Saturday, December 17, 2011

Dolce Natale - Sweet Christmas

With Christmas just around the corner, it’s time to get serious about the menu. And a good place to start is with desserts. For most of the year Italians buy or eat their desserts at the pastry shop or in the café. Christmas is one of the exceptions to the rule. Luckily, however, as most Italian Christmas cakes keep well they can be made in advance taking at least some of the stress out of the day! Here’s two recipes you might like to try that are very popular and quick and simple to make. Incidentally, both recipes also make great gifts!

Ferrara’s famous cake, the pampetato, was first mentioned in a document dating back to 1465. It is believed that the original recipe was created by the famous renaissance chef, Cristoforo da Messisbugo as a tribute to the Pope. It was, at the time, known as Pan del Papa (Bread of the Pope). Over time the name changed but the essence of the cake has remained the same.

Despite its name, pampetato is not ‘peppered’ or ‘spicy’, unlike many of Italy’s Christmas desserts.  It is, however, a rich fruit and nut-based cake covered in chocolate and in its final form has been likened to a small pumpkin. It is still very much associated with the city of Ferrara and over the Christmas period bakery windows are filled with wonderful displays of their favourite cake. 

Spiced chocolate cake

Serves 6-8
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes

200g plain flour
100g blanched almonds
100g caster sugar
80g plain cocoa powder
100g candied fruit
Teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 finely ground cloves
120-150ml warm milk
100g plain chocolate

Place the flour in a large bowl and add all the other ingredients with the exception of the chocolate and the milk.  Stir together well.  When all the ingredients are well combined, add 100ml of warm milk and stir in.  Continue adding the milk a little at a time until a soft but firm dough is formed.  Work the dough a little with your hands to form a ball and then shape into a dome.  Place this on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven at 170ºC for 20 minutes.  Once cooked, remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.  When completely cool, melt the plain chocolate in a double boiler and then drizzle all over the pampepato.  Allow the chocolate coating to set before serving.  This cake is very rich and dense, so it should be served in small slices!

Salame di cioccolato
The chocolate salami is something of a newcomer. It’s not strictly traditional but a more modern day invention. It’s still considered something of a novelty in Italian homes, especially for children, and its relative simplicity in the making, and the fact that it can be made well in advance and keeps well, has made it an increasingly popular dessert. It is eaten of course sliced, just like a salami, albeit not at the start of a meal! It is generally enjoyed along with coffee and liqueurs.

Salame di cioccolato
Chocolate salami

Serves 12
Preparation time: 10-15 minutes + chilling
Cooking time: N/A

150 – 180g dry biscuits
130g unsalted butter
100g caster sugar
75g plain cocoa powder
50g blanched almonds
2 egg yolks
1 shot of rum

Place the egg yolks and half the sugar in a large bowl and whisk with an electric beater until light and foamy.  Next, add the butter which has been melted and cooled, the cocoa powder, the rum and the rest of the sugar.  Beat again to mix everything together.  Finally, add the biscuits which have been roughly crushed and the almonds.  Stir together well.

Place a large sheet of greaseproof paper on the work surface and tip the mixture out onto the paper in the shape of a salami.  Fold the paper over the mixture and press down, compacting the mixture and at the same time trying to create an authentic salami shape.  When you’re happy with the final result, wrap the ends up well and place in the fridge for at least 3 hours before serving.  Before serving, if you roll the salami in icing sugar it really lends to an authentic salami look.

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