Tag Archives: cookies

Chocolate chip nut butter cookies

Choc chip nut butter cookies

This one is based on a recipe by New Zealander Miles Kirby, published in Guardian Cook to coincide with the release of his book Caravan: Dining All Day. Kirby’s version is called salted chocolate and almond butter cookies. They’re basically a variation on the chocolate chip cookie theme, and I’m always up for those.

I’m not sure about the whole salted chocolate thing though. I can see the appeal of salted caramel, and used to Hoover up the caramello di galles – Welsh caramel, that is salted caramel from the idiosyncratic gelateria La Gourmandise down the road from our flat in Rome. Until he stopped doing it – not a popular flavour among the other locals, apparently.

But, salted chocolate? Hm. Last night I went to the Depot, the splendid newly opened independent cinema here in Lewes, which I visited last year when it was a building site. While there, I ate a whole bar of Los Angeles salted chocolate, a gift from my sister. It didn’t exactly win me over, but then it was maybe a bad combo with a pint of overly gassy Harvey’s Golden Bier on keg I bought from the bar. (My first pint of Harvey’s keg beer I think; kegs from Harvey’s are pretty new, breaking with years of cask and bottle-only tradition.)

So anyway, I decided against including the sea salt in my version of Kirby’s recipe. Also, his uses 200g almond butter. The jar I bought was an odd 170g. As we had a jar of peanut butter rejected by my son in the cupboard, I added some of that. Kirby says the recipe works well with any nut butter. We’re getting a whole variety in our cupboard now as we’re not allowed to put peanut butter in school lunches any more.

For the chocolate buttons I used Montezuma’s organic Giant Dark Chocolate buttons. The bag says they’re “58%”, but then the ingredients say they’re 44% cocoa mass. Which I don’t understand, and I’m too tired to try and get my head around it. They’re still a quality button and I’ve messaged Montezuma’s for an explanation. Hope they reply.* They should do, as I eat enough of their product. Me and Fran are addicted (not really) to their Milking Maid truffles at the moment, which is odd as I’m usually a dark choc kinda guy. I digress.

Kirby’s recipe also says, “In a stand mixer, combine the…” Does everyone own a stand mixer? I don’t. They’re hellish pricey and I’ve never been able to justify one or find the funds. Luckily, my increasingly decrepit hand blender has beater attachments. If you don’t have any of these things, you’ll just have to beat by hand. Use some calories before you consume some.

Kirby also said to divide the mixture into 12. Now, as the total dough weight was about 1200g, this would mean some pretty massive cookies, scaled at about 100g each. I pared mine down to about 50g, a good dollop shaped between two desert spoons, and they’re still pretty substantial. I also knocked back the sugar a little from the original recipe, something I do as a matter of course.

Choc chip nut butter cookies mix

200g unsalted butter, softened
200g almond butter, or a mix of nut butters
85g muscovado sugar
40g caster sugar
2 medium eggs, that is, about 115g egg, beaten
Pinch salt
10g baking powder
300g plain flour
30g cocoa powder
200g dark chocolate buttons

1. Preheat the oven to 170C and line some baking sheets with parchment or silicone.
2. Beat together the butter, sugars and nut butters.
3. Add the egg a little at a time and beat until smooth.
4. Sieve together the baking powder, flour and cocoa, then add to the mixture along with the pinch of salt.
5. Combine, along with the chocolate buttons.
6. Form into lumps as described above. How big you make them is, of course, your call.
7. Put the lumps on the baking sheets, flattening them somewhat. Space out as they spread a bit.
8. Bake for about 12-14 minutes.
9. Cool on wire racks.

Eat. The nut butter gives them a light, crumbly texture, but not so crumbly they fall apart when you touch them.

Note to self, next entry probably shouldn’t be more chocolate cookies. This isn’t just a chocolate cookie blog…

* They did. A lady called Jacqui Boyd-Leslie in customer services says, “The Cocoa Mass is 44% plus the Cocoa butter 15% which is 1% over but this is to cover any slight variation. This is a little confusing, the cocoa butter is also known as cocoa mass.”

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Nut and cocoa nib cookies

Nut and cocoa nib cookies

I’m the kind of guy who always has to have some homemade biscuits or cookies waiting in a tin at home. Just in case of visitors, or in case of the munchies. So I’m always on the lookout for good recipes. I particularly like versatile recipes that can be tweaked depending on what you have in your store cupboards. I’m also enjoying adding cocoa nibs to things; see, for example, my crystallized ginger and cocoa nib cookies.

This one is based on a recipe for a biscuit Justin Gellatly calls “The nutter” in his book Bread, Cakes, Doughnut and Pudding. His recipe uses blanched almonds, blanched hazelnuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts and macadamia nuts, but he does say you can use whatever nuts you’ve got; I’ve done various versions, and they’ve all been great, with a nice crunch and warm nuttiness (unsurprisingly). You can even use nuts that aren’t technically nuts, like peanuts, which are actually the seeds of legumes.*

200g nuts, unsalted, mixed
50g cocoa nibs (or indeed cacao nibs)
125g butter, soft
125g caster sugar (you could also use soft brown, for a more caramelly flavour)
1 egg
150g plain flour
Pinch of salt

1. Heat the oven to 180C.
2. Put the nuts on a tray and roast for about 12 minutes, until lightly browned. Turn off the oven.
3. Put the toasted nuts in a food processor and whizz to a rough consistency – I like it a bit powdery, and bit chunky for crunch.

