Category:  Desserts, Creams & Sauces

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Ricotta Cake

In Cakes & Cupcakes, Desserts, Creams & Sauces, Holidays On April 2, 2015 0 Comments

During Easter week, my family and I prepare a variety of celebratory foods. In my opinion, the best is always saved for last – the traditional ricotta cake.

Encased in pasta frolla or a sweet shortcrust pastry dough, the ricotta filling is rich with rum, cinnamon, sugar and eggs. The flavors of this ricotta cake bring back all the memories of Easter in Italy. It doesn’t get more authentic than this. Happy Easter and Happy Spring!

Prepare the Pasta Frolla (Shortcrust Pastry Dough):
2 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated, unbleached sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch squares
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons cold water
One 9-inch pie plate
Powdered sugar, for sprinkling cake
5-Minute Sweetened Whipped Cream, previously published on this website
1 pint fresh strawberries

1. Combine dry ingredients in a 12-cup mixing bowl.

2. Using a pastry cutter or a fork, blend in the butter until mixture is uniform and resembles small peas.

3. Mix in the eggs. Add water, one tablespoon at a time, mixing gently after each addition.

4. As soon as mixture amalgamates and dough is formed, divide it in half; shape each piece into a ball.

5. Wrap each dough ball in plastic wrap and freeze 10 minutes.

6. After 10 minutes, transfer dough balls to refrigerator while you prepare the ricotta filling.

Prepare the Ricotta Filling:
16 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese
2/3 cup granulated, unbleached sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 to 4 tablespoons Rum
Dash ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. In a 2 to 3-quart mixing bowl, using a wire whisk, stir together all ingredients.

3. Make sure the ingredients are well-blended; cover the bowl and refrigerate the ricotta filling.

4. In the meantime, roll out the pastry dough.

Roll out pastry dough:
1. With lightly floured hands, flatten one dough ball to a 6-inch circle.

2. Place dough between two floured 16-inch long waxed paper sheets.

3. Gently roll out dough to a 14 or 15-inch circle. To prevent sticking, peel off the waxed paper sheets and dust each side of the pastry sheet with flour two or three times while working.

4. Peel off the top waxed paper sheet. With one hand underneath bottom sheet and the other on top of exposed pastry, quickly flip pastry over and into a 9-inch buttered pie plate.

5. Peel off the second sheet. Gently fit the pastry into plate sides and, using a fork, randomly make holes in the pastry. Trim edges to a one-inch overhang and set aside.

6. Repeat rolling instructions with other dough ball; set aside.

7. Peel off the top waxed paper sheet from rolled out pastry; set aside.

Fill & Assemble the Ricotta Cake:
1. Pour the ricotta filling into the pastry-lined pie plate; set aside.

2. Using a pastry wheel, cut the second rolled-out pastry into 1/2 to 3/4-inch wide strips.

3. Place the longest pastry dough strip across the center surface of ricotta filling.

4. Take the next longest strip and place it one inch apart and parallel to the first strip.

5. Continue placing the strips, one inch apart, until there are about 5 strips across filling surface.

6. In a diagonal fashion, place the remaining strips, in the same manner, over the first layer of strips.

7. Trim overhang pastry to one inch; roll the overhang underneath and tuck it between the plate and the pastry edges.

8. Using 1-inch wide aluminum foil strips, cover the pastry edges (this will avoid blackening).

9. Bake the ricotta cake for about 30 to 45 minutes.

10. After 30 minutes and to test doneness of cake, insert a pointed knife in center of cake. If it comes out clean, the cake is done. If not, bake the cake for an additional 8 to 10 minutes. Test again.

11. When cake is done, transfer it to a cooling rack or counter. Let cool to room temperature.

12. Cover the cake with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours or overnight.

13. Serve cake with a sprinkle of powdered sugar, 5-Minute Sweetened Whipped Cream (see above) and fresh strawberries.
Text and Photograph ©2015 Nancy DeLucia Real

Sweetheart Panna Cotta

In Desserts, Creams & Sauces, Fun Foods, Holidays On February 6, 2015 0 Comments

Wanna treat your Sweetheart to something special? Try this panna cotta recipe which is made with maple syrup and agave nectar (no sugar). Garnish this Sweetheart Panna Cotta with whipped cream (contains sugar) and your favorite candies!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Prep time: 20 minutes
Serves: 6

Ingredients:
1/4 cup cold water
2-3/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup agave nectar
1-1/3 cups heavy whipping cream
1-1/3 cups Half N’ Half cream

Directions:
1. In a six-ounce glass or cup, combine the water and gelatin. Set aside.

