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Ricotta and cinnamon pizza

Cinnamon and ricotta pizza

Ricotta. Generally, I don’t know what to do with this classic Italian “recooked” whey cheese. I’ve used it in cheesecakes before, and it is delicious eaten for breakfast with a drizzle of honey. But the sheer scale of its presence in Rome, where fresh stuff arrives by the tonne every day, indicates it’s used very widely indeed.

Shops like the likeable Antica Caciara in Trastevere have an entire window dedicated to baskets of the stuff. Farmers markets’ also tend to have several stalls selling bucketloads of the stuff. Since our farmers’ market was shifted out of Testaccio, and as it’s August and most of Rome’s markets are closed anyway, we’ve been frequenting our new Punta Vendita Aziendale (direct-from-farm shop) near Ponte Testaccio. (Actually, it’s three outlets in one venue. See Info, below). They have a lot too, and on a couple of occasions when we’ve been stocking up on other goodies, they’ve given us some. It’s all about the freshness with Roman ricotta, so I suppose they just don’t want it hanging about – and they want to encourage our loyalty.

So what else do people do with the stuff? Well, I’m slowly discovering.

Fresh ricotta

It’s used in a few classic, simple pasta dishes, but to be honest, I don’t much like them; even with excellent quality ricotta such dishes seem oddly bitter to me. There’s a kind of cappuccino di ricotta according to ‘Cucina Romana’ by Sara Manuelli1, but I’ve never seen that. Manuelli also gives a recipe for ricotta condita that just involves the cheese, egg, sugar, cocoa and some booze. It sounds like a kind of trifle or tiramisu, but without any sponge. Other versions, such as in Oretta Zanini di Vita’s ‘The Food of Rome and Lazio’2 use finely ground coffee instead of cocoa.

When I got the cookbook ‘La cucina di Roma e del Lazio’3, one thing that caught my eye straight away was the budino di ricotta (ricotta pudding, or ricotta cake), which they make in a handsome ring form. So I gave it a go. It seemed simple – just ricotta, sugar, lemon zest, a little booze and some eggs, some separated, with the whites whisked to give the pudding some lightness.

Ingredients for ricotta and cinnamon pizza. Ricotta, sugar, cinnamon, dough. Basta.

It all seemed to go well. Until I turned it out of the tin. It deflated a bit. Okay, fine. But then I ate some. Really not my bag. I’m sorry to say I found it oddly nauseating, just unpleasantly whey-y, so I won’t be repeating the recipe here. I should have known really, as I’d made a baked ricotta pudding before, using ‘Cooking Apicius’ – recipes based on a collection from the late classical period4. That one involved lots of bay leaves and at first bite was amazing, but at second bite was exotically disgusting.

So I was back to square one with my slightly vexed question of what to do with ricotta.

Ricotta and cinnamon pizza, before baking

And then Azienda Agricola Fratelli Nesta, one of the abovementioned three outlets, went and gave us another couple of etti5 of ricotta.

Luckily, ‘La Cucina di Roma e del Lazio’ has several other ricotta-based recipes. One of which is so absurdly simple I had to give it a try. It’s a sweet pizza, and would you know, I had some spare pizza dough.

According to authors Marie Teresa di Marco and Marie Cécile Ferré this is a “super-simple sweet that you can often find in the bakeries of Tuscia”. Tuscia is the historical region of the Etruscans (the Tusci in Latin), a large area of central and western Italy that now corresponds with most of Tuscany, northern Lazio and parts of Umbria. The recipe in is specifically called “Pizza ricotta e cannella di Tarquinia”. Tarquinia is an ancient Etruscan town near Viterbo, north of Rome.

I can’t find any mention of a ricotta and cinnamon pizza from Tarquinia or Tuscia,  or anywhere for that matter, online, but then, Italy hasn’t poured all of its vast and varied (food) culture onto the internet. So I’ll just give the two Maries the benefit of the doubt.

