Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Herb Party Dip

Happy New Year!

Without a doubt, throughout the Christmas season we will go to, or have a get-together where a dip will be served. Either for crackers or cold vegetables, as a hot appetizer or cold one, dip is going to happen.  And, for times like this, my go-to dip is always the Barefoot Contessa's herb dip. This simple recipe is by far the best tasting onion-based dip I have ever had, and gets calls for the recipe every time I serve it.  Whether accompanying a fancy crudites tray or simply a dish of carrots and celery sticks, its a must-have dip for any winter or summer party. 

Scallions are what makes this dip stand out. It is the flavor base of this recipe and gives it its robust onion taste. The recipe comes together easily as long as the cream cheese has had enough time to fully soften. Otherwise, you will have small lumps of the cheese throughout. I know this from experience. Just thought you might want to know. The recipe calls for parsley and fresh dill as the herb base, but any herbs will do.  Fresh parsley is a must. As for the dill, I have used both dried and fresh, and either work well. Be sure to make the dip a day or two ahead - like now if you are considering it for New Years Eve - to allow all the herb and onion flavors to blend.

Herb Dip
8 oz. cream cheese - well softened
1/2 c. sour cream
1/2 c. mayonnaise
4 scallions, minced
2 T. fresh parsley, minced
1 T. fresh dill, minced (I use 1 tsp. dried)
1 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Place all ingredients in either an electric mixer (Kitchen Aid) or medium size mixing bowl and simply blend all ingredients together. Refrigerate for a day or two. Serve cool to room temperature with any variety of cut vegetables.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Turdilli - Italian Christmas Treats

My mother and father are both from the same small town in the Calabria region of Italy.When they emigrated to this country they brought with them many Calabrese traditions, especially when it came to food. During the Christmas season my mother would prepare a wide variety of special foods that were customary in her small village. Among them were these Turdilli, which would take her a full day to prepare, not because the process takes that long, but because she would make enough to feed the whole village. 

When the process began to be too much for my mother, my sisters and I pitched in to get them done. We would devote the Saturday or Sunday before Christmas to make the Turdilli making it an all day affair. It was a day for us sisters to gab and catch up on what's happening with our kids and jobs. While we made the Turdilli our kids would decorate Mom and Dad's Christmas tree. Mom taught us how to make the Turdilli with careful explanations of every detail involved in the process. No detail was missed and she insisted we all wear hairnets so as not to contaminate these beautiful treats. She took incredible pride in making these each Christmas and to honor her memory we have carried on the tradition and believe she would be proud of Turdillis we made this year.  

Turdilli are essentially a basic pasta dough that is rolled and shaped into rings, sticks or pretzels, and than deep fried till they expand and become golden brown. When cool they are coated in hot honey which gives them their beautiful, shiny finish and sweet taste.

There are many versions of this treat and they go by a variety of different names such as Stuffoli, or Cripelle, depending on the region or area of Italy.

This year be made 2 batches of the recipe. Every year I record what worked, or didn't work and any important new details we identified to remember for next year. My three sisters that live nearby all participated as did a number of nieces, daughters, daughter-in-laws and my dad.  It was a full day of hard work but lots of fun.


The dough:
 2 dozen large eggs
3 T. sugar
approximately 14-16 cups of all purpose flour - Robin Hood is preferred
at least 1 gallon good peanut oil for frying

The honey coating:
2 1/2 lbs. clover honey
1/2 c. water
2 T. sugar
Nonpareils for decorating

Prepare the dough:
Sift the flour into a very large bowl. Measure out 10 cups and set aside. Measure out another 4 cups and place in a separate bowl, and set aside. 

Beat eggs and 3T. sugar with a Kitchen Aid mixer using the whipping wisk at high speed (8) for 5-7 minutes, until mixture is light yellow and frothy. 

Change to paddle, and at low speed, gradually add the 10 cups of flour, one cup at a time. The batter should be soft and spongy.

Spread one cup of flour from the second bowl onto a counter top (granite works great) and pour the batter on top.  Begin to knead the dough adding the remaining 3 cups of flour, one cup at a time until the dough won't absorb any more flour. Knead until the dough has a smooth and silky appearance. It should be soft and malleable. 

Cover dough with large bowl and let rest for 20 minutes.

Cut the dough in half, placing one dough on top of the other and knead again for about 2 more minutes. 

Cut that dough in half, placing one on top of the other and knead again for another 2 minutes. Repeat this process one more time. 

Now place the dough in a large, clean bowl that has been lightly oiled. Turn dough to coat all sides. Cover the top with some waxed paper and let rest another 5 minutes.  

After 5 minute the dough is ready to roll and shape. Begin by cutting a small chunk of dough. Not using any more flour, roll the dough into a long rope about 1/2 inch in diameter. Shape the rope into a pretzel shape or ring or stick, or simple twist.  Now with a small paring knife cut small notches around whatever shape you have created.  This will give the dough its flourish when fried. 

