Let’s Twist Again – Torta allo Yogurt Farcita

When I started this blog, I knew very little about baking. Obviously there had been a muffin disaster here and there and even an occasional somewhat ok cake. Yet in general me and flours didn’t really mingle on a very regular basis. Hence the very moderate baking skills.

One thing that I knew even less about than baking was Italian baking. Obviously I am still far from an expert (or even at a point when my success rate would clearly be above 50%) but I have seen an almost exponential increase in my experience due to my little blogging adventures. Based on those, I have learned that the fantastic Italian way of utilising little tricks to add to the flavour also applies to baking. At the outset many recipes seem fairly similar to their Finnish counterparts but there is usually always a little twist (or two) that takes the outcome to the next culinary level!

In today’s recipe the twist lies in yogurt that – combined with the lemon zest – gives the cake a lovely fresh yet rich flavour. My own little additional twist to the recipe was to add some blueberries on top of the cake which worked fabulously.

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Yogurt Cake

For the cake:

3 eggs

200 g sugar

1 small package of plain yogurt (~150 – 200 g)

210 g flour

zest of one (preferably organic) lemon

70 ml corn oil (or rapeseed oil)

1.5 tsp baking powder

a pinch of salt

For the filling:

200 g cream cheese

2 tbsp plain yogurt

200 ml (double) cream

40 g sugar

20 g powdered sugar

Start by preparing the cake. In a bowl, mix the eggs with the sugar (with an electric mixer) until you have obtained a light-coloured mixture (with some small bubbles on top). Stir in the oil, lemon zest and yogurt. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Start adding the flour mixture into the rest of the cake dough in moderate quantities whilst mixing until the dough has a nice, smooth, non-lumpy texture. Pour the dough into a cake tin (buttered and floured) with a diameter of about 26 cm. Bake in the oven at 160C for about 30 minutes.

When waiting for the cake to bake, you can prepare the filling. Whip the cream with the sugar (by using an electric mixer) in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the cheese with the yogurt and powdered sugar. Add the whipped cream into the mixture and continue to mixing (carefully) to achieve a smooth filling. Place the bowl in a fridge.

Let the cake cool down. Cut it into two halves (lengthways). Spread the filling onto one of the halves and place the other half on top of it. Decorate with powdered sugar (and e.g. fresh berries if you like) and serve.

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A Classic Twist – Banana Bread

There is one pastry that I remember having at almost every family gathering of my father’s side throughout my childhood: a banana cake. Apparently the recipe originated from a Canadian exchange student who visited my Dad’s family in the 1960s, and my relatives were hooked from the very first bite (or something like that – I wasn’t born yet)! It certainly is a nice cake although it is a bit hard to objectively rate a dessert that epitomizes your family coffee breaks of several decades, isn’t it?

I have never dared to try that recipe myself yet which – considering my very varying degrees of success when it comes to baking – may be a good idea. However, instead I found a neat, easy and baking-foolproof recipe with a nice Italian twist (i.e. ricotta) from Benedetta Parodi’s book Mettiamoci a cucinare. In this recipe, the softness and sweetness of the bananas is very nicely balanced with the freshness of the accompanying ricotta sauce and crunchiness of the walnuts. I have made this cake a few times now and even if it is yet to become a true family classic, it has also already won over fans of several generations!

Banana Bread

Serves 4-6

For the cake:

3 bananas

250 g flour

150 g sugar

100 g walnuts

80 g butter

75 g ricotta

2 eggs

1 small cup of coffee

½ tsp bicarbonate (of soda)

½ tsp cinnamon

a pinch of nutmeg

salt

For the sauce:

250 g ricotta

50 ml maple leaf syrup

Combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl: The flour, sugar, bicarbonate, chopped walnuts, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a pinch of salt. In another bowl, squash the bananas and add and mix in the ricotta, eggs, butter and coffee. Combine the ingredients of the two bowls and stir moderately (the dough should be lumpy). Pour the dough into a narrow rectangular cake tin (buttered or lined with a parchment paper), and bake it in the oven at 180C for about half an hour. Prepare the accompanying sauce by mixing together the ricotta and maple leaf syrup. Serve the cake with the sauce.

The Heavy Weight Champion – Torta di Limone

As I think I mentioned earlier, in addition to my more and less successful cooking adventures in my own kitchen, I recently also took a series of Italian cooking classes. And I certainly learned a lot! Now I am more familiar with the culinary differences between different Italian regions and have a nice collection of fab recipes from many of them. I also discovered that with my limited patience I am not a big fan of making fresh pasta – at least if it doesn’t include any filling (poor effort/ added flavour ratio compared to nice dry pasta IMO). And to my utter amazement I concluded that my baking skills really are improvable!