Anyway, I’m not going to mess about trying to put it in grams or whatever as it really is simple and flexible. It’s all about the “qb”, the quanta basta, the “how much is enough”. That is, the right amount according to your intuition and inclination.

You just need to make some basic white bread or pizza dough; I won’t give a recipe here, as there are numerous recipes in other sources. Just find one that suits you. I’d recommend one with a nice long fermentation.

Ricotta and cinnamon pizza

The ricotta and cinnamon pizza recipe isn’t even a recipe per se, it just says:

Bread dough
Ricotta
Sugar and cinnamon
Extra virgin olive oil

Then mentions the bakeries of Tuscia, where “the bread dough often comes in a thin form, covered with ricotta, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, then drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. You bake it in a hot oven for about 20 minutes.”

And you know what? It’s delicious. I especially like the way the oily, sugary mix caramellises on the crust. Sure, it’s an example of those Medieval flavour mixes of sweet, spice and savoury that us Brits don’t use so much these days and, sure, perhaps it’s slightly confusing quite when you might want to eat it. Is it a main course, is it a dessert, is it for afternoon tea, or even a breakfast snack? But frankly, it’s so simple and satisfying, you can eat it whenever you want. I scoffed most of mine at 5.15pm as the hangry hour was approaching.

Info
Punta Vendita Aziendale (direct-from-farm shop), Via Bernadino Passeri 8, 00154 Rome.
Open Tues, Wed, Fri and Sat 8.00-19.00,  Sun 8.00-14.00

Footnotes and stuff
1 ‘Cucina Romana’ by Sara Manuelli appears to be out of print. The copy I’m referring to was published in 2005 by Conran Octopus, ISBN 1 84091 407 6.
2 ‘The Food of Rome and Lazio’ by Oretta Zanini di Vita also appears to be out of print. The book I’m referring to is translatedby Maureen B Fant, and is listed on her website. First published 1993 by Alphabyte di Maureen Brown SAS, ISBN 88 86128 02 9. I’m not sure, but it may have been reprinted in 2003 by the University of California Press as ‘Popes, Peasants, and Shepherds: Recipes and Lore from Rome and Lazio’.
3 ‘La cucina di Roma e del Lazio’ (“The cooking/cuisine of Rome and Lazio”) by Marie Teresa di Marco and Marie Cécile Ferré is, so far, only available in Italian. Published 2012 by Guido Tommasi Editore-Datanova, ISBN 978 88 96621 844.
4 ‘Cooking Apicius: Roman Recipes for Today’ by Sally Grainger. More information here from the publisher, Prospect Books, along with a PDF download with ” the preliminary matter, the introduction, the list of recipes and the opening historical discussion of Cooking Apicius”.
5 An etto (plural: etti), or ettogrammo is a commonly used measure in Italy, especially for buying market produce. It’s a hectogram/hectogramme – that is 100g, 0.1kg, or about 3 and a half ounces.

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Almond and candied peel cookies

Almond and peel cookies

A few weeks ago, I made some cookies using almonds and candied peel (ideally homemade, or at least handmade). The flavour was great, but the cookie wasn’t quite right. So I thought I’d try similar flavourings again, but with a much more basic cookie recipe. It’s v simple.

So here it is.

125g butter
100g caster sugar
75g soft brown or demerara sugar
1 egg (with the white and yolk weighing about 50g)
1 t vanilla essence
1 t almond essence
100g plain flour
80g ground almonds
1/2 t baking powder
1 t cinnamon powder
50g candied peel, roughly chopped
50g plain almonds, roughly chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 190C.
2. Melt the butter, then combine with the sugar in a bowl.
3. Add the egg and essences and beat.
4. Sieve in the flour, ground almonds, cinnamon and baking powder. The ground almonds probably won’t go through the sieve entirely – don’t worry, just dunk the rest into the mix.
5. Add the chopped peel and nuts, and combine to form a fairly loose cookie dough.
6. Put desertspoonfuls on baking sheets lined with parchment.
7. Bake the cookies for around 10-12 minutes, until browning nicely.
8. Cool on a wire rack.
9. Enjoy.