2. Meanwhile, in a 4-quart sauce pot, bring the maple syrup and agave nectar to a boil.

3. Simmer the syrup and nectar for 8 to 10 minutes, until it reduces by half.

4. Stir in both creams.

5. The agave syrup may solidify. If this is the case, whisk the mixture over low heat until the agave syrup dissolve.

6. Remove sauce pot from heat and stir in the gelatin with a whisk (make sure it dissolves completely into the liquid panna cotta).

7. Divide the liquid panna cotta into six 4-ounce ramekins.

8. Cover the ramekins with foil and transfer to refrigerator to set for 2 hours or overnight.

9. At serving time, garnish the panna cotta ramekins with whipped cream and candies.

Text and Photograph ©2015 Nancy DeLucia Real

Christmas Cheesecakes

In Cakes & Cupcakes, Desserts, Creams & Sauces, Holidays On December 13, 2013 0 Comments

I learned how to make these mini-cheesecakes when I was 14 years old. The place was Watertown, Massachusetts. And my teacher was a great neighbor and friend, Susan Pallotta.

Since then, these Christmas Cheesecakes have been the hit of all our holiday parties. They’re fun to make and easy to eat. All you have to do is peel off the paper cups and enjoy the mini-cheesecakes.

Btw, let me know if you miss washing the spatula and dessert plates.

Prep time: 35 to 40 minutes
Bake time: 12 to 14 minutes
Makes: 24 mini-cheesecakes

Prepare the Cherry Filling:
One 24.7-ounce jar Trader Joe’s® Dark Morello Cherries in Light Syrup
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 cup cold water

1. In a 3-quart sauce pot set on a counter, stir together the dark cherries with the syrup and the sugar. Set aside on counter.

2. In a 2-cup bowl, mix together the cornstarch and the water.

3. Using a wooden spoon, gently stir the cornstarch-water mixture into the cherry mixture in sauce pot.

4. Set the sauce pot on a burner and bring the cherry mixture to a boil. Cook on medium-high heat and stir with a wooden spoon until mixture boils.

5. As soon as the cherry mixture comes to a boil, lower the heat to medium. Cook and stir until cherry filling begins to thicken. This will take 25 to 50 seconds.

6. When the cherry filling has thickened, gently transfer it to a glass or porcelain bowl. Cover the bowl and set it aside so that the cherry filling has time to cool.

Meanwhile, make the crust:

Prepare the Crust:
24 holiday muffin paper cups
1 cup graham cracker crumbs or animal cracker crumbs (ground in a food processor)
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
-OR-
1/2 cup sunflower or safflower oil

1. Preheat oven to 375°F.

2. Divide the paper cups among two muffin baking pans (each one should hold 12 paper cups). Set aside.

3. In a shallow bowl and using a fork, mix together the crumbs, cinnamon and either butter or oil.

4. When mixture is uniform, using a teaspoon, put some crumb mixture into each paper cup.

5. Using the back of an espresso spoon or small teaspoon, press down, into the crumb mixture.

6. Set the muffin pans with paper cups aside while you prepare cheesecakes.

Prepare the Cheesecakes:
Two 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened to room temperature
3 large eggs
1/2 cup regular or natural cane (unbleached) sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. In a 4-quart mixing bowl or in a stand mixer fitted with a bowl, beat together the above ingredients on high speed until mixture is creamy and smooth.

2. Drop 1 tablespoon of the cream cheese mixture over the crumb mixture in paper cups.

3. Set each muffin pan on its own rack in oven.

4. Bake the cheesecakes for 6 to 7 minutes.

5. After 6 to 7 minutes, invert the muffin pans.

6. Bake the cheesecakes for an additional 6 to 8 minutes or until tops look puffed and slightly crack.

7. After baking the cheesecakes, set them IN MUFFIN PANS on a counter to cool completely.

8. When the cheesecakes have cooled completely, lift them out of the muffin pans. To avoid crushing the still-soft cheesecakes, use both hands to grab the paper cups and lift them out.

9. Carefully set the cheesecakes on a serving platter. Cover them with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

10. As soon as the cherry filling has cooled to room temperature, set it in an airtight container. Refrigerate the cherry filling until the cheesecakes are ready to be served.

11. About 2 hours before serving cheesecakes, place 3 cherries on top of each one. Carefully cover the cheesecake platter with aluminum foil and refrigerate.

