Passover Almond Custards – Scodelline

6250 Scodelline

6250 Scodelline

While eating matzah (unleavened bread) during Passover is a commandment, eating too much of it could turn into a curse. I won’t go into details here, but by the time you serve dessert at the end of the seder, you will be praying for a break. I will always be thankful for the fact that most Italian Passover sweets are not made with matzah meal (ground matzah).

These lovely almond custards from Leghorn, in Tuscany, are called “Scodelline” (little bowls) or “Tazzine” (little coffee cups) because of how they are served in individual portions. They are small and elegant, just what you need to end a holiday meal on a sweet note without overdoing it. They are also gluten-free, and easy to prepare with wholesome ingredients (isn’t it nice, when you are having all this sugar, to know that there is something nutritious mixed with it, like almond and eggs?) The Jews of Leghorn, drawing from their Spanish-Portuguese origins, make several interesting sweets with these, including the elaborate Monte Sinai, a macaroon-like almond cake covered with egg threads fried in syrup.

For the recipe, I turned to my friends Lea and Anna Orefice, mother and daughter, two inspiring generations of fabulous cooks. From her kitchen in Leghorn, Lea – who is 92 and still in charge of making dessert for the family seder – answered all my questions via email in real time while I was stirring my custard in New York City.  Here is the result, and the detailed recipe, including Anna’s microwave version in case you are in a hurry…..

6244 Scodelline

Passover Almond Custards – Scodelline

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

40 minutes

serves 8-10

serves full espresso cup or half-full tea cup

Ingredients

  • 6 egg yolks, room temperature
  • a little over 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup ground almonds
  • 1 tbsp orange blossom or rosewater, OR fresh lemon zest
  • 3/4 cup water (less if using the microwave)
  • grated cinnamon to decorate, if liked

Directions

Place the sugar in a small pot, barely covered by water (more or less the same amount of water and sugar). Cook over low heat, stirring continuously, until it starts simmering and turns into a dense syrup. Do not allow it to brown and turn into caramel: as soon as it melts and thickens into a thick syrup, add the almonds and the flower water (or lemon zest), stir a couple more times and remove from the heat. In a separate bowl (I like to use pyrex) whisk the yolks until frothy. It will be easier with an electric whisk or mixer. Slowly pour the whipped egg yolks into the syrup until the mixture is smooth. Cook the mixture on very low heat in a double boiler (you can use the pyrex bowl on top of a pot filled with some water), stirring continuously until it begins to thicken (about 20 minutes) and the surface turns shiny, almost glaze-like. To save time, Lea’s daughter Anna uses a microwave instead of the double boiler: use about 25% less water; once everything is combined, place the pyrex bowl with the mixture in the microwave, and cook on medium for 4 minutes uncovered. Stir, and cook for 3 more minutes. Whether you used the double broiler or the microwave method, once the custard is cooked allow it to cool down, stirring occasionally, and once it’s lukewarm pour it into individual espresso cups (full) or tea cups (half full), and dust the top with some grated cinnamon. Serve accompanied by some fresh fruit. Using 6 yolks, you will make about 8-10 espresso-cup sized "scodelline"

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/03/19/passover-almond-custards-scodelline/

Vintage pictures of the old synagogue of Leghorn (destroyed in WWII and replaced by a new one)

My Leghorn-Style Red Mullet and some history

The Mount Sinai Cake with threaded eggs

Emiko’s Chickpea Cake, Leghorn’s beloved Street-Food

Bocca di dama with Orange Caramel

almond cake BOCCA DI DAMA.HD

almond cake BOCCA DI DAMA.HD

Whenever I bite into this delicious almond cake, I can’t help but wonder about the origins of its name: Bocca di Dama means “Lady’s Mouth” in Italian. Was a romantic baker in love with a beautiful customer? Or is the cake so sweet, soft and moist that it reminded someone of a passionate kiss? This Passover dessert, popular among the Jews of Leghorn and in several other Sephardic communities, is so ancient that nobody really knows. The only thing that’s certain is that, just like kisses, it’s highly addictive, and you probably won’t be able to stop at the first bite. Don’t say I didn’t warn you: if it’s just you, and the cake, you are set for failure. Surround yourself with lots of guests. My husband once made the whole thing disappear overnight. In this version, the tanginess of orange complements the mild and buttery texture and flavor of the almonds: use organic fruit for the best results.

sedertable1867livorno_500px

A Passover Seder in Leghorn (1867 haggadah)

Bocca di Dama with Orange Caramel

Ingredients

  • 2 small/medium organic oranges
  • 2 cups (250 gr - a little over ½ lb) almond meal or freshly ground blanched almonds
  • 1 1/4 cup (250 gr - a little over ½ lb) sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 5 large egg yolks (add 1, if medium eggs )
  • 7 large egg whites (add 1, if medium eggs)
  • 1/8 cup or 3-4 tbsp matzah flour. For GF, use GF matzah or potato starch.
  • oil or margarine, and parchment paper, to prepare the pan
  • FOR DECORATING
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ orange cup cooking water (see instructions)
  • 1/3 cup finely sliced almonds (toasted if liked)
  • zest of one of the oranges
  • *** if you don't feel like making the caramel, just use orange marmalade and sliced almonds to decorate
  • (I like to use an 8 x 11" baking pan or a 10" springform round pan. You can vary the dimensions, but the baking time will change also)

Directions

Grate the zest of an orange and set it aside. If planning to decorate with the caramel, place the peeled oranges in a small pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 30-40 minutes, covered (skip this step if decorating with orange marmalade).

Beat the egg yolks and 2 whites with the sugar and the salt until frothy. Add the ground almonds and the matzah meal, the zest of one orange , the liqueur if using, and combine well. In a separate bowl beat the whites with an electric whisk until stiff; gently incorporate them into the batter with a spatula, using an upward motion. Grease the sides of a baking pan and dust with matzah meal, and line the bottom with parchment.

