Seven Days of Cookies: Panforte de Lebovitz

Hello, holiday baking! This year, Seven Days of Cookies focuses on recipes that I’ve never madeimg_7685 before. Last year was favorites, this year it’s newbies. (And though I do indeed own Dorie’s Cookies, I haven’t cracked it for this adventure.)

If you’re like me, you follow David Lebovitz (sweets + Paris makes him a must) across social media. He recently shared an article that said Americans are buying more cookbooks, but cooking less often. Um. Yeah. I have a cookbook library but actively use only a few volumes. I like reading the books, imagining the food, and then storing them away. The sheer number of

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A selection of my library.

cookbooks makes me so happy. So, even though I’d already decided to make only new-to-me recipes this year, I also decided to use my own cookbooks! (Sorry, Epicurious.)

Ok, well, that’s a teensy lie, but I’ll make up for it later in the week. Because the first treat this year is adapted from David Lebovitz: Panforte. I’ve never eaten panforte. In shops it always looks like nougat or halvah, neither of which I enjoy. Or super honey flavored or treacly. I also assumed back-breaking complexity. All of it.

Well, not David’s recipe! Super easy, few ingredients, fewer steps, and darn delicious. And, I have to add, impressive because it still looks like a hard duty enterprise. Impress yourself and then your friends and family.

This is first up because, as David points out, it can sit for weeks on your counter with no ill effect. The original recipe calls for candied fruit, such as citron. I have a box of beautiful fresh candied orange peel in the cupboard but I’m saving it. Not sure for what. So I used dried cherries for the fruit and pistachios for the nuts. Fantastico.

A few notes: I tried several times but I could not get 5 level tablespoons of cocoa powder to weigh 40g. I changed the battery in my scale, weighed other items of known weight….and ended up going with weight vs. measure. The result is nicely chocolately. The red chile pepper has gotten mixed reviews: Some people like the bite, others do not. I’m waiting to see if it mellows over a week. Lastly, the package of pistachios I used was a bit underweight so I made up the difference in almonds.

Panforte de Lebovitz

Adapted from a recipe by David Lebovitz

Makes one 9″ cake

Ingredients

5 Tbs (40g) unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch-process or natural)

2 ½ c (325g) pistachios (shelled and unsalted)

¾ c (110g) flour

1 c (200g) dried cherries (coarsely chopped)

1 Tbs ground cinnamon

2 tsps ground ginger

1 ½ tsps fresh ground black pepper

Pinch of grated nutmeg

½  tsp red chile powder

3 oz (85g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

1 c (200g) granulated white sugar

¾ c (210g) honey

extra cocoa powder, for dusting the pan

powdered sugar, for dusting the panforte

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 350F

Spray a 9 to 10-inch springform pan with nonstick spray. Dust the inside with cocoa powder, making sure to get it up the sides. Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper.

Spread the pistachios on a silpat-lined baking sheet and toast for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Reduce oven temperature to 325F.

In a large bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder, flour, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, nutmeg, and red chile powder. Add in the cooled nuts and dried cherries, and mix well to ensure the fruit and nuts are well coated with the dry ingredients. Set aside.

img_7679Melt the chocolate in a heatproof glass measure in a microwave on the low setting, in 10 second bursts, until nearly melted. Stir until completely melted and set aside.

Heat the sugar and honey in a small saucepan (ideally nonstick) fitted with a candy thermometer until the temperature reads 240F.

Immediately pour the hot sugar syrup over the nut mixture, add the melted chocolate, and stir well. Use a large, sturdy wooden spoon and be prepared to really dig in there to mix this. It becomes more difficult as the sugar syrup cools so work diligently.

img_7680Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. David recommends using damp hands to press the mixture flat – works well.

Bake the panforte for 35 – 40 minutes; if you touch it, your finger will come away clean when it’s done. (Be careful not to overcook it or it will be too firm to cut when it’s cool.) Mine was done at 35 minutes.

img_7684Cool on a rack for 15 minutes, then run a warm knife around the edge to loosen it from the pan. Remove the springform carefully, then cool completely.

