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Sunday Slow Bakers Archives

April 12, 2008

Announcing: Sunday Slow Bakers

I came up with an idea that it would be fun to bake and blog each week. And a group of us on Slow Travel are going to do just that. Tomorrow will be the first entry in our baking challenge. There are about 8 of us with blogs and another 4 who don't have blogs but who will still be participating. I've listed the blogs in the sidebar below, so you can easily visit them.

Here's how it works: we pick a cookbook and each week a person on our list picks a recipe from that book. We all bake it sometime during the week and post the results on our blog on Sunday. Once we've worked (baked!) our way through the list of 12 people, we will pick a different book and start again.

DolceItalianoCoverSmall.gifThe book we're starting with is Dolce Italiano by Gina DePalma and the recipe we're starting with is my pick of Italian Crumbly Cake (sbrisolona) on page 82. The reason I chose this recipe is that it sounded different and comfortable all at the same time. She describes it as having a denser texture than most cakes and a real explosion of flavor—almonds and cinnamon. She says that it is one of those cakes that improves the next day. It would be the perfect thing to nibble on the next morning. So, it's essentially a coffee cake, a fancy delicious sounding one. The other thing that I like about this recipe is that it will force me to use a couple of ingredients that I've never used before: almond flour and "00" flour. Almond flour is simply blanched almonds that have been ground super-fine. Although it is finer than almond meal, in a pinch I suppose you could substitute commercially ground almond meal. "00" flour is found in Italy and is the finest and whitest type of ground flour but with the protein content similar to all-purpose flour.

So, I look forward to this baking challenge and dragging you along for the ride as we bake our way through book after book!

p.s Special thanks go to Jerry for coming up with name Sunday Slow Bakers!

April 13, 2008

Sunday Slow Bakers: Italian Crumbly Cake

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Italian Crumbly Cake from Dolce Italiano by Gine DePalma

Here is my first week's effort, just out of the oven. I meant to bake yesterday, but wouldn't you know it, we had a heat wave. It was 92! That is fairly epic in Santa Barbara and it was enough for me to do the shopping and laze around the garden all day with the fountain running. I didn't even get to cooking dinner until about 9:00. So, this morning I got up and immediately after my caffe latte, I started baking.

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The cake came together pretty quickly and easily. I used the almond flour and the "00" flour called for in the recipe. Since it only called for 1/4 cup of almond flour, I now have almost an entire package that I will have to find a way to use, which shouldn't be too hard—especially if I make this cake again.

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The batter was a bit stiffer than I am used to and definitely needed a spatula to spread it into the pan. I'm glad the recipe mentioned that or I might have been alarmed by the stiffness of the batter. The recipe called for baking 25 to 30 minutes. After checking it at 25 and 30, I let it go a few more minutes because the toothpick was still coming out wet. I think the top got browned a bit more than it should have, but it does look nice and toasty. Next time I would go ahead and take it out of the oven, I think it would be fine. Also, I used slivered almonds with skins, rather than the blanched almonds specified in the recipe. So, mine has an overall browner look, which I rather like.

The flavor of this cake is exactly as described in the book. It is dense and delicious with a perfect crunch of almonds on top. It would be wonderful to serve with brunch or afternoon tea. My husband thought it would be good served after dinner with ice cream. I like the fact that the steps are simple and the ingredient list not too elaborate. The trick was finding the "00" flour and the almond flour, but once you have that, it's a snap. I definitely plan on making it again. It's a real keeper.

April 20, 2008

Sunday Slow Bakers: Sicilian Pistachio Cookie Bars

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This week's baking challenge was Sicilian Pistachio Cookies chosen by Deborah over at Old Shoes - New Trip. I'm not sure that I've ever even made cookie bars. I'm more of the drop, roll, press or cut type of cookie baker. So this was a new thing for me. I liked the idea that this would be easier to make than shaped cookies, but I somehow I managed to fuss over them just as much as if I was creating each individual one.

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I followed the recipe exactly and made it easy on myself by buying a bag of already shelled pistachios. I found that the batter was stiff one and spreading it in the jelly roll pan was a challenge for me. I think it took longer to spread than it did to assemble the ingredients and make the batter. I did use an offset spatula as the recipe called for, and I think that helped. But getting it perfectly even, especially the corners just didn't happen for me. When I took it out of the oven and saw my ragged browned edges I thought they were a disaster.

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But, as in baking, as in life, things are frequently not as bad as they seem at first. After they cooled and I started cutting them, I realized that is exactly the beauty of bar cookies. You can cut off the bad edges! Not only that, but you can nibble on those toasty edges and they taste pretty amazingly good. So, I proceeded to cut up my bars on the bias to give me diamond shaped cookies and I took a plate of 2 dozen to a garden party that day. Everyone loved them and they went very well with the mint ice tea that the hostess served.

