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.

Christmas Biscotti from Siracusa

I’m looking forward to a quiet, relaxing Christmas this year. During the weeks leading up to that day, I won’t be counting plates, cutlery, wine glasses, napkins, gutting rooms and borrowing chairs, moving furniture to make more room, ironing table cloths, emptying fridges, making lists and more lists, and anticipating an event for 29 or so guests. On the day, I may be sitting under a shady tree, eating some simply cooked fresh fish, followed by a few light biscotti, enjoying a conversation, good music, and a bottle of wine.

biscotti da Siracusa, Sicilia
Biscotti da Siracusa, Sicilia

Despite this once in a lifetime opportunity, or escapist retreat, the making of festive delicacies is, for me, very much part of December and still continues. Last year I enjoyed making Cuddureddi, a spicy little Sicilian tart. They were eaten in the weeks leading up to Christmas day or were given away to friends. This year, I am looking to Sicily once again for inspiration. What could be more tempting than chocolate, almond and cherry biscotti, usually found in the pasticcerie in Siracusa, Sicily?

Anaretti di Ciocccolato e Ciliege
Anaretti di Ciocccolato e Ciliegia

These little almond, cherry and chocolate bites can be thrown together very quickly and only take around 12 – 15 minutes to cook. They are soft centred, with the texture of a truffle more than a biscotto. They are gluten-free, dairy free and very moreish. Wrap a few in cellophane to give to your child’s favourite teacher, or give little gifts to loved ones during Advent. Dicembre e` un mese bellissimo, mentre il giorno di Natale puo` essere stressante!

Amaretti di Cioccolato e Ciliegia/  Chocolate cherry amaretti 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, ( or three medium )
  • a pinch of salt
  • 30 gr icing/confectioners’ sugar

    bisoctti ready for oven
    biscotti ready for oven

Preheat the oven to 160 c.

Mix the almonds, sugar, chocolate, cherries and lemon zest together. Whisk the egg whites until firm and add to the almond mixture with the salt. Mix well. The mixture should be damp. ( Note- 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. Form balls with the almond mixture then roll them in the icing sugar. Place them on paper lined baking sheets.

Bake until they have a golden tinge, approximately 12- 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Makes around 20 balls. Note, my edited pics make the balls look rather large but they only measure around 4 cm.

biscotti di Siracusa
Biscotti di Siracusa. Amaretti con ciliegie e cioccolato

Adapted from Flavours of Sicily, Ursula Ferrigno, 2016

For my dear friend Diane. Let’s spend next Christmas in Sicilia, cara mia.

In My Kitchen, October 2016

In My Kitchen I have lemons galore, swollen and juicy from the abundant Spring rains. This means more lemon cakes, lemon delicious pudding and perhaps some lemon cordial for the hot days ahead. Those balmy days are still a way off, days of Gin and Lemonade under a shady verandah, an appealing phantom. Spring is slow in arriving: it has been wet and cold to date as La Niña has made her presence felt throughout this State: our trickle of a creek is now a raging torrent.

lll
Limoni

Mum’s old lemon tree provides bags full for all those who ask. Her adult children and grandchildren are the main beneficiaries as well as her gardener and her Turkish neighbours who use lemons in so many exciting ways. The enticing aroma of charcoal barbecued meats doused in lemon juice wafts over her fence in summer. Visitors to the tree are asked to fetch the higher lemons and ones at the rear of the tree, leaving the easy ones for Mum ( who is 93) to gather. The tree is protected by fences and shrubbery, the soil is kept bare to the drip line and it is well watered in summer. Sometimes it needs a prune, giving it new lease of life for a few years but on the whole, the tree thrives on neglect.

lGreen depression glass emon reemer and juice
Green Depression glass lemon juicer or reamer and jug

These lovely green Depression glass items live in a special cabinet and came out for the lemon shoot. They are only visiting my kitchen.

almond mealA
Almond meal from Bas Foods, Brunswick

Lemons go so well in cakes with almond meal. I keep one kilo packets of almond meal in the freezer as it is far more economical to buy it in large quantities; I get nervous when it runs low. Most of my cake recipes are almond based and I have just made another version of a lemon and almond meal cake which is deeply lemony. Recipe coming soon.