When cool, remove the bottom of the springform pan and peel away the parchment. Sprinkle the panforte with powdered sugar and rub it in with your hands, top, bottom, and sides.

Serve in thin slices.

Storage: Panforte can be kept for several months, well wrapped, at room temperature.

Enjoy!

 

When Food Is Love

5715_10153882448957375_7877712364016207751_nI’m a person who, let’s say, has more rainy days than most people. I’ve managed my depression for decades with medication, but I still occasionally have moments when the clouds gather. Then, as with any other occasion really, I head to the kitchen. Because what I want is to feed myself.

I’m not talking about compulsivity or “eating your feelings.” I’m saying feel the feelings and eat anyway. But take the time to discover what really feeds you in those low moments. It took some years of trial and error before I really accepted that your typical “mood food” doesn’t help me: I don’t want chocolate, I don’t want lots of sugar or anything overly sweet, I don’t want junk food that forces my body to work extra hard to process.

I want things that are super soothing and easy to eat. Things that are easy to prepare and redolent of comfort, familiarity, and warmth. “Easy to prepare” is key, because I’ve learned that what makes the biggest difference in feeding – and lifting – my depression is the act of cooking. Because what I want most is, quite literally, to feed myself. If preparing food for others is an act of love, then preparing food for yourself is, in my opinion, the ultimate act of self love.

So when the storm clouds gathered recently, I headed to the kitchen to prepare a tried-and-true comfort food and to discover a new one. I offer you both. Because both made me feel better. As did my animals, my blankets, my art, and lots of British TV via acorn.tv.

Baked Custard

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Note the moussey top and silky custard bottom!

Another favorite from the gingham Better Homes & Gardens cookbook. I’ve been making this since childhood. I’ve modified the recipe a bit to use roughly equal parts heavy cream and whole milk. Why? Because, for some reason, it results in a layered custard. The top is mousse-like while the bottom is the shiny, silky traditional custard. It’s just wonderful at room temperature or straight out of the fridge. It is a lot of dairy and eggs, so clearly not meant for every day.

Rainy Day Baked Custard

Adapted from the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook

 

Ingredients

1 c heavy cream

1c whole milk

½ c sugar

4 large eggs

1 Tbs vanilla

Ground nutmeg to taste

Preparation

Set oven to 350 degrees. Set aside a 1.5 quart baking dish and a roasting pan large enough to hold the baking dish.

Pour cream and milk into a large bowl. Whisk to combine. Whisk in sugar, followed by the eggs, one at a time, whisking after each addition. Whisk in the vanilla. Pour into the baking dish. Sprinkle with nutmeg to taste – I like a generous coating.

Set the dish into the roasting pan and add hot water to come halfway up the side of the baking dish.

Bake for 45 minutes. Custard should be set. If it’s still quite liquid, nudge the heat up to 375 for another 10-15 minutes. It should be set by then.

Remove from oven, and remove baking dish from water bath, and let cool on rack.

If you want to eat it warm, let it sit for about 15 minutes. Otherwise cool to room temperature and enjoy, or refrigerate and enjoy some more.

Comfort Cake

A few months ago I bought The Rustic Italian Bakery by Veronica Lavenia. When I was in Italy, I noticed the traditional sweets were not all that sweet. And that little slices of something were often served in the afternoon with coffee. I’ve got a favorite ItalianIMG_4500 cornmeal cake recipe and “rustic” is the perfect word for it. It’s homey, flavorful but not sweet, and utterly delicious. So naturally I wanted to possess an entire book of such recipes!

Levinia’s book is a lot more than that. She has a “real” food ethos so her recipes often call for alternative flours and grains, varied sweeteners, and organic ingredients. When I bought the book, I didn’t have a pantryful of alternative flours. Since I began baking from Alice Medrich’s Flavor Flours, though, my stock has increased. And so, on a gloomy day, I leafed through Levinia’s book in search of something appealing I could make with ingredients on hand. Torta Paradiso was invented by a priest and made famous across Italy in 1878 by pastry chef Enrico Vigoni (says Lavenia). I had to modify the recipe slightly because I was out of brown sugar and lemons. The original recipe, on Alimentari, also calls for cornstarch which the recipe in the book does not.

