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.

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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/

Thanksgiving Cornmeal Cake from the Veneto

Torta di Polenta (Corn Meal Cake)

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It was eight years ago, just a few months after moving to the City, that I experienced my first Manhattan Thanksgiving: ironically, I ended up celebrating the quintessential American holiday at an Italian friend’s home. Daniela had arrived in New York one year before me, and was so smitten with it that she scored higher on the Time Out Magazine test “Are You a Real NewYorker?” than all our American friends. It was her idea to throw an Italian-style Thanksgiving dinner, incorporating the various traditional foods of the holiday into Italian recipes. Given that she is a superb cook, carrying the extraordinary legacy of three different Jewish Italian culinary styles – the Piedmontese, the Venetian and the Ferrarese -  it’s no surprise that the meal was an absolute masterpiece. I had the impression that for the American guests, eating these Italian delicacies instead of the classic turkey with cranberry sauce also felt a little naughty! While I can’t replicate the special atmosphere of that night, after Daniela moved to Israel I adopted her tradition of remembering the Pilgrims with the regional dishes from my own country.

I’m used to cooking around symbolic foods for Passover and Rosh haShana: turkey and pumpkin, the most recognizable Thanksgiving ingredients, also appear on my Rosh HaShana table, and again on Sukkot. The connection with Sukkot runs even deeper, as both holidays are harvest festivals: some historians have gone so far as to trace the roots of Thanksgiving in Sukkot, based on encounters the Pilgrims supposedly had with Sephardic Jews in Holland before they left for the Americas.

But whether or not this story is true, Jews celebrate Thanksgiving Day with an intensity usually reserved to our most sacred holidays: it’s easy for us to empathize with the pilgrims, who had to flee religious discrimination and persecution and travel across an ocean to find freedom – and with their sweat and faith, fought against illness and scarcity, finally turning America’s wilderness into their “Promised Land”.

While the turkey and pumpkin are symbols of bounty, one food on the table is meant to remind us of the harsh winter before the first harvest, when the pilgrims barely had enough to eat. It’s the corn, as it is said that at one point there was so little food that each person was given only five kernels of corn per day. Corn bears a similar type of double-symbolism in Italian history: when it found its way to Italy from the Americas, it immediately spread through the North, and landowners started reaping huge profits by feeding their workers only maize polenta – creamy, delicious and filling, but so poor of vitamins and protein that it caused an epidemic of Pellagra, the same deficiency disease that spread in the American South during the great Depression, leading to deterioration and death. Somehow, native Americans had avoided it because they added wood ashes and lime to cornmeal, correcting its nutritional imbalance.

Cranberries can also be read as a symbol of suffering: of course we combine them with a lot of sugar to make them palatable, but their nature is extremely sour. This reminds me of the symbolism of sweet and sour dishes in Jewish Italian Cuisine, in which the sugar or honey represent the need to appreciate our present and future, while the vinegar or lemon keeps us rooted in our people’s past suffering.

While giving thanks for the plentiful new crop, and the many blessings that we enjoy each year, we also remember those who didn’t make it through that terrible first winter. 
Have a meaningful Thanksgiving!

