More on candying

Scorzette di arancia

I first made these four or five years ago now – I can’t exactly remember when. What I do remember is that I was trying to do it blind, my recipe had no image of the end product, and being all fingers and thumbs and an impatient bull in a china shop, my scorzette (literally, ‘peel’, plural) ended up torn and ragged. They resembled more the peelings of a Christmas satsuma than a refined treat of sweetness and bitterness. I love them, they are such an intense hit of orange and chocolate – they’re a Terry’s Chocolate Orange, distilled and perfected.

Unlike the process for candying whole fruit, or thick pithed varieties like citron or pomelo, this technique is relatively quick in terms of actual cooking – the lengthy bit is the drying before you bathe your peel in chocolate.  A small bag of these makes a great gift; once dry, they keep indefinitely, although they tend not to hang around for long.  They might be a bit too mouth-puckering for sweet toothed children, which just means more for you!

Of course, you don’t need to dip them in chocolate, you can use the candied peel in your Christmas cake, or to decorate cannoli.

Scorzette di arancia al cioccolato

Candied orange peel dipped in chocolate

Thick skinned oranges (grapefruit works just as well)

Water

Sugar

Dark chocolate

Wash the fruit, and then cut the top and bottom off.  

Then, with a sharp knife, slice four or five vertical cuts through the skin and pith, from the top to the bottom (try not to cut too deeply into the flesh, as this makes it harder to peel). Space the cuts roughly evenly around the fruit.

Then, carefully, and getting as much as the pith as possible, peel the segments off the fruit.

I slide my thumbnail into the thickest part of the pith and then tease it away.  Try not to tear them, but if you do, it’s not the end of the world.

Put the sections of peel in a pan of cold water, cover, and bring this to the boil.

Drain, and then repeat this another two times.

This process reduces the bitterness of the peel.

Now make a 50:50 mix of water and granulated sugar. Bring to the boil, and when all the sugar is dissolved, add the peel. The amount you’ll need here depends entirely on how many fruit you’ve skinned, but they need to be covered for the whole cooking period, and the syrup will reduce by 50-60%.

Leave the peel to simmer until the syrup has reduced (which can take up to 40 minutes), and the thick white pith has become translucent, telling you that the sugar has penetrated all the way in.

Remove the peel from the syrup, and cut it into strips about 1cm wide, then spread these out on rack to dry (put a piece of baking parchment underneath to catch any drips).

Depending on the temperature, humidity and thickness of the pith, this can take a few days.

Once they’re dry to the touch, break some dark chocolate into a bowl, and place this over a saucepan of simmering water (don’t let the bowl touch the water). When it is melted, take your dry strips of candied peel and dip about half to two thirds of each one in the chocolate, and put them on baking parchment while the chocolate sets.

Then store them in something airtight somewhere cool and dry (not the fridge though, as this will make the chocolate discolour).

The fruit can be used for juice, or cut out segments for a fruit salad.

Learning to love the wobble

BONET

I’m going to need a bigger plate

So many food likes and dislikes can be traced back to childhood encounters, experiences that fix an immoveable opinion. The lottery of school dinners in the 70s was the arena where I learnt to be faddy about what I ate, approaching meal times with suspicion and trepidation. I can remember a particularly vivid nightmare, where I was served up a stew of slugs – even today I can viscerally recall the muscular sliminess that I tasted, jolting me awake.

Puddings were where the high stakes games were played – there was so much that could go right, or go awry.  A glorious day would be chocolate cracknel (I think just cornflakes and chocolate balled up by a ice cream scoop), with mint custard; conversely the mood could sink to untold lows if it was creme caramel, anaemic wobbling rubber in a pool of brown tears.  Its sweetness could not hide its mediocrity. It was the taste of disappointment.

As an adult, as a cook, I have never overcome my childish impressions of creme caramel – never been tempted to revisit, retaste and potentially unlearn my prejudice.  However, today, in a surprising development, I have segued in its general direction, almost by mistake.  But first you have to put everything I’ve said so far, out of your head.  Instead think of almonds; amaretti and amaretto, think fresh caramel and chocolate.  Think patience and sensuality.

This is Bonet, a pudding of the Piemonte, in the north of Italy.  It’s easy to make, although requires precision (not one of my main attributes, but with guidance, I pulled it off).

How I discovered this wonderful, silken thing is in itself a result of new experiences and changes to life brought about by the lockdown across the world. Exactly a year ago today – 16 November 2019, I was in Rome to learn about artichokes with Rachel Roddy and Carla Tomesi at the Latteria studio. It was a wonderful weekend of food, storms and art – which I wrote about here. I’d never met Carla before and was bowled over by her knowledge, humour and the way she made everything look so effortless, but was so keen to pass on everything she knew.

Come the new year, the lockdowns that rolled across the world and the explosion of Zoom, Carla came up with idea of having an occasional catch up, anyone was welcome – to talk about food, what we were cooking, which ingredients we couldn’t get hold of. And over the months, Carla’s chit chats have grown, people dropping in and out from across the world and across timezones. On these Sunday afternoons (or mornings for some of us), strangers from Italy, France, the UK, Canada, America, Mexico and more, sit for an hour, often longer, and become friends. There are regular faces, reunions, people ‘meeting’ for the first time after months of Instagram messaging – it is one of the positive things in the year that I have valued the most.