12. At serving time, remove the aluminum foil and set the cheesecakes on a table.

Note: The cheesecakes and cherry filling can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated.
Text and Photograph ©2013 Nancy DeLucia Real

Lemon and Almond Cake (Torta di limone e mandorle)

In Cakes & Cupcakes, Desserts, Creams & Sauces On June 16, 2013 0 Comments

Prep time: 15 minutes
Bake time: 20 to 23 minutes
Makes: One 9-inch round cake

Are summer weather, bright colors and flavors on your mind? Because lemons are all of the above, I thought of using them in this Lemon and Almond Cake that I grew up with in Southern Italy.

This cake is so rich with butter, lemon and almonds, that you should just omit the whipped cream garnish. All you need are freshly-sliced lemons, complementing the cake’s essence!

Ingredients:

Prepare the pan –
-1 tablespoon butter & small amount of flour (to butter a spring form pan)
Parchment paper

Make the cake –
-¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached, all-purpose flour (preferably organic)
-1 teaspoon baking powder
-Dash each salt and ground cinnamon (very little amounts)
-Zest of 2 small lemons, set it aside in a small bowl
-Juice of 2 small lemons, set aside in a small bowl
-5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into slices and softened at room temperature
-½ cup granulated sugar
-3 large eggs, separated (put yolks in a small bowl and whites in another bowl)
-½ cup ground raw, unsalted almonds
-Confectioners’ sugar (powdered sugar)
-1 lemon, for slicing and cake garnish

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch spring form pan and place parchment paper circle at bottom of pan.

2. Cut 3-inch wide strips of parchment; line pan sides with parchment strips. Set aside.

3. Measure the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon into a small bowl; set aside.

4. In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff; set aside.

5. In a 6-quart mixing bowl and using a hand mixer (or a stand mixer), beat together the butter, sugar and egg yolks until mixture is creamy.

6. With mixer set on low, stir in the ground almonds and mix until batter is uniform.

7. Stir in the zest and lemon juice; set the bowl with batter aside.

8. Using a spatula, gently fold the beaten egg whites into the batter.

9. When the batter is uniform, gently pour it into the prepared spring form pan.

10. Place the spring form pan with batter on a rack positioned in center of oven; bake cake for 20 minutes.

11. After 20 minutes, insert a pointed knife in center of cake. If the knife is clean, the cake is done. If there is batter stuck to the knife, bake for an additional 2 to 3 minutes and test with knife once more.

12. Transfer the cake to a counter and slightly cool (about 10 minutes).

13. Loosen sides of spring form pan from cake with a spatula. Remove pan sides and parchment strips.

14. Invert the cake onto a serving platter; lift off the pan bottom and gently peel away the parchment paper.

15. Let cake cool to room temperature.

16. Gently and lightly sift the powdered sugar over cake. Garnish with lemon slices and serve.

Text and Photograph ©2013 Nancy DeLucia Real

Mexican Pumpkin Treat

In Desserts, Creams & Sauces, Vegetables On November 5, 2012 0 Comments

I’ll never forget the first time I tasted fresh pumpkin (without it being so over processed). My experience took place in a fabulous country: Mexico. As I looked inside my clay bowl, those chunks of pumpkin didn’t look that appealing.

However, Mexicans have a way of transforming boring, bland pumpkin into a treat by cooking it in  sugar syrup made with water and piloncillo (this is natural brown cane sugar). And, those exotic cinnamon sticks are added to the boil.

Yup! Just three ingredients are needed here to satisfy my big sweet tooth!

Prep time: 40 to 50 minutes
Serves: 6 to 8

Ingredients:
3 cups cold water
2 piloncillo cones* (Mexican natural brown cane sugar)
2 cinnamon sticks, cut in half
Dash ground cinnamon
One 2-pound fresh pumpkin

Make the sugar syrup:

1. In a 2-quart sauce pot, combine the water, piloncillo cones, cinnamon sticks and dash ground cinnamon

2. Cover and bring to a boil. Cook for about 5 to 8 minutes or until the sugar melts down. Set aside, uncovered, to cool.

3. Meanwhile, cut the pumpkin in fourths. Remove and discard the stem, seeds and fibers. Peel the pumpkin (this is optional, since it is left unpeeled when this recipe is prepared in Mexico).

4. Cut pumpkin into 3-inch chunks; transfer pumpkin chunks to a 6 to 8-quart saucepot.

5. Pour the sugar syrup over the pumpkin in sauce pot. Cover and bring to a boil.

6. Cook on medium-high heat for approximately 8 to 10 minutes, or until the pumpkin is fork-tender.

7. Cool and serve Mexican Pumpkin Treat warm or,  alternatively, refrigerate a day ahead and serve cold.

*Piloncillo is hardened, natural brown sugar shaped in cones. The cones measure about 5 inches and can be found in Latin American supermarkets or grocery stores.

Text and Photograph ©2012 Nancy DeLucia Real