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Flapjacks

plate of flapjacks

Growing up in Britain, I was quite confused when I first heard the American English usage of “flapjack”. I ate a lot of flapjacks when I was a kid, and it was a staple of my university years, so the idea that the name could be used for anything other than a sweet slab of oaty goodness did not compute. Apparently the American usage of the word is for a pancake, something made with batter and fried in a pan. Wuh? What in blazes? What the flip?

I’ve experienced a lot of this low-level cultural confusion lately, having done three months in the kitchens of the American Academy in Rome. Some days I’d talk to a California colleague and they’d look at me totally blankly, following neither my accent nor my idiom. Other days, it seemed like everyone was doing comedy English accents, taking the piss. Anyway, I digress (as usual).

This is a flapjack. It’s made with rolled oats.

oats

We’re – finally – going hiking in the mountains this weekend, and when you’re hiking, you need energy food. Oats are perhaps the best straightfoward, real energy food you can get. Feed them to working horses and they’ll go and go. Eat porridge (gah – oatmeal!), muesli or granola for breakfast and you’re set till lunchtime. It’s all about the slow energy release from the complex carbohydrates. Oats are also great because the bran (the high fibre bit)  reduces low-density lipoprotein, or “bad cholesterol”. I should probably say “some research indicates” it reduces LDL or something, but I thought there was a pretty good scientific consensus these days. Oats are also high in protein – not the increasingly problematic proteins of starchy modern wheat, but a different type that’s reportedly akin to meat or egg protein.

Humble, but a real superfood.

So flapjacks are great. Except for the fact that, when making them, you undo a lot of the good work of the oat in its natural state by slathering it with butter and refined sugars, in the form of sugar and golden syrup.

Golden Syrup

The butter is essential for proper flapjacks, but what defines them is really the golden syrup. Ah, golden syrup. I believe this doesn’t exist many parts of the world, but in my British upbringing it was v important – notably for the quintessential winter steamed pudding known as treacle sponge. Which isn’t made with treacle (black, ie molasses) but is made with golden syrup (golden). It looks like honey, but is basically a viscous liquid sugar. Technically it’s an inverted sugar syrup. Felicity Cloake in The Guardian also dedicates one of her “How to make the perfect…” blogs to flapjacks. She discusses the whole crunchy vs chewy thing, so I’m not going to go into that. She also includes a link to this useful site, with an in-depth discussion of flapjacks.

Suffice to say, flapjacks are stupidly simple and unsophisticated, they’re packed with rolled oats, they’re very sweet, and they’ll help you get across mountains. I just hope it doesn’t thunder and lighting when we’re up there among the peaks of Abruzzo National Park, as that’d totally freak out Fran. And, as much as I’d dearly dearly love to see one of western Europe’s few (really tragically few – maybe a three dozen or) remaining brown bears, let’s just hope one doesn’t get too excited about the flapjacks, as that’s totally freak us both out. We should be alright; if they were made with honey, that’d be another story, as bears love honey right?

As for a recipe. Well, I made a lot of flapjacks when I was at universty, and played around with the recipe extensively. I’ve not made them for years though, and my recipe is tucked away somewhere, in another country, in a shed, in a box, in a knackered old blue scrapbook. So instead, I used Cloake’s, with a few minor tweaks that I’d probably tweak some more were I to make them again any time soon.

sugary fatty goodness

Preheat oven to 180C (160C fan).

Line a baking tin with baking parchment. Cloake suggests a 30x20cm tin, but I think these would be better thicker, so if you have a tin a size down from that, I’d recommend using it.

Melt 250g butter in a large pan, along with 70g of brown sugar (Demerara is traditional; I used more of a soft brown as sugar types are little different here in Italy to in the UK) and 150g golden syrup. (Guys – seriously, electronic scales, tare function, easy. Tablespooning golden syrup is messy and inaccurate. Not that accuracy really matters for a recipe like this. It’s not a fancy cake with exacting chemical reactions.)