Honey pot by Old T..
Honey pot by Old Tupton Ware

This cute Art Deco hand painted honey pot turned up in a nearby op shop for $2. Made by Old Tupton Ware, it will be filled with thick dark honey from my friends’ hive.  Or maybe it should stay safely on the dresser!

A big supply of alibaba gloves.
A big supply of alibaba gloves.

The garden weeds are ‘long, lovely and lush’, so easy to pull given this wet season. I invested in these rubber gloves, as I seem to be rushing from garden to kitchen and returning with fingernails full of compost. Twelve pairs of tough garden gloves for twelve dollars from Alibaba online, these will sit by the back kitchen door.

small kookaburra bell
small kookaburra bell

I have always been partial to kookaburra antiques. This little brass bell turned up in a country op shop on one of our travels around Victoria. Ding, ding. Garçon, the drinks.

I also have a penchant for old serving spoons, especially it they are nicely engraved and a little beaten up. Do I find them or do they find me?

Lick the beaters, and the knife and bowl too.
Lick the beaters, and the knife and bowl too.

The school holidays usually bring a few spoon lickers to to my kitchen. Daisy is happy with bowls, knives and scrapers too. She is the best kitchen hand I’ve ever had.

I am thrilled to know that Liz from Good Things is now hosting the monthly series In My Kitchen. By following this link, you can visit other world kitchens for October, or if you feel inspired, write a post yourself.

 

Quince and Almond Cake

We never ate quince at home when I was a child, nor did my mother make jam from quince, but I do remember tasting it when I was very young. That unusual sweet tang was firmly embedded in my food memory, like a little chip of sensual data, by my Aunt Edna. She was an excellent cook and often made quince jelly, one of the many jams that appeared at her banquet sized afternoon tea of scones and cakes. I didn’t understand the taste then, but I loved it. Now, I might describe it as ambrosial, ancient, and enticing.

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Poached quince in sugar syrup, with lemon peel and vanilla bean.

Years later, at the age of thirty to be precise, we moved to the country and I rediscovered that refined sweet flavour of Persia, Aphrodite and roses. The annual gathering of quinces from Norma’s orchard involved roaring down a rutted and overgrown dirt track in her old Subaru, with Poppy the dog on board, to the old fairyland quince grove beside the banks of the Diamond Creek. It was well hidden from human and bird predators. The trunks were grey and lime with lichen, the neglected trees gnarled and contorted, but they still cropped yearly. They were planted by the creek banks in the 1890s when the area around St Andrews was largely a fruit-growing district. That secret quince grove disappeared in the devastating bushfires of 2009.

Quince and Almond cake in Autumn light.

In the old days, the orchards bordering the Diamond Creek relied on its regular flow through this valley from its source in the Kinglake hills to the north. Records were maintained by orchardists up until the 1960s. As land holders turned away from agriculture, records of the Diamond Creek’s flow became impressionistic, but most locals will tell you that the volume has decreased significantly over the last 25 years, and in summer, the creek invariably dries up. Coincidentally, Coca Cola/ Amatil began buying up most of the underground water in the aquifer at Kinglake from the 1990s onwards, effectively dehydrating the communities further downstream. Kinglake water is bought for a song and is used to bottle Mount Franklin water. Thoughtless consumers drink pure water from plastic bottles, when they have a very good source of it in their own tap, while a beautiful local creek, a tributary of the Yarra, is left with an irregular flow, not to mention the ramifications for wild life, further desiccation of the bush, increase in bushfire hazard and the problem of plastic.

Just for the colour

Returning to the glories of quince, I am happy to see that quinces are now widely available in markets, appearing from April onwards.  My 5-year-old Smyrna quince tree produces well, but wild birds and summer water shortage makes for a small harvest. I make a few batches of poached quinces each season, which last quite well under poaching liquid in the fridge. I take out slices to make various cakes and desserts, then boil up the poaching syrup, reducing it to a jelly glaze to use as a sauce or jam.

