Torta Caprese for Valentine’s Day

I am back! I can’t believe this is my first blog in February. Time really flies! I have been busy preparing for the classes that I will be teaching at the end of the month, I have been away with my family for a weekend to celebrate my son’s 21st birthday and . . . I am back on a diet!

What a better occasion to get back on my blog than Valentine’s Day?

San Valentino, “la festa degli innamorati” (the holiday of lovers), this is how in Italy we refer to this holiday. So, forget the diet and let me share with you a decadent dessert that would make your Valentine’s Day even more special.

Not so fast though, first let me tell you something about my Valentine’s Day.

The festivity of San Valentino also coincides with the festivity of San Modestino, which is the Patron Saint of my hometown Avellino, so to me, for many years, february 14  just meant one thing: NO SCHOOL. Hey, I am not saying I didn’t like school, still, who doesn’t like a day off?

Then, I was in love. . . . my first date with my future husband was the second Sunday of February 1980. No specific date, it was simply the second Sunday. One thing I know, it was too soon to celebrate Valentine’s Day. And, it was too conventional for us.

It wasn’t until we moved to the United Sates that Valentine’s Day has taken a different meaning. In the United Sates, this holiday expands to include all your loved ones and I like that. Throughout this past 21 years, I had fun helping my little boys writing countless Valentine’s cards, baking heart shaped cookies, packing Valentine’s gift boxes to my son away in college, sharing chocolates with my coworkers and still. . . my husband and I had not celebrated Valentine’s Day. The second Sunday in February has been our day for the past 32 years.

Yet, something is different this year. My husband has been working out of town and any occasion is good for me to take the three hour trip to see him and so, this February 14, 2012, we will have our first Valentine’s night out!

But now enough with all the nonsense, time to share my recipe, the Torta Caprese (no, it is not the tomatoes-mozzarella salad!).

La Torta Caprese is a typical chocolate cake from the beautiful island of Capri.

It appears that this cake originated in the 1920s in a local bakery, where the pastry chef forgot to add the flour to the almond cake he was baking for three American gangsters that were on the island to buy bulk of gaiters for Al Capone.

The peculiarity of this rich cake is precisely the lack of flour and yeast (a perfect option for people suffering from celiac disease). The main ingredients are chocolate and almonds. The “segreto” (secret) is all in the process which must create as much air as possible, so not to have a dry and hard final product. To enhance the almond flavor I have added to the recipe some Amaretto liquor. The Caprese has a crunchy texture on the outside with a soft, moist heart.

The Torta Caprese is typically served simply dusted with powdered sugar but, for the occasion (My second Sunday in February!) I served mine with a raspberry sauce that I prepared cooking the raspberry in Amaretto liquor. Oh, and I baked my cake in a heart shaped pan!

Happy Valentine’s Day! Buona festa degli innamorati!

RICETTA DELLA TORTA CAPRESE 

My Torta Caprese with Raspberry Sauce

Ingredients 

1-3/4 cup  10.5 oz. almonds (not peeled)

1-3/4 cup 8.8 oz bittersweet chocolate chips

1-3/4 cup  8.8 oz. butter (softened)

1 cup granulated sugar

5 eggs (white and yolks separated)

1 pinch of salt

1 tablespoon Amaretto liquor (Optional – My personal touch)

Powdered sugar for decoration

Directions

Preheat the oven to 360 degree. Butter and dust with flour a baking pan or line with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a standing mixer or food processor combine the egg yolks and the sugar.

Process until the sugar is dissolved, the color is light yellow and the consistence is smooth and silky.

Add the softened butter and process until all is blended together.

In the mean while melt the chocolate chip in a water bath or on the microwave (I used the defrost setting of the microwave).

Grind the almonds. The almonds should be finely grounded, it is however preferable if some roughly chopped pieces are in the mix, this will give texture to the cake.

Add the melted chocolate to the eggs, sugar, butter mixture and process slowly to blend. Add the almonds and blend. Lastly add the Amaretto liquor.

Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites with a pinch of salt. With the electric mixer, whip until the egg whites are firm then incorporate few spoonful at the time into the chocolate mixture. It is important that you work slowly with a bottom to top motion, this will help to create air into the cake.

Pour the mixture into the baking pan and bake for 1 hour.

Remove from the oven let rest in the pan for few minutes. Flip the pan over a cooling rack and the cake should slide right out of the pan and on the rack.

It’s not a broken heart! The pan was just not tall enough.

Let it cool for 1 hour before dusting with powder sugar.