Ingredients

  • 1 scant cup (150 gr) cornmeal maize (for polenta) or 2 cups cooked polenta (cooked dense, not liquidy)
  • 3 tbsps grappa or brandy
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries (or raisins)
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup candied fruit (mix of orange and lemon or citron) (optional)
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1 organic lemon
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/3 cup of sugar (about 85 gr)
  • 1 scant cup flour (about 100 gr)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp baking powder (10 gr)
  • 1/4 cup oil (mild olive oil , vegetable oil or coconut oil)
  • 2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Prepare the polenta with one scant cup of maize according to instructions on the package, using only about 1 1/4 cup boiling water (traditional polenta tastes better than instant, and you can make it quickly using a pressure cooker… however, instant is OK! Beretta makes a nice product). The polenta has to be on the thick side. 
When cooked, pour it over a large cutting board or platter in a wide and low heap and allow it to cool (feel free to pop it into the fridge).
 Plump the cranberries or raisins in the grappa or brandy. Dice the candied fruit very small. Discard the film that has formed over the polenta. Cut the polenta into pieces and place it into a food processor. Process it with the eggs, salt, sugar, oil, sifted flour with baking powder; add the raisins in their liqueur, the candied fruit, pine nuts, and the lemon zest and mix well. If the batter is so thick that it’s hard to pour into the pan, you can add just a couple of spoonsfuls of water or non-dairy milk.
Grease a 9″ springform pan and dust it with corn meal. If you have parchment, you should line the bottom of the pan before greasing it: this type of batter is very sticky. Pour the mix into it and bake in a pre-heated 400 F oven for about 15 minutes until it forms a golden crust, then lower the heat to 350 and bake for another 30-45 minutes (the cake should bake for 45-60 minutes total). Allow to cool before turning out. Serve warm, sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar.

The Spiders

I RAGNI (The Spiders)

I RAGNI (The Spiders)

I grew up in Italy being told not to take candy from strangers, and still find it a bit shocking when strange kids knock at my door on Halloween night! While the more religiously conservative are offended by Halloween’s pagan roots, the holiday seems to have become completely secularized and to focus on pumpkins, spooky costumes and tons of candy. Many people love it because it seems to address children’s natural fears (monsters, darkness, etc), and by presenting them in a social and funny context, it could help diffuse them. I’m not making this up, it’s called “virtual reality therapy”: basically, people who are afraid of spiders pay big bucks to a psychologist to be put in a room full of them… well, if it’s so effective, it might be worth a try, even for those of us who would rather do it at a different time of the year. It works with grown-ups too: here are the cutest little spiders, created by my friend Lucilla to address my own proverbial fear. 

Ingredients (makes 6 spiders): 

  • 1 chocolate cake (home-made or store-bought)
  • red M&Ms
  • licorice sticks
  • vanilla pudding (home-made or store-bought)
  • 1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 2 pounds pumpkin, diced
  • 2/3 pound whole milk ricotta
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest

Bake the pumpkin, covered, in a 375 F oven for about 20 minutes or until soft, then mash it with a fork. Using your food processor or hand mixer, combine the ricotta with the pumpkin, honey and zest.  Halve the cake  horizontally with a long and sharp knife. With a round cookie cutter, cut about 12 discs from the cake. Spread the pumpkin/ricotta mix over the bottom discs, and top with the other discs.
Spread the vanilla pudding on a large serving platter. Melt the chocolate in your microwave then use it (with an icing syringe) to draw concentric circles on top of the pudding. Draw “rays” with a toothpick starting from the center of the circles, creating a web. Place the discs filled with pumpkin/ricotta cream on top of the web, make the eyes with red M&Ms or jellybeans, and legs with licorice sticks. YIKES! 

Puff Strudel with Chocolate, Hazelnuts and Pears (Sfogliata al Gianduja e Pere)

Sfogliata Gianduja e Pere (Puff Strudel with Chocolate, Hazelnuts and Pears) (Dairy or Parve)

Sfogliata Gianduja e Pere (Puff Strudel with Chocolate, Hazelnuts and Pears) (Dairy or Parve)

The combination of hazelnuts and chocolate is wildly popular in Italy – I’m sure you have heard of Nutella!  The original version is Gianduja – a concoction made of chocolate and hazelnuts invented in Turin during the Napoleonic blockade, when the precious cocoa beans had become scarce and the famous Piedmontese chocolatiers had to find a way to make them go further-. It didn’t hurt, of course, that their hazelnuts (from the Langhe area of Piedmont) were said to be the best in the world, and that Turin was the birthplace of solid chocolate. As you can imagine, the result was much more interesting than other hard-times-inspired products (such as the French chicory “coffee”), and even after the end of the blockade the Torinese kept enjoying their new delicacy, and named it “gianduja” after a local marionette character.

