Diane De Filipi, Italian Lessons: If in doubt, bake a cake
Italian Lessons

Diane De Filipi, Italian Lessons: If in doubt, bake a cake

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Need a distraction, something fun to do at home with the kids now that school is on hiatus or something to break the boredom other than reorganizing all of your kitchen cabinets?

Forget about sanitizing the grocery cart for a little while and focus on using that energy in a creative way.

We are all trying to feed ourselves or our families something right now, whether it’s part of daily nutrition or simply food for the soul.

The perfume of fresh baked goods in the house could be the relaxing aroma therapy you and/or the family might need right now. Please don’t be afraid to bake if it’s only you in the house, what you can’t enjoy in a couple of days can be frozen into smaller portions for when that little small voice in your head says, “We need a treat.”

Continue the fun by taking photos of the before, during and after of your cake baking adventure and share via your favorite form of social media, along with the recipe, of course. Remember the days of regular recipe exchanges with friends? Maybe it’s time to reinstate this ancient ritual so that you can stay connected to those you can’t get close to right now.

If you’ve already run the gamut of the cake recipes in your stash, be daring and try something “out of the box.” No, not the box of cake mix, the other box that we sometimes get stuck in.

If you’re now inspired to build a cake, and have some ice-cold milk on hand, here are a few of my favorite cake recipes, Italian style.

Torta di Pistachio

Serves 8

1 2/3 cups raw shelled pistachios—peel off red skin (see note below)

6 large eggs, at room temperature, separated

A pinch of sea salt

3/4 cup granulated sugar

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Powdered sugar, for dusting

For the ricotta cream

1 firmly packed cup well drained whole milk ricotta, patted dry

2/3 cup heavy cream

½ cup mascarpone

1/3 cup powdered sugar

½ tsp. vanilla paste or pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees with a rack in the center. Butter bottom and sides of a 9-inch spring form pan with at least 2 3/4-inch-high sides.

For the cake: Process pistachios in a food processor in two batches until they are the texture of fine cornmeal. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer with whisk attachment, beat egg whites and salt at low speed to break them up, then raise speed to medium and beat until soft peaks are formed. Increase speed to medium-high and gradually add 6 Tbsp. granulated sugar. Continue to beat until medium-firm peaks form. Hand held mixer can also be used. Set aside.

In separate bowl, beat egg yolks with remaining 6 Tbsp. sugar at medium speed until they are thick and pale. Approx. 4 minutes. Mix in lemon zest. Using a large spatula, gently fold the egg yolk mixture into the whites. Divide ground pistachios into 3 portions. Gently fold in ground pistachios, folding in each time just until the nuts are well blended.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Bake for 40 minutes or until the cake is golden and firm to the touch and pulls away from the sides of the pan. A toothpick inserted near the center should come out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Remove the sides of the pan and let cool completely. Transfer cooled cake on its base to a serving platter, or carefully run an angled metal spatula under the cake and slide it directly onto the platter.

Make the ricotta cream: Using a handheld mixer or a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, briefly beat the ricotta on medium speed until creamy. Add heavy cream, mascarpone, 1/4 cup powdered sugar, and vanilla paste (or extract) and beat briefly on low to combine the ingredients. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture begins to thicken. Beat until just stiff.

Assemble the cake: Using a serrated bread knife, slice the cake horizontally into two layers and set aside the top layer. Spread the ricotta cream over the bottom layer. Place the top layer over the filling. Dust with powdered sugar and serve.

Note: To peel shelled pistachios, place in a heat-proof bowl and pour 2 cups boiling water over them. Let sit for maximum 2 minutes. Any longer and the nuts can get soggy. Drain. Wrap nuts in a clean linen kitchen towel and rub briskly to loosen skins. Peel off any remaining skins with your fingers.

You can skip this step, but you won’t have as much of the beautiful green color of the nuts. You may have a bit of bitterness with skins on. Some cooks like this flavor contrast.

Torta Paradiso

With Mascarpone and Blueberries

Serves 8

This cake is delicately light with heavenly filling that will make you think of Paradise.

7 oz. unsalted butter

8 oz. sugar plus 1 Tbsp.

7 oz. flour

1 Tbsp. corn starch

3 large eggs

1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

3 tsp. baking powder

9 oz. mascarpone

7—8 ounces fresh blueberries, rinsed

Juice from 1/2 of a large lemon

Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly coat an 8-inch cake pan with a small amount of unsalted butter. Line bottom of the pan with baking parchment.

Put butter into a pan and place on a very low heat. When it starts to melt remove from the heat and beat lightly with a wooden spoon. You want to achieve a very soft almost runny consistency.

In mixing bowl, beat melted butter with 8 oz. of sugar until you have created a creamy consistency.

Break the eggs into a separate bowl. Add vanilla extract and beat lightly with a fork.

Slowly beat the eggs into the creamed butter and sugar.

Sift flour and baking powder together. Slowly add to the creamed mixture, about 1/3 of flour blend at a time. Mix well between each addition.

Pour cake mixture into cake pan and bake for 30 minutes until golden and cake tester comes out clean.

Turn the oven off and leave the cake in the oven for an additional 5 minutes.

Remove cake from pan and cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Next, turn the cake out of the pan and allow to cool completely on wire rack.

While the cake is cooling, make your filling.

Place blueberries, juice from half of the lemon and 1 Tbsp. sugar into a pan. Simmer for 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in mascarpone. Blend completely.

When the cake is cooled, slice in half horizontally. Gently spread filling over one cake layer and top with the other layer. Dust with powdered sugar and serve. Store leftover cake, covered tightly, in the refrigerator.

Olive Oil Cake With Ricotta

Serves 10-12

3 large eggs

1½ cups whole milk

8 oz. sugar

1½ cups extra virgin olive oil—mild

(mild to moderate olive oil please. Robust overpowers the recipe)

1 Tbsp. baking powder

2 cups flour

8 oz. Ricotta cheese—Imported Italian is preferred

1 cup Golden Raisins—or Sultanas

Vin Santo, brandy or sweet dessert wine

½ cup powdered sugar

Prepare a 13-by-9-by-2-inch cake pan with unflavored spray or brush it with olive oil and dust it with flour.

For the coulis: Soak raisins by covering with Vin Santo for at least 20 minutes. The longer the soaking, the more flavor is added. Drain raisins and add to ricotta and powdered sugar and mix gently. Set aside.

For the cake: Do all mixing by hand. Do not use electric mixer on this recipe.Mix eggs and sugar until creamy. Add milk and oil. Mix well. Mix flour and baking powder together in large bowl. Slowly add sugar and egg mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until tooth pick in center of came comes out clean.

When cake is completely cool, cut out individual circular pieces from the cake. Cut 3 pieces across and 4 pieces lengthwise.

Cut each cake round in half horizontally so that there is a top and a bottom piece. Fill with a plentiful amount of the ricotta filling.

To serve, spoon some of your favorite berry coulis onto the center of a dessert plate. Place filled cake rounds in center of coulis and dust heavily with powdered sugar and serve.

Mangia bene.

Diane De Filipi lives in the Napa Valley and leads cooking tours to Italy and Burgundy, France. Visit letsgocookitalian.com or letsgocookleboncuisine.com for more information.

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