Monday, November 30, 2015

Panettone (Christmas Italian bread with Raisins)

Although every region in Italy has its own traditional sweet specialties for Christmas, panettone is very popular all over Italy and an Italian Christmas feast is not complete without a taste of this delicate rich bread studded with raisins and orange and lemon zest.
The legend says that this bread originated from a love story that happened in Milan. A baker named Toni di Borgo alle Grazie had a young and beautiful daughter called Adalgisa. One of his employees, Ughetto della Tela, was totally in love with Adalgisa, but he knew that by just being an assistant, he would never receive Toni’s approval to marry her.  To get Adalgisa’s hand, Ughetto worked very hard for hours to create a bread that would be sweeter and richer than anything the city had ever tried in the past. He was so successful that his friends soon came into Toni’s bakery asking for the special bread with candied fruits and grapes. Ughetto gave all the credit to Toni. Toni, impressed by Ughetto’s humility and talent, gave him his daughter’s hand. Soon all of Milan was asking for “Toni’s bread” or “pan di Toni”.
Most recipes require multiple fermentations and refreshment of the yeast over two or three days, and after so much work, the results weren’t what I wanted. Finally, I developed my own recipe that is a little lighter than the original, but is great in flavor and doesn’t require as much work.
Makes 1 ½ pound loaf

For the biga:
  • 1 teaspoon dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) water
  • 1 cup (120 grams) flour
Final dough
  • 1 cup raisins
  • ½ cup rum
  • 2 tablespoons dried yeast (2 packages)
  • 3/4 cup (180 ml) milk
  • 3/4 cup sugar (130 grams) sugar
  • 3 cups (160 grams) flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 yolk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup butter (80 grams), at room temperature (not melted)
  • Zest of one lemon, grated
  • Zest of one orange, grated
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon water
Make the biga by dissolving the yeast in water heated at 110° F. Add the flour and mix until a stiff dough forms. Cover and let it rise until double its size.

Soak the raisins in rum overnight (or up to a week in advance).

Sprinkle yeast over warm milk (110° F) in a large bowl; let stand until foamy (about 5 minutes). Add the rest of the flour to the biga, the sugar, the milk mixture and the eggs. Mix it together in a stand mixer until the dough pulls from the sides of the bowl (around 10 minutes). Add salt, and continue mixing at medium speed until the dough is soft, shiny and elastic (7-10 minutes). Add the butter little by little while mixing. Add the raisins, vanilla and zest. Knead the dough until thoroughly combined. Let it rest, covered, until it doubles in size (about 2-3 hours) or overnight in the refrigerator.

Punch down the dough and knead it lightly. Place the dough inside an 8 inch panettone paper. 

Alternatively, grease a baking mold, 8 inches across and 6 inches deep, with oil. Line the base and sides of the mold with parchment paper so that it extends 15 inches from the top. Form the dough into a round loaf. Place into the prepared mold. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it proof until it doubles in size (2 hours or more, depending how cold the dough is).

Make the glaze by mixing all the ingredients together.

Brush the bread with glaze and bake for 45-50 min at 375° F. Check with a knife that the center is cooked. Let it sit for 20 minutes (preferably upside down) and then the bread is ready to cut and serve.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Pecan Butter Cookies

You can make it ahead of time, freeze it, slice it, and bake it fresh for the holiday season. Any nuts can be substituted by the pecans.
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoon milk
  • 1 cup pecans, grounded and toasted.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add milk and vanilla. Beat until just combined. 

In another bowl mix flour, salt, baking powder and zest. With mixer on low, gradually add flour and pecans; continue beating until fully combined.

Turn dough out onto a clean work surface, and divide into 2 equal pieces. Shape each piece into an 8-inch log, about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap logs in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours. 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Using a sharp knife, cut logs into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Transfer to parchment-lined baking sheets, about 1 1/2 inches apart. 

 Bake until edges are golden, 14 to 16 minutes, rotating baking sheets halfway through. Remove from oven, and transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Olive Ascolane (Stuffed Olives from Ascoli Piceno)

Olive ascolane are stuffed Olives originally created in Ascoli Piceno as a way to use leftovers of meats. Nowadays this appetizer is very popular in all Central Italy. In Abruzzo, most Trattorias and Pizzerias carry them on the menu. I have been craving for those since I came back from Italy a month ago.

The recipe calls for a local green olive variety, called the Tenera Ascolana, with a very soft meat. But green olives would work.

Olive ascolane
  • 20 olive ascolane (or very large green olives)
  • 1 pound pork, grounded
  • 1 pound lamb, grounded
  • 1 pound meat, grounded
  • 1 onion, peeled, chopped
  • 2 tablespoon tomato paste
  • fresh herbs (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup flour 
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
Cut the olives open on one side and remove the stones.
Sauté the onion with two tablespoons of olive oil until soft. Add the meat and cook everything together on medium heat until the meat has browned and most of the liquid has evaporated. Season it with salt and pepper. Add the tomato paste and cook everything together for 5 minutes more on low heat.

Place the meat mixture in a blender and blitz to a smooth paste. Form small balls of the mixture and carefully press inside the olives, then squeeze the olives back together so the cut edges meet.

Place the olives in a bowl with flour and toss well to make sure they are fully coated. Next, dip the olives in beaten egg, then coat in breadcrumbs and fry in oil at 350F until golden.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Pesche Sciroppate (Peaches in Syrup)

This is one of my favorite ways to preserve peaches. You can serve them as a dessert by itself or with ice cream. It is also great as garnish for cakes or other desserts
  • 3 pound peaches ripe but firm
  • 6 cups sugar
  • 6 cups water
  • Zest and juice from 2 lemons
  • 1 vanilla bean
Sanitize jars by washing them in the dishwasher or by boiling them in water for 10 minutes.

To prepare the peaches, wash them and make two small incision on the bottom of each one. Dip peaches in boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minutes (less time is the fruit is more ripe). Drop them in ice water to loosen their skins. After removing the skin from the peaches, cut them in half and remove pits.

Combine sugar, water, lemon zests, lemon juice and scraped vanilla bean in a saucepan. Bring it to a boil until sugar is dissolved. Keep syrup hot. Pack the peaches into sanitized jars (leaving 1/2 to 1 inch space at the top).  Wipe jar rims and threads. Place lids on jars.

Put the sealed jars in a wide pot and cover with at least 1 inch of boiling water. Boil them for at least 20 minutes (and no more than 30 min).

 Remove jars from hot water and place, not touching, on dish towel. Cool several hours or overnight. Test seals and make sure there is not air in the jars before storing them. If there is still air you can refrigerate them for a couple of weeks.