Sicilian Christmas Sweet Balls.

Last year I pulled the plug on Christmas as I felt that some traditions had run their course, that our traditions needed to be rewritten. Now, as I look back on my 2016 December posts, my outlook didn’t deter me from baking some interesting Christmas sweets. Last year’s Sicilian biscotti were winners for me and mine: I gave away many little parcels of these treats. A few of my readers made these last year, with variations on the theme too, using different fruits and methods.

The first recipe includes dried sour cherries. By all means, use whatever dried fruit you have on hand, remembering to chop or cut it first. This year, I reduced the size of the balls a little, although my photos still show them looking rather large! The recipe produces around 30.

Ready to cook.

Amaretti di Cioccolato e Ciliegia/  Chocolate, cherry and almond biscuits

  • 250 g finely ground almonds
  • 120 g caster sugar
  • 50 g dark ( 70%) chocolate, grated
  • 60 g dried sour cherries, chopped
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 extra-large egg whites, ( 700) or three medium
  • a pinch of salt
  • 30 g icing/confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 160 c.

Mix the almonds, sugar, chocolate, cherries and lemon zest together. Whisk the egg whites until firm and fold it into the almond mixture with the salt. Mix well. The mixture should be damp. If you have used two egg whites and feel that the mixture needs a bit more moisture, beat another until stiff and add it to the mixture.

Place the icing sugar in a bowl. Roll the mixture into small 3cm balls, then toss them into the icing sugar to coat well. Place them on paper lined baking sheets.

Bake until they have a golden tinge, about 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Makes around 30 balls. 

The other Sicilian Christmas sweets made were almond balls from Agrigento. They fill the room with the heady aroma of spice and honey as they cook. Like the almond and cherry balls, they are dusted in icing sugar before they are cooked. This removes the annoying dusting of sugar snow on your face and clothing when popping these straight into your mouth.

Fior di Mandorle.  Almond pastries with honey and spice

  • 200 g freshly ground almonds or almond meal
  • 50 g/3 tablespoons of fragrant clear honey
  • 100 g caster sugar
  • grated zest of  1 small organic orange
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1  large, or two very small beaten egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon orange liquor such as Cointreau, or vanilla`
  • icing/confectioners sugar for coating

Preheat the oven to 150c.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mix all the ingredients together and mix well till the dough is moist. Your hands are the best tools for this task.

Shape into smooth little cakes around 3 cm in diameter.  Roll in icing sugar then place onto a baking paper lined baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack. Makes around 20.

Dear friends and readers, did you make these sweets last December? What lovely dried fruits did you substitute? I am thinking that chopped fig might go well in the first recipe.

Easy Mix Lemon and Almond Syrup Cake

When the young ones ask me which football team I follow, I always reply ‘The Seagulls’. They look bewildered as there is no major AFL (Australian Football League ) team with this bird as their logo. I quickly follow this with an explanation, that I barrack for real seagulls, the birds that land on the grounds during a match and annoy players, lest they think it’s time to send me off to the funny farm. I am not a football fan at all. In fact, it bores me to tears – please feel free to substitute that other very Australian colloquial phrase which refers to ‘a state of being during which one is without feces’.

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After the cake has rested a little, pour on the lemon syrup.

On rare occasions, I allow myself to watch ‘the footy’. It is usually forced upon my consciousness during the grand final season, when all sorts of non footy followers suddenly convert. Not me. I allow myself snippets of the game to waft over me, but would rather be the tea lady – or the beer/wine/cake/biscuit gatherer- during the broadcast.

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Cake ready to slice.

My mother, born and raised in Footscray, the original home of the Bulldogs team, was excited and anxious during the grand final this year. We had joined her to watch the big event, especially given that the last time her team won was in 1954. That’s pre- TV, a very long time to wait for a victory. She mentioned a few names of the players, the much-loved captain of the Bulldogs who retired earlier this year due to injury, my eyes were glazing over, and another one she referred to as ‘The Package’, a player who was bought for a large sum but who wasn’t living up to expectation. I kept calling him ‘The Packet’, at which point, the assembled football devotees suggested I should take a nap. I was happy to grab my smart phone and head to the backroom for a surf and a snooze.