The Original Recipe

  • 250 g butter, at room temperature
  •  1 ¼ cups caster sugar
  •  1 teaspoon finely grated lemon rind
  •  3 eggs
  • ½ cup almond meal
  • ¼ cup flaked almonds
  • ¾cup milk
  •  2 ¼ cups self-raising flour, sifted
  • 2 large pre- poached quinces, drained and cut into slices, liquid reserved.
Quince cake to share. Enough for 10.
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C or 160°C fan forced. Grease base and sides of a 22 cm springform pan and line with baking paper.

  2. Use an electric mixer with a paddle attachment to beat butter, sugar and lemon rind in a bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Stir in almond meal and flaked almonds. Then stir in milk and flour, alternating.  Spoon 2/3 of batter into prepared pan. Top with half of quince. Top with remaining batter. Top with remaining quince. Bake for 1 hr 20 mins or until a skewer inserted in centre comes out clean. Stand in pan for 5 mins, then remove sides of pan.  You may need to cover the cake with tinfoil after an hour if the top is already brown.

    Serve cake warm or at room temperature with cream and reduced, thickened quince syrup or more simply with sifted icing sugar.

    The Adapted Recipe. I didn’t like the sound of flaked almonds inside the batter but I still wanted a strong almond taste. I changed the ratio of almond meal to flour and removed the flaked almonds altogether. My version used 1 cup of almond meal to 1 and 3/4 cups of SR flour and a scant teaspoon of baking powder. Try either version. Maybe add a little slurp of Amaretto or a drop of almond essence. I also glazed the cake with some of the reduced hot syrup.

 

Pear Almond and Amaretto Frangipane Torta. Too Easy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA little anniversary passed by the other day : I published my 200th post on this site, making me wonder whether my blog has a secret life of its own. What started as a journal to record my obsession with cooking and all things Italian, interspersed with the odd travel and garden post, has acquired its own weekly and monthly rhythm and character. I enjoy the weekly travel prompts provided by Ailsa at Where’s My Backpack, and the photographic challenge offered by The daily Post at WordPress.  A month doesn’t pass by without popping into Celia’s ‘In my Kitchen’ at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial and I attempt to record my vegetable garden efforts in the monthly Garden Share Collective. I have met some wonderful folk along the way: my virtual world is a positive and palpable part of my life. These friends have encouraged me to make my own sourdough bread ( Celia) explore new recipe books, taking me out of my comfort zone, thanks to Leah at The Cookbook Guru, acquire wonderful vintage cookbooks due to scholarly accounts by Debi at My Kitchen Witch, visit a most fabulous garden and seaside in New Zealand at Julie’s Frog Pond Farm, read the most enticing recipes by the best cook in Melbourne ( Sandra at Please Pass the Recipe), be amused by Lorraine’s antics at Not Quite Nigella, feel envious of Jane’s energy and her volume of baking at The Shady Baker, reflect on the wisdom and beauty of Ardys desert photographs at Ardysez and the storytelling of Ella Dee. There are so many more, newer friends, too numerous to mention, especially the documenters of Italian life, those residing near Lucca and travellers in that great country.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy top rating post of all time is Apricot Almond Cake with Amaretto. Easy Frangipane quickly followed by In My Kitchen. February 2014 ,

My ostracised posts,those languishing at the bottom end of the stats page, are Travel Theme: World Cups  and Travel Theme: Energy.

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Thanks to you, dear reader, for encouraging me along the way with your comments, ‘likes’ and views. As a way of celebrating, I’m including the original Pear Frangipane Cake recipe as it’s pear season and I believe it is the best version of this cake. I love this cake because it impresses most guests, is easy to make, and doesn’t have a pastry crust, which is a bonus.  Also check out the blueberry version by the lovely Signorina at Napoli Restaurant Alert  as well as my raspberry version here.

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Torta di Pere, Mandorle e Amaretto. Pear Almond and Amaretto Frangipane Tart.