Later that night I took another dozen over to my neighbors and my neighbor Harriet declared them wonderful. She really loved the buttery, nutty quality to them. I think they are a perfect tea cookie with subtle flavors of lemon and pistachio. And since I still have a bunch of odd ends and broken pieces, I plan on enjoying them later today with some tea. Thank you Deborah!

April 27, 2008

Sunday Slow Bakers: Babbo Breadsticks

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Departing from the sweet side, this week's Sunday Slow Bakers challenge (chosen by Colleen) was Babbo Breadsticks from Gina DePalma's Dolce Italiano. In the recipe notes Gina refers to their rough, homemade appearance and I think I really took to this description. My breadsticks were irregular, somewhat lumpy in spots and definitely rustic looking. But I did take another bit of her advice and presented them standing up in a tall pretty glass. Not only does it look better, but it makes it really easy to keep grabbing another to snack on. Did I mention that these things are addictive?

These breadsticks are really flavorful. The small amount of cayenne pepper (1/2 teaspoon) adds just the right amount of spiciness. And the 1/2 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for garnish, makes them deliciously cheesy.

The recipe is pretty straightforward. I followed her directions, but didn't use her suggestion for making it ahead and letting it rise overnight in the refrigerator. I planned to eat them the same day I started them. But that is a good suggestion if you are making them for a party.

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I used the dough hook on my stand mixer and the dough came out smooth though a little sticky. I found that I needed plenty of flour on my hands and board to work with it. After letting it rise for two hours, I began forming my breadsticks.

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So, I really fussed over the first one. I got out the tape measure so I could get it 14 inches and I tried to roll it as evenly as possible. Of course it still looked pretty rough and I realized that if I was going to do 30 of them that it was going to take hours. So I set aside the tape measure and just grabbed each bit of dough and rolled them out fast and furious. I rolled them vertically between my two palms with the classic preschool technique that one uses when making brightly colored play-doh snakes. Yes, they looked rustic, but they got done and into the oven before everyone starved to death.

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I tried baked half on parchment paper (as the recipe directed) and half on Silpat liners. I couldn't tell the difference between the two, so in the interest of saving paper, I might do them just on the Silpat next time. Gina says that the recipe makes about 30 and I ended up with exactly 32. She suggests using 3 baking sheets with 10 to 11 per sheet. I only have two racks in my oven and only two baking sheets, so I did them in two batches. I reused the parchment paper on the second batch and it didn't seem to be a problem. Mine did take a couple minutes longer—16 minutes instead of the 12-14 minutes in the recipe—so my oven might be slightly off.

Once out of the oven, they do not take long to cool. You should pick the ugliest one and sample it right away. They are delicious while still warm, so I like her idea of reheating them before serving. But I also served them cool with dinner and no one complained. They went quite nicely with a Caprese Salad and some Shrimp Scampi. Luckily, there are still some left and I'll see how they taste the next day. I can't promise, however, that any will last the two days that she says they will last. Did I mention that these things are addictive?

May 4, 2008

Sunday Slow Bakers: Grappa-Soaked Mini Sponge Cakes

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Palma did me a big favor this week by choosing the Grappa-Soaked Mini Sponge Cakes for our Sunday Slow Bakers challenge. You see, unbeknownst to Palma, I needed to bring a dessert to a dinner party and these fit the bill perfectly. This dinner party is with a group of three other couples who love to cook and eat. We meet once a quarter, rotating the locations so that we each host once a year. The host makes the main course and the other couples bring a dish. (You can read about when it was my turn to host here.) This time it was my turn to bring a dessert. Oh, and there is always a theme. This time the theme was exotic.

Now, Grappa-Soaked Mini Sponge Cakes are fairly exotic, but for my purposes I ended up making a few substitutions, a few additions and luckily everything turned out well. My apologies to Gina DePalma for tinkering with her lovely recipe, but sometimes you're just forced to experiment.

SSBspongecakes5.jpgTo start off, I didn't have the mini bundt cake pans that the recipe called for. I probably should have just bought a couple on Amazon, but I waited until the last minute thinking that my local Williams-Sonoma would carry them. When I finally got into the store to check, they didn't have any. I ended up picking up a mini shortcake pan at World Market. I liked the idea of the indented top that you could fill with fruit, so I figured it was a practical enough substitution.

The next hitch in the plan was that I didn't have any grappa in the house. So they didn't end up grappa soaked either. I did have a bottle of a delicious pistachio liqueur that I used to soak them with, and in the cake batter I used a vanilla rum. The batter came together easily and since I only had one pan of six shortcakes, I baked a couple batches. If I were to do these on a regular basis, I would definitely invest in another pan. But the baking of these cakes is pretty straightforward and that left me with plenty of energy to agonize over what to serve with them.

Sponge cake by itself is a bit boring. Even boozing it up doesn't seem to make it dessert on it's own. It may be fine perhaps to eat a piece with your caffe latte in the morning (which is actually what I did with one of my leftover cakes this morning—delicious!), but for a dinner party, I think a bigger effort needed to be made.

