Month: December 2019
Siena is known for three things; being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Palio, a colorful and historic horse race, held in the main square of the city twice a year, and its cuisine.
At Christmas time, the city’s bakeries and delis begin stocking local specialties made especially for the festive period, and almost all of them include almonds; an ingredient the city was once famous for! Here are some of the most popular sweets associated with Siena.
Panforte is a thick, dense cake of medieval origin. At first it was made by the monks in the monasteries and given as a symbolic gift for special occasions, before becoming something associated with Italian apothecaries. Sugar, almonds, candied fruit and spices were ingredients as precious as gold and were kept in huge glass jars on dark wooden shelves by these people, who were a mix between alchemist and pharmacist. Spices give panforte a unique flavor, turning it into a kind of Tuscan gingerbread. Its pungent and honeyed smell is, for me, the true scent of Christmas, along with that of almonds and orange peel.
Making panforte is simple. Even though the ingredients are numerous, they are readily available. As in many traditional Italian recipes, the secret lies in the quality of the ingredients; crisp almonds that leave a milky freshness in your mouth and excellent candied fruit. Do not trust those boxes of dried fruit in the supermarkets with the longest list of incomprehensible ingredients and very little actual fruit. Orange, lemon and melon are all required in a panforte.
Cavallucci are similar to old Tuscan men: rustic and bashful on the outside, sweet and generous inside! Spices are a constant in Sienese pastry art, especially at Christmas. The same spiced medieval aroma can also be found in Cavallucci. In Italy, 8 December is a holiday dedicated to Saint Mary, when usually they trim the tree and start making Christmas biscuits. Sienese Christmas cookies are neither pretty nor colorful: they are round, a bit flat on top and dusted with flour.
Cavallucci are bursting with nuts, candied fruit and spices. You can find tons of cavallucci recipes, but if you want to make amazing biscuits, there is only one way – head to your favorite traditional shop, one of those that sell sweets, coffee and candies, and ask for their special dose. They will sell you not just the ingredients but also their unique method.
Another medieval treat which is present on every Sienese table at Christmas is Ricciarelli di Siena. They are traditional Italian biscuits- specifically, a type of macaroon- originating in Siena. They are soft almond cookies covered with icing sugar with a soft heart that melts in your mouth. Fresh and moist, characterized by the piercing smell of bitter almonds.
The origin of Ricciarelli dates back to the 14th or 15th century, when almond paste – in the form of marzipan or marzapanetti – was once very popular in the town and Siena was famous across Italy for its production. The cookies were usually reserved for the sumptuous banquets lords used to host because they were made of precious ingredients, mainly almonds and sugar. They were so valuable and refined that marzipan sweets were sold in the apothecaries’ shops along with drugs and the most exotic spices of the time.
Nowadays you can find Ricciarelli in every bar, pastry shop and bakery in Siena; you can choose between the classic variety, black Ricciarelli, made with cocoa or a version for sweet-toothed people, biscuits covered with dark chocolate. Almonds and a paper-thin sheet of wafer are used also to make copate – a round, thin sweet treat where almonds, honey and sugar are held together by egg whites, just like in a nougat.
Ricciarelli is very easy to make —and even with subtle variations on exactly how the surface or flavor of each batch turned out, the consensus for each and every cookie was that they were awesome. Holy amazingness!
Ingredients: 2 egg whites, 1 dash lemon juice, 2 1/4 cups almond flour, 1 3/4 cups powdered sugar, 1 pinch salt, 1/4 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp orange zest about half a large orange, 1 tbsp almond extract, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1/2 cup powdered sugar for coating cookies
Directions: Whip egg whites and lemon juice together with a stand mixer or hand mixer until stiff peaks form.
Using a fine mesh sieve, sift in almond flour, 1 3/4 cups powdered sugar, salt, and baking powder and fold into egg whites. I don’t do it all at once but maybe in 2-3 batches. Try to keep some air in the egg whites, but at this point it will form a pretty sticky dough rather than a fluffy meringue.
Add orange zest, vanilla extract, and almond extract and fold in until combined.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using clean hands, roll dough into balls about 1″ in diameter, then roll in powdered sugar until well coated. Shape into an oval, then arrange on baking sheet with some space between them for spreading, and flatten slightly.
Leave at room temperature for about an hour or until the tops have dried out and formed almost a little shell. (This may take longer in humid areas.) Pre-crack the shell by squeezing the cookies slightly from opposite corners. (Not doing this won’t affect the taste, but pre-cracking them makes them much prettier if you want that beautiful white-gold contrast!)
While cookies are drying, preheat oven to 300 degrees. When the cookies are ready, bake for about 20 minutes. Cool and store in an airtight container. These are even better the next day!
PS: The Ricciarelli have become one of my favorite cookies now!