Grind the nuts and nibs
4. Add the cocoa needs and give it one last whizz, to break them a bit.
5. Beat together the butter and sugar until light. Beat in the egg. If it starts to curdle, add a little flour.

Form a dough
6. Add the flour and nuts and bring to a dough. It’ll be pretty sticky. Flour your hands a bit if it helps, and form a ball or disc.

Wrap in plastic and rest
7. Wrap in clingfilm and rest in the fridge for a few hours.
8. Preheat the oven again, to 170C.
9. Flour a work surface then roll out the dough to about 5mm thick. It’s quite a sticky dough, so be relatively liberal with the dusting if needs be.

Roll out and cut
10. Cut out biscuits with a cutter. I use a round 65mm one, but it’s up to you – and again, depends on what you’ve got.
11. Gather any scraps, squidge together and roll out again.
12. Put the biscuits on baking sheets, lined with parchment or silicon mats.
13. Bake for about 12-15 minutes until nicely browned.
14. Cool on wire racks.

Enjoy with a cuppa or coffee. We have hot chocolates most evenings in the winter. As the English summer seems to have given up, we seem to be starting to do that again already, and the cookies go well with that too. It’s a bit different to this time last year when we walked the South Downs Way in warm, rain-free weather.

Nut and cocoa nib cookies

* Peanuts are basically beans, but even weirder, unlike other beans, the pods grow underground. Anyway, if we’re being pedantic about nuts, in botanical terms, they are defined as dry fruits with one, or possibly two, seeds.

By this definition, most things we call nuts in English are technically not nuts: Brazil nuts, almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, cashews, and as mentioned, definitely not peanuts. However, when we say “nut”, we’re usually defining it in culinary, not scientific, terms, and can therefore include all these. In fact, the only nuts that seem to qualify both botanically and culinarily are hazels.

Many of the culinary nuts are actually the seeds of drupes – but who’s heard that word before, besides botanists and specialists??

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Cocoa nib and crystallized ginger cookies

Plate of ginger and cocoa nib biscuits

The past few years, my favourite chocolate bars have been those that contain both a high percentage of cocoa solids and cocoa nibs. I had a few brands I favoured in Italy, but back here in England I mostly eat Lordy Lord, from local Sussex chocolate company Montezuma’s. It’s “min cocoa solids 79%” and it contains nibs. I love the nutty crunch the nibs provide. Yet it’s taken me ages to get round to trying using nibs as a baking ingredient.

What are nibs?
Before I go any further, let’s clarify what cocoa nibs are. Chocolate is produced from the cocoa beans, the seeds of the tree Theobroma cacao, the first bit of which suitably means “food of the gods”. The pods containing the seeds are harvested then cracked open. The pulp and beans are  piled up and left to ferment, to reduce the innate bitterness of the beans. They’re then dried, before being roasted and cracked – the resulting fragments are the nibs.

Add nibs to dough

Cocoa vs cacao
Now reading about this online, I’m coming across the usual internet disagreement and misinformation about the difference between cocoa nibs and cacao nibs. Some sites insist the latter are the version where the beans bypass the roasting process; some health food sites say this results in a product that’s higher in antioxidants. This may well be true, but I can’t find any scientific reports. Plus, the words cocoa and cacao are often used as synonyms. Both words are translations, transliterations or fluid (mis)spellings of the word in the languages of the Mesoamericans (Mayans etc) who first cultivated the tree and added the term to European languages via the Spanish.

Indeed, in most Romance languages (Spanish, Italian, French etc), the English “cocoa” is simply translated as cacao.

I’m using Organic cocoa nibs from Naturya, and they describe the product as “simply unprocessed cocoa beans, broken into little bits. Nothing more, nothing less.” With no mention of roasting. Or cacao.

Chocolate cake with coca nib sprinkles

Sprinkles and chips
So I’ve been using the nibs as sprinkles for chocolate cake (above), or as an ingredient for biscotti and cookies. Cocoa nibs are funny as, strangely, they’re reminiscent like carob, which, for those of us who remember the 1980s, was another fad food that health foodie types tried to promote as an alternative to chocolate. I like carob, as carob, but as an alternative to chocolate, it just doesn’t cut it.

So if I want a chocolate chip cookie, I have to use chocolate. But my cocoa nib cookies are great – as something distinct. I’m enjoying playing around with a recipe for cookies that uses the technique where you form a cylinder of dough then cut it. This can be called “slice cookies”, or “icebox cookie” (from keeping the dough in the freezer, or fridge). I first encountered it years ago via the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, but the ever-informative Alan Davidson, in the Oxford Companion to Food, writes, “The American habit of making rolls of cookie dough and keeping them in the refrigerator or freezer may have come from Germany; the doughs for some German biscuits such as Heidesand are made into rolls and chilled before slicing.”

Crystallized ginger

Crystallised ginger
Adding crystallised ginger was just a hunch I fancied playing with, and I’m pleased with the results. Ideas are rarely new in this day and age – seven billion plus humans, the internet – and I’ve definitely enjoyed ginger and dark chocolate combined before, so that led me to nibs and crystallised ginger, an ingredient I enjoy in steamed puddings and pear cakes.

Ginger is the root of Zingiber officinale, but rather than being dried and powdered, it’s boiled in syrup, rolled in sugar – another name for crystallised ginger is candied ginger. As such, it’s a cousin of things like candied peel or candied angelica (the stems of Angelica archangelica, a somewhat out-of-fashion ingredient).

