my newest comfort food: gluten free cake

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my apple cake made with locally available and naturally gluten free ingredients

The’re is nothing more comforting that to be included after having been excluded from something, isn’t it? Like when your stomach stops digesting something you have loved all your life and you can’t have it anymore? And then you can have it again!

My favorite  – and very Italian – breakfast has always been a slice of cake with a caffe-latte. Then I discovered to be intolerant to wheat (not celiac) and life changed to boring rice crackers.

Shops are full of packaged gluten-free or wheat-free products, but I mostly don’t like them.  They are generally full of additives, emulsifiers and gums and also based on exotic ingredients from unknown corners of Earth. I fully respect the organic quinoa growers of the Andes but I’d rather support local food artisans if I can.

In my search for recipes based on naturally gluten or wheat free ingredients, I found an army of the most compelling, engaged and interesting bloggers out there. I like many of them, but my heroes are Shauna of  Gluten Free Girl, star of naturally gluten-free cuisine and Felix and Cappera, Italian masters of gluten-free bread making.

This cake tastes, looks and feels totally like cake. You don’t really know it’s not made with wheat flour. The method is the result of Shauna’s ideas about the use of ingredients, of a flour mixture by Felix and Cappera and of a recipe of Sandra of Un Tocco di Zenzero. The latter is not a gluten-free blog but fantastic all the same.

Flour mixture

  • 290 g (10 oz)  rice flour
  • 80 g (2.8. oz) potato starch
  • 50 g (1.8 oz) corn starch

The original recipe uses tapioca instead of corn, but I can’t buy it in rural Umbria, besides it’s not local. I use whole grain organic rice flour from North Italy. If you are celiac make sure to use certified gluten-free products. To cook gluten-free you need to weight your ingredients, sorry no cups for this recipe except the milk.

Cake recipe

  • 1 granny smith or other crispy apple
  •  gr 225 ( 8 oz) of the above flour mixture
  • gr 130 (4.5 oz) butter, cubed and fridge-cold
  • gr 100 (3.5) organic brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon dry ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla or lemon zest
  • approx 100 ml (scant 1/2 cup) milk

Pre-heat oven at 180° C (375°F).  Butter generously a 25 cm (10 inch) bundt pan

Here is my no-fuss, food processor method for fluffy cakes:

Add all dry ingredients and the butter, process briefly with the metal blade at high-speed until the butter is cut in minute crumbs. Add eggs and incorporate until the mixture turns golden yellow. Add milk until the mixture is spreadable but firm, you might not need all the milk. Transfer in the buttered pan.

Section the apple in very thin slices and decorate the top of the cake with it. Sprinkle a little brown sugar or confectioner sugar on the apple slices. Bake until set and golden, about 45 minutes.

My breakfast is back, thank you ladies.

Thanks also to the splendid Gloria  At Home in Tuscany Alexandra from ArtTrav,  Rebecca from Brigolante, Melanie from Italofile, and Jessica from Why Go Italy for inviting me to participate with this post to the 1st Italy Blogging Roundtable Anniversary event. Until May 1st, bloggers are invited to expand on their blogs on one of the topics the roundatablers have blogged about in the past year. You still have time to join!

spiced persimmon and orange jam

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tiny organic persimmons from our trees

PERSIMMONS. I better hurry up and pick them before the frost makes them burst.
Every autumn it’s the same story. We first have a brief spell of leaf glory, when the proverbial Umbrian green turns to golden and red. Then rain comes, more rain than we want. Everything becomes gray except the persimmons. You see them whimsically dotting orchards and gardens with their naked orangeness.
The Umbrian fall is too cold to ripen them on the tree. We pick them and put them in plastic bags together with an apple or two. Apples release ethylene, a ripening plant-hormone. After a few days they are soft and can be eaten fresh or preserved.
It’s a very delicate fruit whose flavor boils easily away. This recipe is the result of several experiments, it’s Christmassy, aromatic and comforting. It even pleases people who don’t like persimmons, like my friend Rebecca. She has admitted to have polished a whole jar before her kids returned from school so to avoid competition.