Legend holds that Ricciarelli were introduced by Ricciardetto della Gherardesca (Ricciardo means Richie) in his castle near Volterra upon his return from the Crusades. Today, the biscuits are made using an almond base with sugar, honey and egg white. When prepared in the traditional method, the almonds are ground with a milling machine, and the finished mix is formed into numerous oval- or lozenge-shaped cookies that are set aside for two days before baking. The rough and crackled surface is usually lightly sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar. Ricciarelli are typically consumed at Christmas, served with a dessert wine such as Vin Santo or Moscadello di Montalcino.
For the source thanks for: Giulia Scarpaleggia
Ingredients: 4 sheets puff pastry, 2 pears, 1/2 slice of cinnamon, 6 tbsp sugar, 2 tbsp pear liqueur, flour and sugar
Halve the pears, make notches in length, remove the small piece of pear.
Place a sheet of baking paper on a baking sheet, place the puff pastry on it.
Place half a pear on each piece of puff pastry, cut the dough but leave an edge of 0.5 cm, also cut 2 leaves from the dough to the stems.
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Mix 4 tablespoons of sugar and cinnamon with the pear liqueur and sprinkle over the pears.
Sprinkle the rest of the sugar over the puff pastry and the puff leaves.
Put pears in the preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes or until the puff pastry is nicely baked golden brown.
Finish with some flour sugar.
Ingredients: 4 small celeries, 1 onion, 1 clove garlic, 500 gr mushroom of your choice, 4 fresh thyme, a bunch of parsley, 50 ml cream, 50 ml sour cream, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 150 g blue cheese (Pas de Bleu), 40 gr hazelnut, oil
Directions: Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Rinse the celeriac, clean and pat dry with a kitchen paper. Cut away the whimsical top. Turn the vegetable around and cut the bottom straight away. Hollow out the vegetables a little. Rub them in with olive oil. Sprinkle with half of the thyme and herb with salt. Pack the tubers into alu foil and put for 1 hour in the oven. Check them after 1 hour and prick them with a fork. If you go through easily, they’ll be done.
Meanwhile: Chop the onion finely and cut the mushrooms into slices. Fry the onion glassy in the olive oil. Add the mushrooms and the remaining thyme and season with balsamic vinegar, pepper and salt. Scoop through the parsley at the last minute.
Remove the celeriac from the oven and remove the foil. Fill them with the mushrooms, hazelnuts and the cubes of mold cheese. Roast the filled celeriac for another 30 minutes without foil.
Make the sauce
Cut the shallots into rings.
Bake the shallots in butter soft for 10 minutes. Flavor with the sherry, pour 100 ml of boiling water and season with pepper and salt. Let 10 minutes to cook in.
At the end, add the finely chopped tarragon and a lump of butter. Season with pepper and salt.
Mix the sour cream under the cream and season with pepper and salt. Pour some of this cream and drop on each plate. Pour some of this cream on each plate and a drop of olive oil over it. Place the stuffed celeriac on it, and last pour the sauce over it. Finish with an extra sprig of parsley.
All About Mousse
Mousse is a sweetened dessert with whipped cream as a base. A bunch of tasty and wonderful things can be added to the base, such as melted chocolate (for chocolate mousse), puréed fruit, fruit curd, or a prepared custard (like pudding or crème anglaise, a “vanilla sauce” of dairy base and thickened with egg yolks made on the stovetop. Aerators, such as whipped cream, meringue (which is egg whites and sugar), pâte à bombe (whole eggs and/or egg yolks plus sugar), or a combination are folded into the base to make it light and fluffy. Gelatin is used as a stabilizer. The mix is then chilled in a mold.
Before starting some hint: while there aren’t a lot of ingredients here and the recipe is straightforward, everything is time- and temperature-sensitive. Be prepared and be exact.
Ingredients: 1 tbsp gelatin powder, 4 tbsp water, 2 egg yolks, 1/2 cup sugar 1 cup milk 1 cup heavy cream 1 tbsp matcha green tea powder 3 tbsp warm water
Steps to make it: Gather the ingredients.
Dissolve the gelatin powder in 4 tablespoons of water and set aside.
Mix the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl.
Heat the milk in a pan and dissolve the gelatin in the milk.
Gradually add the milk to the egg mixture.
Dissolve green tea powder in 3 tablespoons of warm water.
Add the green tea in the egg and milk mixture and stir well, cooling the bowl in ice water.
Add whipped heavy cream to the mixture.
Pour the mixture into Xmas tree forms and chill them for up to 2 hours in the refrigerator.
Decorate as you like it!
A trifle looks spectacular and is not difficult to make it at all. If you have mastered the preparation of the “cream anglaise” and the meringue altogether, you can also vary endlessly with the other ingredients for a trifle to your taste.