Recipe

140g plain flour
100g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp powdered ginger (optional)
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
150g unsalted butter, softened
100g light brown sugar
100g granulated sugar [test with caster also]
1 egg, beaten (at room temperature*)
100g cocoa or cacao nibs
120g crystallized ginger, roughly cut up

1. Sieve together the flours, baking powder and powered ginger – only use the latter if you like the cookies a little bit more gingery. Stir in the salt.
2. In another bowl, cream together in the sugars and butter. Cream until light and fluffy.
3. Add the beaten egg, a little at a time.
4. Add the flour mix to the creamed mix and bring together, adding the nibs and chopped ginger.

Cookie dough

5. Bring the whole mixture to a dough. It should be a little sticky, not too much.

Dough cylinders
6. Form the dough into two cylinders, using slightly floured hands if you find it too sticky.
7. Wrap each cylinder in plastic and put in the fridge, for at least an hour. The cylinders will be fine in your fridge for a day or two, though the dough will dry and become slightly crumblier the longer you leave it. Some say this deepens the flavour, but that’s another discussion.
8. When you’re reading to make the cookies, preheat the oven to 180C.
9. Line a couple of baking sheets with parchment.

Slice the cylinders
10. Cut the cylinders into rounds, about 8mm thick. The mixture may crumble a bit, if it does, just gently squeeze back together. You won’t achieve perfect rounds, due to the nibs and chunks of ginger.
11. Place the rounds on the sheets, leaving some space for expansion between then, about 4-5cm.
12. Bake for about 15-20 minutes, until nicely coloured.
13. Transfer to wire racks to cool.

Cocoa nib and crystallized ginger cookies

 

* Always bake with your eggs at room temperature. I doubt it makes any difference to taste but it does help when beating eggs into a creamed sugar and fat mixture, reducing the chance of curdling. It’s also better when making things that require the egg, or the white, to be whisked, as the warmer egg incorpates air more effectively. Personally, I don’t generally store eggs in the fridge. Eggs have a great storage system already – it’s called a shell. If the egg is off, having it cold won’t make any difference. And, frankly, when was the last time you had an off egg? I’ve encountered them once or twice in my life. Plus, as I bake so much, and like omelettes and whatnot, eggs never last long in my house, so are are generally fresh, usually from these guys.

 

 

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Brutti ma buoni, mark III

Brutti 3, plate

This is the third recipe for brutti ma buoni – Italian “ugly but good” hazelnut cookies.

It’s very different to the others I’ve tried, or read, as it doesn’t involve whisking the egg whites. All the other recipes I’ve seen involve whisked egg whites, resulting in cookies with a meringue or macaroon-type character. Not these, which are still delicous, but much more crunchy little lumps, reminiscent of coconut macaroons, unlike the more disc-like previous version I tried, or the knobbly mounds of the first recipe I tried.

So many variations with so few variables!

Anyway, this recipe is from my favourite baker, Dan Lepard (whose personal site is still pending an update; it’s been down for yonks now, sadly!). His recipes in the Guardian newspaper are almost always reliable, and I recommend the book that collects them, Short and Sweet. I also heartily recommend his bread book, The Handmade Loaf. Of the three recipes I’ve tried for brutti ma buoni, however, I must admit this is my least favourite: I just prefer the texture when the egg whites are whisked.

The full recipe, along with Dan L’s panettone recipe, is available here.

Brutti 3, baking sheet

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Cocoa and cookies

Cookies and cocoa

Or, “hot chocolate and biscuits”, if I’m being both more and less accurate, and true to my Britishness.

Having arrived back in Britain in the middle of the flippin’ winter, we’ve been drinking a lot of hot chocolate. Now, I’m quite fussy about my hot chocolate. So many cafes (especially those chain places) just fail straight off by serving tepid drinks that aren’t particularly chocolaty. Seriously, the description of the product is in the name: it needs to be hot, and it needs to be chocolaty.

It surprises me how long it’s taking for hot chocolate to be taken as seriously as coffee as a drink. Sure, it’s a hot milky drink, so is perhaps more of a winter drink – but having said that, most so-called coffees served by those chain places are basically just flavoured (warm, frothy) milks drinks too.

Surely hot chocolate deserves as serious attention as coffee? Single estate and all that.

I was discussing this with Michael Temple, proprietor of the Coffee House on Fisher Street in the historic heart of Lewes, East Sussex, and he agreed, mentioning that hot chocolate was popularised in Europe before coffee. Coffee spread from Asia and Africa into Europe, via the Arab world and trade through Venice, in the 16th century, with coffee houses starting to open in England in the second half of the 17th century. Chocolate – which was a bitter drink of the Aztecs – reached Spain with Cortes in 1528, and was soon developed into a sweet drink. The first chocolate house opened in England in 1657.

I’m not a coffee drinker – I’ve never enjoyed the taste of coffee – but strangely I do prefer my chocolate, and by extension, my hot chocolate, to be bitter with coffee-ish notes.  (Talking of which, I’m on a side-quest to try chocolate with the highest percentage cacao; tried Mr Popple’s 88% Strong yesterday. It’s only sweetened with yacón syrup – no, I hadn’t heard of that before either – has a great, gritty crunchiness, and flavour that’s coffee-ish and sharp.)

Mr Popple's chocolate

Taking hot chocolate seriously

Michael takes his hot chocolate seriously enough to offer two types, which he calls “Italian” and “Spanish”. The former is made with (French) Valrhona and is 50% cacao. It’s very good, especially as he serves it suitably scalding. I’ve found another that pips it though, and it’s a local brand. This is Montezuma’s, a British chocolatier founded in 2000 and based just outside Chichester, West Sussex. Sure, the cacao’s not British-grown, but that doesn’t trouble my locavore inclinations too much. After all – this is chocolate we’re talking about. One’s personal ethics have to have some exceptions.