Since the theme of my dessert needed to be exotic, I went the tropical fruit route. I bought some passion fruit, a cherimoya and some tropical guavas at our farmers market. I also picked up a few mangos from the grocery store. When I cut up the fruit and mixed it together, I found that I didn't like the taste of the tropical guavas, so I ended up leaving them out. I also raided my herb bed for some nasturtium flowers which I used for garnish and I even mixed in a bunch of the petals into the fruit for added color.

Then, since fruit and cake didn't seem to be enough, I made banana ice cream. I used a recipe from Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert and added some spices to it to jazz it up a bit. The recipe couldn't be simpler: mash up 4 or 5 ripe bananas, add about 3 tablespoons of sugar, a cup of heavy cream and season with a little salt, freshly ground all spice and cinnamon. You don't need to make a custard or make it the night before, just chill the the mixture for an hour or so and freeze in your ice cream maker. How easy is that? And it's really delicious, super creamy and full of banana flavor.

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So, there you have it: my Pistachio-Soaked Mini Shortbread-Shaped Sponge Cakes with Tropical Fruit and Banana Ice Cream. Thanks again to Palma for picking a recipe that worked so well with what I needed this weekend. I know she had no idea that I needed a recipe for an exotic dessert (unless among her other talents she is gifted in ESP!). But that does seem to be the beauty of this baking group. We have picked a really good variety of recipes, and I just keep looking forward to each week's challenge.

P.S. I have to say that some of the other slow bakers adapted the recipe beautifully to all sorts of pan shapes and sizes, including my personal favorite Jerry's easter egg cakes!

May 11, 2008

Sunday Slow Bakers: Lemony Semolina Cookies

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This week's Sunday Slow Bakers selection made by Jerry is one of my all-time favorites. I made these cookies last February for the Slow Travel Get Together in Paso Robles and they were devoured. There is something about the distinctive lemon flavor and the perfect texture of these cookies that makes them irresistible. You get the lemon flavor three ways—lemon zest, lemon juice and limoncello. Yes, there is limoncello in these cookies, and I bet it would be safe to say that they would taste delicious after dinner with a small glass of that same limoncello. It is certainly an experiment worth trying.

As for the other other secret ingredient, which is really not so secret given that it's in the title of the cookies, the semolina is clearly adding something to the texture of these cookies. Semolina is what gives really good bread that tasty crust. It also adds another jolt of yellow color, so the cookies look as appealing as they taste.

The cookies are not overly sweet, although they are rolled in granular sugar before baking so they have an initial crunchy, sweetness when you bite into them. They are very easy to eat. The seven I put on the plate above would be a good starting point for a serving size. Luckily the recipe makes about 5 dozen, so you should have enough to share with loved ones. And they are easy to make.

The dough comes together quickly in a KitchenAid mixer and then it is chilled for an hour to firm up. One thing that almost tripped me up was that when I first read the recipe I mistakenly read the ingredients calling for one egg yolk and one egg white. So I only took one egg out of the refrigerator. Then as I was mixing the dough, I thought it seemed crazy to separate the egg only to add them one right after the other. So I looked back at the ingredient list and it read one egg and one egg yolk. This makes far more sense and even though you'll end up throwing away an egg white (or saving it for scrambled eggs later), I think the extra yolk adds a little more richness and more of that sunny yellow color.

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I used a teaspoon to scoop the dough into balls and it seemed to work well. I rolled them in the granulated sugar and then put them on my baking sheets as directed.

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Mine took one minute less in the oven before they turned slightly golden at the edges, so a good reminder to always check before the minimum time stated in the recipe.

Oh, and I have to warn you that they are insanely good eaten warm just out of the oven. You may possibly be tempted to eat every other one as you transfer them from the baking sheet to a rack. But do resist, because they are also delicious eaten hours later at room temperature with a cup of tea.

May 18, 2008

Sunday Slow Bakers: Grape and Hazelnut Tart

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Kim selected the Grape and Hazelnut Tart for this week's Sunday Slow Bakers. Kim was really a big inspiration for even starting the Sunday Slow Bakers. Last fall after she got the book Dolce Italiano she started baking and blogging about the recipes. I was intrigued and ended up getting the book. Then I thought of doing the baking blogging thing as a group effort after reading about Tuesdays with Dorie - a similar group baking and blogging effort. The difference with the Sunday Slow Bakers is that we are not going to confine ourselves to one book. After we work through our list of participants, we will move on to another book. But for now, I am quite glad that we are baking our way through Dolce Italiano.

The Grape and Hazelnut Tart is a very different and delicious dessert. This is a tart to make for a really elegant dinner party. It is rich and slightly decadent tasting, which is unusual to find in a dessert that doesn't involve chocolate. It is similar to a frangipane pear tart that I typically make around the holidays — the hazelnuts standing in for the almonds and the grapes instead of wine poached pears. The fact that all you need to do is slice the grapes and set them on top of the filling makes this much easier to make than my pear version which has to be started the day before so that the pears can sit in their poaching liquid overnight in the refrigerator.

