Torta di Riso (Italian Rice Tart)

January 31, 2018

Torta di Riso is an Italian specialty.  It is basically a rice pudding baked inside of a pastry crust; a Rice Tart, so to speak.

I first had Torta di Riso more than 20 years ago while visiting Italy with my husband and his parents.

We ate meals at the homes of many relatives.  I often arrived with a spiral-bound notebook to jot down the inevitable recipes that would be discussed around the table or the recipes I begged for after being served something wonderful.  That notebook is a mashup of American and Metric measures and English and Italian words for ingredients.  It became a bible of sorts for recreating many of the dishes I ate on that trip.


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My father-in-law’s Zia (Aunt) Meri made the first Torta di Riso that I ever tasted.  Her recipe is below (adapted for American measures).

After having it at Zio (Uncle) Beppe and Zia Meri’s house, I started noticing Torta di Riso in many places in Tuscany.

My father-in-law with his Uncle Beppe and Aunt Meri, from whom this recipe for Torta di Riso originated in their garden in Tuscany, 1994.

Alkermes liqueur originated in Tuscany so it is particularly appropriate to use it as the liqueur in Torta di Riso.  Alkermes is nearly impossible to find in the United States, however.  One can make a perfectly traditional Torta di Riso using rum in place of Alkermes but the resulting confection won’t be pink.

According to CooksInfo, “Alchermes was invented in the Frati Convent at Santa Maria Novella in Florence. Its making was kept secret, but the recipe was reputedly stolen by spies from the nearby city of Siena, which Florence was often at war with.”


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Recipes for alkermes (also spelled alchermes) are closely guarded but the process basically involves infusing alcohol with spices and flavorings like cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, nutmeg, mace, cardamom, star anise, rosewater, and orange zest.  The red color comes from cochineal, an insect that is the foundation for natural red food coloring.  The resulting infused alcohol is sweetened and diluted with water.

The pastry crust is pasta frolla, a slightly sweetened pastry, leavened with baking powder, and often flavored with vanilla and lemon zest.  This is Meri’s recipe for pasta frolla but I also have one from Zia Fidalma that makes about half the quantity.

Torta di Riso was a big hit at my father-in-law’s birthday dinner last week. So were the cocktails, wine, and champagne!

If you don’t have access to Alkermes, you can use rum.  In fact, torta di riso is not always pink.  Many that I saw in Italy were white.

If you want to try to make your own Alkermes you can find a recipe here.  Amazon even sells the dried cochineal insects that provide the traditional scarlet color.


If you have a favorite family recipe and a bit of a story to tell, please email me at santafecook@villasentieri.com and we can discuss including it in the blog. I am expanding the scope of my blog to include traditional recipes from around the country and around the world. If you haven’t seen Bertha’s Flan or Melinda’s Drunken Prunes, take a look.  They will give you an idea of what I’m looking for.


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Torta di Riso (Italian Rice Tart)
This classic Italian dessert is basically a rice pudding baked inside of a pastry crust. Alkermes is a traditional Tuscan liqueur used in a number of sweets, including torta di riso, for its color and spice-like flavor. If you don’t have Alkermes, use rum. Not all versions of torta di riso are brightly colored. Vanilla powder is a natural vanilla product, not artificial. Use vanilla extract if vanilla powder is not available.
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Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 75 minutes
Passive Time 30 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Pasta Frolla
Rice
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 75 minutes
Passive Time 30 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Pasta Frolla
Rice
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Instructions
Pasta Frolla
  1. Blend the flour, sugar, baking powder, vanilla powder, salt and lemon zest in a food processor until combined.
  2. Add the butter, cut in pieces, and blend till well combined.
  3. Add the eggs and blend till the pastry almost forms a ball.
  4. Remove the pastry from the food processor and use your hands to press everything into a single ball.
  5. Wrap the pastry in waxed paper and refrigerate for an hour before using.
Rice
  1. Wash and drain the rice.
  2. Combine the rice, water and milk in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan.
  3. Bring the rice to a boil.
  4. Cover the rice and simmer, stirring frequently, until cooked and the liquid is almost completely absorbed. If the rice does not have the consistency of thick oatmeal, add a bit more milk at the end to make it creamy.
  5. Mix the sugar, lemon zest, and Alkermes and/or rum into the rice.
  6. Pour the rice into a bowl and cool, uncovered, stirring occasionally.
Assembly and Baking
  1. Cut off a small piece of the pastry to make a lattice top and refrigerate.
  2. Roll the remaining pastry between waxed paper, turning often, until it is large enough to cover the bottom and sides of a 10 inch springform pan.
  3. Line a 10" springform pan with the pasta frolla.
  4. Cut the pastry even with the top of the pan. Add the scraps to the pastry you have reserved for the lattice.
  5. Beat the egg and egg yolks to combine.
  6. Stir the beaten eggs into the cooled rice.
  7. Pour the rice into the pastry lined pan.
  8. Roll out the pastry reserved for the lattice.
  9. Cut seven or eight strips, approximately 1/2 inch wide.
  10. Arrange the strips into a lattice on top of the rice. Cut off the excess.
  11. Roll the pastry lining the sides of the pan down to the top of the rice and form a decorative edge.
  12. Bake at 350°F until the crust is lightly browned and the rice is barely jiggley in the center, approximately 30-45 minutes.
  13. Cool on a rack for approximately 20 minutes.
  14. Remove the side of the pan and cool completely.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2018 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Crostoli (Italian Fried Pastries)

December 26, 2017

I didn’t grow up eating crostoli.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t have our own version of fried dough.

Unlike crostoli, which are thin and crispy and leavened with baking powder, I grew up eating ovals of fried yeasted bread dough sprinkled with granulated sugar.

Frying bread dough and sprinkling it with granulated sugar is a common among Southern Italians. My mother had a name for it that I’ve never heard anywhere, it sounded something like “pitla.” I started doing some research. The word “pitta” is still used in Calabria, where my mother’s family originated, for various types of dough-based foods, including some that are quite flat. The word “pitta,” which I believe derives from the Greek word “pita,” became the word “pizza” in standard Italian. I’m guessing that “pitla” is a dialectical variation of “pitta.”


