Sockerbullar, Pariserbullar Or… Bomboloni Al Forno!

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A few weeks ago I was honored with the prize “Premio Cake Blog Di Qualita’” (cake prize for a quality blog). The prize is given by another blogger who received it earlier. I got mine from Uno Scoiattolo In Dispensa – The Pantry Squirrel, a lovely girl based in Edinburgh who writes a food blog in both Italian and English.

Our Squirrel explicitly asked for something Swedish and sweet. It took me a while to get the right inspiration and find the right recipe, but here we are. I re-discovered a Swedish pastry that I truly can relate to, something that is not as common as Kanelbullar (Swedish cinnamon rolls) but that totally blew my head off the one time I had them. I am talking of Sockerbullar (socker=sugar; bullar=buns). They remind me  of bomboloni alla crema, sweet buns loaded with butter and eggs, filled with custard, and covered with sugar. The only difference, which makes Sockerbullar just a tiny bit healthier, is that bomboloni are deep fried while the Swedish equivalent is baked.

As I found out, another name for these sinful buns is Pariserbullar, buns from Paris (go figure why). I was pleased to find a detailed method for sockerbullar the old-fashioned way (gammaldags) in Jan Hedh’s compendium on bread and sweet breads (Bröd och Kaffebröd), a great reference. Indeed, when a Swedish friend saw the thick volume, he proudly affirmed “you don’t need any other book, Hedh is the best baker in Sweden”. So I tested my understanding of Swedish and went through the recipe, constantly wondering if I read the text right. Judging from the outcome, I would give myself an B++ (in Swedish and maybe an A- in baking?). And here comes the sudata translation together with my personal tips.

GAMMALDAGS SOCKERBULLAR (from Jan Hedh, Bröd & Kaffebröd)
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Pane Alle Olive

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It seems that I cannot go more than one week without baking some bread. This was my last enterprise, taken from Hamelman’s bible. I was immediately attracted by the idea of making a loaf loaded with olives. The same dough gives simply amazing olive focaccia. So amazingly good that it did not survive long enough to be photographed.

The method is a little time consuming but, believe me, highly rewarding. There is a discrete amount of whole-wheat in this loaf, too. And it is sourdough-based. Plus, the olives contain plenty of the good fats we all seem to be after lately.

PANE ALLE OLIVE (Hamelman’s olive levain)
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Most Chocolaty Ever Torta Caprese

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So this was my birthday cake. And, as usual, I made it myself. Not that I had to, but I wanted to. An excuse for baking? Yes, please, I am digging in it. This year, I felt like something super chocolaty and I thought first of making a Sacher Torte. You don’t know what a Sacher Torte is? A popular movie director once said of someone not knowing about Sacher Torte “oh well, let’s go on like this, let’s continue martyrizing ourselves”. I did not want to martyrize myself, so I went for the Italian equivalent of Sacher Torte, Torta Caprese, originally from the Island of Capri, just outside of Naples.

What is special about Torta Caprese is that there is no flour in it. And the amazing moistness of the cake is all due to a happy combination of almonds, dark chocolate, eggs, sugar and butter…. mmmmmm… let’s see how I did mine.

TORTA CAPRESE
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In Season: Asparagus And Parmesan Frittata

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If you are looking for something easy, seasonal, healthy and absolutely delicious, you may want to try this frittata. It takes very little time to make and requires only a few ingredients. But, of course, you gotta have asparagus. The veggie king of spring.

FRITTATA DI ASPARAGI
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Bergianska Trädgården And Thank You

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Last Monday, for “Pasquetta” (the day after Easter), we all went to Bergianska Tädgården. The weather was pretty boring and the day cold, so it was just lovely to be inside, looking at all the blossoming flowers of Stockholm’s botanic garden while spring, outside, still waited to show up.

The flowers were beautiful and I am showing some here as a thank you for visiting my page and bookmarking, pinning, and trying out my recipes. Yesterday, the website hit the first 10,000 views and that is quite a lot to me. I had this page for only a few months, and during most of them I have not been that active, busy as I always am with work and family.

Yes, I have a demanding job, a lovely but demanding 3-year old, and an almost always patient and supportive husband, who also demands some attention every now and then. So this passion of mine for cooking, taking pictures and writing on the food I make has to be relegated to a stolen afternoon and a stolen 10 minutes photographic session when the light is good enough (generally in the morning, while running to get ready for work and get the little one ready for day-care).