I used Gina's Sweet Tart Crust as recommended and found that it was a little stickier and harder to deal with than my usual tart pastry. But I managed to get it into the tart pan with no problems. Now, I did use a slightly larger tart pan than called for in the recipe. I used an 11-inch pan instead of a 10-inch pan. Luckily that didn't seem hurt. I had plenty of filling, and I used about a pound of grapes, just as called for in the recipe. I also deviated slightly from the recipe by using some framboise instead of grappa to toss over the cut grapes. I didn't have grappa and I figured the hint of raspberry in the framboise would work just fine. And I think it did.

My grapes were very large. It's not grape season yet, so I picked up some Black Seedless grapes imported from Peru at my local Trader Joe's. I don't know what variety these grapes are, but they are huge. I cut them lengthwise because I thought if I cut them the other way they would stick up like pillars and possibly get the tops singed off! They also reminded me of small dark purple plums, and it got me thinking that this recipe would probably be delicious with plums.

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But all those rows of concentric circles do look pretty with grapes and you especially see the pattern before it goes in the oven. After it comes out, the nut filling puffs up and browns slightly. It's still a very attractive tart but the grapes can get partly covered up. Don't worry, you're going to be cutting into this tart just as soon as it cools, or maybe even before it cools.

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A slice of this tart does not need to be large. It is rich. But it is also tasty enough that you should probably give people a large slice, because they will undoubtedly eat it. Enjoy!

May 25, 2008

Sunday Slow Bakers: Zucchini-Olive Oil Cake with Lemon Crunch Glaze

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Zucchini-Olive Oil Cake with Lemon Crunch Glaze—a slightly long name for what is essentially a simple Bundt cake—was this week's Sunday Slow Bakers selection. It was selected by Jan who writes the blog "Keep your Feet in the Street," a fellow blogger with similar interests who has a blog title as long as my own. But this zucchini cake's title has us both beat, it's 8 words long and, more importantly, at least 8 times better than any zucchini bread recipe that I've ever made.

Is is the sweet lemony glaze or the moist and flavorful interior of the cake that makes it so delicious? I'm not sure, but I love this cake. It is just the sort of vegetable-embracing, olive-oil-using cake that everyone should make more often. I plan to.

To start off, it is a forgiving recipe. It reminds me of my favorite carrot cake recipe where you can forget to leave out a minor ingredient or run short of something and it never fails to turn out great. I suspect that this is the case with the zucchini cake because I ran short of walnuts so I threw in some hazelnuts and then I completely forgot to toast them, and don't think my cake suffered one bit. I bet you could even get creative with the recipe and add different spices or some citrus zest instead of one of the spices, and you would get equally delicious, if slightly different, results. I really like that in a recipe. It's often the sort of thing that makes me want to make it again and again.

And at the height of zucchini season this summer, we may all want to make it again and again. The cake calls for 2 1/2 cups of grated zucchini or 2 small zucchini. My zucchini must be a little on the small size because it took 3 of them to get 2 1/2 cups and now that I know what size produces this amount, I won't need to measure next time.

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I'd like to think that adding a bunch of zucchini to a cake makes it healthy. Well, it's still cake, the main ingredients are still flour and sugar. But it doesn't hurt that zucchini is low in calories and high in vitamin C as well as a number of other vitamins and minerals.

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If you wanted to cut down on the sugar, you could leave out the glaze which has a cup and a third of sugar. The cake is delicious enough on it's own that it doesn't need the glaze. But somehow I can't imagine willingly giving up one of my favorite aspects of this cake. I think there is a reason that Gina specifically mentions the glaze in the name of the recipe. It is, literally, the icing on the cake. So, if my favorite cake during the winter is gingerbread, then this is my new favorite cake for summer. I've always been a fan of zucchini, but now I am looking forward to zucchini season with a new intensity. And if your garden has a glut of zucchini, you really must make this recipe or perhaps send a few of them my way...

June 4, 2008

Sunday Slow Bakers: Chocolate Polenta Tart

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I have some catching up to do! This tardy entry is last Sunday's Slow Bakers selection. Picked by Marcia, this one was a real winner. I deviated slightly by making a bunch of mini tarts instead of one big tart, so that I could bring them to an appetizer party and serve them as a finger food dessert. They were a huge hit.

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Here's a closer shot so you can see how gorgeous they were. The crust was sweet and slightly lemony from the lemon zest and the filling was dark, moist and delicious. I think if it was baked as a full size tart and served in wedges that you would get even more of the chocolate flavor. The mini tarts by their nature give you more crust per square inch of filling. Luckily in this case the crust is extremely flavorful. You really can't go wrong either way, I guess.