Montezuma’s do four hot chocolates at the moment, but I’m a purist so there’s only one for me: their Dark Chocolate, with 54% cacao. Years ago, I used to drink Green & Blacks, but by comparison that just seems too sweet and weak now (plus G&B sold out to Cadbury’s, who sold out to Kraft; meh). I also used to drink  stuff based on an original Sir Hans Sloane recipe that they sold at the Natural History Museum, but that brand was discontinued. Then we discovered Mortimer Chocolate Company‘s 70% chocolate powder. These guys take their drinking chocolate satisfyingly seriously, talking about blend and provenance in a language not unlike that used for coffee.

Leone and Venchi

In Italy, meanwhile, my favoured brand was first Venchi, then Fran found Leone, who did a 70% stoneground-coarse-granules hot chocolate. Montezuma’s comes in flakes and chunks, not granules, and is a thing of beauty, making a far superior drink to the other brand I bought recently – Clipper. Its powder form just seems oddly twee and lame in comparison to these chunky options.

Winter comforts

Drinking lots of hot chocolate is one of the great pleasures of winter, and has helped us through the past three weeks or so of largely miserable grey, wet, windy weather. It’s an even more pleasing, and comforting, experience when accompanied by some nice biscuits. So we had a little baking session. Fran did some shortbread from a Dan Lepard recipe in Short and Sweet. The results are good, though they have a little more chew than crunch.

I wanted something with a bit more snap, so I tried the Pain d’amande / Almond wafer cookies recipe in the American Academy in Rome’s Biscotti book.

As with most of the book’s recipes, it involves fairly large quantities and a fairly unclear, insufficiently tested, poorly edited recipe. Mine weren’t perfect, but dipped in hot chocolate they were yummy. They’re made with Demerara sugar, giving them a warm caramelly taste. The recipe called for slithered raw almonds but I only had flaked almonds, so used them. I think the cookies would have been better with the almond skin, so I’ll try that slicing whole almonds next time.

So anyway, here’s a recipe.

Almond wafer ingredients

40g water
110g unsalted butter
1/2 t ground cinnamon
150g Demerara sugar
70g whole almonds, sliced into slithers. Or flaked almonds if you CBA
150g plain/all-purpose flour
Pinch of baking soda
Pinch of salt

1. Warm the water, butter, cinnamon and sugar together in a pan. Melt, don’t boil!*
2. Pour the warmed mixture into a mixing bowl and stir in the nuts.
3. Sift together the flour and baking soda, and add, along with the salt, to the mixture.
4. Combine and form a dough.
5. Shape the dough into a rectangle. You want it to be wide and flattish, about 25mm deep.
6. Wrap up the rectangle in plastic and rest in the fridge for about half an hour.
7. Preheat the oven to 160C.
8. De-fridge, de-plastic and the dough.
9. The slice rectangle across (not along) into pieces about 3mm thick.

Slicing the slab
10. Place on baking sheets lined with parchment and bake until golden. About 10 minutes.
11. Cool on a wire rack. They will crisp up as they cool.

Eat dipped in the best quality hot chocolate you can find. And made with flavoursome full-fat milk.

Now if only Montezuma’s would produce a 70%-plus hot chocolate to their range I’d love them forever. (Or at least until they sell to an ethics-free corporation. Please don’t sell out Montezuma’s!)

Montezumas Dark  Chocolate

(Oh, and if anyone has any WordPress wherewithal – why on earth would uploading just this one image have WordPress changing it from a landscape format 1747×983 image into a portrait format 976×1747 image?)

* I’ve been corresponding with Ilse Zambonini about these almond “wafers”, which she dubbed “dentist’s joy”. When you melt the sugar and butter, don’t bring it to the boil or you could make a caramel or even a very hard toffee! Also, when you slice, make sure they’re nice and thin, and when you bake, don’t over-bake. Follow these tips, and you’ll get a biscuit that’s crisp, but not too-breaking!

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Ugly bread, pastries, lunch at L’Asino d’Oro, outer space and saucy suppli

Last loaf

The storms – apparently called Cyclone Penelope ­– arrived last night, rumbling over Roma and shaking our palazzo. I love being indoors, in bed, on such nights. Frequently in Rome, the stormy weather has the decency to blow over by the morning. Not so this morning though, when it was still raining buckets, piove a catinelle (where a catinella is a basin; I love the image of rain pouring down as if it’s overflowing celestial basins).

It looks like the Autumnal rain is settling in until we leave on Wednesday. In a way that’s just perfect – it’s re-acclimatising us to British weather. But it does look like yesterday was our last day that was dry enough for a long, casual, umbrella-less wander around town.

We started the day with a slice of bread – from the final loaf I’ll be baking in Rome. This was a bit of a disaster, but it was fun. It was a “using up leftover stuff before we leave loaf”. In this case meant a lot of seeds: specifically buckwheat, sunflower and poppy; and a some not-entirely ideal flour: 0 grano tenero (okay, fine), rice and amido di mais. The latter is what we’d call cornflour in the UK, meaning corn (maize) starch, so more a thickening agent than a bread ingredient. Hi ho. It felt like a good dough when I added the seeds, but went strange after that.