Therefore, I am surprised that this page is going forward, and actually visited regularly by a few a you, notwithstanding the little time I have for it. So thank you all, the regulars, the occasional, the new and the old readers. Thank you to the commenter fellow bloggers, who really made my day oh so many times, and also to the quiet readers that just stop by for a few minutes. You all help me to keep the motivation for finding those stolen moments of creativity in my kitchen, for improving my photography, and for continuing to share my thoughts, tips, and memories with you.

Hope you all understand that the lack of regularity in posting on this page is not due to lack of interest… I would gladly stay at home for a month and just do this. But then it would become my job and not my escape. La valvola di sfogo, the way to divert my attention to colorful and savory images.

So thank you for making my favorite past-time not a solitary journey but something that makes me feel connected to people I would otherwise have no connection with. This all thing of blogging helps me realize that I am part of a bigger picture, a world-wide movement toward home-made food. I am so glad thinking that I can contribute to make also your world more savory and colorful. And possibly inspire you not to give up and stay away from the grey mass-produced food.  Thank you for helping me to make my own life more meaningful.

This was my favorite: wild saffron growing outside the botanic garden

Carciofi Alla Giudia – Roman Jewish Artichokes

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My mom is visiting for Easter and she made one of her “cavalli di battaglia” (winning horses?), which is, best ever dishes, Carciofi Alla Giudia. According to my mother, this is a typical Roman Easter dish, to the point some Romans had it for breakfast on Easter morning, together with the intestines of some animal (a part of the tradition that I can leave to the old generations).

This way of cooking artichokes was developed by the Jewish community which populated Rome as early as 150 b.c.  The community became so rooted in Rome that represented about 10% of Rome’s inhabitants before 1935. More info here. Anyway, as I said, they were so rooted in Rome that many of the most traditional Roman dishes are actually Roman Jewish. And it is also the case of these wonderful deep-fried artichokes that my mom learned from my grandma, an eight generations back Roman.

The peculiarity of this dish is in its simplicity. The art is in the cleaning and the cooking of the vegetables.

CARCIOFI ALLA GIUDIA – DEEP FRIED ARTICHOKES

You need: 4 artichokes (choose the smallest and most tender ones you can find), 1 cup olive oil, salt, black pepper, juice of 1 lemon.

How to: Carefully clean the artichokes, cutting the top, removing the inedible tough outer leaves (generally is enough to eliminate 1 or 2 external layers), as well as the inner white “barbetta” (little beard). Put the clean artichokes in a large bowl with water and the juice of the lemon. You can let the artichokes rest there even overnight. Drain the artichokes, generously sprinkle the inside with salt and pepper and fill with olive oil, while you open the inner leaves like a flower. Place, on the lateral side, in an iron skillet with remaining oil on high heat and make the artichokes brown on all sides, turning them often with a fork. Lower the heat, add a few spoons of water and cover the pan. Cook until tender. Toward the end of the cooking, flip the artichokes with the stem up, again opening them as flowers and pushing them slightly toward the pan. They are cooked when also the bottom part feels tender to the fork.

CONSIDERATIONS: Don’t they looks scrumptious? I am so glad I got to have real Roman artichokes (my mom brought them with her from Rome!) for Easter and that I got to follow step-by-step the traditional “Alla Giudia” way of cooking that my mom has long  been “famous” for (at least in our small family and friends community). This has been one of the nicest Easters in a long while… how was yours?

You may also like these steamed artichokes.

Rustic Sourdough Baguette

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Ok. So this was supposed to be Jeffrey Hamelman’s Vermont Sourdough, which is generally shaped like a torpedo (a batard in French) but somewhere on the way it became a large rustic baguette. Must have been my  memories of Italian “filoni” that got in the way…

As you may notice, also the scoring is pretty rustic: I still have not managed to get a scoring blade and one of the baguette cracked on the bottom, yet rose and cooked perfectly. I also still do not own a baking stone, but this did not prevent the bread to develop a wonderful crusty crust anyway.

Just a few pictures to show you what you can do even without professional tools. And even interpreting freely the formulas of the Masters. Not bad, isn’t it?