June 8, 2008

Sunday Slow Bakers: Bittersweet Chocolate and Hazelnut Cookies

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It's Sunday already! Somehow the week flew by and all those extra blog entries that I meant to write got away from me. But today it's time for Marta's selection of the Bittersweet Chocolate and Hazelnut Cookies for this week's Sunday Slow Bakers. I was very excited to try this recipe. For one I would be able to use up some of the hazelnuts that I bought the other week for the Hazelnut and Grape Tart. But more importantly, I love chocolate and I love hazelnuts, so I thought this would be a winning combination. Also, after reading the recipe it sounded like this would be similar to a chocolate crinkle cookie that I've seen pictures of but have never tried. They are chocolate cookies that are covered in powdered sugar and when they are baked they crack and show the chocolate cookie beneath, while still retaining a dense coat of powdered sugar. Here's an example.

But as you can see from my photo at the top of this entry, this recipe does not produce chocolate crinkle cookies. They may be rolled in powdered sugar, but some other chemistry is at work here that I don't fully understand because they turn out not so much crackled as glazed. That may not necessarily be a bad thing. They do taste good. And they have chocolate and hazelnuts in them, which it turns out is a winning combination in a cookie.

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For chocolate I used the Valrona 3.5 ounce bars that are readily found at Trader Joe's. The recipe called for either bittersweet or semisweet chocolate and I happened to have both on hand. So, since it called for 5 ounces, I used one bar of the 72 percent bittersweet and part of a bar of 52 percent semisweet. Just how much of the second bar to use presented a quandary as I struggled to figure out the math. Why don't they put one ounce divisions on chocolate bars? I ended up using just slightly less than half of that bar, and I'm sure it was close enough. I suppose if I really want to be exact I will have to replace the battery in my scale and start weighing things.

The rest of the recipe was easy and straightforward. The batter is thick but definitely needs to be chilled before rolling to make it easier to shape into balls.

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After the first batch came out of the oven, and I realized that all my powdered sugar had pretty much dissolved, I tried packing on a thicker layer of powdered sugar. It still didn't have the effect I was looking for. So I decided to be happy with what I had. I mentioned this to my husband (who by the way pronounced them delicious), and he jokingly asked if I couldn't add my cracked texture to the photo using Photoshop. Well, actually there is a filter in Photoshop called Craquelure, and I couldn't resist trying it. So, here you have my before and after shots—with and without the Craquelure filter, which really goes to show that you can always count on Photoshop to bail you out!

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June 15, 2008

Sunday Slow Bakers: Obsessive Ricotta Cheesecake

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Sandi over at Whistlestop Cafe Cooking chose this week's recipe for Sunday Slow Bakers. I'm not usually a huge cheesecake fan. I like it well enough when it's good, but often I find it overly sweet and way too rich. When it's served after dinner, I can only eat a couple bites and then I'm done. I've never had ricotta cheesecake though, so I wondered if it it was different. Luckily Sandi picked this recipe. This is one of those times when I'm really glad to be part of the Sunday Slow Bakers. I'm trying things that I never would have tried on my own.

The recipe called for fresh ricotta cheese (4 cups - a lot!) but I used the packaged ricotta that Trader Joe's sells. I learned later from Amy that fresh ricotta is sweeter and thicker, which made me wonder how my cheesecake would come out. My worry was that it would not firm up enough. When I took it out of the oven it was quite jiggly. In her recipe Gina says that it should be a bit jiggly but not liquid. I cooled it, chilled it overnight in the refrigerator and hoped for the best.

This afternoon my neighbors came over bringing along a visiting relative. So I served them the cheesecake after a big warning that I wasn't sure how it had turned out. When I took the sides off from the springform pan it had almost cracked in two, but I managed to carefully get it off leaving the cheesecake in one piece. I didn't dare take the cheesecake off the base of the springform pan, because I knew that would send it over the edge or into a messy pile. So I left it on the bottom and set it on a pedestal. I carefully cut it into slices and served it with some fresh strawberries.

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It was very light and extremely tasty. It was not very sweet and definitely not too rich. I could get used to this kind of cheesecake. The almond crumb crust was thin and only added a subtle flavor. I used lemon zest instead of the candied citrus fruit, so mine had a very slight lemony flavor. With the strawberries it was really delicious. I think it might not be enough of a traditional cheesecake for some people. I would think carefully about serving it as a dessert for a dinner party. But it was definitely my kind of cheesecake. I ate an entire slice and actually started planning when I might have another. I think that would be right about now.

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June 22, 2008

Sunday Slow Bakers: Strawberries in Chianti with Black Pepper Ricotta Cream

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Thank Amy for selecting something this week for the Sunday Slow Bakers that didn't require turning on the oven. We have had a serious heat wave here in Santa Barbara, and I think last night was the hottest I've ever been in our house. Baking would have been extremely unpleasant.