In fact I might go as far as to suggest that I am finally over my trauma of torta della nonna as I think I now know what went wrong. When making a custard containing eggs/ egg yolks, you need at least 10-15 minutes of stirring it on a low heat for it to thicken. This same gem of information is needed with today’s recipe (one from my cooking classes): an Italian lemon pie. I have eaten different versions of this pie before and it has long been one of my favourites. I’m not even sure which country can actually claim to be the originator of this splendido concept of combining a hearty crust with a fresh lemon custard filling and a smooth meringue topping. However, I can safely say that this is certainly the best one out of the wonderful bunch of lemon pies that I have ever eaten.

The secrets of this recipe are very simple: gigantic quantities of butter and sugar. Yet due to the freshness of lemon, there is a lightness of flavour in this pie even though it probably contains more calories than… well, than you really care to think. On the other hand, although this pie tastes simply fantastic, it is so heavy that it is quite challenging to consume it without a considerable group of sweet teeth available. Hence, since my household is fairly limited in its size, the pie that I made this time ended up making quite an impressive and successful tour around Helsinki area by visiting five different locations before it was finally completely eaten..!

Lemon Pie

Serves: Many (depending on the size of their sweet teeth)

For the crust:

250 g flour

200 g butter

2 tbsp sugar

3 tbsp lemon juice

~1 tsp salt

For the custard:

6 egg yolks

125 g sugar

1 tbsp potato starch

150 g butter

2 tsp grated lemon zest

5 tbsp lemon juice

For the meringue topping:

6 egg whites

1 tbsp lemon juice

200 g sugar

salt

Combine the flour, 175 g butter, the sugar, the lemon juice and salt and stir until you have obtained a soft pastry. Leave it to rest for a half hour. On a floured surface, roll out the pastry to a circle about 0.5 cm thick. Move it into a pie dish/ mold so that the sides of the pastry are about 3 cm high. Melt the rest of the butter and pour it onto the pastry. Cover it with a piece of parchment paper and add some dried peas/ beans/ lentils on top of the paper. Bake in the oven at 200C for 15 minutes. Take the crust out of the oven and remove the parchment paper and the dried peas/ beans/ lentils. Return the crust into the oven and continue baking it for another ~10 minutes. Let it cool down.

Prepare the custard: mix the egg yolks with the potato starch and the sugar in a saucepan. Combine the butter (in small pieces), the lemon zest and lemon juice. Place the pan on a medium heat and stir continuously until the custard thickens (it can take 10-15 minutes). Remove it from the heat and once slightly cooled down, pour it onto the pie crust.

Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt and the lemon juice until you have obtained “soft peaks”. Add the sugar and continue whisking a little bit until the mixture is smooth and easy and firm enough to apply on top of the pie. Bake the pie in the oven at 225C for about 10 minutes until the meringue has obtained a golden colour.

Twinkle Michelin Star – Fondente al Cioccolato Speziato con Gelato di More E Zenzero

I don’t understand what happened with Christmas this year.

I do know that it has a tendency to sneak up on you but this time it seems as if it was even slier than usual and very quietly crept behind my back and then suddenly yelled loudly “Hello – here I am again!!!” only a few days ago.

I had all these big plans for this Christmas season. I was going to send all those Christmas cards that I always forget to send. And this time even on time. I was going to clean my floors so spotless and shiny that they would serve as spare mirrors if needed. And obviously I was going to cook all sorts of Italian Christmas dishes and write very expertly about them.

But then something unexplainable happened and as a result, the quantity of Christmas cards sent and Italian Christmas dishes tested is now zero whereas the amount of spots on my floors is not currently publicly disclosable.

However, although I hence don’t currently have any Italian Christmas classics – such as panettone – at my disposal for blogging, I do have a very worthy substitute recipe with fittingly Christmassy flavours. The recipe is also related to stars – even though in this case they are Michelin (and TV) ones.

It orignates from another Italian cookbook “Via Emilia, via da casa” I recently bought. It is authored by an Italian celebrity chef called Bruno Barbieri. His restaurants earlier earned seven Michelin stars in total. More recently he has been starring in many TV cooking shows (such as MasterChef Italia).

Many of Bruno’s recipes in the book look fabulous but unfortunately many of them are also too challenging to test in Helsinki due to their very special ingredients. However, this dessert was a fantastic exception with the Christmassy twist as I mentioned. There are quite a few flavours in it but they work superbly together!

So I suppose all the remains to be written this time (accompanied by a solid intention to investigate different Italian traditions for New Year next week…) is:

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all!

