Home-made Ladyfingers

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light as a feather, home-made ladyfingers

The real Italian heart beats in the peasants. Somewhat our royals have been always underwhelming.

Take our former Savoy kings, for example. It is said that ladyfingers – savoiardi in Italian – have been created at the court of Amadeus VI duke of Savoy in honor of Charles V king of France. As the story goes, the head baker of Savoy was asked to invent something memorable to impress the king during a very rare visit to the Duchy.

Imagine: the medieval king is used to lavish banquets where he is served dishes like the tourte parmerienne, a pastry dish made to look like a castle with chicken-drumstick turrets coated with gold leaf. His head chef, Guillaume Tirel is  considered one of the first truly “professional” master chefs in European history.

Then he goes to visit his brother-in-law in Savoy and he is offered sponge cookies. Wow.

I am not sure the story it’s true, but we should have gotten read of them a few hundred years earlier. I mean, the would-be-kings Dukes.

Luckily we kept the cookies and used them to invent tiramisu. They are also lovely with gelato, warm custard, ricotta or simply dunked in good sweet wine like a Vinsanto o Moscato. And very, very easy to make.

Recipe

  • 75 gr (2/3 cup) 00 or pastry flour
  • 75 gr (2/3 cup)  sugar
  • grated zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 teasp vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1 scant tablespoon yogurt or milk
  • 2 tablespoon powder sugar plus 2 tablespoon regular sugar, mixed in a small bowl

Preheat oven at 150 °C (300 ° F). Line a large baking sheet with buttered parchment paper. If you don’t butter the parchment paper you will have to eat it as it’s hardly possible to remove it from the cookies after baking.

Whisk egg whites until firm. Cream the sugar and egg yolks, add lemon zest, vanilla extract, flour and milk or yogurt and keep whisking to obtain a very thick batter. Fold in egg whites using a metal spoon. Make sure to incorporate them lightly, with circular upward movements so to obtain an airy mixture that will not deflate while cooking.

At this point, using a pastry bag, you should pipe the batter into 10 cm (4 inch) long strips on the baking sheet.

I hate pastry bags, so I use a soup spoon making sure to keep the strips at least 3 cm (1 inch) apart. One spoon of batter is enough for one ladyfinger.

Now sprinkle half of the sugar mixture onto the strips and wait for 5 mins before sprinkling the rest. This makes that pretty craquelè coating.

Bake for 20 min or until golden around the sides.

Makes about 2 dozens.

salted almond praline gelato

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my homemade gelato

GELATO ALLA PANNA CON PRALINA AL CARAMELLO SALATO.

I must confess I generally am not a fashionable cook. On the contrary, I am a firm believer in tradition and repetition. The simpler a recipe, the better. And, if it’s been invented already and everybody knows it, then I am probably not going to be able to improve it.

I have been ignoring fusion food of any provenance for years. Soy sauce on foie gras? No thanks. Lobster ice cream? Rose flavored salt? mpf……..

Then I met salt and sugar. Years ago, before everybody –   including Obama – started to be crazy about salted caramel.

We were on a Thai island, guests of an adorable local family, preparing a dessert of sticky rice boiled in coconut milk and palm sugar. The whole experience was fantastic. However, what it’s been impressed in my memory was how a sprinkle of salt changed and improved the taste of the coconut and sugar combination.

No news, you will say. We have been adding salt to cakes forever.

Indeed, it’s a tradition. I had forgotten and I had to get all the way to the other side of the world to remember.

It’s a good excuse to go back, I think I need more inspiration :)

Recipe

  • 100 gr/ 3 oz plain peeled almonds, finely chopped
  • 60 gr (1/4 cup) plus 2 tablespoon regular sugar
  • 60 gr (1/3 cup) organic brown sugar
  • 250 ml (1 cup) whipping cream
  • 200 ml (4/5 cup) full fat milk

In a small skillet over low heat, toast the almonds with  2 tablespoons sugar and a pinch of salt.  Keep stirring to coat the almonds with the melted sugar. Continue for a few more minutes until nuts caramelize to a dark brown color, about 5 minutes. Spread them out on a non-stick surface to cool. When cooled, pulverize in a food processor or chop finely to obtain a praline.

Heat the milk with both brown and regular sugar. Stir to dissolve, add the cream and refrigerate for at least one hour. This will shorten the churning time.

Process the creamy mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. When the mixture is set, sprinkle in the praline and process until it hardens further. Keep in the freezer until ready to serve.

Please note that  I like my gelato to be egg-free and a relatively modest in sugar. As a consequence  it melts quickly. That is, if you can wait long enough before polishing the bowl.

Serves 4-6

unfogettable fun in Thailand