Buttermilk Ciambellone And Happy Easter

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Easter has always been my favorite holiday. Maybe because only on Easter I got to eat something home-baked, ciambellone. My mother did not like to bake, but each Easter morning she used to “surprise” us with a fragrant ciambellone, covered with fresh pink flowers and accompanied by all the colorful Easter paraphernalia. What an event. The cake went wonderfully with our chocolate eggs and even with… salami! Indeed, another name of this ciambellone is “pizza di pasqua”. Or, at least, that’s the way my mother called it. I know she learned this from my grandmother, a true Roman matron, which makes me think this way of mixing sweet with salty is very “Roman”. Or maybe not. Personally, I just love it. We used to have hard-boiled eggs, chocolate eggs, salami and cake all in the same, scrumptious, breakfast. Mmmm… and this Sunday I am going to relive this dear memory with my own family. Life is good.

BUTTERMILK CIAMBELLONE

You need: 1/2 cup buttermilk (filmjölk in Swedish), 3 eggs, 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup cornstarch, 1/2 cup good vegetable oil (I used 1/4 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup flax seed oil), 2 and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, grated zest of 1/2 organic lemon (if you don’t have it, add an extra teaspoon of vanilla extract), a pinch of salt.

How to: Preheat oven to 160 degrees (Celsius, 320 Fahrenheit). Mix the eggs with the sugar and the pinch of salt until fluffy. Add the oil, the buttermilk and the flavoring (vanilla and lemon zest) and mix well. Combine flours and baking powder and add to the batter. Mix until fluffy again. Butter a tube-cake pan and pour the mixture in it. Bake for 35-45 minutes, checking for doneness with a wooden stick after 35 minutes.

CONSIDERATIONS: This cake was so incredibly easy to bake and tasted just like the best ciambelloni my mother used to make. When we woke up this morning we had a couple of pieces with our latte. My 3-year old was ecstatic. Looking forward to bake another batch for the coming Sunday breakfast. Wishing you all a gracious Easter full of laughs and feel-good moments.

Home-Baked Fette Biscottate Or Zwieback

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I’ve been thinking about this for so long, and always postponing, but yesterday it was too ugly to take my little one out (right baby?) so I felt like I finally could bake my favorite breakfast bread, fette biscottate which, I reckon, are the only way to save myself from the energy-dense breakfasts I’ve been having for a while.

Back in Italy, I used to have fette biscottate (or Zwieback, as they call them in US) with a cup of warm caffe-latte or tea in the morning, for as long as I can remember. They were filling and satisfying and light on the calorie-side. After moving abroad, breakfast became a problem. Local versions of fette biscottate, skorpor, were way too sugary and tasted like cinnamon. Not quite the same. The Italian version indeed was only vaguely sweet and had a fragrant but neutral taste that could accompany whatever I felt like spreading on them: honey, or butter, or jam or… nutella! And they were also great alone, preferably dipped into my extra-large cup of warm caffe-latte.

Anyway, not having fette biscottate available led me to switch toward salty types of breakfasts (I just can’t eat cereals), which in the end pumped up the amount of food I eat in a day. In fact, even after a rich American-style breakfast, I will still get hungry at lunch time and end up having three big meals in a day, while Italians only have two: a good lunch and a light dinner. If you want to know more about the Italian meal structure and maybe get some inspiration on how to change your food habits, I found this interesting link.

After some search, I decided this was the best recipe. And as usual I changed a few things here and there.

HOME-BAKED FETTE BISCOTTATE

You need: 500 g all-purpose flour, 75 g sugar, 1 egg, 1 tea-spoon malt extract (or honey), 12 g fresh yeast (or 5 g instant yeast), 210 g water, 4 table-spoon vegetable oil (I used cold-pressed canola), 5 g (1 tea-spoon) salt, 3 table-spoon milk. American measures coming soon.