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One of the positive outcomes of doing research on Italian fried dough products is that I came across a wonderful Wikipedia page on fried dough from around the world.  Check it out here.

Crostoli (or crostui in the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region of Italy where my mother-in-law was born) are traditionally served at Christmastime. My mother-in-law says that they would sometimes have them at other times of the year when they “wanted something sweet” that was simple to make.

My mother-in-law’s zig-zag pastry cutter

Not growing up eating crostoli, I asked my husband to tell me what he remembered.

I got two sentences:
“We always had them at Christmas.”
“They’re not my favorite.”

There you have it, the entirety of the crostoli story in 10 words.

I even waited a couple of days and asked him again if he remembered anything else about crostoli. “Nope” was the answer.

Now we’re up to 11 words.


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That might have been the end had it not been for Christmas Eve. The morning of Christmas Eve, after I mixed dough for panettone, my mother-in-law and I made up a batch of crostoli to take to Christmas Eve dinner at the home of our friends Rich DePippo and Doug Howe.

Rich’s grandfather was from Domegge di Cadore in the Veneto region of Italy, just next door to Friuli-Venezia-Giulia where my mother-in-law was born. In fact, Domegge is about 100 kilometers from Treppo Grande, my mother-in-law’s home town.

As it turns out, Rich and his mother, visiting for Christmas, also made crostoli the morning of Christmas Eve.

Using a Microplane grater makes fast work of zesting lemons

There were dueling crostoli served for dessert (along with pizzelle, nut roll, and biscochitos).

Rich’s were long and thin, with a slit cut in the middle through which one end of the dough was twisted before frying. This seems to be the most traditional shape that I’ve seen in my research, though Lidia Bastianich, who is also from very near where my mother-in-law was born, ties hers in a knot.

Having seen pictures of crostoli twisted and tied before embarking on making them with my mother-in-law, I asked her why hers were just left as irregular squares (well, quadrilaterals, really) of dough. That’s the way her mother made them was, of course, the first response. After which she added that she liked them to puff up, which they don’t do if they’re twisted or tied.

The other difference in the crostoli is that Rich used anisette to flavor his whereas my mother-in-law used lemon zest and vanilla.

The anisette was definitely a new twist. In researching crostoli, I’ve seen citrus, usually lemon or orange, as the most common flavoring.  Often vanilla is added; sometimes brandy or rum. Never have I run into a recipe with anisette. Hopefully Rich will weigh in on his family’s recipe for crostoli and how they came to use anisette for flavoring.

Meanwhile, enjoy!


If you have a favorite family recipe and a bit of a story to tell, please email me at santafecook@villasentieri.com and we can discuss including it in the blog. I am expanding the scope of my blog to include traditional recipes from around the country and around the world. If you haven’t seen Bertha’s Flan, it will give you an idea of what I’m looking for.


 

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Crostoli (Italian Fried Pastries)
Crostoli are pastries that re rolled thin, fried, and dusted with granulated sugar. Powdered sugar melts and becomes sticky so granulated sugar is traditional. Crostoli are usually larger than the ones shown here, something like 1 ½ inches by 3 or 4 inches. We made these smaller because they were being served as part of a dessert buffet at the end of a large meal.
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Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
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Instructions
  1. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon zest and salt in a large bowl. Mix well.
  2. Make a well in the center and add eggs. Using a fork, begin to incorporate the flour.
  3. Add vanilla extract, lemon juice and incorporate.
  4. Add melted butter.
  5. Mix to form a soft, non-sticky dough.
  6. When the dough becomes too stiff to mix with a fork, use your hand. Do not over knead.
  7. Cut into four or five pieces.
  8. Roll out less than 1/8 inch thick, dusting with a little flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking.
  9. Cut into rectangles, approximately 1 1/2 inches by 3 inches, with a zig-zag cutter.
  10. When all are cut, deep fry until brown. If you are not comfortable doing this from experience, use a thermometer and keep the oil at about 350 degrees Farenheit.
  11. Sprinkle with granulated sugar as soon as they are removed from the oil so the sugar sticks.
  12. They are best the same day but will stay fresh at least one day at room temperature, loosely covered.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Crostata di Noci (Italian Walnut Tart)

December 20, 2017

One evening in 1996 my husband and I were sitting with his parents in a dimly-lit bar in Venice. We were all chatting. I was drinking grappa, as was my father-in-law. Then the desire for dessert hit me. If you’ve spent any time in Italy you know that at no point in the day are you actually hungry. There’s just too much wonderful food around to not partake in it. So the desire for dessert had absolutely nothing to do with the need for more calories.

Going for something new, I selected Crostata di Noci. I was absolutely amazed by what I got.

The pastry was standard-issue Italian pasta frolla, a slightly sweet leavened crust that’s like a cross between shortbread cookies and a dense cake. The filling, however, tasted for all the world like nut roll, one of my favorite pastries but one that is also very time-consuming and frustrating to make.

In that instant, it all made sense. Nut roll hails from Eastern and Central Europe (as does another of my favorites, the poppy seed roll).  In northeast in Italy there is a lot of Eastern European influence. Suddenly, taking nut roll filling and putting it in a pasta frolla case meant I could have something that tasted just like a nut roll but without all the frustration of actually making nut roll.


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Now, Crostata di Noci will never actually replace “real” nut roll just like making bread in my bread machine won’t replace making bread by hand. But, with a bread machine, I have homemade bread every day which wouldn’t be the case if I had to make every loaf by hand. With less than half-an-hour’s active time, I can indulge my taste for nut roll any time I want!

Around the holidays nut rolls were ubiquitous in my home town but my mother and my Aunt Margie made the best nut rolls I have ever had. Largely this is because they both put in a large proportion of sweetened nuts to dough. Honestly, there was just enough dough to roll pinwheel fashion and hold the whole thing together. Many other nut rolls were bready by comparison.