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
  • Two large pears, peeled, cored and cut into thick wedges
  • 25 g flaked almonds for top (optional)

 Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180c. Grease a 25 cm loose bottom tin. Line base.
  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 Amaretto.  Pour into the prepared tin and smooth top.
  4. Arrange pear wedges over the top, pressing them down so they partly submerge. Scatter the top with the flaked almonds. ( optional)
  5. Bake for 45- 50 mins. Cool in tin.
  6. Serve dusted with icing sugar, cream or mascapone.
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Apricot and Almond Summer Crumble

Blink and you’ll miss it: that’s how fast the apricot season comes and goes.  This crumble is simple and elegant and can be thrown together in 5 minutes. It is also a lot lighter than the oat topped crumble one usually associates with winter. As I always have a big kilo bag of almond meal on hand, my mind tends to wander towards fruit and almond creations. I can’t wait to make this with blood plums later in the season.

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The crumble shown is in a smaller gratin dish for two. The recipe below makes a larger family sized dessert.

Recipe

  • 30 ripe apricots
  • 100g sugar, plus extra to sprinkle
  • 125 g plain flour
  • 100g almond meal
  • 175 g unsalted butter
  • 60 g flaked almonds
  • cream and ice cream to serve.

Preheat oven to 200c/180c Fan Forced. Cut apricots in half and remove the stones. Arrange them in a ceramic or enamel baking dish to fit. Sprinkle with sugar. Mix the flour and almond meal together and rub in the butter. Spread over the fruit and sprinkle with almond flakes. Sprinkle lightly with a little more sugar. Bake for 30 minutes. Be careful not to burn the almond flakes by covering with foil or reducing the temperature. Serve warm with cream or ice cream OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This makes an excellent breakfast with thick yoghurt. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARecipe originally from Maggie’s Farm, Maggie Beer. Reprinted in Let’s Do Lunch, Delicious . ABC 2003.

Orange, Almond and Marmalade Morning Tea Cakes.

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Spring is just around the corner and the birds are warbling cheerfully in the garden. Another Dexter calf was born early this morning, still without name but many are in the running. What a glorious day, makes me want to talk like Robbie Burns, oh deary laddie oh.

New born male Dexter  in need of a name.
New born male Dexter calf needs a name.  So far the nominations are : Dillon, Dylan, Danny, Dustin, David, Denzel, Darcy, Dermot,  Delicious,  Daire,  Dash, Doogle,  Daithi, ( I think that’s Daisy with a lisp  or pronounced by a drunk ),  Dennis,  Dugan, Declan, Duke, Dude, Duncan, Damian, Doyle,  Darragh,  Diddley Dee per Taters, Darius,  Dailey, Dale, Dinner, Draco,  Dax, Dante,  Doolin,  Declan, Dacow, Dagwod, Derwood, Des, Delbert, Donal, ( after Donal Lunny )  Dalton, Daryl, DOT ( short for Dirty Old Town) and Oh ( short for Danny Boy).

These simple little morning tea cakes are not overly sweet and include a small amount of almond meal helping to keep things moist. They have a sweet/bitter heart, just like mine, provided by a daub of orange marmalade. Best of all, they can be thrown together in minutes.

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Orange, Almond and Marmalade Cakes.

  • 125 g unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup caster sugar
  • 1 large orange, rind zested then juiced
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup SR flour
  • 3/4 cup almond meal
  • orange marmalade

Cream the butter, sugar and orange rind until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time. Then add the flour, the almond meal and the juice. Spoon into a greased 12 hole muffin tin, regular sized , and if you prefer, encase them in muffin papers or parchment. Make a small indent into the batter and add a half teaspoon of marmalade to each. Smooth batter over the top.

Bake in a preheated (180 c oven for 15-20 minutes). Cool on a rack. Dust with icing sugar.

Tea for Three
Tea for Three

Help name the Dexter calf. The name must start with D and be male-ish. Irish/Celtic names preferred but not essential. Leave a D name in the comments below. His name will be chosen by Sunday, August 24th.