Besides enjoying the tasty combo in the form of a spread or in confections (the delicious gianduiotti – the first-ever chocolates to be individually wrapped!), make sure you try my gianduja puff cake!

Ingredients

1 pound of puff pastry (home-made, or 1 package store-bought)
3 medium pears
5 ounces dark chocolate (I used 70 % Scharffen Berger) 
½ cup ground hazelnuts
6 chocolate-flavored tea biscuits, or small biscottis
2/3 cup (scant) sugar
pinch of salt
1 organic lemon
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons butter, or hazelnut or almond oil
2 tablespoons milk (or non-dairy almond or soy milk)
flour (to dust the counter)

Directions

Peel and core the pears, slice them thinly and combine them with the lemon juice, the sugar, and the grated lemon zest. Grate the chocolate and coarsely chop the cookies. If using butter, melt it in a pan or in your microwave.
On a floured surface, roll out the pastry into a rectangle and brush the top with the melted butter or oil; top with the crumbled cookies, the drained pears, and the grated chocolate. Roll up the pastry as if making a strudel, sealing the edges and closing the ends.
Brush the top with the yolk (mixed with a couple of tablespoons of milk or parve almond or soy milk) and bake in a pre-heated 250 F oven for about 30 minutes or until golden. Enjoy warm or at room temperature, on a cold winter night :-) .

Chestnut and Apple Cake – GF

Chestnut and Apple Cake

Chestnut and Apple Cake (Dairy or Parve) GF

The chestnut tree can live for up to 500 years, and its fruit has been a staple in the Italian diet since ancient times. In some Northern and central regions, people ate mostly chestnuts until well into the twentieth century! While this is no longer the case, towards the end of October stands pop up in most cities selling hot caldarroste (roasted chestnuts), which people enjoy while walking with friends when it’s too cold for gelato. However, they are just as tasty when boiled with some fresh herbs (try bay leaves), or mashed and used to make very special gnocchi! In Tuscany, where my mother grew up, chestnut flour is also widely available and used to make the traditional castagnaccio, a rustic cake with raisins, pine nuts, rosemary and olive oil. My nonna used to serve it with a little warm ricotta mixed with a few drops of honey, which was a killer pairing and so much healthier than whipped cream. Try it with my apple cake! You won’t believe it’s gluten-free…

Ingredients (serves 8)

1 lb chestnuts
4 eggs, separated
3 apples
1 and 1/3 cups granulated sugar or brown sugar
1 heaped tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 pinch salt
4 ounces graham crackers or tea cookies (you can use GF cookies if you prefer)
2/3 cup milk (or parve soy or rice milk)
butter or oil to grease the pan

Wash the chestnuts, make a slit in the side of each one, and cook in boiling water for 30 to 40 minutes or until tender but firm.  Skim them out, and the brown skin should come off easily.  Taste them, and if they are not well cooked you can put them back in the boiling water or in the microwave for a few minutes until tender.
Using a food processor, grind the graham crackers into a powder; add the grated apples, and the mashed chestnuts (you can use a potato masher. you can also mash them in your food processor, but it won’t get rid of any residual peel, which is why I prefer the potato masher).
Add the cocoa, sugar, milk or soy milk, salt, and egg yolks, and combine well.
In a separate, clean bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, and incorporate them carefully into the mix.
Pour the mix into a greased baking pan dusted with brown sugar,  and bake in a pre-heated 350 F oven for about 30 to 40 minutes. Serve cold.

BOLLO – FRUIT CAKE TO BREAK THE YOM KIPPUR FAST

Bollo

Bollo is a sweet-but-not-too-sweet bread with raisins, candied zest, and/or anise seeds (depending on which city you live in), served in many Italian and Sephardic communities to end the Yom kippur fast.  Its name means simply “cake” in Spanish and Portuguese, a sign that we need to thank the Iberian exiles for  yet another yummy treat!