To be sure, my mother’s filling differed from my Aunt Margie’s. I’m not sure how each of them came by their respective recipes but my suspicion is that Aunt Margie’s came from her mother or another Italian relative or friend because it contained orange juice. The use of citrus in various pastries is common in Italy. Pasta frolla, for example, is traditionally flavored with lemon zest and vanilla. I am guessing my mother’s recipe came from my father’s mother or someone on the Slovak side of my family because the liquid in the nuts was milk and not orange juice.


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Separate from actually eating nut roll, there was this whole aura around making them (at least there was when I was young!). Buying shelled walnuts and using a food processor make quick work of preparing the nuts but in the 1960s, making nut roll started with my mother buying a large quantity of whole walnuts. We would sit around the table and crack the nuts open then extract the nutmeats. I still have the nutcracker and picks that we used.

My parents’ nutcracker and picks

After all the nuts were shelled, they needed to be ground. We did this in a hand-crank grinder of the same type used to grind meat for sausage. As a kid, I got to turn the crank on the grinder! I no longer have my mother’s grinder as it got rusty from being stored in the basement but I have my own that is pretty much identical. I got it when I was in college.

The hand-crank grinder I got while in college

After the excitement (well, as a kid it was pretty exciting!) of shelling and grinding the nuts we all kind of abandoned my mother who started the laborious process of actually making the nut rolls. That is definitely not a job for amateurs. The dough had to be very thin but just thick enough to contain the nuts. The nuts had to be moist, sweet, and generous in quantity compared to the amount of dough. Then the whole thing had to be rolled up and baked.

After my mother died, Aunt Margie started sending me nut roll every year. After Aunt Margie died, my cousin Donna (Aunt Margie’s daughter) picked up the nut roll mantle. The two nut rolls that I got this year will be carefully doled out over a few weeks, befitting their preciousness, starting on Christmas Eve!

This year’s nut roll from my cousin Donna.  Notice the large proportion of nuts to dough.

If you have a favorite family recipe and a bit of a story to tell, please email me at santafecook@villasentieri.com and we can discuss it. I am expanding the scope of my blog to include traditional recipes from around the country and around the world. Take a look at Bertha’s Flan.  It will give you an idea of what I’m looking for.


After returning from that trip to Venice I was determined to recreate Crostata di Noci. I whipped up a batch of Zia Fidalma’s pasta frolla and made a simple walnut filling with orange juice in a nod to the Italian origins of this particular pastry.

The first try was a winner and I haven’t really made any substantive changes in the recipe since. If one wanted a creamier filling, one could add a few tablespoons of butter but, honestly, the crostata is so rich that I haven’t felt the need to make it more so.

Until I tackle nut roll making 101 (which I swear I’m going to do one day soon!), I’ll have to settle for crostata di noci, and the occasional nut roll care package from my cousin!

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Crostata di Noci (Italian Walnut Tart)
Lightly sweetened ground walnuts fill an Italian pasta frolla crust in this Venetian dessert. If you’re not a fan of walnuts you could use other nuts. If you want to make the crostata extra festive, put a paper doily on top and sprinkle it with powdered sugar to get a pattern.
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Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Passive Time 30 minutes, plus cooling
Servings
people
Ingredients
Pasta Frolla
Nut Filling
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Passive Time 30 minutes, plus cooling
Servings
people
Ingredients
Pasta Frolla
Nut Filling
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Instructions
Pasta Frolla
  1. Blend flour, sugar, baking powder, vanilla powder, salt and lemon zest in a food processor until combined.
  2. Add the cold butter, cut in pieces.
  3. Blend till well combined. The mixture in the food processor will appear to move as one mass though when you stop the processor you will see that it is not.
  4. Add the eggs and vanilla extract if you are using that instead of vanilla powder and blend till it almost forms a ball.
  5. Remove the pastry from the food processor and incorporate the final bits of flour by hand.
  6. Wrap the dough in waxed paper and refrigerate for about 30 minutes before using.
Nut Filling
  1. Combine all ingredients and mix well.
  2. Cover the nut filling and keep it at room temperature while rolling out the pasta frolla.
Assembly
  1. Roll out pasta frolla between sheets of waxed paper until it is just large enough to come up the sides of a 10" diameter by 1” tall tart pan with a removable bottom.
  2. Trim the edges of pastry even with the top of the tart pan.
  3. Add the filling and spread it out evenly.
  4. The filling should come just to the top of the tart pan.
  5. Bake the crostata at 350°F for approximately 45 minutes or until crust is golden brown.
  6. Cool and remove the sides of the tart pan.
  7. The crostata can be sprinkled with powdered sugar for serving and/or accompanied by lightly sweetened whipped cream.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Aunt Margie’s Colored Cookies

December 15, 2017

We called them “Colored Cookies.”

I’ve never seen them anywhere but in my hometown of Johnstown, Pennsylvania though I can’t believe they are unique to there.

Truth be told, I don’t think I’ve ever had them made by anyone besides Aunt Margie until I made them from her recipe.

Aunt Margie in 2004 with me on an architectural tour of Chicago by boat

Many of the Italian and Italian-American cookies that I grew up with were cake-like. A stiff batter of flour, sugar, eggs, and fat (lard and butter were the most common), leavened with baking powder, flavored in some way (vanilla, lemon, chocolate and spice, sesame, and so forth), rolled or shaped and baked, and usually iced with a thin powdered sugar-milk icing that would harden to a glaze.


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Totos are a perfect example of the chocolate and spice variety.

Anginetti (Genets, as we called them in Italian-American-dialect-slang) also referred to as Lemon Knots, are lemon flavored. Although I’m devoting most of December to posting Italian-American pastry recipes, Anginetti won’t appear until next year.

Sesame Seed Cookies (which certain members of my family like to dip in wine) have no flavoring other than the sesame seeds they are rolled in before baking. These are coming next December, too.