When the mix is all melted, add 450g of rolled oats. You can use a mixture of jumbo and quick-cook porridge oats, whatever you fancy. Add a pinch of salt too, if you’ve used unsalted butter.

Bake for about 25 minutes until nice and golden brown. Mine are a bit underbaked but the darned oven in our rental flat has very aggressive bottom heat so I didn’t want to char the bottom trying to get a golden brown top. I’ve had a charred bottom before, and it’s not fun.

sugary fatty oaty goodness

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Torta Caprese

I see a lot of sachertorte in Roman pasticceria, but the other day I spotted a torta Caprese in the window of a place that seems to just be called Pasticceria Trastevere. It’s a pasticceria. In Trastevere. Not very imaginative. (Specifically, it’s on Via Natale del Grande 50, opposite the wonderful Cinema America building. Currently Occupato).

It’s not a cake I’ve encountered before, oddly considering I love chocolate cakes. And love cakes made with ground nuts. (And considering even a certain middle-class UK supermarket even does a brand version, I discover now.) My friend Rachel described it – and frankly it sounded much like a sachertorte, but without the apricot jam and chocolate glaze. That is a rich, flourless chocolate cake made with ground almonds.

Now that was something I had to try. And make. Without ever having eaten it before.

Pasticceria Trastevere

Some considerations

I scoured the internet for recipes, mostly in Italian. There seemed to be a some variation, notably in the question of what sort of almonds to use. Some used pre-ground almonds (or farina di mandorle – almond flour), some used blanched almonds that you then ground, others used skin-on almonds that you blanched and peeled yourself (a labour intensive job) before grinding, and others used skin-on almonds, ground as is.

Almonds

I liked the idea of the latter, not just as it’s less labour intensive, but because the skins add depth of flavour. (Much like I prefer my peanut butter wholenut, not skinned. Even though peanuts aren’t nuts, of course.)

Almonds, ground

The other key factor with a cake like this is the egg whites. The most important thing is to get the egg whites whisked to soft peaks, then be very gentle when you add the egg white to the nut/choc/fat/sugar/tuorli (egg yolks. Such a nice word. Sounds a bit like “twirly”). Seriously: be gentle when you fold in the egg whites, as this is only your way of lightening the cake, as there are no raising agents and it’s full of fairly dense ground nuts. Sure it’s going to be a fairly heavy cake, that’s the nature of nut-based, flourless cakes, but you don’t want it totally dense and biscuit-like.

Adding the egg whites

I have seen a few recipes with some baking powder, but it shouldn’t really be necessary for a cake with whisked egg whites. Plus, if you’re hoping to make a gluten-free cake, adding baking powder can be problematic. Why? Because baking powder often contains some starch, which absorbs moisture during storage. This can be from potatoes, or corn/maize, but it can also be from wheat. The stuff I’ve got in my cupboard, is clearly labelled: “Ingredients: Disodium Dihydrogen Diphosphate, Sodium Hydrogen Carbonate, Wheatflour (contains Gluten)”.

The other variable is how the other ingredients are combined. Obviously. This is interesting as frankly, I’m not sure it would make much difference if you did any of the following – as long as things are well mixed and you were gentle with the whites.

So, the recipes I read involved these various approaches

1 melting together the butter, chocolate and sugar, then adding the ground nuts, then beating in the egg yolks, and folding in the egg whites.
2 melting just the chocolate. Creaming together the sugar and butter, then adding the egg yolks, then the nuts, and melted chocolate, then the whisked egg whites. (This is how it’s described on English Wikipedia, but not in the majority of the Italian recipes I’ve looked at.)
3 melting together the chocolate and butter, beating together the sugar and yolks, then adding the ground nuts, then the liquid chocolate and butter, then folding in the whites.
4 Reversing the addition of liquid choc/butter and ground nuts. Theconcern here is that if the melted liquid is still hot, it could cook and scramble the egg yolk, unless you’ve cooled it somewhat first. So I’ve plumped for 3.