How To: Step 1. Melt the yeast in the water with the malt extract (or honey) and let rest 5 minutes. Combine the flour with the sugar in a large bowl. Add the egg white (and put the egg yolk aside for later use), the oil, and the yeast mixture. Knead for 20 minutes by machine (or 15 by hand), adding the salt only before the last 5 minutes of kneading. Let rest for 30 minutes covered with plastic foil. Step 2. Form 3 balls and cover again with plastic foil. Let rest for 15 minutes. Step 3. Flatten each ball with a rolling-pin on a floured surface and shape 3 tight rolls. Seal the roll with your fingers and place seamed side down on 3 mini-loaf pans, covered with baking paper. Let rest, covered with plastic foil for 1 to 2 hours in a lightly warm place. Brush with the egg-yolk combined with the milk. Step 4. Bake for 30 minutes at 190 degrees (Celsius) and then lower the temperature to 160, take the loaves out of the forms, and bake for further 15 minutes (they have to look golden brown). Step 5. Let cool covered with a kitchen towel for at least 12 hours (and up to 24 hours, if you wish). Cut into 1 cm wide slices and bake at 160 for about 30 minutes.

CONSIDERATIONS: Don’t they look just like store-bought ones? I am so happy I resolved to do my own fette biscottate, not only because I could not find them in Sweden, but also because, as usual, I could control the ingredients: organic flour and eggs, a little organic sugar, and good quality oil. So when I eat my favo breakfast I can now feel like I am feeding my appetite together with my body. And since home-baked anything tastes oh sooo good, I can even say that I am feeding my… soul.

This is going to YeastSpotting.

Healthier Hamburger Buns

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And here is the promised recipe of the hamburger buns from my red lentils and celery root vegetarian burgers. Not suggesting you have to go for home-made all the time. But, if you ever have the time, I strongly recommend these buns. There is truly no comparison with store-bought ones and, healthwise, home-made gives the advantage of letting us play with different types of grains. I also added sourdough, more for the taste than for the rise.

MULTI-GRAIN HAMBURGER BUNS

very freely adapted from Volger’s “Veggie burgers every which way”

You need: 2 and 1/2 cups bread flour (or all-purpose), 1 and 1/2 cups light rye flour, 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour, 1 cup milk (or rice milk), 1/2 cup water, 50 g fresh yeast (or 2 and 1/2 tea-spoon dry yeast-1 package), 2/3 cup (180 g) sourdough, 2 table-spoon olive oil, 1 table-spoon honey, 2 and 1/2 tea-spoon salt. If you do not have sourdough: omit 1 and 1/4 cup (ca 160 g) flour. Garnishing: 1 egg (or 3 table-spoon rice milk), sesame seeds, poppy seeds or flakes.

How to: dissolve the yeast in the luke-warm milk and water. Let’s stay for 5 minutes than add the sourdough (if you have it) and the honey. Add all remaining ingredients. Knead for 15 minutes by hand, or, 8-9 minutes by machine. Form the dough into a loose ball and let rest for 1-2 hours (until it doubles) in an oiled bowl, covered with plastic foil or with a wet kitchen towel. Remove from the bowl and shape into 12 rounds (I find this “buns shaping” video helpful). Place on parchment covered oven trays and let rest, loosely covered with plastic foil, for another 1-2 hours. Once they have risen again, brush with the egg mixed with a little water and sprinkle with your favorite cover. Bake at 356 degrees (Fahrenheit, 180 Celsius) for 18-20 minutes (check the bottom: ready when it’s golden-brown).

CONSIDERATIONS: I was very happy with these buns and I am sure I will use this method next time I make them. They rose wonderfully and were perfectly fluffy inside. The addition of sourdough gave depth to the flavor, but of course it can be omitted (adjusting the flour amount). Totally loved the light multi-grain feeling. I used light rye and a little whole-wheat but different combinations can also be great, and I personally look forward to experiment even more. Now my problem is: how will I, or will I ever, go back to store-bought hamburger buns? Yes, home-made bread is addictive. Just give it a try…

This is going to YeastSpotting.

Red Lentils And Celery Root Vegetarian Burger

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Last summer I tried to follow a very strict no carb diet. I could do that because at the time I had convinced myself that I was basically a carnivore. But after a couple of weeks I realized that, besides the fact that life style was simply unhealthy, vegetables and bread rather than meat have always been my thing. As a child, a sandwich with home-made pickled aubergine was my favorite treat and what wouldn’t I do to steal another of my mother’s fried zucchini flowers!

