Tiramisu, anyone?

It has been awhile since I posted last here.  A lot has happened in the past month.  For starters, I finally found a new job after being off the market for about a year.  So far, it’s going really well.  One of the best things about it is that my commute is less than 20 minutes each way, all highway, which beats the 45 minute stop-and-go commute I had going in toward the city at the last place.  I have gained an extra hour in my day, which is so great!

Secondly, I spent a week in Italy earlier this month.  It was absolutely beautiful — more than I had expected.  I visited the Amalfi Coast, including the island of Capri as well as Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius.  During my time in Italy, our group took a cooking class in Sorrento, which was amazing.

The food that we cooked was nothing out of the ordinary, but I think the quality and freshness of the ingredients really lent a lot to the final outcome of our meal.  Also, I received a lot of helpful advice on how to deal with and correct mistakes that may happen when cooking or baking.   I will be posting the various recipes we made here, with all measurements converted.

I’m going to start with the best thing first…forget saving it for last….tiramisu!  It seems that we all loved tiramisu so much that we had it for dessert pretty much every other night (including tiramisu-flavored gelato).  However, the one that we made in the class was hands-down the best of the week — because it was freshly made.

Tiramisu is a very simple Italian trifle-like dessert that takes ladyfingers that have been soaked in coffee, and layers them with a rich custard.  A simple search online will give you not only a basic recipe but millions of variations using different ingredients.  We each made a basic tiramisu in individual dishes, but the recipe below is for approximately 6-8 people.

Tiramisu – before

Tiramisu

(serves 6-8)

  • 5 eggs yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum
  • 2 1/2 cups mascarpone cheese
  • 8 oz whipping cream
  • 14 0z (400 g) package of Savoiardi biscuits (lady fingers)
  • Unsweetened coffee
  • Cocoa powder
  • Chocolate shavings, optional

Whip the cream until soft peaks form.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy in consistency.  Add the mascarpone and a little bit of the rum.  Gently fold in the two mixtures  along with the whipped cream.

Soak the lady fingers in the coffee — in and out, not too long in the coffee.

Depending on the serving bowl chosen (whether one large or several small), place a layer of  ladyfingers on the bottom.  Pour half of the cream mixture over the ladyfingers and repeat with one more layer, finishing with a layer of cream.

DP Note #1: The bottom layer of lady fingers should be lightly soaked in the coffee, but the second layer should soak for longer.

Dust heavily with cocoa powder.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.

DP Note #2:  You can add good-quality-chocolate flakes to the cream mixture if you’re a chocoholic.

Enjoy!

Tiramisu – after!

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Double-Chocolate Roasted Walnut Biscotti

After a few days of summer-like weather with temperatures in the high 70s here in Boston, we’ve finally returned to true March weather.  Today was windy and cold, low 40s.  It was a perfect afternoon for a steaming cup of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate.  However, I was also craving something sweet.  Biscotti seemed like a good idea.

I’ve made these biscotti a few times and they come out very nicely.  The nice thing about these biscotti is that they’re not too sweet, making them perfect for dunking in your morning (or afternoon) coffee.


The term “biscotti” means “twice-baked.”  However, before the second baking, you can dust the individual biscotti with confectioners sugar for a touch of added sweetness if you’d like.

You can also easily modify the recipe to suit your taste.  Almonds or hazelnuts could be substituted for the walnuts, as can pretty much any other nut. They’d also make nice gifts if dipped in dark chocolate.

They are also wonderful as is!

When making the biscotti, the dough should be very stiff, almost dry.  I also highly recommend toasting whatever nuts you use in order to bring out stronger flavors.

Double-Chocolate Roasted Walnut Biscotti
(about 25 cookies)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place walnuts on rimmed baking sheet and toast for 8 minutes, or until you can smell them.  Remove from oven and cool.

Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees.  Place parchment paper on baking sheet.

In a bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. In another larger bowl, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat until combined well.  Add the vanilla. Stir in flour mixture to form a stiff dough. Stir in toasted walnuts and chocolate chips.

On the baking sheet with floured hands, form the dough into two slightly flattened logs, each 12 inches long and 2 inches wide. Bake for 35 minutes, or until slightly firm to the touch. Cool biscotti on baking sheet for 5 minutes.

On a cutting board, cut the biscotti diagonally into 3/4-inch slices. Arrange the biscotti, cut sides down, on the baking sheet and bake until crisp, about 10-15 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Biscotti keep in airtight containers 1 week and frozen, 1 month.

Salted Fudge Brownies

 

If you are a lover of all things chocolate (and who isn’t?), then you must try this recipe — decadent chocolate brownies topped with sea salt.  The sea salt makes the chocolate flavor just “pop”.

The salt is added right before you put the brownies in the oven and it melts nicely into the batter.  If you prefer instead, you can sprinkle the salt about 5 minutes before the brownies are done baking and you’ll see the actual crystals on the finished product.

I used Pink and White Himalayan sea salt crystals (hint: I found them at Trader Joe’s), which give it a nice color.   However, any coarse salt is just fine.