Yet I had a small dinner party, and I needed to do something for dessert. It was actually a few weeks ago that I made this recipe for the the first time. If I had been smart I would have photographed and written about then and been done with it. But the truth of the matter is that I wasn't terribly wild about the dessert. I didn't like the black pepper in the cream and the chianti took away a little of the flavor of the strawberries for me. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't my thing.

So last night I thought I would leave the strawberries plain, and I would skip the black pepper completely. Instead I added a little bit of freshly grated allspice to the cream as I mixed it. I also cut back on the ricotta. I opted for a one to one ratio of the cream and ricotta. So one cup of ricotta instead of one and a quarter cups. It definitely tasted better to me. I don't think I added enough allspice, so a few cranks of the mill was not enough. I should have added more like a teaspoon or perhaps a different spice or mixture of spices. Some freshly grated nutmeg would have been nice.

For my dinner party I served it, not plain in the pretty dessert glass pictured above, but with ice cream. (I have to confess I just made that one so that I could photograph it.) My friend, Harriet, brought some of her homemade strawberry ice cream and I made some chocolate sorbet, so the strawberries were merely part of a trio.

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Looking at the photo now it reminds me of the ice cream of my childhood: Neapolitan. Remember that? All summer there would be cartons of that in our freezer. It came in a half gallon rectangular carton that had a stripe of each flavor: vanilla, strawberry and chocolate. I think you were meant to serve it in slices, so that each person had an equal amount of each. But we always seemed to serve it in scoops, and I always wanted more chocolate than the other two flavors. I don't think I've had Neapolitan ice cream since I was about 14 years old, but the image of it does seem to be imprinted on my brain.

This dessert, of course, really has nothing to do with Neapolitan ice cream other than triggering the memory for me. Though it wasn't a knock your socks off kind of dessert, I think it turned out very well. The strawberry ice cream was very flavorful and not overly sweet. The chocolate sorbet was a dark almost bittersweet chocolate flavor that would have been too strong on its own. And the strawberries added a nice balance to all that. It didn't hurt that I found some dead ripe, juicy and delicious strawberries at the Farmer's Market that morning. And best of all it was a cool refreshing dessert that did not require the oven.

June 29, 2008

Sunday Slow Bakers: Chocolate and Tangerine Semifreddo

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Nancy chose this decadently delicious Chocolate and Tangerine Semifreddo for this week's Sunday Slow Bakers. A semifreddo is an Italian semi-frozen dessert. They are sometimes combinations of gelato and cakes or cookies. This one is a frozen custard with almost a mousse-like texture with bits of chocolate cookies mixed in and elegantly garnished with a chocolate sauce and chopped pistachios. There is a distinct tangerine flavor, so if you are partial to the combination of orange and chocolate, you will love this dessert. If you are not partial to the flavors of chocolate and tangerine, you can do what Palma did and substitute the tangerine for a coffee flavor (read the details on her blog).

But what if you are not only partial to the flavor of orange and chocolate but downright love it? Then this dessert will make you very happy. When I first tasted a little sample as I was making it, I was transported to my childhood when my mother would buy little bags of chocolate covered orange peels for us to share while we were shopping. In the earliest days these were bought at the candy counter at Sears. It's hard to imagine now, but back then every Sears had a candy and popcorn counter. In later years, the only place to find chocolate covered orange peels was at a fancy chocolate shop. Chocolate covered orange peels seemed to fall out of fashion. I think they are still hard to find. I was thrilled to find them easily in Sicily when we were there several years ago with my parents. It did seem to be quite appropriate that I bought a little bag of them to share with my mother.

As for this recipe, it may not be a chocolate covered orange peel, but it is a delicious dessert worthy of a dinner party or any type of celebration, especially if you want something cold that doesn't require turning the oven on to make. You do need to plan ahead, though. It needs about 6 hours in the freezer, but unlike ice cream, you don't need an ice cream maker.

In the middle of summer it may be hard to find tangerines, so you can easily substitute oranges. But for some reason my tangerine tree was late this year and it is currently covered with tiny but sweet tangerines. When I say tiny, I do mean that they are tiny—the majority are the size of a large marble. The recipe calls for 2 tangerines to get 3/4 cup of juice. It took 16 of mine to get 3/4 cup of juice!

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For the chocolate cookies, I took a tip from Nancy and used the Cat Cookies for People from Trader Joe's that you can see in the photo above. I also substituted agave syrup for the corn syrup called for in the recipe for the chocolate sauce. But I followed the rest of the recipe faithfully, and it all turned out perfectly. After it was thoroughly frozen, I dipped the loaf pan in hot water and inverted it onto a platter for slicing and serving as you see it in the photo at the top of this entry.

My only warning about this dessert is that it is actually very rich and downright decadent. And I doubt I could ever eat it without thinking of my childhood chocolate covered orange peels.

