Friday, December 30, 2016

Pandoro Zuppa Inglese and Alkermes

 Pandoro is a staple in Italian households at holiday time, along with its cousin, Panettone. Unlike panettone, pandoro has no raisins or candied fruits, and is typically served with a dusting of powdered sugar.

But with all the cakes, cookies, candies and ice cream eaten in our household in the last week, there is still plenty of Pandoro to be eaten. 

If you're like me and have leftover pandoro, here's a way to use it up - a zuppa inglese - a classic Italian dessert whose name translates to "English soup," although it's not at all a soup, but more of an English trifle. The words "pan d'oro" mean golden bread in Italian, and it's easy to see why once you slice into the egg-rich confection.

Zuppa Inglese is typically made with sponge cake and layers of pastry cream. The cake is usually sprinkled with Alkermes, an aromatic red liqueur that's used in Italian desserts and as a digestivo. 

Recipes for Alkermes date back to the Renaissance, and generally contain a variety of spices including cardamom, cloves and cinnamon, along with rose water and other ingredients. Its scarlet red color is derived from a small parasitic insect called kermes, or cochineal. These are parasitic insects growing on paddles of prickly pear cactus in Mexico and Central and South America. They look like a white fungus on the prickly pear paddle, but when when scraped off, give off a brilliant red color. On a trip to Peru earlier this year, I saw the insects first hand, and observed Incan women dying fabric using coloring made from the insects after they were dried and ground.

Here in the U.S., it's nearly impossible to find alkermes (sometimes spelled alchermes) but the last time I was in Florence, I brought some back from the Santa Maria Novella Farmacia, one of the oldest pharmacies in the world, dating back to 1221, and well worth a visit. 

The farmacia has expanded its product line to include perfumes, soaps and other items, but still makes alkermes, using the same recipe since 1743. 

The company now has branches all around the world, including one in New York City, but alas, alkermes can't be bought there.

If you can't get to Florence, Italy, you can always try making your own alkermes. Francine Segan has a recipe in her book "Dolci," (using red food coloring, not cochineal insects). Email me if you'd like that recipe. Or use a combination of kirsch and the liquid from maraschino cherries. It won't taste the same, but it's a pleasant substitute and it will be the right color.

Anyhow, to assemble the zuppa inglese, make some chocolate pastry cream and some vanilla pastry cream. I "cheated" and used a box of instant chocolate pudding, to which I added some rum, and a box of instant vanilla pudding, to which I added some whipped cream.

Place the chocolate pudding on the bottom of large glass bowl, followed by a layer of the pandoro (or sponge cake or savoiardi biscuits.) Sprinkle the pandoro with the alkermes, then cover with  the vanilla pudding/whipped cream mixture, followed by another layer of pandoro and more alkermes. 

Whip some heavy cream, spread it over the layers and top with sprinkles. Grab a spoon and dig in.

For more recipes using pandoro, click here for a Pandoro "Christmas tree",

 here for a zuppa inglese "alla Napoletana,"

and here for a fruity zuccotto.

Want more Ciao Chow Linda? Check out my Instagram page here to see more of what I'm cooking up each day. 

You can also connect with Ciao Chow Linda here on Facebook, here for Pinterest or  here for Twitter. 

Pandoro Zuppa Inglese with Alkermes

1 large Pandoro cake (or sponge cake or savoiardi biscuits)

1 small box instant chocolate pudding

1/4 cup dark rum

1 small box instant vanilla pudding

1/2 pint whipping cream

1/4 cup confectioners' sugar

alkermes (I diluted it slightly with a simple sugar syrup made by boiling some sugar with water)


Mix the packaged instant pudding according to directions on the box (or make pastry cream from scratch.) Add the rum to the chocolate pudding. Whip the 1/2 pint of cream with the sugar, and fold 1 cup of the whipped cream to the vanilla pudding. Save the rest for the top.