Some observations

The torta Caprese in Pasticceria Trastevere had slightly sloping edges – ie, it’s not baked in straight-sided cake tins. I was planning to use a 20cm straight-sided cake tin for this, to make a deeper cake, but my wife had left it at work. Which turned out to be helpful in the end, as I looked around for other tins and found one (not mine I believe, but belonging to our landlady) that seemed more appropriate, despite being somewhat shallow. I suppose it’s more like what we’d call a flan or pie tin in the UK, though it’s not got fluted sides.

Components 2

Also, the version I saw in Pasticceria Trastevere had flaked almonds on the top. Though this top was clearly the bottom, which was then inverted for serving. This seemed like a lovely idea, though I didn’t really use enough almonds, so I also decorated the finished cake with some icing sugar, which seems to be the norm.

Use good dark chocolate, at leat 65% cocoa solids. I used Venchi Cuor di Cacao 75%. Serious stuff.

Serious chocolate, chopped

One final note. Some of the recipes also call for some Strega (“witch”), a digestivo liquer traditionally made with herbs, but these days is probably mostly just made with E-numbers (as most of the “traditional” liquers seem to be). Not many of the recipes I’ve looked at, and indeed none of the Italian ones, include it. So I’m not bothering.

The recipe

4 eggs, separated
250g almonds, shelled but skin on
200g butter
200g dark chocolate
170g caster sugar
A good handful of flaked almonds

Preheat the oven 180C.

1 Grease and line the base of a 22cm round tin.
2 Generously sprinkle flaked almonds in the base of the tin.
3 Grind the whole almonds to a coarse powder in a food processor. (If you’ve not got a food processor you could, for example, use half ground almonds and half whole almonds that you’ve chopped… fairly comprehensively.)
4 Melt together the chocolate and the butter in a bowl suspended over a pan of gently simmering water.
5 Beat together the sugar and egg yolks. It’s quite a thick mix, but beat until creamy.
6 Beat the ground almonds into the sugar and egg yolks.
7 Add the melted chocolate and butter to the eggy-almond mix and beat.
8 Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks. That is, when you lift up the whisk, and a peak is formed, it sags over slowly.
9 If the main mixture feels particularly stiff, you can beat in one tablespoon of the beaten egg whites. Gently fold in the egg whites.
10 Gently pour into the prepared tin.
11 Bake for around 45 minutes, until firm to the touch. This time will vary according to the character of your oven. With a fan oven, you might want to lower the temp to 160C.
12 Leave to cool in the tin on a wire rack.
13 Turn out and serve inverted. Decorate with sieved icing sugar if you like.

Enjoy.

Addendum, 27 Feb 2013.
I want to try this again, but with an extra egg. Not sure I’ll have time for a while though, as I’ve started volunteering on the Rome Sustainable Food Project, and it’s pretty full-on, hours-wise. After separating four eggs for this recipe the other day, yesterday I seperated 120 for 6kg of pasta… My home baking will be a bit of a back burner for a few months, so the blog might be a bit quiet.

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Chestnut flour pancakes

Smooth batter

Since discovering chestnut flour for sale here in Rome, I’ve been enjoying experimenting with it. I’ve made some okay breads like this one and this attempt at pane di San Martino. I’ve also discovered it makes a very nice pancake (or crepe, if you prefer). And seeing as yesterday, 12 February 2013, was Shrove Tuesday, aka Pancake Day, it seemed like a good excuse to make a batch.

Chestnut flour (farina di castagne) is surprisingly sweet and apparently it’s also known as farina dolce in Italy (though I’ve never heard that in Rome). Also, as it has nothing to do with wheat or any grain, it’s also gluten-free. I have used some plain flour in the mix here, but that’s partly because I ran out of chestnut flour; the recipe works well with just 220g chestnut flour.