July 6, 2008

Sunday Slow Bakers: Almond Fingers

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It wasn't just another Sunday Slow Baking day, at least here in Santa Barbara. The Gap Fire just north of us in Goleta have been causing power outages for the last several days, so naturally just when I was ready to start baking, we lost power. It came back on a little while later, and I quickly made a batch of these Almond Finger Cookies. But then it went out again before I had a chance to download photos and blog about them. We are back up and running now, so I think I will barely manage to get my entry posted before it's no longer Sunday.

I am so glad I made the effort to bake these cookies! Thank you, Terry, for picking these Almond Fingers for this week's Sunday Slow Bakers. They didn't sound all that exciting when I first read the recipe, but wow, was I surprised. If you have even the slightest fondness for almonds, you will be taken with these cookies. The cookie itself is made with almond flour, which seems to give it an absolutely perfect texture. Then the flavor of all those almonds on top just enhance it further.

I used Bob's Red Mill Almond Flour, but it's pricey (about $10 for a 16-ounce package). If I hadn't already had some in my pantry, I would have substituted the almond meal that they sell at Trader Joe's. I did buy my sliced almonds at Trader Joe's. I debated between the sliced almonds that had the skins vs. the sliced almonds that were blanched but had been toasted. I finally decided on the toasted almonds, thinking that since they were going to be baked anyway, what's a little extra toasted flavor? As it turned out, the toasted flavor of the almonds really makes these cookies extraordinary, so I think I made the right decision.

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The technique for getting the almonds on the cookie dough is to turn them in a dish of beaten egg white, and then roll them in the almonds. I found that it wasn't so much rolling them in almonds as it was pressing the almonds onto the dough. Egg white is more slippery than sticky, so you really have to flatten the cookies into the almonds to get them thoroughly covered. It takes a little bit of time.

But back to the dough for a second. I chilled my dough (in a refrigerator with the power off) for longer than the time called for, but it was still a little tricky to work with. When I first rolled the dough on a wooden board, it started sticking like crazy. So I dragged out my marble pastry slab and that made it a little easier.

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Even though the recipe calls for rolling them into little logs, you don't have to be terribly precise about them. They are going to get squished when you coat them with the almonds. Each one ends up having a rustic one of a kind look to it. I believe you are supposed to sprinkle them with powdered sugar, but I didn't see that in the recipe. Perhaps mine look a little less elegant, but I think they have an even more intense almond flavor without the extra sugar. I love them just the way they are.

I still have a third of the dough in my now fully functioning refrigerator, so I will probably do another batch tomorrow night, power willing. And a little loss of power is a minor thing compared to what most people in the fire area are going through. I am fortunate that we live far enough away from this fire that we are not concerned with being evacuated. But my thoughts are with all of those who have been evacuated from their homes or are on standby. Let me know if you need any cookies.

July 13, 2008

Sunday Slow Bakers: Sweet Apple Omelet

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This week we didn't have to feel guilty about eating our weekly treat for breakfast. It really was a breakfast dish. But perhaps not one that we were used to eating. When I first told my husband we would be having a sweet apple omelet for breakfast, he didn't seem thrilled. The words "sweet" and "omelet" don't really go together for him, and he's always preferred savory things for breakfast.

Well, this was a good change of pace. Thank you Maria of the blog My Place in the Sun for picking something that I never would have tried for our Sunday Slow Bakers. And once again, Gina has provided us with a winning recipe.

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Apples are not yet in season, but I decided to pick up a couple from the grocery store and keep to the original recipe. I probably could have just as well used peaches or another fruit in season, because this does seem like a pretty flexible recipe. I would also love to try it again with some really fresh, tart apples when they hit the farmers market this fall. After I cut up my apples, I added a squeeze of lemon juice to them—partly to keep them from turning brown while I got everything else ready and partly to give them a little more of tart flavor.

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I sauteed the apples and then cleaned the pan and used it again for the omelet to keep the number of dirty pans to a minimum. I think you could also heat the butter and honey in the same pan right after you saute the apples. I didn't think of that until after I had dirtied a small pan. But next time this will be a one pan dish.

After I sauteed the apples, I used a little framboise instead of grappa, because that is what I had on hand. I also sprinkled the apples with a tiny pinch of kosher salt, just to offset the sweetness slightly. I'm not sure it made much difference, but I would try a little more next time.

The omelet came together quickly and easily for me, which was nice because I'm more of a frittata girl. I always worry that I'm going to overcook an omelet. But this one turned out perfectly.

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The eggs were light, the apples delicious and the combination of sweet and eggy is a real winning one. The whole house smelled like apple pie, too. My husband ate it right up, and I decided that I have a new favorite breakfast dish.

July 20, 2008

Sunday Slow Bakers: Citrus Polenta Cake

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This week's Sunday Slow Bakers selection by Ida was a perfect birthday cake for someone who likes light lemony things. And that would be me.

I had some help this week from my neighbor's visiting niece, Kimber. She and I baked brownies the last time she visited, so I was happy to have her join me on my Sunday baking. I actually wish we had a bigger challenge for her this week. This cake was really very simple and easy. It doesn't have very many ingredients and goes together quickly.