In Venice, we are literally handed a slice as we are walking out of synagogue at the end of services, on the steps. Obviously, even a piece of cardbord would taste great accompanied by a tall  glass of lemonade after 25 hours without food or water! However, this cake keeps being served over and over all through the fall holidays, upon entering the sukkah and until Shemini Atzeret. By then, we are usually stuffed, and I still love it – especially with jelly, for breakfast.

The Bollo is also one of the key elements of the “Tavola dell’Angelo” (the Angel’s table), a ritual table setting that several Venetian families prepare on the eve of Yom Kippur in their homes. The table is dressed in white, and decorated with harvest symbols such as pomegranates, flowers and corn. Jewish ritual objects, like prayer books Kiddush cups and candlesticks are also present. Finally, many families use sprouting wheat grains to write auspicious messages such as “Shana Tova”, or to draw symbols (like hands with the fingers spread out for the priestly blessing).

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The center of the festive table are always the bollo and a cup or pitcher of water: a tease to humans during the long fast, these treats are in fact strictly reserved to a mysterious “angel”, in case he/she decides to pay a visit: Yom Kippur is, in fact, the holiest day in the Jewish year, the “Shabbat Shabbaton”, and… you never know!

If you happen to be in Venice around the fall holidays, don’t forget to try the bolo from the local kosher bakery, Volpe . You can also pop into the Giardino dei Melograni kosher hotel (by the Hosteria del Ghetto kosher restaurant) and check out their beautiful Angel’s Table.

But back to the Bollo….

  • about 5 cups flour (a little over 1 lb of 00 or all-purpose)
  • 25 gr fresh yeast, or use dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water (mix 1/2 cold water and 1/2 very hot water)
  • 1 scarce cup sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 3 large eggs (if they are quite large, use 3 yolks and 2 whites)
  • 1/2 cup mild olive oil or seed oil
  • 1/2 cup raisins, plumped in warm water or brandy and drained
  • grated zest of one lemon
  • 1 1/2 tbsp candied lemon or orange zest (optional) OR aniseeds (optional)
  • 1 shot brandy, cognac or grappa
  • 1 egg yolk or more to glaze the surface

In a bowl, combine the yeast with the warm water and only about 1/4 of flour and 1/4 of the sugar . Mix well, cover with foil and allow to rest in a warm place for at least 1 hour (even overnight) or until doubled in size.  If your apartment is cold, you can turn the oven on and then off: once the oven is warm but not scolding hot, place the bowl with the mix inside, covered with aluminum foil.

Once the mix has more or less doubled in size, add the rest of the flour, the sugar, 3 eggs, and mix well by hand or in a stand mixer. Cover again and allow to rest again in a warm place for 2 hours or until it doubles in size again.

Add the rest of the ingredients and knead again for a few minutes, then shape it into two oval breads.

Cover again with a towel and allow to rest and rise for at least 2 more hours or until light and fluffy and doubled in size.

Brush the top with the egg yolk (slightly beaten with very little water). If your oven tends to be dry, you can also spray lightly with a fine mist of ice water (to prevent it from darkening too much), and add a small pyrex pot or pan full of water in the oven, to keep the air moist. Your oven should be preheated at 450F. Bake at this temperature only for the first 5 to 7 minutes, then lower to 360 for another 35 or 40 minutes. Baking time varies depending on your oven.

***P.S. if you are not much of a baker, there are quicker ways to break the fast Italian-style: try quince paste with any simple cookies, or – if you can tolerate alcohol – the Piedmontese “Bruscadela“: layers of toasted challah soaked for a few hours in mulled wine (simmered with cinnamon, cloves and sugar). I had this once and it made me sleep for 13 hours.

