Sweets of Italy

Buon giorno! I just returned from 10 days in Italy which included 10 days worth of Italian sweets and amazing food! We had an unique opportunity to enjoy three cities in Italy: Rome, Florence and Venice.

Italy has many exciting sites to see including: the Colosseum, Roman baths, the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, canals in Venice or Duomo in Florence. However, the food and dining is an experience all in itself. Italians take their food seriously and dinner usually consists of multiple courses, laced with wine, and topped off with something sweet. Dinner starts at 8 or 9 pm, and don’t expect to eat and run! Enjoy a glass of wine or a spritz and take it all in.

Antipasto: This literally means before (anti) the meal (pasto). Common options for this course are cheese plates, meat plate, olives, bruschetta, or salads. Also small baskets of bread and/or bread sticks are served. The fresh mozzarella is out of this world!

 

Primo Piatto: This is the first (primo) course (piatto), and is almost always pasta but can also include risotto or gnocchi. The serving size is typically appropriate for a second course which leaves enough room for the other two.

 

Secondo Piatto: The second (secondo) course (piatto) is the protein course of meat or fish, sometimes with a small side of vegetables.

 

Dolce: The best course of all, dessert. Because of all the previous courses, Italian desserts are usually fairly light. After dinner, it’s common to enjoy a drink a digestif, like limoncello (lemon liquor), or an espresso to help digest the meal they just enjoyed.

Tiramisu: a classic dessert with ladyfingers dipped in coffee, layered with a whipped mixture of eggs, sugar, and mascarpone cheese and dusted with coco powder.

Sfogliatella (lobster tail) and Cannoli:  Sfogliatella is an incredibly flaky, shell-shaped pastry, usually filled with cream (pictured below with strawberries on top). Sfogliatella means “small, thin leaf/layer”, as the pastry’s texture resembles stacked leaves. Cannoli are tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough and are filled with a sweet, creamy ricotta filling (pictured below with powdered sugar).

 

Torrone and Meringue: Torrone is a soft nougat confection that is typically made of honey, sugar and egg whites, with toasted almonds or other nuts. It’s usually shaped into either a rectangular or round cake (pictured on the left). We saw these all over sold in slices and in a variety of flavors. Meringue is a light, airy and sweet confections made from egg whites and sugar (pictured on the right). There were large piles of meringue sold in pastry shops in various flavors.

 

Gelato: The crown jewel (in my opinion) of Italian treats. Gelato started in Italy and can now be enjoyed all over the world. It is made with a base of milk, cream and sugar. It is lower in fat, but higher in sugar, than other types of ice cream. Gelato typically has less air and more flavoring than other kinds of frozen desserts, giving it a rich and dense flavor. This is why the serving sizes are typically smaller than what you would see in the US and they serve it with a tiny spoon. Common flavors are: Cioccolato (chocolate), pistacchio (pistachio), nocciola (hazelnut), crema (like vanilla), cocco (coconut) caffè (espresso), fragola (strawberry), limone (lemon).

 

If you are considering taking a trip overseas to Italy, I would highly recommend it. It’s worth the gelato alone. Save travels- ciao!

 

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Strawberry Shortcake

It’s summertime in the Midwest and we’ve hit the high season for fresh, sweet strawberries. Farms in my area allow families to go out to the fields to pick their own berries. I wasn’t that adventurous this year, but I was inspired by others to get some fresh, pre-picked berries of my own.

Strawberry shortcake is a classic, summer dessert that is quick and a tasty use of fresh berries. Feel free to swap out the strawberries if a different fruit fits your fancy. The slightly sweet shortcakes have a wonderful, light texture and pair well with juicy berries and homemade whip cream. Give them a shot- enjoy!

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Strawberry Shortcake

Recipe adapted from: Better Homes and Gardens

Yields: 8-10 individual cakes

Ingredients:20170625_150338

  • cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • egg, lightly beaten
  • 2/3 cups milk
  • 6 cups sliced, fresh strawberries
  • Whipped Cream

Directions:

1.) Cut off tops of strawberries and slice into quarters. Add 1/4 cup of sugar to the berries and mix well. Set berries aside.

2.) Mix together the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, flour and baking powder in a medium size bowl. Cut in cold butter pieces using a pastry cutter or fork until the mixture resembles course crumbs.

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3.) Add the milk and beaten egg to the flour mixture and combine just until moistened and all flour disappears.

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4.) Use a cookie scoop, or spoon to drop 1/4 cup of dough onto an ungreased baking sheet. Use the back of a spoon to flatten the dough in a circle that is about 3/4 inch thick. If desired, add a sprinkle of coarse sugar on top of each cake.

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5.) Bake shortcakes at 450° F for 10 minutes, or until golden brown on the bottom. The tops will turn a very light brown. Cool on a wire rack before serving.

6.) To serve the shortcakes, cut each cake in half horizontally. Scoop a few spoonfuls of berries onto the cake and top with whip cream. Add the top layer of cake back on.