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Colored Cookies are flavored with vanilla despite the riot of color that might suggest otherwise. There was a brief period of time, however, when Aunt Margie got creative (read iconoclastic) and used coconut extract instead of vanilla. Coconut and almond are my two favorite flavors when it comes to sweets, leagues beyond chocolate and vanilla as far as I’m concerned, but coconut-flavored colored cookies strayed too far from tradition for my taste. It didn’t keep me from eating them, however!

Colored Cookies

This is Aunt Margie’s original recipe. And if you flavor them with anything other than vanilla, please don’t tell me…just kidding!


If you have a favorite family recipe and a bit of a story to tell, please email me at santafecook@villasentieri.com and we can discuss it. I am expanding the scope of my blog to include traditional recipes from around the country and around the world. If you haven’t seen Bertha’s Flan, it will give you an idea of what I’m looking for.


I don’t use a lot of food coloring.  The only other exception in recent memory (other than these cookies) was Jim’s Hawaiian Guava Cake.  Take a look at my box of food coloring.  The number 39 is the price:  39 cents!  I’ve had it a long time, though I used up the red making the Guava Cake.


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Aunt Margie's Colored Cookies
Use a very good quality vanilla extract, not artificial vanilla flavoring, as that is the predominant flavor. The best way to mix these is using your hand. If you don’t start there, you’ll end up there so just use your hand from the beginning. Although Aunt Margie’s original instructions were to ice the cookies while still warm, that is very difficult to accomplish without assistance. You can ice them after you have baked all of them with no noticeable difference. It is best to use medium-weight shiny aluminum cookie sheets. Dark metal makes the bottoms too dark before the cookies have completely cooked. You can divide the dough into five parts and color the last one yellow. If you do so, you will need to use slightly less of each dough to make a cookie.
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Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 2 hours
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Cookies
Icing
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 2 hours
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Cookies
Icing
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Instructions
Cookies
  1. Measure all the ingredients.
  2. Combine butter and sugar.
  3. Mix well using your hands.
  4. Add eggs one at a time mixing after each.
  5. Mix in salt and baking powder then add milk and vanilla.
  6. Combine well.
  7. Add flour and mix until a dough forms.
  8. Divide dough into four parts.
  9. Leave one part of dough white.
  10. Color the others pink, blue, and green.
  11. Take approximately 1 teaspoon of each dough and roll into a ball the “size of a walnut” according to Aunt Margie’s recipe. You will need to apply a bit of pressure, without smashing the colors together, to be sure that the different colored doughs have joined into one cookie. If not, the cookies will split during baking.
  12. Bake 350°F for 17-20 minutes until very light brown on the bottom and the top does not depress when touched lightly.
  13. Remove cookies from cookie sheet and put on a cooling rack.
  14. Using your finger, ice with powdered sugar icing while still warm.
Icing
  1. Combine powdered sugar, vanilla and milk. Stir to combine.
  2. Stir to combine.
  3. Thin with a small amount of milk if needed. The icing should be of a spreading consistency.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Grandma Mihalik’s Butter Cookies

December 11, 2017

When I was young, cookie season started in mid-December and continued until early January. Friends and family all had platters and trays of cookies on their tables, often of the multi-tiered variety. Each was carefully wrapped in plastic ready to be unwrapped when guests arrived. The platters were replenished after each group of guests left.

In my circle of family and friends, cookies usually fell into one of two categories, Italian-American or Slovak-American.

To be sure, there was some crossover.


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Nut rolls and poppy seed rolls are Slovak (well, OK, they’re really pretty much pan-Eastern European but since I grew up in a half-Slovak family we considered them to be Slovak even though we knew they were also made by the Poles, Ukrainians, Slovenians, and other Eastern Europeans in town) but they were made by the Italian side of my family as much as by the Slovak side.

There were also nut horns, butterballs, and thumbprints which defied ethnic baking boundaries.

However, flat, rolled cookies, like these butter cookies, were not usually made by Italian-Americans.  The totos that I wrote about last December and the colored cookies that are coming up later this week were not usually made by Slovak-Americans.


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This recipe came to me by way of Aunt Ann who was married to my father’s brother, Jano. She said it was Grandma’s recipe.

I remember eating these cookies and seeing them piled on my grandmother’s table over the holidays.

These cookies are similar to the sand tarts that are common in the central part of Pennsylvania where the Pennsylvania Dutch, of German extraction, historically lived. The big difference, though, is that the dough for these butter cookies is prepared more like a pie crust while the dough for sand tarts is prepared more like cake batter. That is, for these cookies, flour and sugar are cut into butter with a pastry blender whereas for sand tarts the butter and sugar are first creamed together.

There also are sand tarts that I think of as more Southern.  These are usually rolled into balls or formed into shapes and baked but not rolled thin like Pennsylvania Dutch sand tarts and my grandmother’s butter cookies.


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Grandma Mihalik's Butter Cookies
The cookies should just be pale golden brown on the bottom. The color and weight of the cookie sheet significantly influence cooking. I find that shiny aluminum cookie sheets of medium weight work best. Dark metal will cause the bottom of the cookies to brown too much. Allow the cookies to rest for about 30 seconds before removing them from the cookie sheets. If you wait too long the cookies will lose their flexibility and are likely to break.
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Cuisine Slovak
Prep Time 1 1/2 hours
Cook Time 1 hour
Passive Time 30 minutes
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Cuisine Slovak
Prep Time 1 1/2 hours
Cook Time 1 hour
Passive Time 30 minutes
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Combine cinnamon and three tablespoons sugar. Reserve.
  2. Grind the walnuts and reserve.
  3. Put the butter in a mixing bowl and leave at room temperature for about 30 minutes to soften slightly.
  4. Add 1 cup of sugar and flour to the butter.
  5. Mix with a pastry blender until little beads form.
  6. Add the cream and egg yolks and continue mixing with the pastry blender until a shaggy dough forms.
  7. Press into a log, cut in half (or quarters) and wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  8. Roll a portion of dough between sheets of waxed paper to approximately 1/8 inch thick.
  9. Cut into shapes.
  10. Arrange on ungreased cookie sheets.
  11. If the dough starts to warm too much it will be difficult to get the cookies off the waxed paper. If this happens, put the rolled out dough, still between the waxed paper, in the refrigerator for a few of minutes.
  12. Brush with unbeaten egg whites.
  13. Sprinkle with ground walnuts
  14. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.
  15. Bake 350°F approximately 8-9 minutes or until light brown on the bottom.
  16. Remove from the cookie sheet almost immediately and cool on a wire rack.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Pizzelle (Italian Anise-Flavored Wafer Cookies)

December 6, 2017

Pizzelle punctuated my childhood.