Italian cuisine is indeed basically… vegetarian. And I am not talking only of our wheat-based word-famous pastas and pizzas. We also eat (or used to eat) plenty of vegetables and we have an amazing tradition on how to prepare and cook any sort of products from the land. It is not surprising if you think of how mild Italian weather is and how incredibly available and varied vegetables were in Italy in the past. Yes, we also treasured our cured meats, our yummy salami and hams. Indeed, animals were slaughtered very seldom, and when that happened we needed to make the meat last for many months, to be eaten sparsely, as a vital supplement rather than a main course.

So… after many experiments with different styles of eating/living I feel compelled to go back to the food habits of my ancestors. Eat vegetables, raw, but also cooked in mouth-watering ways, and sometimes indulge in a high-quality piece of meat. Cured and Italian, if that is what you like (I do!).

RED LENTILS AND CELERY ROOT VEGGIE BURGER

adapted from Volger’s “Veggie burgers every which way”

You need: 1 celery root, 1 cup red lentils, 1 onion, 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, 1/2 cup red wine, 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, 2 cups freshly grated bread crumbs, olive oil, freshly ground black pepper, salt.

How to: peel and chop the celery root and cut in cubes. Cover with water and boil until tender (not mushy). Meanwhile, wash and boil the lentils in 2 cups (at least) of water until soft. In a medium-sized pan saute the sliced onion with olive oil and the thyme. When soft, deglaze with the red wine and cook until that is evaporated. While the onion cools off, grate a few slices of stale bread in a food processor. Preheat the oven to 380 degrees (Fahrenheit, 190 Celsius). Combine the lentils, celery root and onions in a large bowl. Mash only part of the celery root with a fork and add the remaining ingredients. Shape the mixture into burgers and fry until golden on both sides. Transfer onto an oven dish covered with baking paper and finish cooking for 10-15 minutes (checking frequently and reducing the temperature eventually).

CONSIDERATIONS: As a vegetarian who eats meat, I can tell that these burgers were truly scrumptious and that they were healthy without tasting just healthy. Like Italian cuisine at its best. It was an extra treat to have them on some freshly baked hamburger buns, find the recipe in my post healthier hamburger buns.

Chocolate-Coffee Semifreddo With Italian Meringue

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Tomorrow is Valentine’s day and I decided to honor it with a chocolate creamy dessert.

I read plenty of recipes for chocolate mousse, including the original French version, as reported by Julia Child. However, I really did not like the idea of raw egg whites in the mixture. So I looked more, and came across a way to pasteurize egg whites. It is actually an Italian method, which gives you a cooked, fluffy, meringue, without… cooking. It is called indeed Italian meringue. What is genial about it is the fact that one can “cook” the egg mixture by simply adding to it boiling sugar syrup. My inventive Italians… if only we could use our brains also in administering our country… 

To balance the sweetness of the meringue I added bittersweet chocolate and coffee. It worked out wonderfully.

CHOCOLATE-COFFEE SEMIFREDDO WITH ITALIAN MERINGUE

You need: 5 egg whites, 200 g sugar, 50 g water, 200 g bittersweet 80% chocolate, 200 g double cream, 50 g strong coffee (I made it with 40 g of water and 2 table-spoons instant coffee). White chocolate for garnishing.

How to: Whip the cream and set aside. In a metal bowl, whip the egg whites with 50 g of the sugar, until white and fluffy. Meanwhile, melt the remaining 150 g of sugar with the water. When the syrup starts bubbling then it’s time to add it to the egg mixture, continuing to whisk until the mixture is cold again. You will have a firm Italian meringue. Melt the chocolate in the micro-wave and add to the whipped cream. Add the coffee and gently stir with a spoon. Incorporate gently to the meringue. Transfer into a plastic container and freeze. 

CONSIDERATIONS: This was… let me find the word… ridiculously good. I hope the quick shots I was able to take in the morning, before running to work, can render a little bit of the sultry creaminess of this dessert. It had  the consistency of a mousse after a couple of hours, and it was a perfect semifreddo after a night in the freezer. As explained to my sweet half -who had the treat as an early Valentine present- semifreddo means almost cold. And in fact it is something between a mousse and an ice-cream. Di-vi-ne. If you care for some decoration and extra taste, melt some white chocolate (in the micro is fine) and make the desired shapes on a baking paper sheet. Chocolate is never enough, isn’t it? Happy Valentine’s day to all of you!