Adding seeds

As Fran pointed out, the resulting loaf looked like a giant brutti ma buoni  (“ugly but good”) cookie. It was pretty solid and, er, I might have forgotten to add any salt. But that’s fine: a lot of traditional bread from Tuscany and Umbria doesn’t contain salt, and as such is good for strongly flavoured bruschette. Not sure the seedy stuff will work as bruschette, but it’s good with good old Marmite.

We headed out down the hill, through Trastevere, past the enjoyable window displays of vintage pasticceria Valzani. This included their selection of “tea biscuits”:

Valzani tea biscuits

Then slices of pangiallo romano, which literally means “yellow bread” and is a type of hard Roman  Christmas cake, made with honey, nuts and dried fruit; and panpepato (aka pampepato), a similar cake that originates from central Italy and, as well as containing dried fruits, candied fruit and nuts also contains spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and even chocolate.

Pangiallo, panpepato at Valzani

Then the Roman version of the Campania sfogliatella, which look kinda squashed compared to the more refined Neopolitan sfogliatella riccia. Indeed, compared to say French patisserie, Roman patisserie often has this seemingly crude finish – but I like that, it’s less poncey. Alongside was a tray of cannoli siciliani, then a tray of maritozzi, Rome’s epic cream buns, which I made over here.

Valzani sfogliatelle romane, cannoli, maritozzi

After meeting a friend in the street, who was discussing the possibility of opening a café, we headed over Ponte Sisto into Regola, rione VII. Past this fab old sign for a biscuit shop that, sadly, isn’t a biscuit shop any more.

Biscotteria sign, Via dei Pettinari, Rome

We stopped at I Dolci di Nonna Vincenza (“Grandma Vincenza’s Sweets”), a Sicilian pasticceria chain that opened a branch here about a year or so ago.

Brioche, ciambelle, Nonna Vincenza

It’s a bit cutesy, but the doughnut-type thing (“È una tipa di ciambella”) we had – that wasn’t the more common ring-shape of ciambelle, but more a knot – was good.

Ciambella, Nonna Vincenza

I got some almond paste cookies that were pretty good too.

Biscotti, Nonna Vincenza

We chilled out on the pastry indulgences after that, even managing to walk by the justifiably renowned, somewhat pricey Roscioli bakery without buying anything.

Roscioli

We wanted to save space for lunch at L’Asino d’Oro in Monti, one of our two favourite Rome restaurants. Our other fave is Cesare al Casaletto, which we’d vowed to go to at least once or twice more before leaving, but had been confounded by forgetting which day was their riposa settimanale (weekly rest day), then it being fully booked, and then by discovering that they were closed for our final 10 days in Rome. Nooooo! Fortunately, L’Asino d’Oro hit the spot.

Asino D'Oro

This is a superb restaurant, where chef Lucio Sforza (who, Renaissance scholars, may or may not be part of that family) uses seasonal, local, quality ingredients and every weekday does a pranzetto for (currently) €13. This set “little lunch” changes every day and is a serious contender for the best value, best quality lunch available in Rome. Thirteen flippin’ euros for bread, antipasto, primo, secondo, glass of wine and small bottle of water! And it’s always been excellent, every time I’ve been, though I prefer Friday, as that’s Rome’s main fish-eating day.

We had a bruschetta with bean purée, the best broccoli soup I’ve ever had, pasta with a ragù of cuttlefish, and a fillet of scorfano (scorpion fish). We then decided to order some dessert (which isn’t included in the menu) and a glass of Marco Carpineti’s delicious Ludum Passito dessert wine. Just cos.

Passito and zuppa inglese, L'Asino d'Oro

I had a zuppa inglese, which is basically Italian trifle. Although the name can be translated as “English soup”, I like the slightly deeper meaning of zuppa as a reference to bread dunked in broth, from the verb inzuppare, to soak, to immerse. In the case of zuppa inglese, there’s sponge cake soaked in alcohol and custard. Going to miss these lunches at The Golden Ass (or The Golden Donkey if you have that troubling American-English relationship with that word). Veramente un buon rapporto prezzo-qualità!

Cafe 2Periodico, Monti

Afterwards we had tea in a favoured nearby café in Monti, 2Periodico, watching the world go by before we continued on our way… to the movies. What?! You could say. Why sit in a cinema when Rome is only your city for a few days more? Well, I used to be a film journalist, and just adore the big screen and the darkened room. Plus, I fear a culpa d’aria got me so I fancied planting my donkey for a few hours, getting away from the tourist zombie hordes clogging up the streets.

Normally I cannot abide, and veto, 3D films, but the own lingua originale option was Gravity in 3D. And even with shonky 3D, in a cinema not designed specifically for 3D, it was an extraordinary experience. I’ve not felt that pushing-yourself-back-into-the-seat tension in a film for years.

I Suppli, Trastevere

On the way home, we stopped in Via San Francesco a Ripa in Trastevere, buying some handmade chocolates from Dolce Idea to take home and a suppli from the small, seemingly nameless hole-in-the-wall pizzeria opposite to scoff straight away. It might just be called “I Suppli” as it has the word in green neon above the door. And rightfully so, as their suppli are great – the tomato risotto mix is very saucy, meaning they’re moister than many versions. Their structural integrity may suffer as a result but they’re so tasty.

So all in all a great day; eating and movies, two of my favourite things. I even managed an ale when I got home, so three of my favourite things.