Fluffy Honey and Orange Cake

Fluffy Honey Cake (Dairy or Parve)

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In Italy, “Miele” (honey), is classified as compulsively as cheeses and olive oil – by area of origins, type of flower, and depending on whether pieces of honeycomb were included… we have strawberry-tree (corbezzolo) and Eucalyptus honeys from Sardinia, chestnut honey from Piedmont, millefiori (thousand flowers) from Tuscany, orange blossom from Sicily, acacia from the Pre-Alps, and many more. Every fall, I take a trip to Zebar’s or Eataly where I stress out about which kind will grace my cake this Rosh HaShana!

Rather than blaming this on my all-Italian obsession with ingredients, you should try for yourselves! After all, when the Almighty promised our forefathers that they would be freed from Egyptian bondage, the Promised Land was described as “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus. 3: 17, etc.) – and not with “milk and sugar”!

In this cake, the orange balances out any excessive sweetness of the honey.

Ingredients

  • 4 medium/large eggs, separated
  • 3/4 cup oil (canola oil or 1/2 light olive 1/2 almond oil)
  • about 300 gr (3/4 a medium/large jar) liquid honey
  • 1/2 cup potato starch
  • 1 1/2 cup 00 or all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp orange liqueur (like triple sec) or brandy
  • zest of one organic orange
  • 1/4 cup of the orange juice
  • 1 package (16 g) baking powder
  • a pinch of salt

Directions

Using a hand mixer, beat the yolks with the honey until frothy and thick (about 3 minutes). Very slowly add the oil, and beat until creamy. Add the honey, the potato starch, orange zest and the liqueur. Now add the flour (mixed with the baking powder) a bit at a time, alternating it with the orange juice.

In a separate, clean and degreased bowl, or in your stand mixer, beat the whites with a pinch of salt until stiff. Now combine the egg whites with the batter, with the help of a spatula, using upward movements.

Pour into a 9.5″ or 10″ Savarin or bundt pan (well greased and dusted with flour). Since honey cakes tend to darken more than sugar-based ones, I prefer these cake pans, with a hole, because the inside will cook faster, before the outside has time to darken. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 F for about 30-35 minutes, or until done when tested with a toothpick. To keep the color lighter, you can cover with aluminium foil for the last 10 minutes of baking.


Lemon and Lavander Tart

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Lemon Lavander Tart by DinnerInVenice

“Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains; another, a moonlit beach; a third, a family dinner of pot roast and sweet potatoes during a myrtle-mad August in a Midwestern town” (Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses).

One of my first olfactory memories features a lemon lavender crostata, baked by my grandmother on a summer afternoon about four decades ago.

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When we think of lavender fields, most of us conjure up images of Provence: maybe because they were often depicted by French impressionists. However, this plant (a member of the same family of savory herbs which also includes sage, thyme, and oregano) is cultivated all over the world, from England to Brazil, from Russia to Japan and new Zealand – and of course, Italy.

My grandmother lived in Pistoia, a town about 30 minutes North-West of Florence and just over one hour drive from the Chianti region, with its stunning landscapes of rolling hills lined with cypress trees, vineyards alternating with olive groves and (surprise!) lavender fields, in a patchwork of incomparable natural beauty. That’s exactly where my parents and I picked our flowers, and finally (after a generous tip to the farmer) we were allowed to leave with a large bundle.

Unfortunately, I also came back with a giant bee sting that was promptly treated by the local pediatrician, Dottor Federico: lush lavender shrubs are in fact always humming with fuzzy bees, and the product of this romantic relationship is the most elegant of all honeys.

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My grandmother was never a remarkable  cook or baker, but somehow this particular tart, made using her next-door neighbor’s recipe, and almonds and lemons from her own orchard, came out so delectable that it was physically gone in five minutes – and that its exquisite memory lingered on for more than forty years. More than a memory, I should call it my summer obsession: every time I have been able to get my hands on dried lavender, I have made something sweet with this combo – from cookies to gelato, from trifle to frozen lemonade.