Pizzelle were present at every holiday, birthday, wedding, and festive event as well as at random times throughout the year.

They usually came from Aunt Margie, though other folks made pizzelle, too.

My mother never did. Though she liked to bake, and made some wonderful pastries, pizzelle were not part of her repertoire.

The classic flavor is anise, though vanilla, and to a lesser extent lemon and orange, are common as well.

Aunt Margie would use pizzelle to make ice cream sandwiches. She would roll them around a tube to make faux cannoli. She would even roll them into ice cream cones. Of all the permutations, though, my favorite is just the classic, flat, crispy anise-flavored cookie.


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I don’t know anybody who doesn’t use an electric pizzelle iron these days but originally Aunt Margie used one of cast iron that was heated on the stove. It came from Berarducci Brothers in McKeesport, Pennsylvania and is most definitely iron, not aluminum. I have the pizzelle maker in its original box.

Aunt Margie’s original cast iron pizzelle maker

The original box for the pizzelle maker

Unfortunately Berarducci Brothers is no longer around. Not only did they manufacture stove-top and electric pizzelle irons, they made ravioli molds, crank-handle vegetable strainers, and an array of other culinary tools.

A modern pizzelle maker

In my experience, anise oil is essential. Anise extract simply does not pack enough flavor to give pizzelle the punch they need.

When I was young, anise oil came from the pharmacy. It was not uncommon in those days for pharmacies to routinely compound medications to a physician’s specific instructions. Compounding is now limited to a few specialty pharmacies but not so back then. Anise oil was commonly used to flavor what might otherwise be a noxious medication.

It was common practice among the Italian families in my hometown to go to the pharmacy to buy a bottle of anise oil. One upside, besides the easy availability of the stuff, is that it was pharmaceutical grade and, therefore, very pure.


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I tried that in Santa Fe after my mother-in-law kept failing to get enough anise flavor out of anise extract. We even have actual compounding pharmacies in Santa Fe as well as pharmacies that specialize in herbal and homeopathic medications that also make up their own medications. No dice. Not one of them carried anise oil.

Amazon to the rescue. There are other on-line sources, too, like the King Arthur Flour people. So, if you want to try your hand at pizzelle, get anise oil, not anise extract.  If you don’t like anise you could give vanilla, lemon, or orange a try.  If you do, I suggest the lemon and orange oils from Boyajian rather than extract.

The brand of Anise oil I have been using lately

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Pizzelle
Anise extract does not work well. Anise oil is an absolute requirement for the authentic taste. As with many "old Italian recipes" in my collection, this one provided a range of amounts of flour. 1 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour worked well and was pretty much right in the middle of the range. The batter will be quite stiff until the melted butter is stirred in.
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Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Passive Time 15 minutes
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Passive Time 15 minutes
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Combine flour, salt, and baking powder.
  2. Mix well. Reserve.
  3. Combine eggs and sugar.
  4. Mix until well combined.
  5. Stir in vanilla and anise oil.
  6. Stir dry ingredients into egg-sugar mixture.
  7. Stir in melted butter.
  8. Lightly grease the pizzelle maker (with lard, preferably) before the first ones are baked. After the first, additional greasing is not needed.
  9. Add a rounded tablespoon of batter to the center of each shape, depending on the size of your iron.
  10. Cover and cook until light golden but not really brown. The length of time will vary based on the specifics of your pizzelle iron. With mine, it took 30-45 seconds per batch.
  11. Cool the pizzelle on racks.
  12. You can dust with powdered sugar if you'd like but I rarely do unless it's a really festive occasion.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Jim’s Hawaiian Guava Cake

October 25, 2017

“Aloha Mr. Van Sant.”

So began a 2003 email from Simon Rusconi, the Hotel Manager of the Sheraton Moana Surfrider Resort on Oahu.

Mr. Van Sant, Jim to the rest of us, had complimented the resort on its guava cake and Mr. Rusconi was writing to share the recipe.

Jim printed out the email and affixed it to an index card and put it in his recipe box. Late in 2016, the subject of the guava cake came up somehow at a dinner party at Jim and Bill’s house. Jim offered to share the recipe with me if I was interested.

I was, and I said that I’d make it for him. Shortly thereafter, the original recipe arrived in the mail still affixed to the index card. Not wanting to keep his original, I scanned it into my recipe database and returned the hardcopy.

Since Jim and Bill rent a home in Palm Springs just steps from our house, and since baking cakes at nearly 8000 feet where I live in New Mexico is an iffy proposition, at best, I said I’d bake the cake in Palm Springs. Every winter they rent the Oscar Mayer House. Yes, that Oscar Mayer!

We had a delightful luncheon at tables set up around their pool with guava cake for dessert.

The back of the Oscar Mayer house in Palm Springs, California
Inside the Oscar Mayer House
The front of the Oscar Mayer House

But that’s jumping ahead.

Receiving the recipe from Jim was merely the beginning. I became fascinated by guava cake without having even made one. Almost any recipe with the degree of cultural significance that guava cake seemed to garner grabs my attention. I did internet searches and combed through my Hawaiian cookbooks (of which I have a goodly number).