Place each finished piece of dough on a dry cloth covered pan or table. Do not add any flour. Keep the dough as free of flour as possible as it tends to cause the hot oil to froth up excessively. 

Heat the oil in a large pot filling to no more than 1/3 full. Heat to 350 degrees. Fry just a few pieces at a time (4-6) until they are golden brown on both sides. Drain well on paper towels and cool. 

Coating with honey:
When all the dough has been fried begin to prepare the honey. Fill a large pot about 1/3 full with the honey.  Add the 2 T. sugar and water. Mix together and heat till the mixture begins to boil and the sugar has fully dissolved. 

Keep the heat to medium and add the fried dough a few pieces at a time. Turn till each piece is fully coated. Place coated pieces on a tray and lightly sprinkle with the nonpareils.
Buon Natale!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Cake

Okay, truth be told, it's a fruitcake. I thought if I titled it as such no one would read this post. I am among the bold few who not only enjoy, but make this much maligned Christmas-time delicacy. Though I do not make them every year, due to the amount of time they take to make, when I do make them, I make enough to pass on to family and a few friends. And, contrary to the bad publicity fruitcakes bear, my recipe is a good one. No, really, my fruitcakes are delicious! So good, I believe this recipe could quite favorably change ones opinion of fruticakes forever.

What makes my cakes different from all the rest is the absence of citron and candied peel, the ingredients responsible for much of the cake's tarnished reputation. In its place, is a wonderful mixture of nuts and dried fruits, chief among them dried apricots, dates, and golden raisins. The only candied fruit in the recipe, and not in the original recipe, is red and green cherries, which I add for color, not taste. All nestled in a wonderful cake batter that includes a pound of butter, a dozen eggs, traditional holiday spices and a blend of liquors, that contribute to the cakes rich taste and moist texture. 

I started making fruitcakes as a young bride following in the footsteps of my mother, who would make a dozen or more cakes each holiday to give away to relatives and business associates. I started with Mom's recipe, which was of the traditional variety with lots of citron and candied fruits. They were good, but unfortunately, not great, and often dry and crumbly - sorry Mom. I tried a couple of other recipes, before settling on this one, but with terrible results. One recipe called for soaking cheesecloth wrapped cakes in whiskey. After a few days, to my horror, they began to grow mold.  Needless to say, that recipe got tossed, immediately, into the trash.

The recipe that followed, and the one I use today, came to me by way of the food section of my local newspaper, The Detroit News. That was roughly 35 years ago. I have changed it a bit to suit my taste, adding the candied cherries plus other dried fruits, and replacing the prescribed pecans for walnuts, due to my mother's allergy to pecans. I also replaced the Curacao liquor called for in the recipe with Cream de Cocoa, which at the time, I thought were the same. Not the case, of course. I eventually tried the original recipe using the Curacao, but believe the cakes with the Cream de Cocoa were decidedly richer in taste and remains the liquor of choice.

When making this recipe for the first time, I gave a cake to a good friend of mine, who told me she and her husband loved it so much they devoured it in a single sitting - mind you, they were small cakes. Other favorable comments followed and, as they say, the rest is history. The recipe has stood the test of time and continues to be one of the best tasting fruitcakes around - honest!

The cakes take time and patience to make, but are well worth the effort. They are wonderfully moist and quite dense that can be cut into thin slices easily without crumbling. A thin slice with a good cup of coffee or a glass of champagne is well worth waiting for each year.

Always looking to enhance this recipe, this time I have added some dried pineapple, strawberries and mangoes to the fruit mixture. I continue to use walnuts in place of the pecans, but any variety or combinations of nuts will do. 

Christmas Fruitcake

Fruit & Nuts:
1 cup chopped red and/or green candied cherries
1 lb. dried apricots, coarsely chopped
1 lb. dates, coarsely chopped
1 lb. golden raisins
8 oz.dried strawberries
8 oz. dried pineapple
8 oz. dried mango
1 lb. walnuts, roughly chopped
1 lb. blanched & toasted almonds, roughly chopped

1 lb. sweet butter, softened
12 eggs, room temperature
3 c. dark or light brown sugar
4 c. flour, divided
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
3 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. mace
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cloves
4 T. each dark rum, brandy, Cream de Cacao
Juice and rind of 2 oranges & 2 lemons

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Generously butter, line (with parchment or waxed paper) and then re-butter pans of choice: either 2 12-cup tube pans, 2 9- or 10-inch springform pans, 3 standard loaf pans, 5-7 small loaf pans or do what I did-purchase professional paper bakeware that didn't need to be buttered --yeah!

Place all chopped fruits and nuts into a very large mixing bowl or pan.  Add 1 cup of the flour and toss well to fully coat. Set aside.

Make the cake batter:


Sift together the remaining flour, cinnamon, salt, baking soda, mace and cloves in a medium sized bowl. Set aside.

Cream together the butter and brown sugar till fluffy either with a hand mixer in a very large mixing bowl or with a Kitchen Aid mixer. 

Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Transfer this mixture to a very large mixing bowl. 