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Lemon almond cake, cut into Middle Eastern shapes.

I woke up for the last 12 minutes, and enjoyed the match thoroughly. I can recommend this approach to my fellow football- loathing friends: just watch the last 12 minutes- that’s when the real action happens. You won’t have missed a thing.

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The lemon zest candies a little when cooking down the syrup, adding to the glazed surface.

I made this lemon cake for the day. As it turned out, it was a celebratory cake – the Bulldogs won. I can recommend this cake for its excellent keeping qualities ( up to one week in the fridge) and for its simplicity. It is now my favourite lemon syrup cake and can easily be adapted to gluten- free. The recipe comes from Mix and Bake by Belinda Jeffries. I have made minor adjustments to the method.

Lemon Almond Syrup Cake

  • 50g plain flour ( or GF flour if required)
  • 200g almond meal
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 190g castor sugar
  • 250g unsalted butter, at room temperature cut into large chunks
  • 1½ tsp vanilla extract
  • ¾ tsp almond essence
  • 1½ large lemons, finely zested

Lemon Syrup

  • 150g of castor sugar
  • 2 lemons zested ( or one large)
  • 125ml of lemon juice
  • 250ml of water

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 160c or lower for Fan Forced. (150c FF worked well for me). Butter a 20cm – 24 cm square cake tin and line the base with paper. Butter the paper and dust the tin lightly with flour.
  • Put the flour, almond meal, baking powder and salt into a food processor. Whiz them together for 20 seconds, then tip into a bowl.
  • Add the butter and sugar to the food processor and whiz them together until they are light and creamy. Scrape down as you go, then add in eggs, one at a time, until creamy. Stop the processor, add the vanilla, almond essence and lemon zest and blitz for another 10 seconds or so.
  • Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in the food processor and pulse until they are mixed. Do not over pulse. Scrape the sides to make sure all is well mixed.
  • Scoop out the mixture into the prepared tin and flatten surface. Bake for around 50-55 minutes or until a fine skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Check after 30 minutes and if browning too quickly, cover the top with tin foil.
  • Meanwhile, prepare the lemon syrup. Place all ingredients into a pot over a high heat. Stir until all sugar is dissolved. Then stop stirring and allow it to come to boil. Let it bubble for 10 – 12 minutes or until it looks thicker and like syrup. Then off heat and set aside. Keep warm.
  • When the cake is ready, place the cake in the tin on a wire rack for 10 mins. Invert onto the rack and remove the paper. Now brush with the lemon syrup. I used all the syrup as the cake happily absorbed it but the original recipe advises using half and serving the rest of the syrup alongside the cake. If using all the syrup, the cake will be very moist and very lemony.
  • The cake stores well for about 1 week in the fridge. Warm it slightly before serving if from the fridge. Other lemon and lime cakes from my blog can be found in the links below.
  • Limoni di Mama.
    Limoni di Mama.

    https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2016/05/25/lemon-lime-and-poppy-seed-cake-with-books/

    https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2016/06/30/lemon-ricotta-and-almond-cake/

https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2014/07/29/easy-lime-syrup-cake/

Easy Cherry Frangipane Tart. Like a Version.

Those of you, dear friends, who have followed this blog for a while may remember the other versions of my easy frangipane tart. The summer apricot version is extremely popular with readers but the pear version is my favourite in late Autumn. Follow the seasons and try any fresh fruit you fancy.

