torrone: how to get rid off “extra” Torrone

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Since Italians love food, and Italian food (as everybody knows) is absolutely delicious, it is pretty common that for Christmas, Italian friends and families exchange edible gifts. Usually these gifts consist of big, beautiful boxes or baskets decorated with Christmas themes and full of goodies such as deli, coffee, chocolate, wine, Panettone and more. One that’s never missing is Torrone (o Mandorlato).

When I lived in Italy, it often happened that during Christmas Holiday I received 4-5 packs of Torrone (or Mandorlato), and it was always hard to eat it all without feeling sick by the end!!

Thank goodness my grandmother (probably because SHE also was overwhelmed by huge quantities of Torrone at Christmas time 😉 ), used to prepare this really, really delicious dessert to get rid off the extra Torrone. And although most Americans will probably not have an excess of Torrone at the holidays, it can be found easily in many stores here in the U.S.  Plus, this absolutely stunning dessert is easy to make, not requiring any particular baking or cooking talent! But the best part of this dessert is the fusion between the frozen creamy compound and the warm chocolate used for garnishing… absolutely heaven!

Before we go ahead with the recipe, you should probably know what Torrone is! 🙂 Well, it is a treat typically made of honey, sugar, and egg white, with nuts or toasted almonds  (in which case it is called Mandorlato), and usually shaped into either a rectangular tablet or a round cake. It is frequently consumed as a traditional Christmas dessert in Italy, Spain and countries formerly under the Spanish empire as well, particularly in Latin America.

The Torrone I’ve  found shopping here in US looked like this, and it tasted mostly like the Italian one:

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INGREDIENTS for about 6 small cups of semifreddo 

7 0z. torrone – 200 gr. torrone (hazelnuts or almonds)
2 eggs – 2 uova
7 oz. whipped cream – 3 dl. panna da montare
2 oz. (or 1/4 cup) sugar – 50 g. zucchero
5 oz. dark chocolate – 150 g cioccolato fondente
chopped toasted hazelnuts for garnish

(if your Torrone has few nuts inside, consider using an extra handful of nuts)

DIRECTIONS:

First of all, grind the Torrone (and any extra nuts, if using) in a food processor.

Separate the yolks from the whites and put them in two separate bowls. Whip the whites with an electric whisk until they form stiff peaks.

Measure out and whip about 2/3 of the whipping cream.

Beat the sugar with the yolks for few minutes to obtain a light and fluffy compound.

Fold into the beaten yolks the whipped cream and the egg whites, a little at a time, stirring gently from the bottom to the top.

Then, add the crumbled Torrone  and nuts, again stirring gently until you obtain a homogeneous mixture.

Portion out into 6 ramekins, lined with plastic wrap. Then transfer into the freezer for about 3-4 hours.

Before serving the dessert, melt the chocolate in a double boiler (or microwave) and mix it with the remaining whipped cream.

 

Flip the frozen desserts onto plates and garnish with the chocolate sauce, and chopped hazelnuts or nuts.

Your guests will be very impressed by the beauty and deliciousness of this dessert!

LEARNT IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

Tip: If you don’t have small ramekins you can use a pudding mold instead.

I really hope you like this recipe, and please, if you do,

share it, like it, leave a comment, subscribe, and help support my blog!

Much thanks,

Silvia