 Salted Fudge Brownies

  • 1 stick of unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder, packed down
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder, or any type of ground coffee
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • A couple of pinches of sea salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 8×8 cake pan.

Melt the sugar and butter in a saucepan over low heat.  Then, add the cocoa powder and espresso powder (or other coffee).

Once melted, turn the heat off and let it cool for a few minutes.  Once cooled, add the vanilla, and then the eggs, one at a time, beating until fully mixed together.

Add in the flour, whisking it until fully incorporated and the batter is smooth and shiny.

Pour the batter into the greased pan.  Evenly sprinkle the sea salt on top. 

DP note: If you prefer, you can skip the addition of the salt until about 5 minutes before the brownies are done baking.

Bake for about 25-30 minutes, or when a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center.  Be careful not to overbake!

Clementine Poundcake

Mention the word “poundcake” and it conjures up images of the version made by Sara Lee that my mother would serve when I was a kid.  I can still see the packaging: the red and white logo, the foil tray.  Once opened, it had a sweet buttery scent and flavor — and probably weighed a good pound or two.

The “pound” in poundcake comes from early recipes in which the ingredients were one pound each of flour, butter, eggs, and sugar.  These ingredients were easy to remember – especially for those who were unable to read.

This recipe, however, is a lot tastier that the ones of yore.  The addition of clementines gives it a wonderful perfume and the zest gives it an incredible orange flavor. 

Cardamom is an ancient and flavorful spice from India.  It is used throughout the Middle East in cooking and as an addition to coffee.  In Europe, it is used to season baked goods.  The cardamom in this poundcake gives it an intense aroma and a uniquely sweet flavor.

When I made this a few months ago and brought it into the office it was gone in the blink of an eye.  It’s that good.

If you don’t have clementines, then oranges are fine, as are lemons.  Although, I would use Meyer lemons, which are sweeter and are somewhat of a cross between a lemon and a tangerine.

Let the cake cool entirely before cutting.  It also freezes very well.

Clementine Poundcake

Serves 10-12

  • 1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 tablespoon clementine zest, from about 2 clementines
  • 4 tablespoons clementine juice, from about 2 clementines
  • 1/4 cup milk

Heat the oven to 350F. Butter and flour a 9x5x3″ loaf pan.

Cream the butter, olive oil and sugars together until smooth.  Mix in the eggs, one at a time, until completely blended. 

Stir in 1 cup of the flour, followed by the salt, vanilla, cardamom, clementine zest and juice.

Add the milk and the rest of the flour. Beat until the batter is smooth and consistent, but do not over-beat.  Scrape the cake batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the edges are browned and just pulling away from the sides of the pan, and a cake tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the pan. Run a knife or spatula around the edges of the cake to release it from the pan, and flip onto a wire rack to cool completely before slicing and serving.

 

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Here’s one of my favorite desserts to make.  It always gets an applause.   This recipe will make a fairly sizable cake — it will serve 10 and it is a triple layer cake.  

Although delicious, the original recipe was not particularly “heart-healthy” (if you know what I mean), as it is quite rich and the frosting contains an entire stick of butter. So, I have adapted the recipe slightly (with no negative effect on the results) by changing the vegetable oil to canola oil and replacing the full-fat cream cheese to the light neufchatel type.  If you’re looking for additional adjustments, you can use 2 eggs plus 3 egg whites instead of the 4 eggs called for; you can also cut back on the oil by one-third.  I don’t recommend using fat-free cream cheese, however, as it doesn’t provide the same results.

Here’s a short-cut that will cut the prep time down to about a third:  Since grating carrots can be time-consuming, I usually peel them and shred them in the food processor.  This also provides some additional contrast in textures, since the pieces of carrot will be slightly larger than what you would get from grating them.  Also, remember to “drain” the water out of the carrots by placing them on a paper towel before you put them into the batter.

Finally, I usually make about 1/3 more frosting than what is called for, in order to ensure that the entire cake is frosted.

The two photos are mine.

Cake
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups canola oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 cups finely grated peeled carrots (about 1 pound)
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans (about 1/2 ounce)
  • 1/2 cup raisins
Frosting
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 8-ounce packages light cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract (I love vanilla, so I end up being generous here)

Preheat oven to 325°F. Very lightly grease three 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Line the bottom of pans with waxed paper. Lightly grease the waxed paper. Using an electric mixer, beat sugar and oil in bowl until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg into the bowl.  Stir in the carrots, chopped pecans and raisins.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans equally. Bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean and the cakes begin to slightly pull away from the sides of pans. Cool in pans on racks 15 minutes. Turn the cakes onto racks and cool completely.

The cake can be made one day ahead. Wrap it tightly in plastic and store at room temperature.

For the frosting, beat all of the ingredients in a bowl until smooth and creamy.

Place a cake layer on a platter. Spread with 3/4 cup frosting. Top with another cake layer. Spread with 3/4 cup frosting. Top with remaining cake layer. Using a spatula, spread the remaining frosting over the sides and top of cake.  The frosting can be prepared 2 days ahead.

Serve cake cold or at room temperature.