Whisking

I’ll say here and now that pancakes are, of course, hardly sophisticated fare, and furthermore they didn’t photo very well, but, honest, this is  a nice recipe, for both savoury and sweet pancakes.

This makes about a dozen.

2 eggs
280g milk (or ml if you haven’t got electronic scales)
20g (or ml) water, approximately
160g chestnut flour
60g plain flour
Pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 tablespoons of vegetable, oilseed or olive oil

1 Lightly beat the eggs together and add the oil.
2 Sieve together the flours and baking soda, and put in a bowl.
3 Add a pinch of salt.
4 Add the eggs and oil to the dry mix.
5 Add the milk and whisk to combine, adding a little more water if necessary. You want a consistency like single cream.
6 Fry ladlefuls of the mixture in a hot, greased pan. (Thanks to the wife for womanfully managing this step.)

Chestnut pancake

We filled ours with a mushrooms and cream cheese, grated Emmental, and – on a more Italian note – prosciutto. (And although they may look a bit burnt in the below photo, they weren’t – I blame the dark batter and the electric lighting.) Then I finished them off for breakfast this morning with yogurt, banana and honey. But go for your life with fillings – whatever you fancy. What we didn’t do last night was the old-school English pancake day variant of lemon juice and sugar. I think we were too full of the savoury ones.

Savoury pancakes

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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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Chocolate cake with dark double-malt beer

 

Chocolate cake made with "birra scura doppio malto" (dark, double-malted beer)

One of my favourite breweries here in Italy is Mastri Birrai Umbri. They currently do three beers, one of which is Cotta 74, a doppio malto scura – a dark double-malt beer. A “birra doppio malto” is an Italian legal classification but this specific beer is made with a well-roasted malt as is not unlike a porter or stout. It’s got a warm, deep flavour, with a slight burnt caramel taste and hints of chocolate. So, thought I, why not try and use it in a chocolate cake recipe?

Mastri Birrai Umbri’s beers, developed by master brewer Michele Sensidoni,  also all use a unique ingredient, something distinctly Umbrian. In the case of Cotta 74, that ingredient is lentils, which are a traditional crop in Umbria. I believe they give the beer a slight nuttiness and earthiness. Also good for a chocolate cake, thunk I.

Anyway, available here is a recipe for a chocolate cake made with Guinness. It’s a Nigella Lawson recipe. I never had good results from her cake recipes, I found them unpredicable and unreliable. And nor do I like Guinness (it’s tastes too much like iron and mud, it’s too creamy). But the recipe proved a good foundation for a cake made with Cotta 74.

Of course this is a versatile recipe, so use whatever stout or porter you have to hand. Though I would recommend something good quality from a small brewery. Large scale industrial beer is never as nice.

(Note – I do liquids in grams. It’s more accurate, and perfectly easy if you’re using bowls and electronic scales. If you’re unconvinced, just use the liquid measures in ml.)

250g scura doppio malto, stout or porter
250g unsalted butter
100g cocoa
340g caster sugar
140g mascarpone
20g yogurt
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
270g plain flour
1.5 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon baking power

Preheat oven to 180C.
Grease and line a 23cm tin. (Springform is easier but not essential.)

In a pan, melt the butter in the beer.
Pour into a large mixing bowl.
Beat the cocoa and sugar into the beer/butter mix.
Allow this mixture to cool slightly.

Beat together the mascarpone, yogurt, eggs and vanilla essence.
When the main mix is cool enough, beat in the mascarpone mixture. (If it’s too hot, you’ll scramble the egg content.)

Sieve together the flour and raising agents.
Add this to the mixture and beat well.

Pour the mixture into the tin.

Bake for around 1 around, until it’s well risen and no longer too wobbly.

Leave to cool completely in the tin, on a wire rack.

Make a topping with
100g mascarpone
150g icing sugar

Sieve the icing sugar into the mascarpone and mix.
If it’s too sloppy, add more sieved icing sugar.

Enjoy!

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