Slice the pandoro cake. Place the chocolate pudding on the bottom of a large glass bowl and cover with slices of the pandoro (or sponge cake or savoiardi biscuits.) Sprinkle alkermes on top, then cover with the vanilla pudding. Place more slices of pandoro on top of the vanilla pudding and sprinkle with more alkermes.

Spread the remaining whipped cream on top and decorate with colored sprinkles.


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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Christmas Snowflake Pasta

During a recent visit to Williams-Sonoma, I spotted bags filled with this snowflake (fiochi di neve) pasta and knew it would be perfect for this holiday season.

  I have a weakness for pasta shapes, and there are always at least five or six different kinds in my cabinet.

There are umpteen ways you could dress this pasta, but I thought it deserved a festive red and green treatment with Christmas just around the corner. Using just what I had in the fridge and freezer (part of a red pepper, half a bag of peas, some ricotta and parmesan cheese), dinner was on the table in the time it took to boil the pasta.

Of course, you can make this recipe with any pasta shape, but the snowflakes are just so apropos for this time of year. If you do use this snowflake pasta, with this recipe or any other (click here to buy it) take a photo and email it to me. I'd love to see your creation.

Buon Natale!

Christmas Snowflake Pasta

printable recipe here

makes two very generous portions

8 ounces (half a bag) snowflake pasta (available from Williams Sonoma)

1/2 to 3/4 of a red pepper (about 1/2 cup), diced

about 3/4 cup frozen peas

1/4 cup minced onion

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup ricotta cheese

salt, pepper to taste

red pepper flakes (optional)

pasta water

1/2 cup parmesan cheese

minced parsley

Cook the pasta in salted, boiling water until almost done. It will cook a little longer in the sauce. While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce. Sauté the onion and pepper at low to medium heat in the olive oil until softened. Add the frozen peas and stir. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and red pepper flakes, if desired.

Using a slotted spoon or "spider" tool, drain the pasta right into the pan with the peas and red peppers. It's ok if some of the pasta water gets into the pan too. In fact, you'll need to reserve about a cup of the pasta water for this recipe. You may not use all the water - maybe only half of it - but it's good to have it on hand.

After draining the pasta into the red peppers and peas mixture, add spoonfuls of the ricotta cheese and some of the reserved pasta water. Stir and blend everything together. You want it to be moist, not dry, and you may need to add more pasta water as the pasta continues to absorb it. Keep stirring in the rest of the ricotta and pasta water (at low heat)  until you have the desired consistency - not soupy, but not dry either). Turn off the heat and stir in the parmesan cheese, leaving some to serve at the table. Sprinkle with a little minced parsley and serve.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016


If you've ever been to a Christmas eve or Christmas day feast at the home of Italians or Italian-Americans who hail from Southern Italy, struffoli - fried dough balls bathed in honey and covered with sprinkles - are sure to appear at dessert time.

They'd also be perfect for the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah, which features fried foods and whose first night coincides with Christmas eve this year.

I didn't grow up eating these, but my friend Lily, who is from Salerno (near Naples), introduced me to this Neapolitan treat years ago.

Last year, my father brought them for dessert following our fish extravaganza on Christmas eve.

He followed a recipe from Lidia Bastianich's book, "Lidia's Italy in America."

What's on your dessert table this holiday?

Want more Ciao Chow Linda? Check out my Instagram page here to see more of what I'm cooking up each day. 

You can also connect with Ciao Chow Linda here on Facebook, here for Pinterest or  here for Twitter. 


recipe from Lidia Bastianich's "Lidia's Italy in America"

serves 8 to 10

4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup plus 1 T. sugar

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

finely grated zest of 1 orange

1/4 t. cinnamon

pinch kosher salt

4 large eggs

1 t. vanilla extract

2 T. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

2 cups honey

vegetable oil, for frying

sprinkles, for garnish

Pulse together the flour, 1 T. sugar, the lemon zest, orange zest, cinnamon and salt in a food processor. Whisk together the eggs and vanilla in a separate bowl. Pour the egg mixture into the food processor with the motor running, and then drop in the butter pieces. Process until a smooth dough forms, about 30 seconds. Knead the dough on the counter a few times, then wrap in plastic and let rest at room temperature at least one hour.