Info
Pasticceria Valzani
Via del Moro 37b, Trastevere, 00153 Rome
+39 06 580 3792 | valzani.it

I Dolci di Nonna Vincenza
Via Arco del Monte 98a/98b, Regola, 00186 Rome
+39 06 92 59 43 22 | dolcinonnavincenza.it | arcodelmonte@dolcinonnavincenza.it

Roscioli (Forno)
Via dei Chiavari 34, Regola, 00186 Rome
+39 06 686 4045

L’Asino d’Oro
Via del Boschetto 73, Monti, 00184 Rome
+ 39 06 4891 3832

2Periodico Café
Via Leonina 77, Monti, 00184 Rome
+39 06 4890 6600

Dolce Idea
Via San Francesco a Ripa 27, Trastevere, 00153 Rome
+39 06 5833 4043 | dolceidea.com | info@dolceidea.com

Nameless Pizzeria (“I Suppli”?)
Via San Francesco A Ripa 137, Trastevere, 00153 Rome
+39 06 589 7110

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Red wine and chocolate ring cookies, or Ciambelline al vino rosso e cioccolato

Red wine and chocolate ciambelline, Ciambelline al vino rosso e cioccolato

These are a long way from authentic ciambelline al vino – ring cookies that are normally made plain or flavoured with fennel or anise seeds. But hey, I love chocolate. Chocolate doesn’t seem to play a big role in Italian biscotti etc, but as we’re moving house soon, and I have a large pot of cocoa in the cupboard that needs using up, I thought I’d try chocolate ciambelline.

Plus, we had a bottle of red wine that also needed using up. This cost us the princely sum of €1.50 so was clearly seriously and definitely hardcore cooking wine; or very desperate-at-the-end-of-an-evening-wine; or Withnail wine (“This is a far superior drink to meths!”).

We also had a bar of chocolate and did chop it up and add it to the mix, but it caused problems with the rolling: the chips kept severing the dough. So if you do it, I’d recommend either chopping the chocolate up into small pieces (I’m talking chips of a just a few mm) or leaving it out completely. Ditto, some slithers of almond would be nice, but they’d have to be small or they’ll compromise the structural integrity. You don’t want a hull breach. (Sorry, going a bit Star Trek.)

Kitchen

Anyway, ciambelline are classic Italian cookies that are often served with a digestivo after a meal. They’re related to taralli, which are almost like hard-baked bagels (and, indeed, they’re boiled in water before baking), and tarallini, which are smaller versions thereof. I’ve generally encountered savoury taralli and tarallini, but in one seafood restaurant we like in central Rome, they serve you a Vin Santo desert wine with a few small, fennel-seed flavoured sweet ring biscuits that they call tarallucci.

So, as with so many Italian nouns relating to food, usage is fairly mutable! (Depending on region, slang, dialect, inclination, family etc.)

So anyway. Here’s my recipe. Bear in mind, these sorts of recipes are traditionally made with the whole qb approach: quanto basta, “how much is enough”. I always prefer to use grams but if you do make these, and you feel your dough isn’t quite right, just follow your instincts and adjust the amount of liquid or flour.

360g flour
50g cocoa
150g sugar
160g extra virgin olive oil
160g red wine
(Optional: 50g dark choc, cut in small pieces, or some small slithers of nut)

Red wine and chocolate ring cookies, or Ciambelline al vino con il cioccolato mix

1. Combine the wine, oil and sugar.
2. Sieve in the flour and cocoa, stirring.

Red wine and chocolate ciambelline, Ciambelline al vino rosso e cioccolato
3. Form a dough. Add more flour if it’s too wet, more oil or wine if it’s too dry.
4. Rest the dough, for about half an hour, to let it relax.

Red wine and chocolate ciambelline, Ciambelline al vino rosso e cioccolato
5. Preheat the oven to 180C.
6. Form balls, about the size of a walnut. I went for a scaling weight of 30g, but ciambelline are often bigger, so you could go for 60-80g. Whatever you prefer.

Red wine and chocolate ciambelline, Ciambelline al vino rosso e cioccolato
7. Roll the balls into sausages.
8. Form the sausages into rings, pinching together the ends.
9. Dip the top in granulated sugar.

Red wine and chocolate ciambelline, Ciambelline al vino rosso e cioccolato
10. Place on a baking sheet, lined with parchment.
11. Bake for about 20 minutes, depending on your oven.

Red wine and chocolate ciambelline, Ciambelline al vino rosso e cioccolato
12. You can crisp / harden them more by leaving them in the oven, switched off, while it cools. Though these harder ones may need stronger teeth / liquids for dipping and dunking.

Now of course, there’s something else about these ciambelline that’s so far going unsaid. It’s the elephant in the room of this recipe. If you don’t have appreciate scatological humour, browse away now! If you’re not easily fazed, scroll down and highlight the black.

Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear.
So yes, they look like poo. Especially when I was making them. All that cocoa and glistening olive oil – poo, or at least joke-shop plastic turds. And when I rolled them in the sugar, I couldn’t help thinking of the saying “You can’t polish a turd… but you can roll it in glitter.” But then, thought I, worry not: what could be more perfect in Rome, a city that’s totally and utterly and liberally decorated with dog mess, than a ciambelline of that resembles these pavement obstacles? (Our v borghese neighbourhood is especially bad – worse than Paris in the 1980s, and that’s saying something.)
Sorry.

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Pine nut cheesecake, or cheesecake della nonna

Pine nut cheesecake, cheesecake della nonna

If you’re in a Roman restaurant and they offer you desert, it’s quite likely you’ll encounter torta della Nonna – that is “Grandma’s tart” or “Grandma’s cake”. I’m not sure about the labour laws, but all this pudding-making must keep granny pretty busy.