Ingredients: 500 ml milk, 6 egg yolks, 300 g fine sugar, 1 vanilla stick
For the trifle: 1 butter cake, 100 ml Mandarin Napoléon or Limoncello, 250 gr strawberry, 250 gr raspberry
Meringue: 3 egg whites, 80 g powder sugar, gas burner
Tipp: If your cream anglaise is not stiff enough, you can try to prepare it with a hand mixer.
Pour the milk into a cooking pan. Cut the vanilla stick along the middle and scrape out the marrow. Bring the milk together with the vanilla stick and vanilla marrow to a boil.
Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks foamy with the sugar.
Remove the vanilla stick from the milk. Beat the milk stirringly, in a thin ray, under the egg yolks.
Put everything back in the cooking pan and put on a low heat. Keep stirring until the yolks begin to tie. Stay below the boiling point, otherwise the vanilla cream will sift.
Cover the back of your spoon with some of the mixture. If you can pull a line through it, the cream anglaise is sufficiently thickened. Pour over into another bowl to cool down.
Cut the cake into pieces of 2 to 2 cm. Sprinkle the cake with the Mandarin Napoléon or Limoncello.
Divide the cake pieces into 4 large wine glasses and sprinkle some strawberries and raspberries over it.
Fill the glass further with the cream anglaise and let it get cold in the refrigerator.
To serve, prepare the meringue:
Beat the egg whites until stiff and add powdered sugar in parts. Scoop the meringue on top of the cream anglaise and shape with the back of a spoon some peaks. Finally work out the meringue with a gas burner until golden brown or begins to color.
Ingredients: 1 tbsp oil, 700 gr peas (frozen), 1 onion, 1 clove garlic, 1 big potato, 800 ml bouillon
For the croutons: 1 black pudding, 100 g panko, 4 slices brood, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, salt and pepper to taste, 2 tbsp oil
Directions: Cut the onion and garlic finely. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pot and add the onion. Fry it glassy on a low heat.
Peel the potato and cut into small cubes. Add 3 tablespoons water, potato cubes and the finely chopped garlic to the onion. Let the whole stuff frying for three minutes.
Pour the broth into the onion and garlic etc. and season with pepper and salt. Let this cook for 10-15 minutes until the potato is fully cooked.
Add the peas and let them blanch in the soup for 5 minutes. This is just enough to preserve the green color.
Remove the soup from the heat and purée with a blender into a smooth soup.
Prepare the croutons: Remove the skin from the black pudding and cut into slices. Bake it in a non-frying pan. Add the panko and bake for a few minutes until crispy.
Cut the bread into cubes, season with the cinnamon, pepper & salt. Bake in 2 tablespoons olive oil until golden brown and crispy.
Serve the soup with the black pudding, and the deliciously fragrant cinnamon croutons and sprinkle some lemon or citrus flavored olive oil on top.
A Yule log (or Bûche de Noël) or Xmas roulade is a traditional dessert served near Christmas, especially in Belgium, France, Switzerland, Canada, even in Lebanon and several former French colonies, as well as the United Kingdom. It’s made of sponge cake to resemble a miniature actual Yule log, it is a form of sweet roulade.
The original Yule log recipe emerged during the 19th century. It is traditionally made from a genoise, generally baked in a large, shallow Swiss roll pan, iced, rolled to form a cylinder, and iced again on the outside. The most common combination is basic yellow sponge cake and chocolate buttercream, though many variations that include chocolate cake, ganache, and icings flavored with espresso or liqueurs exist.
Yule logs are often served with one end cut off and set atop the cake, or protruding from its side to resemble a chopped off branch. A bark-like texture is often produced by dragging a fork through the icing, and powdered sugar sprinkled to resemble snow. Other cake decorations may include actual tree branches, fresh berries, and mushrooms made of meringue or marzipan.
The name “Bûche de Noël” originally referred to the Yule log itself, and was transferred to the dessert only after the custom had fallen out of use, presumably during the first half of the 20th century. By 1945, it referred to the cake.
My Bûche de Noël version is not made with buttercream but rather with mascarpone & cream and with berries.
Ingredients for the compote: 100 g strawberry, 100 g raspberry, 1 gelatine (2g), juice of one lemon, 75 g sugar, 2 tbsp water
For the biscuit roll: 5 eggs, 140 g sugar, 2 el milk, 150 g flour, a pinch of salt
For the filling: 2 el vanilla sugar, 200 ml cream, 1 dl mascarpone
Decoration: 100 g white chocolate, 50 g pistachio, 1 tbsp icing or powder sugar
First make the compote:
Keep some strawberries and raspberries separate for the finish. Put the rest of the strawberries and raspberries in a saucepan together with the sugar, squeeze lemon juice and add a dash of water. Put saucepan on a soft heat, cook the fruits softly and when they are ready mix the compote finely.