It appears that there are basically three variations of guava cake in Hawaii: Guava Chiffon Cake, Guava Spice Cake, and (plain old) Guava Cake. Recipes for the last often start with a box of cake mix and use Cool Whip in the cream cheese frosting.

From what my research has revealed, the original was a Guava Chiffon Cake invented by Herbert Matsuba, owner of the Dee Lite Bakery, in the early 1960s.

The popularity of the cake no doubt led to multiple copycat recipes, including those using a box of cake mix and Cool Whip aimed at the home cook.

The recipe from the Moana Surfrider was a Guava Spice Cake. I followed the recipe closely the first time except that I needed to find a substitute for frozen concentrated guava nectar which I was unable to find after scouring 10 grocery stores in Palm Springs and nearby desert towns.

I ultimately was able to source pure guava puree at a market catering to Hispanic shoppers. It had no sweeteners so I thought I might need to add sugar to the batter in a subsequent trial but for the first round I used the guava puree as a direct substitute for concentrated guava nectar.

Frozen Guava Puree, a much easier to find substitute for frozen concentrated guava nectar

The cake was good but everyone who tasted it failed to taste any guava. It really just tasted like a spice cake. Certainly it was not worth hours of searching for guava concentrate only to have the flavor masked by spices.

Other than guava chiffon cake, which was definitely not the same genre as the cake that Jim had at the Moana Surfrider, I could not find a recipe for plain guava cake that did not start with a box of cake mix. I decided to make the original recipe without the spices.

That did it! The guava flavor came through but something told me that Herbert, a professional baker, might have used something to amp up the guava flavor.

That started me on a search for natural guava extract. I found a wonderful extract made by Amoretti.

You can do without the Amoretti Guava Extract but not the red food coloring.

The next time I made the cake, I added a tiny bit of guava extract to the batter. I believe it enhanced the flavor but if one is not going to make a lot of guava cakes I would consider omitting the guava extract as it is expensive and very concentrated so a little bottle will last a long, long time.

For an everyday cake, I suggest baking it in a 9” x 13” x 2” rectangular pan. For a more special presentation, make a layer cake by dividing the batter between two 9” round pans. If you are doing the latter, make a double batch of cream cheese frosting. You’ll have a little left over but a single batch will not be enough. You could always whip up half a batch of batter and make guava cupcakes to use the extra frosting!

In honor of Oscar Mayer, in whose house we all came together over Jim’s Hawaiian Guava Cake, I recommend the following tribute. Who knew there were so many variations on the Oscar Mayer Wiener theme?


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Jim's Hawaiian Guava Cake
Because frozen, concentrated guava nectar is not readily available except in Hawaii, I standardized this recipe using frozen guava pulp which should be easy to find in large supermarkets or in markets catering to customers from Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. It is important that the cream cheese frosting be level so that the guava gel forms an even layer. If you are making a rectangular cake this means there will be a bit more frosting at the edges than in the middle. If you are making a round two-layer cake, I suggest cutting off the tops of the cakes to achieve a perfectly level appearance. Put the cakes cut side down to avoid having lots of crumbs working their way into the cream cheese frosting. Guava nectar can be purchased in cans or refrigerated. Guava pulp is frozen.
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Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 1 hour
Passive Time 3 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cake
Guava Gel
Cream Cheese Frosting (make a double batch for the round cake)
Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 1 hour
Passive Time 3 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cake
Guava Gel
Cream Cheese Frosting (make a double batch for the round cake)
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Instructions
Cake
  1. Butter and flour a 9 x 13 x 2 inch metal cake pan or two 9 inch round cake pans.
  2. Combine flour and baking soda. Reserve.
  3. Combine guava puree, guava nectar, guava extract and red food coloring. Reserve.
  4. Cream butter until light. Add sugar and cream until light and fluffy.
  5. Beat in eggs, one at a time, creaming well after each addition.
  6. On low, add dry ingredients alternating with wet ingredients, starting and ending with dry ingredients.
  7. For the rectangular pan: pour the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth the top. Rap the pan on the counter to release any air bubbles.
  8. Bake 350°F 40-45 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.
  9. Cool the cake in the pan then refrigerate.
  10. Frost with cream cheese frosting being careful to make the top of the frosting level. Refrigerate several hours to firm up the frosting.
  11. Top with guava gel and smooth out to the edges. Refrigerate several hours to set the frosting and gel.
  12. Bring the cake to room temperature before serving.
  13. For the round pans: Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Smooth the tops. Rap the pans on the counter to release any air bubbles.
  14. Bake 350°F 30-35 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.
  15. Cool the cakes in the pans for 10 minutes. Remove and cool completely on a wire rack.
  16. Wrap the cakes and refrigerate until cold, or up to one day.
  17. Slice the rounded tops of the cakes off to make them level.
  18. x
  19. Put one layer, cut-side-down on a platter.
  20. Put a layer of cream cheese frosting on the top of this layer.
  21. Pipe a rim of frosting around the edge to hold the guava gel. This does not need to be fancy as it will be smoothed out.
  22. Put just under ½ of the guava gel on top of the frosted bottom layer.
  23. Smooth the gel out to the piped edge.
  24. Top with the remaining cake, cut side down.
  25. Generously frost sides and top of the cake with cream cheese frosting.
  26. Pipe a decorative border around the edge of the top layer.
  27. Pour the remaining guava gel on top and smooth out to the edges.
  28. Refrigerate several hours to set the frosting and gel.
  29. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Guava Gel
  1. Put the cornstarch in a small heavy-bottomed sauce pan.
  2. Stir in the guava nectar, a little at a time, to dissolve the cornstarch without forming lumps.
  3. When dissolved, add the remaining guava nectar and sugar.
  4. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a full boil.
  5. Remove from heat and stir in red food coloring.
  6. Put a cloth on top of pan before putting cover back on to keep moisture from dripping back into the gel.
  7. After the gel reaches room temperature, refrigerate until cold.
Cream Cheese Frosting (make a double batch for the round cake)
  1. Chill the bowl and beaters for the whipped cream.
  2. Cream the cream cheese until light.
  3. Sprinkle in 1/3 cup of sugar and beat until light and fluffy.
  4. Mix in vanilla.
  5. In chilled bowl, beat the whipping cream until thick.
  6. Add 2 tablespoons of sugar and beat until the cream forms stiff peaks.
  7. Fold 1/3 of the whipped cream into the cream cheese to lighten it.
  8. Carefully, but thoroughly fold in the remainder of the whipped cream.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Julie’s Impossible Pecan Pie

October 16, 2017

Julie Paradise is the Queen of Impossible Pies.