Notes & Tips:

  • For a real showcase dessert, you could use a 8 x 1 1/2-inch round baking pan to make one large shortcake. Bake at 450° F for 15-18 minutes. To serve, cut the cake in half horizontally and layer with berries and whip cream; serve in wedges.
  • I found it easiest to use a cookie scoop for the dough to create evenly sized shortcakes.
  • If you are not a fan of strawberries, you could use other fruits such as blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries.
  • For the whip cream, you can make your own or just get some right from the can. No judgement here!
  • Feel free to top the cakes with a sprinkle of coarse sugar for some extra sweetness and crunch. Also, who doesn’t love a little sparkle?

 

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Liege Waffles

Have you ever eaten something so amazing, so absolutely wonderful that you can’t get it out of your head? You might go back for “just one more” or even better yet, want to make it at home. Well for me, these waffles are just that! I discovered Liege Waffles on a trip a to New York City a few years back. I ate an embarrassing amount of waffles in my few short days in the city.

I recently came across pictures from that trip, remembered the waffles, got excited and HAD to make them. So I went on a quest to find a good waffle iron and some pearl sugar (more on that later). After searching many stores, doing lots of research and two Amazon orders later, I’m all set!

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It’s been quite the journey creating the perfect recipe for these waffles. If you aren’t familiar with Liege Waffles, they are a type of Belgium waffle, but with uneven edges. The batter is made with yeast, and they have a chewy texture with pockets of caramelized sugar. The caramelized exterior of the waffle comes from the pearl sugar. What is pearl sugar? Well, pearl sugar is pea-sized pieces (pearls) of sugar that have a higher melting point than granular sugar. So when it comes in contact with the hot waffle iron, the sugar caramelizes instead of burns. How’s that for food science?

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Sound complicated to make? Do not fear! These waffles can be in reach by tackling the recipe below. I’ve added a lot of notes and tips to ensure waffle success. Give them a try- enjoy!

Liege Waffles

Yields: 10-12 waffles

Recipe adapted from: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/liege-waffles

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons white sugar20170409_125631
  • 1 packet active dry yeast (7 grams)
  • 3/4 cup lukewarm milk (temperature between 105 and 115 degrees F)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup Belgian pearl sugar

Directions:20170409_132053

1.) In a small bowl, combine the granulated sugar, warm milk and yeast. Whisk until yeast is dissolved and let rest for 5 – 10 minutes, until foamy.

2.) In a large bowl of a standing mixer, mix the flour and salt 20170409_132306together. Pour in the yeast mixture and mix about 1 minute until shaggy.

3.) Add the eggs, one at a time until well incorporated, mixing for 30 seconds after each addition. Mix in the vanilla extract.

4.) At medium speed, mix in the softened butter 2 tablespoons at a time. Blend until the20170409_133227 dough is very smooth (it will be slightly sticky).

5.) Cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and let batter rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour and 45 minutes.

6.) Once the batter has doubled, take a spatula and mix the dough to deflate it. Slowly fold in the pearl 20170409_154324sugar so it is evenly distributed in the batter. Let dough rest for 15 minutes. While the dough is resting, heat up the waffle iron.

7.) Preheat the waffle iron to medium high heat. Drop 1/4 cup of batter onto the hot iron. Cook waffles until golden brown and the pearl sugar melts and caramelizes. Cool waffles on wire rack. Enjoy plain or with your favorite waffle toppings.

Notes and Tips:

  • There are multiple kinds of dry yeast out there so be sure to use active dry yeast for best results.20170409_130917
  • When you bloom the yeast, measure the temperature of the milk to ensure it is between 105 and 115 degrees F. If it’s too cold, the yeast won’t bloom properly. If it’s too hot, it will kill the yeast. Once bloomed, the yeast should be nice and foamy on top.
  • Be patient with the dough while it’s rising. I created a makeshift proofing drawer by heating a cup of water for two minutes in the microwave and then placing the bowl of dough in the microwave while it was still warm. This helps to create a more controlled environment for the dough to rise.
  • I went on a wild goose chase to find pearl sugar in the stores in my area and I was not successful. I ended up purchasing it online through Amazon.
  • Be careful when taking the hot waffles out of the waffle iron. The pearl sugar gets very hot! I purchased a waffle fork to help remove the waffle and save my fingers.
  • I found it easiest to clean the melted sugar out of the waffle iron while it was still warm with damp paper towels.
  • Speaking of waffle irons, most waffle makers will work for this recipe but those with the deeper pockets will work best to accommodate the pearl sugar. Bonus points if you have an iron where you can control the temperature!
  • Feel free to enjoy these waffles for breakfast or dessert. Topping suggestions: whip cream, berries, bananas, cherries, hot fudge, lemon curd, powdered sugar… but I would not suggest maple syrup because the waffles are sweet on their own.

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Ricotta Cheese Cookies

Most of us can’t deny that the world is divided these days. And the great divide is over cookies! People are either a soft cookie person, or a crunchy cookie person. If you are soft cookie person, these cookies are for you!