Mix together the rum, Cream de Cacao, brandy, zest and juice of the oranges  and lemons.

To the creamed butter/sugar mixture add the flour/spices and liquid mixture, alternately, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrap bowl occasionally to ensure ingredients are well combined.

Add the nut and fruit mixture to the finished batter and mix well to combine.

Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake until toothpick inserted into center of cakes comes out clean. For the largest pans bake for roughly 2 - 2 1/2 hours. The smallest pans as little as 1 hour.

Let the cakes cool on a cooling rack. Remove from pans (not paper bakeware) and wrap with plastic wrap and then aluminum foil. Keep in a cool, dry place. Let rest for a day or two before cutting.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Boston Cream Pie

My husband is a big fan of Boston Cream Pie, so, for his birthday the other day, I made him one. It was my first attempt at making this type of cake, and for the most part, it was wonderful!  Not so much in looks - next cake will be better - but, the overall taste was great. All three parts - cake, pastry cream middle and chocolate glaze on top - were oh so yummy.

I used a combination of recipes to make the cake. For the cake portion, I made a basic butter cake recipe from Betty Crocker. Instead of putting the batter into 2, 9-inch cake pans I used a 9-in springform pan and split the baked & cooled cake in two. Though quite tasty, texture was not quite right. I either beat the butter on too high a speed or after adding flour and milk alternately, I mixed the batter too much - next cake will be better.

The pastry cream recipe was part Martha Stewart for ingredients and amounts, part Betty Crocker for preparation technique.  I have made pastry cream many times before. Most recipes require a complicated process of steeping the milk with a vanilla bean, then tempering the eggs, etc., etc. But, it doesn't need to be that complicated. The truth is, I didn't have a vanilla bean to steep. My process is simple: mix the dry ingredients together, mix the eggs and milk together, then join the two mixtures in a heavy pan and cook till the mixture comes to a boil. Take off the heat, add the butter and vanilla and voila - pastry cream. So simple. The only 'professional' step I adhere to is to strain the cream to remove any lumps or bits of egg membrane. This makes the cream perfectly smooth. Especially important for cream pies.

And finally, for the glaze, I used a recipe I found online from Country Living Magazine. Basically, its a ganache, but with the addition of a little butter and corn syrup.  I have made simple ganache before and found it too thick. The butter and corn syrup seems to have made it a bit smoother and silkier. 

The trickiest part was the final assembly.  You want the cream to peek out between the cake layers just enough and in an even amount to look right - next cake will be better. As for the glaze, first it has to be perfectly smooth, no lumps of chocolate or butter, and you have to work fast while the glaze is still quite hot for the best coating. Also, be very careful while pouring the glaze over the top to ensure not too much pours off the sides and that the drips are fairly even - next cake will be better.

Would definitely make again mindful of these above mentioned refinements,  so that the next cake will indeed be better.

Boston Cream Pie

2 cups sifted cake flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 large eggs
3/4 c. milk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare 9-inch springform pan by greasing bottom and sides. Line bottom with parchment cut to fit and grease parchment. 

In medium-size bowl, sift flour (again), with salt and baking powder.  Set aside.

In bowl of electric mixer, cream together butter, sugar and vanilla on low speed until light and fluffy (several minutes). 

Add eggs, one at a time, incorporating well each time and scraping bowl to ensure well mixed.

Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in three batches alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.  Do not over beat with each addition. Remove paddle (or mixers) and using a plastic spatula, scrape sides and bottom of bowl and turn batter one or two more times to ensure batter is well mixed.

Add batter to prepared pan and bake for approximately 40 minutes.  Let cool completely. 

Pastry cream filling:

5 egg yolks
1/3 c. sugar
1/3 c. cornstarch
pinch of salt
2 c. milk
2 tsp. vanilla


In a heavy bottomed saucepan, mix together the sugar, cornstarch and salt. 

In a medium-size bowl beat egg yolks. Add the milk and mix together. Add milk/eggs to saucepan. 
Stir to mix together and cook over medium-high heat until the mixture comes to a full boil. Boil for 1 minute.  
Remove from heat and add the butter and vanilla. 
Stir and then strain into a heat-proof bowl to cool. 

Cover mixture with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic against the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Chill at least 2 hours.

Chocolate glaze:
4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 c. heavy cream
1 T. unsalted butter
3 T. corn syrup

Heat cream to a boil. 

Pour into a medium-size bowl filled with the chopped chocolate, butter and corn syrup. 

Let set for 1 minute and then stir until smooth and silky.  Use immediately to coat top of cake.

Split cake in half. Set top half aside. 

Carefully spoon pastry cream, evenly, on cut side of bottom half to approximately 1/2 inch from cake edge.  

Place top half of cake on cream and lightly press to push cream just to edge of cake layers. 

Pour hot chocolate glaze over cake top, starting from the center of the cake.  Gently, move the glaze ever so slightly over the edges of the cake so drips fall evenly and not all the way to the bottom of the cake.