Julie Paradise

I ate Impossible Pies back in the 1970s.   Savory Impossible Pies were a favorite of Auntie Helen. Auntie Helen was actually the aunt of Gene d’Aquili, my College Advisor. Ultimately, years later, I went into psychiatric practice with him. I spent lots of time with Gene and his family, including Auntie Helen, and her sister, Auntie Louise, from the early 1970s until the late 1980s when I left Philadelphia and moved to Tucson for a year before settling in Chicago. In a previous blog post, I talked about Auntie Helen and Auntie Louise.

Auntie Helen was especially fond of Impossible Tuna Pie. I have “her” recipe which exactly matches one I found on the internet a few months ago. I’m going to guess it was the one put out by the makers of Bisquick® way back in the day!

I’ve only ever had sweet impossible pies from Julie, but she says she makes savory ones too. Her take: “Green bean is delicious. Broccoli is fantastic and pretty. Zucchini is good.”

Julie is one of those folks who doesn’t like pie crust…and there are plenty of them. For her, Impossible Pies are the perfect solution.

On our recent visit to Julie and Gay’s home on Fire Island Julie made three Impossible Pies during a six-day stay. We ate every last crumb!

Deer near Gay and Julie’s deck eating geraniums out of my hand

Impossible Pies appear at the end of most every dinner that Gay and Julie host in Santa Fe and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

You’ve read my rants about the adverse health effects of hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats. That’s what baking mix (OK, let’s call it what it is, we’re really talking about Bisquick®) used to contain. I’m here to say: NO LONGER!

In prepping for making Julie’s Impossible Pecan Pie, I researched “baking mix” substitutes. There are many recipes available, all of which are very similar (flour, some sort of oil or fat, a bit of sugar, and baking powder). My plan was to make up a substitute rather than use the real thing because of my zero tolerance policy for hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats.

On a stroll through the supermarket, I saw the baking mix section and decided to take a look. That’s when I discovered that the good folks at Betty Crocker had changed the formula and replaced the partially hydrogenated fat with vegetable oil. I actually bought a box, intending to make all those things I had as a kid that were based on Bisquick and Auntie Helen’s Impossible Tuna Pie after making Julie’s Impossible Pecan Pie.

I looked at several other brands of baking mix and discovered that not all manufacturers are as enlightened as Betty. Partially hydrogenated fat was still a common ingredient in many of them. (There are also some specialty Bisquick products that contain—or may contain—based on the label, partially hydrogenated fats. It’s best to stick with what is labeled as the “Original” (which, of course it really isn’t) or the HeartSmart.

A funny thing happened with all this thinking about baking mix and baking mix substitutes. I realized that for all practical purposes, an Impossible Pie is like a Clafoutis! The only real difference is that the baking mix contains baking powder and the standard recipe for clafoutis does not. Given the variability of recipes from cook to cook, I guess it wouldn’t be unreasonable to call this a Pecan Clafoutis! And, as Julie says, a Clafoutis is best right out of the oven while an Impossible Pie is just fine at room temperature.

So, while I don’t often make Julia Child’s recipe for Clafoutis I think there are lots of Impossible Pies in my future.


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Julie's Impossible Pecan Pie
Although I used a mixer, as you’ll see in the pictures, a blender is easier and produces a smoother batter. Also, the original pie pan I chose was too small. You’ll see that I started putting everything into the 9-inch pan. I had to switch to a 10-inch deep dish pan! Although not part of Julie's original recipe, I've successfully added 1/4 teaspoon of almond essence to this pie. It's not enough to give the pie an almond flavor but it does amplify the nuttiness!
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Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Prepare all the ingredients.
  2. Pecans
  3. Brown sugar
  4. Milk
  5. Corn syrup
  6. Eggs
  7. Baking mix
  8. Butter a 10-inch deep-dish pie pan.
  9. Add the pecans to the buttered pie pan and set aside.
  10. Put all remaining ingredients into a blender jar or mixing bowl and blend until thoroughly combined and no lumps remain. This will take approximately 15-20 seconds in a blender and at least one minute by electric mixer.
  11. Pour the batter over the pecans.
  12. Bake at 350°F for 50-55 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
  13. Cool at least five minutes before serving or serve at room temperature.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Bertha’s Flan

October 11, 2017

Bertha Kravicas left Lithuania in 1927 with her family. They were hoping to get to America but when the quota was full they went to the closest place they could.

They thought their sojourn in Cuba would be brief but as the months turned into years, Bertha made a trip back to the Old Country where she met Victor Ashman in Latvia.

They married and returned to live in Cuba in 1931. Over the years, they became Cubans in the way that immigrants to the United States become Americans no matter their background.

Bertha in Matanzas, Cuba in the 1940s

Victor even decided to run for public office. Because his name was not Cuban enough he officially changed it to Victor A. Larriga, in honor of his birthplace, Riga, Latvia.

One of the ways that Bertha adapted to her new country was through cooking.

Flan is made throughout the Spanish-speaking world but is especially popular in Cuba where it is the most common dessert. Flan is a source of family pride with each family believing that its flan is the best. (This sounds very familiar to me coming from a Southern Italian background where the same belief attaches to tomato sauce).

Flan recipes are passed down from generation to generation and fall into two general categories, those that contain canned milk and those that do not. Cubans smile approvingly when hearing that flan contains canned milk. After all, that’s how it should be!