Soak the gelatin in a cup of cold water. Squeeze out the leaves of gelatin and stir through the warm compote until dissolved. Allow the compote to cool down and stiffen in the refrigerator.
The biscuit roll
Meanwhile, prepare the dough for the roll biscuit. Beat the eggs together with the sugar frothy. Pour the milk and stir through the egg, sugar mixture. Sift the flour at the batter and spatula gently under the dough. Add to taste a pinch of salt. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Scoop the batter on a baking paper-lined oven dish and spread to proxy 1 cm thickness, about 20 to 25 cm. Bake the biscuit batter in the oven for 7 minutes.
For the filling
Beat the cream half with the vanilla sugar. Stir the mascarpone well and spat it gently with the whipped cream. Stir in the now cooled compote and cover the bottom of the biscuit with it. Keep the edges free.
Scoop a firm of the mascarpone cream and smear over the compote. Gently roll the pastry into a “Yule log.” Place torta on a large plate/scale with the seam at the bottom.
Then completely lubricate the Christmas log with the mascarpone cream and sprinkle with white chocolate flakes and chopped pistachios. Decorate after your choice with stars, asterisks, deer etc.
This recipe contain sweet, white onions! You can eat them like apples!
Sweet onions include varieties such as Vidalia, Maui Maui and Walla Walla. Select onions that are about 3-inches in diameter and 1/2 pound each for this recipe. Refrigerate remaining cooked onion to use in another recipe or chop and freeze to use in chili or soup recipes.
Make Ahead: Stuffed onions may be prepared through step 4 the day before serving. Refrigerate covered dish. Increase bake time by 15 minutes or until filling is hot.
Ingredients: 4 Medium Sized Sweet Onions, Stale Italian Bread, 2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil, 3 Slices Pancetta or Bacon or minced meat, Finely Chopped, 3 Garlic Cloves, Minced 3 Tablespoons, Grated Parmesan Cheese, 1/4 Cup Fresh Chopped Parsley, Salt & Pepper to taste
Directions: Pre-cook the onions in their skins in boiling water until they can be easily pierced with a fork, (max. 5 minutes) then remove from the water and let cool.
Cut off the tops and peel off the skins.
Cut a small slice off the bottom so the onion will stand on it’s own.
Using a small sharp knife, remove the center of the onion, leaving a 1/3 of an inch border, and leaving the bottom intact. Chop the onion finely.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Cut the bread into 1/2 inch dice, and measure out 1 cup. In a frying pan, cook 1/2 of the chopped onions, the garlic, olive oil and the pancetta until the onions are tender and the pancetta is thoroughly cooked.
Add the bread cubes and cook until golden.
Remove from the heat, and add salt & pepper, cheese and the chopped parsley.
Stuff the onions, and place in a baking dish with 1 inch of water at the bottom.
Cook for 30 – 40 minutes or until the onions are fork tender and the filling is golden brown. Serve either warm or at room temperature.
How to prepare for Christmas in Germany or some facts about the German Advent:
Displaying of wreaths and candles are a more traditional Christmas display. The concentric assortment of leaves, -usually from an evergreen,- make up Christmas wreaths and are designed to prepare Christians for the Advent season. Candles in each window are meant to demonstrate the fact that Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the ultimate light of the world.
Advent wreath step by step: as early as late November by creating or buying an advent’s wreath which includes four candles to lit each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. If there is a fifth it is lit on Christmas Eve. The lighting of the candles is often accompanied by a devotional Bible reading or singing Carols. Germans also display handmade wooden nativities in their homes. Many of their celebrations are recognized as the traditions brought over to USA by European immigrants.
Second: German Christians don’t just wait, they prepare! The first candle on the advent wreath is often referred to as the candle of HOPE. The second candle is the candle of LOVE, the third the JOY and the fourth is the PEACE! Each Sunday of Advent highlights these „gifts” that possess because Christ came to Earth.
The traditional colors of Christmas decorations were in the past red, green, and gold. Red symbolized the blood of Jesus, which was shed in his crucifixion, while green symbolized eternal life, and in particular the evergreen tree, which does not lose its leaves in the winter, and gold was the first color associated with Christmas, as one of the three gifts of the Magi, symbolizing royalty.
So Advent challenge for focus ever distraction. Germans typically enjoy advent calendars more for the chocolate & toys than the symbolism involved in opening each tiny door and coming down to Christmas …
Flock to many festive Christmas markets for more concerned with the colorful stalls selling gingerbread, mulled wine, nutcrackers ornaments than with the centrally located nativity scene.
The Germans have something to teach us about waiting! For them the Advent is not just passed by, it’s spent remembering hoping & expecting with eyes on the savior!