This year, after purchasing a bundle of over-priced flowers at L’Occitane, it’s lavender crostata time again!

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Ingredients:

  • 1 disc puff pastry or short pastry, home made or purchased
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup (heaped) sugar
  • 1/4 cup (heaped) potato starch
  • 2 1/4 cups 2 % milk
  • juice of 2 small lemons, or 1 large lemon
  • zest of 1 organic lemon
  • 2 teaspoons dried lavender

Grease a springform pan (about 9″ to 9 1/2″) and line the bottom with parchment. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees if using puff pastry, 360 if using short pastry.

Roll out pastry and transfer pastry to the prepared springform pan, trimming edges using a paring knife

Prepare the custard: beat the egg yolks with the sugar until foamy. Add the lemon zest and juice.

Dissolve the potato starch into the warm milk, adding little milk at a time. Once combined, add it to the egg mix. Cook in a Bain Marie over low heat, whisking frequently, until the custard thickens. Add 1 teaspoon dried lavender blossoms/petals to the custard.
Pour the custard into the crust, and sprinkle a little more lavender on top. Bake at  400 (for puff) or 360 (for pastry dough) for 30 to 45 minutes or until the crust is golden. You can also use mini-pans and make individual size tartelettes.

Mount Sinai with Threaded Eggs

Mount Sinai with Threaded Eggs (Dairy)

Mount Sinai Cake with Threaded Eggs by DinnerInVenice

For years, I had been intrigued by this curious cake from Livorno (Leghorn), a dessert that features sweet egg threads on top – a sign that it was introduced by the egg-loving Portuguese Jews and marranos who were invited to settle in the city by the Grand-Duke of Tuscany in the sixteenth century. With the help of the Jewish merchants, Leghorn became one of the most important port cities in Europe (but also a center of the printing press), and became known as “the city with no ghetto”.

I was already familiar with the local cuisine, and decided to try my hand at this tart, which looked like no other. Unfortunately, the yolk threads proved to be a huge challenge: I didn’t seem to be able to control the flow through the colander (the tool of choice in all the books that listed the recipe).  My Livornese friends couldn’t help either: apparently they had always encountered the same problem and ended up with a sticky blob or with burns… they said that they used to buy the cake for Shavuot and for Purim from a well-known patisserie, but that when the owner died his tricks were buried with him. I had to wait until the blogging and YouTube era to figure this all out, with the help of some non-Jewish foodies from Portugal, where threaded eggs are often featured on Christmas recipes… in particular, thank you chef Fernando Canales for  teaching me that in the 21st century it would be silly to use a colander when most of us have easy access to a pastry syringe (or at least a large syringe to dispense pediatric drops)!

Mount Sinai with Threaded Eggs (Dairy)

Ingredients

  • Cake base:
  • 1 1/3 cup finely ground almonds (200 gr)
  • ½ cup sugar (100 gr)
  • pinch of salt
  • grated zest of 1 medium orange
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 or 4 tbsps candied etrog or lemon peel, finely chopped (optional)
  • Egg Threads:
  • 1 cup + 2 tbsps water (250 ml)
  • 2 ¼ cups sugar
  • 8 large egg yolks
  • 1 tbsp lemon or orange juice
  • 1 ½ tbsps orange flower water, if liked (or 1 more tbsp orange juice)

Directions

Preheat your oven to 320 F (yes, it’s very low, but if the temperature is higher the “macaroon” will be too crunchy to cut).

Place the sugar and water for the base in a heavy saucepan and simmer until sticky (I have also skipped this step and used plain sugar instead of making the syrup, with an acceptable result). Add the almonds and zest, stirring with a wooden spoon until everything is well combined.

Allow to cool, and when it’s just lukewarm add the egg.

Line the bottom of a 9 to 9” baking pan with wet parchment (squeeze it well) and grease the sides. Pour in the cake mixture and press it down gently with your wet fingertips.