Sources vary, but torta della nonna is either a Florentine or a Ligurian dish. Though surely any nonna has her own torta? There are variations, but most commonly in Rome it’s a tart made with a sweet pastry crust and a filling based on custard and/or ricotta. Its defining feature is pine nuts, pinoli.

This post isn’t, however, about torta della nonna. As I had some leftover cookies that had been smashed on their journey to and from the park for a picnic on Sunday, I thought I’d make a cheesecake with a della nonna twist: ie, with the addition of pine nuts.

A note on the cookies
I made some cornmeal cookies – they were basically like a digestive, but with a slightly different crunch, and a few spices (cinnamon, ginger). They worked well, but you can use whatever biscuits you like: digestives are most typical for UK cheesecakes, US recipes use graham crackers. My friend Juli-from-Jersey said the cornmeal cookies reminded her of snickerdoodles, though they’re cookies with a name so ridiculous I can’t quite bring myself to discuss them.

I won’t include the cornmeal cookies recipe, but will say digestives are so easy to make you don’t need to reach for some plastic-wrapped stuff from a factory. I’ve included a simple recipe at the bottom of this post. If you do use this recipe, I’d add some cinnamon and ginger to the crumb base mix.

A note on the candied peel
Only use your own candied peel, or other hand-made stuff. Don’t use that yucky sticky stuff you get in tubs from the supermarket. Peel is easy to make. Honest. Just Google it, if you’ve not tried before. I’m still using some of my candied-vodka-infused-kumquats-from-the-garden-peel.

A note on cheeses
Often, cheesecake recipes will just say “cream cheese” in the ingredient list. It’s a bit vague. Though perhaps it doesn’t matter what cream cheese, as a baked cheesecake mixture seems pretty forgiving. Here I used mascarpone and robiola. The latter could be replaced with something like Philadelphia, if you really had to. You could also do, say, half-half mascarpone and ricotta. I might try that next time as you can get stupendous fresh ricotta here in Roma.

Pine nut cheesecake slice, cheesecake della nonna

Ingredients
Base:
40g hazelnuts
120g cookies/biscuits like digestives
60g butter

Cheesy bit:
250g mascarpone
200g robiola
2 eggs
Zest of 1 lemon
100g caster sugar
30g candied peel
60g pine nuts

To serve:
30g pine nuts
Icing sugar

Method
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
2. Toast the hazelnuts until starting to brown.
3. Grind the hazelnuts in a food processor until fairly fine, then add the cookies and grind to a medium crumb.
4. Melt the butter in a pan, then combine with the hazelnuts and cookie crumbs.
5. Push the crumb mix into the bottom of a 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin.
6. Combine the cheeses, eggs, sugar, and zest, blending well by hand or with a handheld zizzer.
7. Finely chop the candied peel and add to the cheese mix, along with the pine nuts.
8. Pour the cheese mix onto the crumb base.
9. Bake for around 50-60 mins until the top is browning and even cracking slightly, and firm to the touch.
10. Remove the sides of the tin, and leave to cool completely.
11. When the cake is cool, toast the extra pine nuts and sprinkle on top, dusting the whole lot with icing sugar.
12. You could serve it with some whipped cream, for added deliciousness. We didn’t as it’s hard to get nice cream here in Roma, despite the cornucopia of other wonderful dairy products.

Extra! Free! Digestive biscuits recipe
90g butter
120g wholemeal flour
120g oatmeal
40g caster sugar
Pinch salt
Pinch baking soda
1 egg, beaten

1. Preheat oven to 200C.
2. Rub butter into flour, stir in the rest and bind with beaten egg.
3. Roll and cut out rounds.
4. Prick with a fork.
5. Put on baking sheet, sprinkle with oatmeal and bake in a hot oven till browned.

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Honey, almond and peel cookies

fresh baked

This was a bit of a haphazard baking experience. I’d wanted to make some biscuits or cookies that included citrus peel, as I’d recently made some. I also wanted to try some more recipes from the American Academy in Rome’s Biscotti book.

It’s a handsome, nicely-designed book, and I know from working in the Academy kitchens that their biscotti and cookies are very good. But, like The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, Biscotti is a recipe book that really needed more testing, to make sure the recipes were scaled correctly for a domestic kitchen. Many of the recipes have large yields and rely on you having a proper food mixer. I don’t want to bake for 40 people, nor do I have a Hobart (I wish!).

melt honey and sugar 2

So I read the Biscotti di miele (honey cookies) recipe with some trepidation. It “Yields 60 cookies”. It doesn’t involve fat or eggs. It seems to rely on having a mixer. It uses baking soda, but doesn’t seem to have enough acid for the alkali sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to react with – just some grappa. And even if it did, it says to rest the dough “in a cool place overnight (not in a fridge”). Which is confusing – won’t the soda just react with the grappa when they’re first combined, producing then dispersing the leavening CO2, then have not efficacy at all once it’s rested? Oh, and its summer here in Rome now, 35C-ish (that’s mid-90F, for you 19th century types) – so there is no “cool place” in my flat, beyond the fridge.

chopping peel

Still, I liked the sound of the flavours – honey, almonds, peel, some spices, so I plunged in. So this is my first attempt at a more domestic, less fussy version of these cookies. It’s not quite right, but the flavour is good. As I didn’t have any grappa (yuck), I changed the baking soda to baking powder, which is already combination of acid and alkali, designed to react and create leavening CO2 when heated. I also jettisoned some of the original recipes spices – cloves (because I find them a bit pungent, and too Christmassy) and nutmeg (because I didn’t have any).