I used a heart shaped cookie cutter to make a paper template to make the heart in the center of the cake.  I then used the  cookie cutter to fill the center with cocoa.

RASPBERRY SAUCE

Ingredients

1 pint fresh raspberry

¼ cup sugar

2 tablespoon unsalted butter

1/8 teaspoon cornstarch

½ cup Amaretto liquor

Directions

In a small pan add the raspberry, the butter, the sugar, and the Amaretto liquor .

Heat to boiling and cook slowly until the raspberry have come apart.

Remove from heat, strain to a fine sieve to discard the seeds. Use a little of the juice to dissolve the cornstarch. Transfer the strained juice back into the pan, add the dissolved cornstarch and cook slowly for few minutes until it thickens a little.

Remove from heat ad transfer to a gravy bowl.

Drizzle the cake with the warm sauce.

I hope you will enjoy it . . . we sure did!

What is your favorite Valentine’s day dessert? Let me know!

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Struffoli and Mostaccioli My favorite Christmas desserts

Yesterday was December 21, the shortest day of the year. That means brighter days are ahead and Christmas is only 4 days away.

Time to start My holiday desserts and to share two of My favorite Christmas recipes .

You probably all know about the Panettone from Milano and the Pandoro from Verona, both delicious holiday cakes and today easily available in many gourmet grocery stores.

But, how many of you know about two delicious specialties of the Neapolitan region, the Struffoli and the Mostaccioli?

The Struffoli and the Mostaccioli are nowhere to be found in the States (or at least around my area) so I had no choice that to make My own.

The Struffoli are a true Neapolitan dolce (dessert). It appears that the Greeks brought this specialty to Naples. From there it has widespread throughout Central and Southern Italy; however, with some variations from region to region.

The Struffoli are little balls of dough fried and then coated in honey. Their flavor improves after a couple of days. That’s why it is important to prepare them a few days before the event.  I use a traditional recipe without baking powder because I like My Struffoli a little crunchy. If you prefer a softer consistency add 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder and let the dough rest for 60 minutes. Also, the original recipe includes the Italian liqueur Strega or Anisette but, since just few weeks ago I bottled My Limoncello (you should know this if you have been following My blog!), I am using that in my recipe.

The Mostaccioli, also called Mustaccioli are sort of large biscotti (cookies) shaped like a diamond and covered with a chocolate glaze or ganache. The name Mostaccioli comes from the peasant’s habit to use the wine must in order to develop a more  intense and sweet flavor. 

The list of traditional Christmas desserts from the Neapolitan area also include other delicacies like the Susamielli, honey based biscotti shaped like the letter S. The Roccoco`, very hard biscotti, shaped like donuts with an intense flavor of almond and citrus. The Divinoamore, prepared for the first time by the nuns of the convent Divino Amore. The almonds and lemons along with the light pink glaze give these small bites a unique Mediterranean flavor.

I have yet to experiment with these recipes, may be next Christmas I will but for now, I hope you will enjoy My Struffloli and Mostaccioli.

My Mostaccioli

Ingredients

4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup honey

1/3 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon nut meg

2 finely crushed cloves

the zest from 1 orange and 1 tangerine

juice from 1 orange and 1 tangerine

2 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon Grand Marnier (optional)

1 pinch of salt

Warm water as necessary

For the glaze

1/4 pound semisweet chocolate chips

1/3 cup heavy cram

Directions

In a bowl of a food processor sift together the flower, the salt, the baking powder, the baking soda and the cocoa powder. Add the sugar and combine the ingredients at slow speed.

Add the orange and tangerine zest and the spices and process until combined.

In a measuring cup pour the required amount of  honey , add the orange juice and tangerine juice and then add to the dry ingredients (do not rinse the cup, add  ¼ cup of warm water and keep it aside).  Mix the dough at medium speed allowing all the ingredients to come together.

Add the Grand Marnier and keep processing the dough. Add the warm water as necessary to obtain a compact dough.

Mix the dough until it detaches from the side of the bowl. It should be smooth with no lumps.

Damp the dough on a surface slightly dusted with flour and shape into a ball.

Wrap the dough in plastic and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven at 360 degree F.

Remove the dough form the refrigerator and on a surface well dusted with flour roll out the dough to a ½ inch thick. Move the dough around and check underneath to make sure it is not sticking.

Cut the dough into diamond shape, large and/or small and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment.

Bake for 15 minutes, remove from oven and let sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes and then transfer on wire rack to completely cool.

Prepare the chocolate ganache.

In a pan combine chocolate chips and the heavy cram in a heat-proof bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir until the chocolate melts.