Often, Carla will send out a recipe beforehand, so those who want to, can cook along with her – learning new techniques and flavours. There is a lovely companionship to be had, knowing that we are simultaneously preparing the same dish in numerous countries and across thousands of miles.

And this then is how I came to discover and make Bonet, overturning my dread of wobble on the anniversary of the day that I met and began learning from Carla.

Bonet

For the caramel 

200g caster sugar

6 tablespoons of water

For the custard

1 litre full fat mill

25 amaretti biscuits crushed.

5 medium eggs

5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

4 tablespoons caster sugar

Ameretto liqueur

You can either make individual puddings in ramekins, or one large one a 20cm pie dish.

Set the oven at 160 C or Gas mark 3

The caramel

Make your caramel by putting the water and sugar in a pan on a low heat. Without stirring, until it starts to colour, allow it to simmer and then melt. It can easily burn, so watch carefully, you’re aiming for something the colour of a ginger nut.

When it’s ready, use the caramel to line your pie dish, or ramekins.

It’s very hot, but will set quickly, so work fast but carefully – wearing gloves if you’re nervous.

Roll the dish around (like you’re sieving for gold), and the caramel will coat the sides as you tip it, setting into a solid, glassy finish.

You can do this bit in advance, which has the added advantage that, as the caramel cools – it starts to crack like breaking ice, which is both exciting, and strangely beautiful.

The custard

I assembled everything in bowls beforehand, which made everything very simple, and meant I could work quickly.

Start by heating the milk and sugar, and whilst this is happening, beat your eggs.

While whisking, pour the boiling milk over the eggs, and keep whisking til they’re well mixed.

Now sieve this mixture (which will remove any bits of egg white that didn’t get beaten in).

Pour the sieved mixture over the crushed amaretti (I blitzed them in the blender to get a fine powder) and leave to soak for five minutes.

Resieve the mixture, to remove any larger bits of biscuit.

Now into the sieved cocoa powder add a couple of tablespoons of the mixture, stirring together to form a paste, and getting rid of any lumps.  Then add the rest of the mixture and stir thoroughly.  One final sieve will remove any stubborn lumps of cocoa powder.

Fill your pie dish or ramekins and place them in a water bath in the oven. (A deep roasting tin is ideal), fill the water to just over half way up the side of the pudding dish.

Check after 20 mins for individual puddings, 40 mins if you’re making a large one. It is ready when you have a set wobble – my oven is always cooler than it says it is, so mine took over an hour to set.

Ideally, you make this the day before, so once it’s done, allow it to cool, and then refrigerate.

Serve by placing your plate over the dish and flipping them over quickly – revealing your triumphantly glazed, milky decadent Bonet, luxuriating in its own bath of delicious caramel.

As you can see from the photo – I need a bigger plate!

Torta Angelica, because, well, why not?

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This came from a birthday surprise and a challenge.

Last month, my locked down, low key birthday rolled around.  Expectations were necessarily watered down.  The plan had been to go to see the new James Bond at The Electric, and drink cocktails delivered to out seats.  Instead I zoomed and made a cassatina.  You can call this taking pleasure from the small things, or clutching at straws.  Take your pick.

Then, like a foundling on the doorstep, a bag of bread flour turned up, a gift from my oldest friend.  Wrapped in a translucent, blue plastic bag, it was the best present I had could have imagined,  a thing of near mythic status, there, in my kitchen, promising me carbohydrates and joy.

It felt sinful to use, as though squandering a precious resource.  I dithered about what to make.  How to celebrate my new found wealth?

A suggestion was given, the enabler of my 2nd hand cook book obsession, thepastrysuffragette, invited me, perhaps challenged me is better, to turn my hand to a Torta Angelica – the angelic cake.  He had seen my efforts in candying my allotment Angelica – and although not a component of the original recipe – the word play made it a natural fit, and not so far from the spirit of the thing as to be total blasphemy.

The recipe is in Pane e roba dolce, by Margerita Simili (Bread and sweet stuff, literally), it sounds and looks fiendishly complicated, but isn’t.  This is a celebratory cake, so Christmas and birthdays, or just because.  And it’s yeasted, so think panettone or brioche.  And I have to say, it looks amazing, I was astounded that I managed to pull if off, first attempt, baking blind.

In the oven, it bloomed and blossomed, after the hours of cosseting, proving, rising, and plaiting I was rewarded by something wonderful, the size of a baby, golden and fluffy; the house filled with the incomparable scent of cooking, melting chocolate and those nibs of Angelica winked through the folds like emeralds.  This was one of those bakes that make you clap with joy, and thank the gods for wonderful recipe writers, who guide you perfectly through uncharted territory.

Torta Angelica

Step 1

Make up a Biga.  

This is a yeast culture used in Italian baking that adds more nuance to the the final bake, and opens up the texture.