chopping almonds

Ingredients
170g honey
125g granulated sugar
1/2 tsp almond essence
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
260g plain/all-purpose flour
60g candied peel (I used my famous vodka-soaked kumquat zest, now candied), finely chopped
65g raw almonds, finely chopped, or indeed ground in a food mixer
50g (ish) milk
60g icing sugar + water for icing

bring together the dough

1. Melt together the honey and sugar, cooking until the sugar crystals have dissolvde.
2. Put aside to cool, adding the almond essence.
3. Sieve together the baking powder, flour and cinnamon.
4. Add the chopped almonds and peel to the honey.
5. Combine the gloopy honey mixture and flour. Ideally done in a mixer, but it’s possible by hand.
6. Bring to a dough. Add milk if it’s too dry.
7. Form a ball and rest, wrapped in plastic, for an hour or so.

bring together the dough 2
8. Roll out the dough thinly – less than 5mm ideally.
9. Cut with your cookie cutters of choice.
10. Bake on sheets lined with parchment for around 10 minutes in an oven preheated to 180C, until golden brown.
11. Place on a wire rack to cool.
12. While cooling, brush with a simple icing made from icing sugar mixed with water to achieve a runny consistency.
13. Allow the cookies to cool completely and the icing to set.
14. Eat, dunked in milky tea.

ready to bake

So yes, although they still feel somewhat experimental, these cookies were still delicious – particularly for the slight crunch of almond and the chewiness of the peel, the latter complimented by the cinnamon.

iced

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Brutti ma buoni

Brutti ma buoni

The easiest way to describe Brutti ma buoni (“ugly but good”) is as nut meringue cookies. All the ones I’ve encountered in Rome have been made with hazelnuts, and many of the recipes online seem to be also. But there’s also a variant made with almonds.

Italian Wikipedia says they’re also called Bruttibuoni, made with almonds and are from Prato in Tuscany. I suspect a lot of other Italians might take issue with that though, as they do seem to be a fairly widespread. Indeed, a bit more googling, and another source claims they’re from Varese, in Lombardy, north of Milan. Yet another calls them Brut ma bon (a more French-sounding dialect name) and gets even more specific about their origin: not just Varese, but Gavirate, a town in the vicinity of Varese.

Hazelnuts reading for roasting

Whatever the history, bottom line is that they’re a meringue-type cookie (ie made with egg whites, no fat and little or no flour) that are rich in chopped nuts. Heck, even us Brits have a traditional hazelnut meringue, so I’m really not sure it’s the sort of recipe anyone can really stake a claim to.

I decided to make some as we had some egg whites left in the fridge from making custard. The recipe I used is from Biscotti: Recipes From The Kitchen Of The American Academy In Rome. It’s the third recipe I’ve tried from there following the wonderful Honey and farro cookies, and the Pinolate (pine nut cookies). I need to try the latter again before I blog it as my first batch wasn’t quite right.

Chopping nuts

Anyway. While baking these this morning, I looked around to compare recipes, and – would you Adam and Eve it – my favourite baker Dan Lepard published his recipe a few weeks ago in The Guardian. It’s an indication that despite how basic these cookies may be, there are several approaches to the method. His doesn’t require the eat whites to be beaten, uses pre-skinned hazelnuts, and involves combining all the ingredients in a saucepan. I will have to try that for comparison. One day. Not today. Not when I’ve already got 30 biscuits cooling in the kitchen. Another recipe, from a Canadian cookbook, meanwhile, also involves cooking the sugar and egg whites together, then beating them. That approach is more like a classic Italian meringue, and certainly the results in the pics look more meringue and less cookie.

Sugar, beaten egg whites etc md

So. As usual, I’m tweaking as I go along. The original recipe made a lot of mixture, but as you turn off the oven at the end of baking and let the cookies cool inside – as you do with meringues – you either need a massive oven, or should do half quantities. So I’ve halved the original recipe. I’ve also added some almond essence – simply because it’s more explicitly nutty than just using vanilla essence. Ideally I’d use hazelnut essence but I don’t have any.

250g hazelnuts (with skin)
1 egg white
125g granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1/2 teaspoon hazelnut or almond essence
5g plain flour
Zest of half a lemon

Heat the oven to 150C.

1. Put the nuts on a tray, then roast them for about 15 minutes.
.2 Turn the oven up to 180C.
3. Take the nuts out of the oven and rub them with a tea towel. This removes some of the skin. Don’t agonise though. The inclusion of some skin adds a depth of flavour, IMHO. (I also prefer my peanut butter to be wholenut, skins and all.)
4. Put half the nuts in a mixer and give them a quick whizz. Just break them up. You don’t want to grind them.
5. Put the other half of the nuts on a chopping board and chop roughly. (The original recipe has you chopping them all by hand, but a) that’s labour intensive and b) I like the mixture of sizes and texture this method creates. Mades the results extra-brutti.)
6. Beat the egg whites to a soft peak.
7. Beat the sugar into the egg whites, to a firm peak, then add the essences.
8. Add the zest and flour to the nuts.
9. Gently fold the egg white mix into the nuts.
10. Put teaspoonfuls on a baking sheet lined with parchment, leaving about 4cm between (though they don’t spread much).
11. Bake for about 12 minutes, until only just starting to colour.
12. Turn off the oven, leaving the cookies inside to continue baking as it cools. Leave for about 10 minutes
13. Remove and cool on a wire rack.
14. Enjoy.

Baked and cooling

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