Spiced Dark Chocolate with Blackberry Ice Cream And Ginger

Serves 4

For the chocolate:

100 g dark chocolate

1 tbsp sugar

100 ml milk

100 ml cream

1 small dried red chilli

1 cinnamon stick

2 cloves

2 seeds of cardamom

fresh ginger

For the ice cream:

ice cream (home made or not)

2 punnets of blackberries

1 glass of sweet Lambrusco wine

2 tbsp sugar

zest of one orange

For the chocolate: In a kettle, gently heat the milk without boiling it and add the sugar and all the spices. Mix and remove the kettle from the heat. Leave to infuse for 3-4 hours. After that, filter the spiced milk through a strainer. Move the milk back to the kettle with the cream. Heat well, then switch off the heat and add the crumbled chocolate. Remove the kettle from the heat and stir well until the chocolate has melted into the mixture. Cool the sauce down in the room temperature.

For the ice cream: Rinse and clean the blackberries. Move them to a pan with the Lambrusco wine, sugar and orange zest and cook for 7-8 minutes. Filter the sauce and let it cool down. Combine the sauce with the ice cream.

Presentation: Spoon some chocolate sauce into a glass. Add a scoop of the blackberry ice cream on top and sprinkle with grated fresh ginger.

Cold Chocolate – Torta al Cioccolato

Some days are perfect for cooking. Whereas some certainly not.

Today is one of the latter. I have a terrible cold and a congested nose and feel like just sitting on my couch and being grumpy. Hence I decided to skip cooking this evening and go for a Chinese take-away instead. I had never tried my local Chinese restaurant earlier and I think it is somewhat unlikely that I will do that again in the near future. The place was completely empty and almost as soon as I had placed my order, I could hear the sound of a microwave oven humming in the background. And I’m quite certain that the food I got would be considered some kind of a criminal offense at least in Italy.

So today is definitely not about culinary experiences. However, I can browse my new Italian cookbook (by an Italian celebrity chef called Bruno Barbieri), and reminisce about earlier successful baking projects (yes, I think I can use plural by now) in my kitchen.

One of them is this fantastically easy yet delizioso chocolate cake that I made a few weeks ago. I got its recipe from “Le Ricette della Prova del Cuoco“. I served the cake with some vanilla ice cream although it is quite fab also on its own. Hmmm, in fact, this cake is so nice that I am sure that it is bound to have medicinal qualities. Maybe I should consider baking today after all..?

Chocolate Cake

Serves 6

125 g dark chocolate

100 g butter

100 g sugar

4 eggs

40 g flour

salt

Melt the chocolate together with the butter, 70 g sugar and a pinch of salt in a bain marie (i.e. a water bath/ double-boiler).

Combine three egg whites with the remaining sugar and whisk them until stiff.

Remove the chocolate mixture from the heat, add three egg yolks and one entire egg and stir for a few minutes. Add the flour (sieved) and the beaten egg whites. Mix with a spoon gently until you have a uniform batter. Pour the mixture into a cake tin (greased and floured or lined with a parchment paper) and bake in the oven at 180C for about 20 minutes (when there are cracks on the surface, the cake is ready).

The Fruity Mystery – Macedonia di Anna

After a few weeks of fintastic and italovely holidays, I’m back in the kitchen office again! Yes, I did spend a week in Italy too and now my mind is buzzing with new ideas on recipes to try. You can expect me to get quite a bit of inspiration from this pile of souvenirs within the next months too:
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I’m especially quite proud of this apron that I bought (ok, maybe there is a teeny bit of photoshopping included in the picture…):

Essu

Anyway, prior to getting my hands on my fabulous new cookbooks, let’s continue with something simple to celebrate the strawberry season i.e. a fruit salad. The Italian word for fruit salad (macedonia) is somewhat baffling. Why not insalata di frutta like in all the other four languages that I know? Apparently the theory is that this word really refers to the country Macedonia and it originates from the time when the area was populated by different people (such as Albanians, Greek and Armenians in addition to the Macedonians). During that period, someone felt that drawing an analogy between a fruit salad and Macedonia would make sense as both consisted of different “pieces”. My 21st century Finnish logic may fail to see the ingenuity in this comparison but I suppose that would really be beside the point…

The recipe I’m sharing today is actually my own which I have been making during the strawberry season for quite a few years now. As far as I remember, I invented this “from scratch” but interestingly enough the first Italian recipe I glanced today seems to include almost all the elements of my recipe. Well, Italian or Finnish – does it really matter as long as you ensure that you enjoy the fabulous fruits and berries of the season?

Fruit Salad with Strawberries

Serves 4

1 liter fresh strawberries

2-3 nectarines

1 chunk of melon of your choice

juice of 1 lemon

fresh mint, chopped

icing sugar

Peel and slice the fruits and strawberries and mix them with the lemon juice. Add fresh mint and sprinkle icing sugar to your taste. This fruit salad is even more flavoursome and juicy if you store it in the fridge for a few hours before serving.