Paradiso Cake – Gluten Free

Adapted from The Rustic Italian Bakery, note most ingredients measured by weight

Ingredients

3 fl oz mild extra-virgin olive oil

3.5 oz turbinado sugar

4 large eggs, separated

5 Tbs heavy cream

Scant 1/4 cup whole milk

9 oz rice flour

1/2 oz baking powder

Zest of 1 medium orange

Powdered sugar to taste

Preparation

Set oven to 350. Lightly grease a 9-inch cake pan (with 2 inch sides), lining the bottom with parchment. Set aside.

In a small bowl combine the rice flour, baking powder and orange zest. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the olive oil and sugar, mixing on medium until sugar dissolves slightly, about 3-5 minutes. With the mixer running, add the egg yolks, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Beat in the cream, followed by the flour mixture, mixing thoroughly.

batterNote: At this point, my batter looked more like cookie dough. I couldn’t imagine folding beaten egg whites into it. So I added enough whole milk to make a smooth cake batter. If you find yourself in a similar situation, gradually add the milk, up to a 1/4 cup, until your batter looks right.

Pour the batter into a large mixing bowl. Clean your mixer bowl, attach the wire whip, and whip the egg whites until stiff. Fold them into the cake batter using a large rubber spatula or balloon whisk, pulling the batter from the bottom up.

IMG_4499Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan, smoothing the top with an offset spatula.

Bake, in preheated oven, for 30 minutes. A tester should come out clean. My cake was done, but very pale in color.

IMG_4510Cool in pan on rack for 15 minutes. Unmold and cool on rack completely. Dust with powdered sugar to taste.

This cake is not sweet and has a lovely soft but hearty texture. It’s even better the second day when all the powdered sugar has sunk in adding a touch more sweetness to the cake.

Enjoy!

And if you find yourself struggling with difficult emotions, there are a number of ways to get help: Call the Employee Assistance Program offered by your employer to access short term counseling, look for a good therapist, join an online community like To Write Love on Her Arms – just do something. Depression is common and can be managed. Blessings!

 

Feelin’ Like Fall Peanut Butter Cookies

It’s been a tough autumn here in Southern California. Temperatures have been close to IMG_2682100 degrees all across the Southland, with regional blackouts due to 24/7 AC and beach dwellers who are normally proud of their “we don’t need AC” status, flocking to packed movie theaters for relief. There have been a few classic SoCal fall days mixed in, though, with breezy temps in the low 70s and cool nights that might tumble into the low 60s – those are baking days.

This past weekend was cool and cloudy, perfect for making soup and peanut butter cookies. I like my peanut butter cookies crisp with a hint of chocolate, so I use equal amounts of white and brown sugar, and add cocoa nibs. It’s the perfect cookie: Easy to pull together and, with a couple of hours of Hulu to catch up on, the right amount of baking time.

Feelin’ Like Fall Peanut Butter Cookies

Yield 2-3 dozen

Ingredients

1 ¼ c flour

¾ tsp baking soda

1 c (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened (beat cold butter between wax paper sheets with a rolling pin)

½ c light brown sugar, packed

1 large egg

¾ tsp vanilla extract

1 c chunky peanut butter (I use Skippy)

½ c cocoa nibs

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment (parchment makes a crisper cookie than Silpat).

Combine flour and baking soda in a small bowl and set aside.

IMG_2680Beat butter and both sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer on medium until fluffy. Add the egg and mix until combined. Mix in vanilla, then peanut butter. Beat well. Scrape down the sides and then add flour mixture. Beat on medium speed until well combined. Mix in cocoa nibs.

Remove bowl from mixer and give the dough a few turns with a wooden spoon or spatula to make sure the nibs are thoroughly mixed in.

Use a small ice cream scoop or rounded tablespoon to scoop up dough. Roll into balls and placeIMG_2684 on cookie sheets, spacing about 2.5 inches apart. Sprinkle generously with crystal sugar.

Bake, rotating sheets halfway through baking time, 20 minutes. Cool on rack.

Enjoy! Great with tea or cold milk. (The crispy makes ‘em dunkable.)