In a pre-heated oven, bake at 350 F f(on a regular – NOT convection – setting) for 30 minutes, then lower the heat slightly (to 335 or 340) and cook for another 20 to 30 minutes (50-60 total), checking periodically with a toothpick until the cake is moist but not liquid inside. Once the top is golden, you may want to cover it with foil for the last part of the cooking. Once the cake is done, turn off the oven setting the door slightly ajar and allow the cake to rest inside for an extra 15 minutes (similarly to what you would do with a cheesecake!). Remove from the oven and allow to cool down completely. In the meantime, melt the remaining ½ sugar with 1/2 cup of the water in which you boiled the orange. You can double the dosage for a thicker layer. Make sure to use low heat, stirring constantly, until it forms a caramel. Stir in the remaining shredded zest of the first orange, and brush on top of the cake. Decorate with sliced or slivered almonds. If you don’t feel like making the caramel, you can just glaze the top of the cake with about 4-5 tablespoons of orange marmalade diluted with 2 tbsp hot water.

* For those of you who love oranges, there is also a version of this cake that incorporates the boiled pulp of the 2 oranges into the batter. The recipe is pretty much the same, except that you should use only 4 yolks (beaten with the sugar), and 4 egg whites (beaten stiff). After removing most of the white membranes, place the cooked oranges into a blender, and add them to the batter. Other than that, proceed in the same way. Because the cake will be much more "orangey", you can decorate it with simple powdered sugar.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/03/12/bocca-di-dama-with-orange-caramel/

Almond Spinach Torta

Torta di spinaci e mandorle
Torta di spinaci e mandorle

Torta di spinaci e mandorle

My first encounter with this concept was in Giuliana Ascoli-Norsa’s beautiful collection “La Cucina nella Tradizione Ebraica”: I immediately loved it for its uniqueness, and because I was already partial to carrot cake. However, the original recipe used more than a pound of spinach and no potato starch or liqueur, and the result was disappointing. It wasn’t until several decades later, after I moved to the US and tried zucchini muffins, that I remembered this unusual combination and decided to try my hand at it again. This time I emailed all my friends from Tuscany (the area where this Passover dessert is supposed to have originated) to see if they could offer any variations. Unfortunately the spinach cake turned out to be a sort of culinary chimera, a mythical dessert that everybody had heard about but nobody had tasted or knew how to make (on the other hand, I did gather top-notch instructions for spinach fritters, and a sweet spinach and ricotta tart). At this point, though, I had become obsessed and decided to bring out the big guns: for four days I baked two spinach cakes a day, tweaking and fine-tuning, until I was finally happy with the result. And here you go! You might still want to keep the main ingredient a secret if your kids are picky eaters: they’d probably rather think it’s a colorant…

Spinach Almond Torta (Parve, GF, gebrokt-free)

Spinach Almond Torta (Parve, GF, gebrokt-free)

Almond Spinach Torta

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cup (7 oz) blanched almonds
  • 12 oz baby spinach (2 bags)
  • ½ cup potato starch
  • ½ cup almond or seed oil OR 1 ½ sticks parve Passover margarine
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 3 or 4 tablespoons kosher for Passover anise liqueur or amaretto
  • 1 tablespoon kosher for Passover baking powder (if available)*
  • (for the icing)
  • 8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet parve chocolate (grated or chips)
  • 3 tablespoons confectioner's sugar** (optional)
  • 3/4 stick margarine
  • 1/3 cup Passover almond milk or water
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
  • (you can also skip the icing and sprinkle with cocoa powder and confectioner's sugar)

Directions

*kosher-for-passover baking powder can be hard to find, but this year my kosher supermarket carried two different brands. The baking powder will make this cake even fluffier, but if you can’t find it the egg whites are enough to make it soft.

** Kosher for Passover Confectioner's sugar can be also hard to find, but it's easy to make by processing 1 cup of granulated sugar with 1 tablespoon potato starch in your food processor for at least 3 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Cook the spinach for 10 minutes in a covered pot with 4-5 tablespoons of water.

Once it’s soft, drain, squeeze, diwcard the liquid (I usually line a colander with cheesecloth or paper towel, place it in my sink and press the spinach down in it with a bowl.

Grind the almonds and the spinach together finely in your food processor (I never buy ground almonds, I find that the flavor and texture are too ‘dry’: it takes seconds to grind almonds in a food processor).

Set aside and wipe the food processor, then place the egg yolks in it with the sugar and a pinch of salt and beat until foamy.

Add the spinach and almond, and the liqueur, and keep pulsing until combined.

Melt the margarine in your microwave or in a small skillet (if using oil, it does not need heating), and add to the mix. Keep pulsing and slowly add the potato starch, sifted with the Passover baking powder (if using).

Process until smooth.

Remove the batter from the food processor and pour back into the large bowl.

In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites with a handheld electric whisk until they form stiff peaks (to make this easier, I add a couple of drops of white vinegar or lemon juice to the bowl).

Incorporate the whites into the batter with a spatula, using delicate upward movements.

Pour into a 9” baking pan, lined with parchment and greased well (you can also dust it with matzo meal if you are not keeping gluten- or gebrokt-free).

Bake for about 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out almost clean.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a rack without removing from the pan.

Once cool, carefully remove from the baking pan and cover with chocolate icing, or simply dust with a mix of cocoa and confectioner’s sugar.

To make the icing,

Combine almond milk and sugar in a heavy saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract, chocolate and softened margarine.

Stir vigorously until combined and spread on the cake using a large spatula.

Decorate with rose petals or red berries, or cherries.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/04/10/almond-spinach-torta/