The cherry rendition follows the same recipe but this time I have used a rectangular fluted baking tin, and added a cherry coulis. The pitting of cherries was a speedy exercise, thanks to a little research and Mr Tranquillo’s nimble hands. The best kitchen gadget for cherry pitting is a plain icing or piping tip- you just push the tip through one end of the cherry and out pops the pip. The alternative, but a little slower, is the pointed end of a chopstick. Magic tricks in the kitchen.

Torta di Mandorle, Ciliegie e Amaretto – Italian Almond and Cherry Tart with Amaretto.

Ingredients

  • 125 g softened unsalted butter
  •  150 g of castor sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 50 g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 375 g almond meal
  • 2 Tablespoons Amaretto liqueur
  • 500 g or less of dark, ripe cherries, pitted.
  • 25 g flaked almonds

Method

Preheat oven to 180c /160c FF. Grease a 34 cm x 12 cm loose bottom rectangular tin. Grease and line base. Grease and flour sides. ( or use a 25 cm round loose bottomed tin as per original recipe links above)

Place butter and sugar and eggs in a mixer bowl and beat for 5 minutes until thick and pale. ( if the mixture curdles at this point, throw in a little of your pre-measured flour, or just don’t worry). Scrape down the sides as you go.

Stir in the flour mixed with the baking powder, then fold in the almond meal, followed by the Amaretto.  Pour into the prepared tin.

Press whole cherries into the almond batter.
Press whole cherries into the almond batter.

Arrange the cherries and press them into the batter so they are submerged. Scatter the top with the flaked almonds. You might not use all the cherries so reserve them for a coulis.

Scatter top with almond flakes then bake.
Scatter top with almond flakes then bake.

Bake for about 40 mins but check after 30 mins and move the tray around for even browning. Cool in tin, then remove to a flat serving platter.

In profile
In profile after baking

Cherry Coulis.

Using the remaining pitted cherries, halve them, put in a small saucepan with a little caster sugar, water and lemon juice. Cook gently for five minutes then puree in a blender. Strain if you like a fine coulis. If too runny, put the mixture back into the pan to reduce a little.

Cherry Frangipane with a little sifted icing sugar
Al fresco con una torta di mandorle e ciliegie.
Al fresco con una torta di mandorle e ciliegie.

Raspberry Almond Cake with Brandy. Easy Frangipane

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s summertime here and very pleasant, lazing on a sunny afternoon over a quiet little lunch. Just me and Mr T and a whole lot of berries. With three kilo picked this morning, and more to go, the berry plague can be quite demanding. We began with six raspberry plants three years ago, and now have two large patches, producing around 500 grams a day, along with two kilo of boysenberries/youngberries a day and a few strawberries. Bird netting, along with some good rain, has made all the difference in the world.

Today’s summery recipe is based on my recipe from one year ago. My Apricot Almond Cake with Amaretto,  Easy Frangipane  is the most popular recipe on my blog. I don’t know why- perhaps because it’s so easy. I hope you enjoy this version.  It’s festive but light. It would easily convert to a gluten free version too.

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Raspberry Almond Cake with Brandy, Easy Frangipane

Ingredients

  • 125 g softened unsalted butter
  • 150 g of castor sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 50 g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 375 g almond meal
  • 2 Tablespoons Brandy
  • 300 g ripe raspberries
  • 25 g flaked almonds

Method

  1.  Preheat oven to 180c.  Grease a 25 cm loose bottom tin. Line base and sides with paper.
  2. Place butter and sugar and eggs in a mixer bowl and beat for 5 minutes until thick and pale.
  3. Stir in the flour mixed with the baking powder, then fold in the almond meal, followed by the brandy.  Place half the batter in the prepared tin, cover with the raspberries, then add the remaining batter, using a knife to smooth the top.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  4. Scatter the top with the flaked almonds.
  5. Bake for 50 minutes. Check with a knife or skewer to check if cooked through. Often this needs a further ten minutes especially with juicy berries.
  6. Dust with icing sugar, serve with runny cream.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Today’s song plant. Sunny Afternoon. The kinks.