Bertha’s flan is made entirely from canned milk; two kinds actually. That, and the generous amount of egg, makes a substantial flan.

After the Cuban Revolution Bertha and Victor took advantage of President Eisenhower’s offer for Cubans to immigrate to the United States. They arrived in late 1960 along with their son, Stuart.

Bertha and Victor on their Harley in the 1940s

Stuart is now the Executive Director of the Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe. It was at a CCA event earlier this summer that I tasted this remarkable flan made by Stuart’s wife Peggy Gaustad. Peggy is now the flan maker in the family, having taken over from Stuart. For the CCA event, Peggy made flan for 100 people but she recalls once making it for 150!

Stuart remembers that as a child, when his mother would make flan, he would be given the empty can of condensed milk and a chopped up banana to sop up the last bit of sweetness!

This recipe is actually double Bertha’s original. It’s the way Peggy makes it because there never seems to be enough from the original.


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Bertha's Flan
Before caramelizing the sugar in the pan you’re going to use for the flan, put the empty pan inside of the larger one that you’re going to use for the water bath then add water to the large pan to come at least one inch up the side of the pan that will hold the flan. Remove the pan that you’ll use for the flan.
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Cuisine Cuban
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 1/2 hours
Passive Time 30 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cuisine Cuban
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 1/2 hours
Passive Time 30 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. For the flan, choose a 12-inch diameter pan with straight sides that can be heated on the stove and put in the oven.
  2. Put enough water into a pan large enough to hold the pan with the flan so that the water comes one-inch up the sides of the pan with the flan.
  3. Put the sugar into the pan selected for the flan.
  4. Heat the pan with the sugar on medium heat until the sugar melts and turns dark brown. (A series of pictures follows showing the progression of the caramelization.)
  5. Do not stir the sugar or caramel. Simply swirl the pan from time to time to mix the caramel. Rotate the pan on the heat occasionally to reduce hot-spots.
  6. If the pan has a very heavy bottom, the retained heat will continue to brown the sugar off the heat. Stop caramelizing the sugar a little before you think it’s done otherwise it might burn. If it turns out that the caramel is not quite dark enough, you can heat the pan again briefly.
  7. Remove the pan from the heat and allow it to cool during which time the caramelized sugar will harden on the bottom.
  8. While the caramel is cooling, bring the water in the water bath to a simmer on the stovetop then put the pan into a 350°F oven.
  9. Meanwhile, combine the condensed milk, evaporated milk, eggs, vanilla extract, and salt. Mix well.
  10. When the caramel is hardened, pour the milk-egg mixture on top.
  11. Cover the pan tightly, either with foil or with a lid.
  12. Put the pan into the water bath in the 350°F oven.
  13. Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes at 350°F.
  14. A knife inserted in the center of the flan should come out clean. If not, cook a few minutes longer.
  15. Remove the flan from the oven and cool to room temperature.
  16. Refrigerate at least 8 hours. Overnight is best.
  17. When ready to serve, run a knife around the edge of the flan.
  18. Put a large platter upside down on top of the pan with the flan. Quickly flip the entire set-up over. The flan should come out of the pan in one piece. Pour any remaining caramel syrup onto the flan.
  19. Serve very cold.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Mike’s (Justifiably Famous) Carrot Cake

August 25, 2017

Mike Abramson says his carrot cake is the best ever.

Janet Carlson doesn’t necessarily agree.

For now, the controversy will need to simmer as I only have Mike’s (Justifiably Famous) Carrot Cake recipe, though I have suggested to Janet that she and Mike have a carrot cake bake-off.

Mike makes no apologies for having stolen the recipe from Tom Grier, originally of Grier, Georgia.

The story goes something like this…

In the 1970’s a group of four friends from San Francisco bought a weekend house, they named Aros, near Sebastopol, California. The four owners rotated use of the house, each getting it for a week at a time but also sometimes showing up there together to host parties as in the photo below.

Mike Abramson, second row far right

Over the years, ownership of the house shifted as some individuals sold their interest and others bought in.

At one point, Tom Grier was the youngest owner.

The group met on a quarterly basis in San Francisco to discuss maintenance issues related to the house. As with use of the house, these meetings were held in rotation at the owners’ homes in San Francisco.

Whenever Tom hosted the meeting, he served carrot cake, which Mike believes originated as a Grier family recipe. Tom shared the recipe with Mike and the rest is history. Mike’s (Justifiably Famous) Carrot Cake was born.

But for Janet’s assertion that Mike’s might not be the best carrot cake in the world, well, we’ll just have to wait for the bake-off.

From left to right: Janet Carlson, Richard Valantasis, and Gino Barcone

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Mike's (Justifiably Famous) Carrot Cake
This is almost a cross between a spice cake and a carrot cake. The frosting is generous and could easily be reduced by one-third. This recipe is for sea level. If there is interest in adjustments for high altitude, let me know and I’ll post them.
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Cuisine American
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 40 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cake
Frosting
Cuisine American
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 40 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cake
Frosting
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Instructions
Cake
  1. Butter and flour a 9” x 13” baking pan.
  2. Grate the carrots on the tear-drop holes of a box grater.
  3. Coarsely chop the nuts.
  4. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix with the paddle.
  5. Add the oil and eggs to the flour mixture. Blend until combined.
  6. Add the carrots and crushed pineapple with the juice. Mix thoroughly.
  7. Add the walnuts and raisins. Stir to combine.
  8. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake at 350°F for 35-40 minutes or until the center springs back when lightly touched.
  9. Cool completely in the pan before frosting.
Frosting
  1. Beat cream cheese and butter until light using the paddle of a stand mixer.
  2. Beat in all other ingredients.
  3. Frost cake when cool.
Recipe Notes

For recipes that call for solid vegetable shortening, such as Crisco, I use coconut oil is due to concerns about the negative health effects of hydrogenated fats.

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