Recipe

  • 3 oranges
  • approx 1.8 kg (4 lb) ripe persimmon
  • 1.6 kg (3.5 lb) sugar
  • powdered or liquid citrus pectin (in Italy use 2 pouches of Fruttapec 1:1)
  • 1 teaspoon China 5-spices

Pectin  products vary from place to place.  Buy your favorite pectin and use it according to package instructions. You can also make the jam without pectin, by boiling it slowly until thick. In this case but  make sure to add the spices and orange juice at the end to preserve their flavor.
Halve and juice the oranges. Reserve the juice. Put peels in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and cook for 3 minutes. Drain. Return peels to pot, cover with cold water, bring to a boil, cook 3 minutes, and drain. Repeat once more if you have thick skinned oranges. Strain and leave them in a colander until cool enough to handle, 20 minutes.
Using a soup spoon, scrape out the membranes and discard. Cut the peels into thin strips.
Clean, peel and chop persimmons. Make sure to peel them completely because the peel becomes like hard leather once cooked.
Add the orange juice, spices and chopped peel to the cleaned and chopped persimmons.
Add pectin and sugar following package instructions. Boil and transfer into sterilized jars. Seal.

a persimmon tree against the backdrop of an olive orchard in Assisi

spiced grape jelly

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magnificent fall colors in Umbria

I love October in Umbria. Soon the winter sadness will descend on us, but right now colors are working full-time. Everywhere is golden and red. Everything seems to taste sweet, chestnuts, pears, grapes. There’s wonderful grapes everywhere.

We are the lucky owners of a 1/2 century old vine-arbor. We don’t make wine with the fruits, too much of a fuss. We just leave the bunches there to capture the last bits of sun. During one of those mellow afternoons, I go outside to harvest them and enjoy the technicolor.

a gorgeous sunset from our terrace

I pick the best bunches, put them in a large bucket, sit comfortably with (dog) Google at my feet and remove all the stems.

Then I pour the cleaned grapes in a cauldron and heat it until the grapes start bursting. I subsequently proceed to sieve the grapes through a mouli to remove skins and seeds.

Next, I transfer the filtered grape juice back into the cauldron where I bring it to slow boil and let it simmer until is reduced by half. Finally I can make the jelly.

For that, I use same amounts of sugar and reduced grape juice (weight), powdered pectin according to package instruction, the zest of 1/2 lemon, 2 cloves and 1 inch cinnamon stick per liter/quart grape juice.

The whole process takes several hours. A small mountain of tiny wine grapes only yields a few precious jars. Every year I think I am crazy. Every year I hope I have captured some of the last sun in the jar.

grape jelly made with green and red wine grapes

pickled watermelon rind

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sometimes even the un-eatable becomes delicious.

I am always grateful for a new good recipe. Each new recipe is a true slice of happiness for me. It becomes part of my life, I will make over and over again, I will warmly recommend it to others.

Immodestly – and despite all my experiments -  I have to confess that rarely I find something that is so memorable, simple and intense that I fall in love with.

This recipe is a splendid gift of John S. whom I will thank forever. It is exotically American but it pairs beautifully with our Prosciutto di Norcia or a nice aged pecorino. This is my type of fusion food.

Recipe

I use the rind of one watermelon. When we have a good watermelon, every day I remove the rind from the slices we’ll eat after our meal. I keep the rinds in a plastic bag in the refrigerator until the watermelon is finished, generally 3-4 days. This way I don’t have to clean a whole watermelon if I don’t need to.

  • 1 water melon
  • salt
  • 2 kg (9 cups) sugar
  • 1lt. (4 cups) vinegar
  • 2 sticks cinnamon
  • 2 tsp whole cloves
  • 1 tsp of allspice or ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom pods

Cut the rind into strips and remove the green outer skin. Dice into cubes about 1 cm (1/2 inch) long. Don’t make the cubes too small or they will become mushy when cooked.

Place the cubes in a large bowl and cover with water adding 2 tbsp. salt per liter (quart) of water. Place a weight over the rind and let it soak overnight.

Drain and rinse in fresh water. Bring a large pot of water to the boil and cook the rind until just tender, approx. 1/2 hr. Drain and cool down in ice water.

In a separate pan prepare a spiced syrup using  4 cups of water,  the  sugar,  vinegar and spices. Bring the mixture to the boil and cook for 5 minutes. Add rinds and boil for 1/2 hr.

Pack the rind cubes into sterilized jam jars and cover withe the hot syrup, seal. Wait at least for 4 weeks before using.

One whole water melon yields about 2. 5 kg. (5 lbs) rind and makes five 1/2 lt (1 pint)  jars

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