80g bread flour

1 teaspoon sugar or honey

I teaspoon of dry yeast ( I used an osmatolerant yeast, another gift from Italianhomecooking – which is ideal for sweet breads, but given the state of yeast in the UK at the moment – use whatever you can get)

40ml water.

Mix this together as any dough, kneading for five minutes and then letting it prove for two hours.

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Step 2

The sweet dough

220g Bread flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

120ml full fat milk (at room temperature)

2 large egg yolks (also at room temperature)

45g caster sugar

50g butter (at room temperature)

Mix all the ingredients except the butter (I used my food mixer with the dough hook attachment)

Once combined, add the butter, a little at a time.

Then repeat this process with your biga mix and knead everything for 5 minutes.

Cover the bowl with a damp cloth or cling film, and leave the dough to prove for 3 hours, until it has doubled in size.

Step 3

Assemble the Torta

Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and roll it out into a rough rectangle shaped – approx 50cm x 30cm. Brush freely with 20g melted butter. And scatter over 120g chocolate chips (add Angelica if you like, or sultanas and chopped nuts.

Roll this up like a Swiss roll.

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Then, with a sharp knife and a lot of confidence, slice the whole thing in half down its length.

You’ll have two layered strips now, which you plait together to form your braid, joining the ends together to form a circle.

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Cover again, and leave this to prove again for at least an hour.

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Bake in the oven at 180C / Gas mark 4 for 20-30 minutes – keep an eye on it, as the high sugar content may make it scorch (as mine did), so be prepared to add a tin foil hat half way through the bake, if you have a ‘hot’ oven.  It will double in size – become a cake behemoth – don’t be alarmed, that’s your biga magic.

Whisk it out of the oven when it’s cooked (tap the base to see if it sounds hollow, and cool it on a rack.

I then made up a lemon icing (icing sugar, lemon juice) to drizzle over.  This is just my preference, as I find plain icing too sweet, but you could also do a non lemon, vanilla flavoured drizzle.

The finished thing is massive – too much for one stay at home baker (half went to the next door neighbours).  But save this recipe for more sociable days and give it a go.  People will think you are a genius, which is never a bad thing.

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Refrigerator cake, with bells on

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This is a short one – a stocking filler.

When I first heard of this, I thought ‘refrigerator cake’.  Which is exactly what it is.  But with Italian style.

It’s as easy as falling off a (yule) log – there is no cooking involved, and the simpler you keep the ingredients, the better.  It’s a visual joke, a thing for kids’ parties and Christmas, that will still impress and delight the grown ups.  Have it in the afternoon with a cup of strong coffee, or after dinner with a coffee killer to slice through its richness.

As you can see, this ‘cake’ looks suspiciously like a salami – it even has the white mould on the outside, and has been tied up with string.  But then you cut a slice of your salame, and wonder of wonders – it’s made of chocolate and nuts and biscuits and the ‘mould’ is icing sugar.  The ultimate vegetarian salame!  

I like this cake.  When we make a refrigerator cake in the UK, it’s a blocky, in the tray kind of thing.  It is symptomatic of Italy, that the ordinary is made extraordinary, that you can be funny and classy at the same time, and that you don’t compromise on flavour.

Here’s the Sicilian’s recipe – there are plenty of other versions, some with figs, some with almonds, some with amaretto.  But this is his.

2 egg yolks

100 g caster sugar

150g butter 

200g cocoa powder (unsweetened)

60g hazelnuts

200g digestive or rich tea biscuits

A slug of rum (although not if your making it for a kids’ party)

Icing sugar

String

Toast your hazelnuts in the oven for ten minutes, then put them into a clean tea towel.  Fold this over and rub the nuts vigorously.  This will get most of the skins off the nuts, which makes them sweeter.  Leave to cool.

Mix the yolks and butter (leave it out of the fridge to soften) and then add the sugar, mixing until you have a smooth cream. If you skimp on this timing here, the sugar won’t dissolve properly and your salami will end up gritty.

Add in the cocoa powder and mix very slowly (if you’re using an electric mixer, put it on the slowest speed, otherwise you’ll end up with a brown cloud that’ll coat everything nearby with chocolate.

Break up the biscuits into small pieces and add them and the nuts to the chocolate mixture.  Fold them in gently (best with a wooden spoon or your hands, as you don’t want to break the biscuits up any more).

Then, place the mixture on a rectangle of greaseproof paper, and form into a rough cylinder about 5cm in diameter. 

Wrap the paper around the cylinder and roll it to get a smooth sausage.  Don’t let it get much thinner though – a real salami is a thick and hefty thing.

Finally twist the paper tightly at both ends (like a boiled sweet) and refrigerate your sausage for 24 hours.

To serve, work quickly, and roll the chilled sausage in sieved icing sugar, and then tie it up with string, you can watch charcuterie videos on YouTube and do it like a professional butcher, or just wing it, as I did.

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Then, with the sharpest of knives, cut your sausage into slices and enjoy the joke.  The nuts and biscuits look like the globules of fat in a real sausage, with the chocolate/butter cream acting as the meat.  

It’s very rich, so you’ll not want much, unless you’re a seven year old, and then you’ll want a whole one to yourself.  It freezes well.