I was going through my collected recipe book and came across this recipe from an old co-worker. I was inspired to make them because they are a soft cookie that reminds me spring and warmer weather. These babies are light and airy, and will stay soft for days after coming out of the oven. The ricotta cheese in these cookies adds moisture and a light texture. If you are looking to include another dimension of flavor, they can be flavored with lemon. These are versatile cookies because the icing and sprinkles can be customized for any event. Now I know what you are thinking-no, they don’t taste like cheese! Give them a try- enjoy!

Ricotta Cheese Cookies

Yields: 4.5 dozen cookies

Ingredients for Cookies:wp-1487012046513.jpg

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 15 oz ricotta cheese
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Ingredients for Icing:wp-1487011918160.jpg

  • 1  1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • sprinkles to top

Directions:

1.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl wp-1487011916109.jpgwith electric mixer, beat sugar and butter until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

2.) Next mix in ricotta cheese, vanilla and eggs until well combined.

3.) On low speed, mix in flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix together just until dough forms.

4.) Drop dough by even spoonfuls (use a cookie scoop!) about 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake about 15 minutes or until cookies are very lightly browned on the top (cookies will still be soft).

5.) Cook on wire racks then frost with icing and sprinkles. To make the icing, combine the milk and powdered sugar in a bowl with a whisk until desired consistency. You can dip each cookie in the icing or drizzle over the top. Add sprinkles of your choice to the tops of each cookie. Allow icing to try completely before storing cookies in an airtight container.

Notes and Tips:wp-1487011916075.jpg

  • You can add citrus juice or rind to the batter for a more traditional ricotta cheese cookie.
  • I found it best to use a cookie scoop to form the cookies. The dough is a bit sticky and the scoop helps to make the cookies all the same size/shape = double whammy! I used a 1 1/2 tablespoon scoop.
  • For the ricotta cheese, you can use a full fat or a reduced fat version to save some calories. But try and stay away from the fat free version- a little fat helps to give great texture to these cookies.
  • You can opt for a thinner icing or thicker frosting to top these cookies. I opted for a thinner icing and dipped the tops of each one into a bowl of glaze, but you can add less milk to the icing for a thicker, frosting-like consistency.
  • Be sure to add your sprinkles to the cookies before the icing dries!
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Thanksgiving 2016

“We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather recognizing and appreciating what we do have.”Frederick Keoning

It’s turkey day once again and hopefully you have the opportunity to enjoy the company of your family and friends and get stuffed with yummy food. This Thanksgiving I encourage you to think of a few things in your life that you already have that you are thankful for. It’s easy to get caught up in Black Friday sales and the latest and greatest trends, but take time to reflect and appreciate all you do have. Be sure to share your blessings with family and friends and don’t forget to enjoy a slice of pie, or two. Happy Thanksgiving to all! What are you thankful for today?

Apple Hand Pies

The holidays are quickly approaching which means lots of friends, family and good food. For every holiday gathering, there are the traditional standby dishes that you have each year. This year I would suggest adding in a new fav- these mini, hand-held pies. They are the perfect portion for one person, are less messy than a slice of pie, and they travel and store well.

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Now making crusts has never been my strong suit so I “cheated” and used store bought crust. It speeds up the recipe but if you are a crust master, go for it! Also if apples aren’t your thing, you could use your favorite filling. Enjoy!

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Apple Hand Pies

Makes: 12-14 hand pies

Ingredients for Pies:wp-1479140050830.jpg

  • 1 box of refrigerated pie crust or your favorite recipe for 2 pie crusts
  • 2 cups peeled, cored and diced apples (about 2 large apples)
  • 1/4 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 egg, beaten

Ingredients for Icing:wp-1479079564887.jpg

  • 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons milk

Directions:

1.) Peel, core and dice apples into small pieces. Combine apples, sugar, flour, cinnamon wp-1479517617613.jpgand nutmeg in a bowl. Set aside apples and preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2.) Roll out pie crust on floured surface. Using a 4 inch, round cookie cutter, cut out circles of pie crust. You will need to combine the dough scraps together and roll them out to get a few more circles.

3.) Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Place one circle of dough on the pan. Place a wp-1479080462485.jpgspoonful of apples in the center of the dough and fold in half. Seal edges together with a fork or fingers. Poke tops of pies with a fork to avoid explosions. Lastly, brush tops of pies with beaten egg.

4.) Bake pies at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned.

5.) While pies are baking, whisk together milk and powdered sugar in a bowl until glaze is runny.wp-1479079566014.jpg

6.) When pies are done baking, remove from oven and dip each hand pie into the glaze. You can use a spoon to help fully coat each pie in sweet glaze. Place pies on cooling rack or parchment paper to cool for 10 minutes. Pies can be stored loosely covered in wax paper.

Notes and Tips:

  • If you are not a fan of apples, you could fill the pies with cherries, rhubarb, or blueberries. Let you taste buds make the decision!
  • Do not overfill the pies with filling. I was tempted to fill each pie to the brim but it made it hard to seal the edges of the dough.
  • Be sure to seal the edges of the pies well so the insides don’t spill out while they are bakin’.
  • You can cut fun designs out of the pie dough scraps to adorn the tops of the pies. I used small cookie cutters to cut out shapes but you could free hand leaves or other shapes as well.

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