With a brush cover the bottom of the Mostaccioli with a thin layer of chocolate and let them dry completely. Once they are dry, flip the Mostaccioli and pour the chocolate over the top. Work on a wire rack with a pan underneath because you will have to allow the chocolate to drizzle down the sides. The Mostaccioli need several hours to dry completely.

My Struffoli

Ingredients

4 – ¾ cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoon granulated sugar

4 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk

5- 2/3 tablespoon unsalted butter

zest from ½ lemon

1 pinch of salt

2 tablespoon of Limoncello (options are Strega liqueur or Anisette or Rum)

Vegetable oil for frying (I use Peanut oil)

1 cup of honey

Multicolor nonpareils

Mixed candied fruit chopped into small pieces.

Directions

In a bowl of a food processor sift the flower, add the salt, the sugar, the lemon zest and the butter and combine the ingredients at slow speed.

Slowly add the eggs and lastly the liqueur and process the dough until it detaches from the side of the bowl (add a little bit of cold water if necessary).

The dough should be smooth.

Damp the dough on a surface slightly dusted with flour and shape into a ball.

Wrap the dough in plastic and let rest for 30 minutes.

On a surface well dusted with flour knead the dough for few minutes and then divide into small balls, the size of oranges.

Working with one ball of dough at the time, roll the dough into ½ inch diameter dowels and cut dowels into ½ inch long pieces. As you cut the pieces placed them on a surface dusted with flour.

Right before frying transfer  the pieces of dough (one batch at the time) into a sieve and shake to remove excess flour.

In a deep frying pan, heat the oil to 175 degree and fry the pieces of dough in batches. Do not overcrowd the pan.

As soon as they became light gold, remove from the oil, drain and transfer into a plate lined with absorbent kitchen paper.

Place a large pan on top of a pot with simmering water. Pour the honey in the pan and let melt. Remove from heat and add the fried Struffoli, add the candied fruit and stir until all the Struffoli are completely coated with honey.

To plate the Struffoli, place a glass or a round jar in the center of a serving plate and then place the Struffoli all around to form a ring. Sprinkle with nonpareils and let sit few hours before removing the glass/jar.

You still have time to make these two wonderful desserts, follow the recipes and remember I will be around if you have questions.

Don’t forget to check My blog tomorrow for My Christmas Eve Menu`!

December the 8th and the Christmas Tree

Read the word!

This month of December my blog will be dedicated to the Italian traditions of the Christmas Season.

There is a first time for everything. This year, for the first time and against the Italian tradition I have trimmed (addobbato) my Christmas tree (albero di Natale) prior to December the 8th. To be precise my tree was trimmed and lit on November the 30th, shame on me!

You may ask “what about December the 8th?”

December the 8th in the Catholic world, is the festivity of the Immaculate Conception. Already celebrated in the XI century, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed by Pope Pio IX on December 8, 1845.

Every city in Italy, big and small, celebrate this festivity in their own unique way. In Rome, in Piazza di Spagna, the Pope adorns the statue of Mary with a garland of flower. Because the statue sits on top of a column, the firemen (pompieri) on ladder, place the garland on the statue.

In the Year of the Catholic Church liturgy, this holiday marks the last of the Marian Feasts (Feste Mariane) dedicated to the Virgin Mary (Madonna).

This national holiday is also enjoyed as a long weekend. It is common for the Italians to take il ponte (the bridge), this means that if a holiday falls on a Thursday or a Tuesday, they bridge the holidays taking off from work and school the extra day in between. Aren’t we smart!

Traditionally, this holiday also marks the beginning of the Christmas Holiday Season (Feste Natalizie) and therefore the trimming of the Christmas tree.

After going through several changes over the years (all red, all silver, silver and red and so on) my Christmas tree has finally found its identity. For start it is a real tree, it has a modern flair, it has a collection of the ornaments that my boys present to me every year, it has an Italian touch and, it is lit with clear lights.

Babbo Natale speeding on his Vespa

To satisfy my longing for something different, few years ago I also bought a small silver tinsel tree, I love it…it’s an eye sore to my boys! Well, they were lucky I didn’t bring home the other tree I came around, a green bottle brush tree. I am not talking about the botanical specie but true brushes to clean bottles. Let me be clear, I do like it. May be I will surprise them next year!

Tinsel Tree

One thing for sure, Christmas tree in Italy don’t have a skirt!

Can you read what the letters spell on my Christmas tree?

Do you have a real or artificial tree? How do you decorate your tree? Clear lights or multicolor? Do you have a theme?

I would love to know!