Make the syrup: Combine the honey, the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and 1/3 cup water in a medium skillet over medium heat. Bring to a boil and cook until syrupy, about 6 to 7 minutes.

In the meantime, heat 1 inch of vegetable oil in a pot or straight-sided skillet to about 365 degrees F., or until a piece of dough sizzles on contact. Pinch off a golf-ball sized piece of dough, and roll into a rope about 1/2 inch wide. Cut the rope of dough into pieces the size of a hazelnut and roll into balls. Repeat until all the dough is used.

Fry the struffoli in batches until puffed and golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes per batch. Drain on a paper-towel-lined baking sheet, and repeat with the remaining struffoli.

Toss the struffoli in the hot honey syrup, in batches, as many at a time a you can fit without crowding. Roll the struffoli in the syrup until well coated, then scoop them up with a slotted spoon or strainer, and drain off the excess syrup. Stack the struffoli in layers on a plate to form a cone, or circle, sprinkling each layer with the sprinkles as you stack. Repeat until all the struffoli are coated in the honey syrup and covered in sprinkles. Drizzle the completed stack of struffoli with any remaining syrup, if you wish.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Cranberry Orange Spice Bundt Cake

 I'm not sure why I don't make bundt cakes more often because they're delicious, easy to put together and serve a lot of people. With the holidays approaching, and my Italian chit-chat group meeting at my house yesterday, I was inspired to dig out this Christmas tree bundt pan from my basement, given to me by a friend a few years ago. 

I scoured the internet to find a festive recipe for it and landed on this one from Williams Sonoma's website.

 It's studded with a streusel interior made from dried cranberries simmered in orange juice, pecans and brown sugar. As if that weren't enticement enough, the moist cake is perfumed with spices and orange peel and brushed with a drizzle of sweetened orange juice. 

Ready to try it?

 You don't have to use a pan with a Christmas tree design - any Bundt pan will do. Or even a loaf pan. But if you've got one of these, finish it off with a dusting of powdered sugar and decorative candies, like these m&m's.

You'll be wishing for snow covered trees the whole year through.

Cranberry Orange Spice Cake


For the cranberry streusel: 

  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries 

  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice 

  • 2 Tbs. firmly packed light brown sugar 

  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans 

For the cake: 

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 

  • 1 Tbs. ground cinnamon 

  • 2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg 

  • 1/8 tsp. ground cloves 

  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder 

  • 1/2 tsp. salt 

  • 16 Tbs. (2 sticks) unsalted butter 

  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar 

  • 2 Tbs. grated orange zest 

  • 4 eggs 

  • 3/4 cup milk 

For the glaze (optional): 

  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice 

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar


Have all the ingredients at room temperature.

Position a rack in the lower third of an oven and preheat to 325°F. Grease and flour a holiday tree Bundt® pan; tap out excess flour.

To make the streusel, in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the cranberries and orange juice. Bring to a simmer and cook until the liquid is nearly evaporated, about 5 minutes. Let cool, then coarsely chop the cranberries. Transfer to a small bowl, add the brown sugar and pecans and stir to combine. Set aside.

To make the cake, over a sheet of waxed paper, sift together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, baking powder and salt; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy and smooth, about 30 seconds. Add the granulated sugar and orange zest and continue beating until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the milk and beginning and ending with the flour. Beat each addition until just incorporated, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Spoon one-third of the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle with half of the streusel. Repeat the layering, then spoon the remaining batter on top. Bake until the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 60 to 65 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the cake cool upright in the pan for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the glaze: In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the orange juice and granulated sugar. Heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat.

Tap the Bundt® pan gently on a work surface to loosen the cake. Set the rack over a sheet of waxed paper, invert the pan onto the rack and lift off the pan.

Using a pastry brush, brush the warm cake with the glaze. Let the cake cool completely, at least 2 hours, before serving. Serves 16.

From Williams-Sonoma Kitchen.

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