We followed the recipe almost exactly. I only had to make one tiny substitution—I used 2 lemons and an orange instead of a lemon, a lime and an orange. But I don't think the cake suffered. I almost ran out of powdered sugar, but my neighbor saved me there. So everything went quite smoothly.

My tasters agreed that it was quite tasty, with a distinctive lemony flavor and a great texture. You could easily serve this as a nice, light finish to big meal. Or you could enhance it a little with some fresh fruit or even some homemade ice cream (raspberry sorbet would be delicious). It also makes a nice afternoon cake with tea. But I wouldn't want to go and put 43 birthday candles on it, or anything like that. No, not that.

July 27, 2008

Sunday Slow Bakers: Taralli with Red Pepper and Oregano

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It hardly seems possible but next week is the final week of baking our way through Dolce Italiano as the Sunday Slow Bakers. This week was an interesting choice by Cindy Ruth, who has the very entertaining blog, Baked Alaska. I'm glad Cindy chose something different, something like the apple omelet that I never would have chosen to make out of this book. And something that I thought seemed strange, but ended up enjoying quite a bit.

Gina described these as a sort of Italian version of pretzel. But they seemed almost like a cross between a breadstick and bagel to me. The dough has no yeast, but is given lots of flavor with fresh oregano and red pepper flakes. Gina says you can try different flavor combinations, but I can see why she gave this rather spicy version. The heat of the peppers is addicting.

I did mine in two batches. I worked quickly because I needed to get them done for a dinner party that I had tonight. So my first batch looked a little sloppy, I think I got them to look a little better in the second batch. But these clearly have a rustic vibe going on. I also found that they took a little longer to bake than the 25 minutes specified, so on the second batch I used the convection setting on my oven, which sped things up and they were golden brown in just the right amount of time.

So, we had a nice savory snack this week. And next week for our final recipe we'll have gelato, which will be a fitting transition to our next book... more about that later.

August 3, 2008

Sunday Slow Bakers: Toasted Almond Gelato

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This was a bittersweet week. Not the toasted almond gelato—that was deliciously sweet. But sadly this was the last week that the Sunday Slow Bakers 'baked' from "Dolce Italiano." We chose to do a gelato in preparation of our next book "The Perfect Scoop." But before I explain all about that, I want to devote this entry to Gina's amazing Toasted Almond Gelato and to talk about how the book "Dolce Italiano" has transformed my baking.

When I first saw the book "Dolce Italiano" by Gina DePalma, I had a feeling that these were my kind of dessert recipes. And rather than just read about them and maybe try one or two, which is what I usually end up doing with cookbooks, I thought it would be an interesting idea to get a group of people to bake from the book on a weekly basis. Luckily there were more than a dozen Slow Travelers who were willing to do just that, and the Sunday Slow Bakers was formed.

Each week one of us chose a recipe and, as you can see from my blog and the others who have blogged, there has been an incredible variety. From cookies to cakes to breadsticks and to our finale gelato, what a wonderful adventure in the kitchen it has been. There were weeks when we really wondered where would find the ingredients. There were times when I was sure mine was going to be a disaster. There were times when we confessed to eating the results a little too quickly. There were definitely those of us who strayed from the recipe and tried something different. But every week looking at everyone's photos and comparing notes was truly inspiring.

I think the whole process made me a better baker. Not only was I trying recipes that I probably wouldn't have, but I really paid attention to what I was doing, keeping track of any substitutions or deviations from the recipe and sometimes documenting every step with a photo. And with every recipe, I had Gina's wonderful notes and sidebars to refer to. At times her cookbook reads like a novel. She has the most thorough ingredient notes and historical references in a cookbook that I have ever seen. When you cook from her book every week, it's as though she is with you in your kitchen every week.

So, I know I will be turning to these recipes again and again in the future. Just because we are moving onto to another book, doesn't mean that I am done with "Dolce Italiano." Far from it. Not only do I have some of my all-time favorites to trot out when I need them, but there are still some recipes that I simply must try.

Now about this week's bittersweet gelato, oops, I mean Toasted Almond Gelato. It was divine. It was creamy, yet light. It was just rich enough and just sweet enough without being too much of either. As you can see from my photo, I served it with some strawberries, which was lovely. But this would have been equally fine all on its own. The recipe makes four generous servings, and that's it. So when I served it as dessert at a dinner party of four, there were no leftovers. None. Keep that in mind. You may want to make two batches.

Thank you Gina, for a wonderful book and a wonderful experience. You have touched my life, and I wish you all the best.

And thank you Deborah, Colleen, Palma, Jerry, Kim, Jan, Marcia, Marta, Sandi, Amy, Nancy, Terry, Maria, Ida, and Cindy for embarking on this adventure with me. I look forward to our next!

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to In and Out of the Garden: A Blog in the Sunday Slow Bakers category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Recipes is the previous category.

Sunday Slow Scoopers is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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