Bake for about 30 minutes and set aside.

For the egg threads, boil the sugar, water and juice in a frying pan (about 10” wide and with tall-ish sides so the syrup doesn’t splatter all over your stovetop), and simmer until the syrup is thick enough to stick to a spoon (coating it).

Slightly beat the yolks in a small bowl and then fill your pastry syringe with as much beaten egg as it can hold.

Now press the yolk out of the syringe and into the simmering syrup, starting at the center and moving the syringe in an outward circular motion so that the egg makes a long spiral thread into the syrup.

When you are done, press the thread down into the syrup with a wooden spoon or a spatula and let cook for a few seconds, until it holds together (but it should still be soft).

Remove with a slotted spoon and dry on a double layer of paper towel.

Repeat the same process with the rest of the yolks.

When all the yolks are cooked and drained, place them in a colander and rinse some of the syrup off with water.

Allow them to dry well.

Invert the almond base into a platter, top it with the candied peel and decorate it with the egg threads. It’s worth it!

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/05/23/mount-sinai-with-threaded-eggs-dairy/

Dolce di Pane e Mele (Bread and Apple Cake)

Dolce di Pane e Mele (Bread and Apple Cake) (Dairy)

Dolce di Pane e Mele (Bread and Apple Cake) (Dairy)

Today, October 24, is Food Day! Americans from all walks of life push for healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way. One of the huge problems we are dealing with is that Americans waste more than 40 percent of the food we produce for consumption, while the number of people without enough to eat continues to rise. A very important Jewish concept, especially relevant today, is Bal Tashchit (do not destroy or waste). Originally, Bal Tashchit refers to the biblical prohibition against the destruction of fruit trees during wartime (Deuteronomy 12:19), but the rabbis of the Talmud extended the concept to the prohibition of destroying and wasting anything needlessly.

Really! Nowadays we should apply this idea to all kinds of waste (do we really need to drive, when we can walk or take the bus?). And of course, let’s start with food. Don’t leave your bread in plastic bags: chances are, it will be covered in green mold before you are done with it. If you keep it in a paper bag or a bread box, on the other hand, it will just dry out and you’ll still be able to use it, soaked in broth, to make delicious meatballs (with leftover cooked chicken), or for this delicious cake!

Dolce di Pane e Mele (Bread and Apple Cake) (Dairy)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup raisins, plumped in warm brandy (or warm water)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 (scant) cup sugar
  • 1 untreated lemon
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 large or 4 small apples, peeled, cored and sliced thin, drizzled with lemon juice to prevent oxidation
  • about 1/3 pound day-old sliced bread (crust removed)
  • butter to grease the pan
  • Another version of the Bread Cake
  • Ingredients:
  • 1/3 pound day-old sliced bread (crust removed)
  • milk or rice milk for soaking
  • 2 pounds apples or pears
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons rhum
  • 1 package baking powder (optional)

Directions

Serves 4

In a food processor (or with your hand mixer) process the eggs with the sugar till frothy, then slowly add the milk.

Add the lemon zest and a pinch of salt. .

Grease a spring-form pan and cover the bottom with sliced bread, then cover with some of the egg/sugar mix, followed by a layer of apple slices and raisins,

Continue layering all he ingredients, topping with apples and raisins; brush the top with little melted butter and bake for 30 to 40 minutes in a pre-heated oven at 350 F.

Other version of bread cake:

Break or cut the bread into small pieces and soak it in milk or soy milk until very soft.

Drain it and process it with your mixer till creamy.

Add the egg yolks, plumped raisins, rhum, sugar, and the apples (peeled, cored, and diced).

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff and carefully incorporate them with a spatula (alternatively, you can avoid separating the eggs in the first place and add a package of baking powder to the mix when you add the sugar).

Pour into a greased spring-form pan and bake at 350 F for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/10/24/dolce-di-pane-e-mele-bread-and-apple-cake-dairy/