Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Tag Archives: Italian desserts

Turin (Torino in Italian) is an interesting and often overlooked city in the Piedmont (Piemonte in Italian) region of Italy. It is in the northwest section of the region between the Po River and the foothills of the Alps. The city is famous for the Shroud of Turin, Fiat auto plants, Baroque cafes and architecture and its arcaded shopping promenades and museums. Turin hosted the 2006 Winter Olympics because the nearby mountains and valleys are a huge attraction for winter sports. This hilly region bordering France and Switzerland is, also, ideal for dry farming grapes which are deep-rooted enough to withstand periods of dry weather.

The Piedmont region has some of the best food in Italy. Over 160 types of cheese and famous wines, like Barolo and Barbaresco, come from here, as do truffles, the very expensive mushroom. Turin has some outstanding pastries, especially chocolate ones. Chocolate for eating, as we know it today, (bars and pieces) originated in Turin. The chocolate-hazelnut sauce, gianduja, is a specialty of Turin. 

Lights of Turin

Turin derives its name from the Celtic word tau, meaning mountain, and was founded almost 2400 years ago by a Celtic tribe, the Taurini. The Taurini conquered much of France and part of Spain before heading into what is known today as Italy. In Italian torino means “little bull”. The bull is still part of the city standard (flag) to this day.

After the fall of the  Roman Empire, Turin, which was always prized for its fertile land and access to the Po River, was conquered by various barbarian tribes including the Goths, Lombards and Franks, who established the city as an earldom in the 8th century A.D.

However, when the Savoy family dynasty conquered the city in the year 1280, the city would finally begin its rise to prominence. The history of Turin for the next 600 years is tied to that of the House of Savoy. The Savoys are also credited with bringing art, culture and architecture to Turin. The Savoys certainly spared no expense to make Turin beautiful.  However, despite their best efforts to ‘Italianize’ the city, Turin’s layout is often compared to Paris more than any other Italian city.

The Savoys would reign over Italy until Benito Mussolini’s Fascists took over the country at the beginning of the 20th. century. By this time, Turin had turned its attention to industry and is, still, one of the world’s greatest automobile centers.

Candy Shop in Turin

Turin has been producing chocolate for over three centuries. The origins of the city’s chocolate-making art can be traced back to the year 1678, when Madame Reale, who was then the Queen of the Savoy state, granted the first ever “license” to Turinese chocolate maker Giò Antonio Ari to make chocolate. Thus began the city’s closest relationship with chocolate, which continues until this day. The chocolate varieties created by Turinese chocolatiers are truly special and include several specialties, like the traditional Gianduiotto, which is shaped like an upturned boat and crafted out of sugar, cocoa and hazelnut paste; the Baci di Cherasco (Cherasco Kisses) which are made with dark chocolate and hazelnuts; the Alpino which contains a liqueur cream and is named after the hat worn by the Italian military regiments; and the Bicerin, which is a truly decadent layered hot chocolate coffee drink.

Gianduia – chocolate and hazelnut candy

The chocolate most associated with Turin is gianduia. However, long before they started putting hazelnuts in chocolate, Turin was a major player in the world of European chocolate. Turin chocolatiers began selling chocolate in 1678, almost 200 years before the first Gianduia candy bar entered the chocolate scene in Turin. Gianduia, a blend of milk chocolate and ground hazelnuts, was invented due to the high cacao prices and problems with supply. In order to extend their supply of cacao, chocolatiers added hazelnuts that were, and still are, in abundance from the local Langhe area. One of the most popular combinations of chocolate and hazelnuts, worldwide, is Nutella. Ferrero-Rocher, located in the nearby city of Alba, began producing the popular spread in 1945. First is was called Giandujot, then Supercrema, then Cremalba. In 1964 it became Nutella.

Almost every chocolatier and sweet shop in Turin has a local version of the spread, using just as many variations as its numerous names. These artisanal versions are more likely to actually use Piedmont hazelnuts and less likely to have palm oil or preservatives that come with the mass produced spread in the rest of the world.

Here are just a few types of chocolate candies made in Turin:

Nocciolati - Nocciolati are gianduia chocolate bars with whole roasted hazelnuts throughout. These, along with other chocolate variations, decorate many chocolate storefront windows in Turin. They are sold by weight, usually the etto (100 grams). Nocciolato fondente is a dark chocolate bar with hazelnuts; nocciolato latte is milk chocolate with hazelnuts, and nocciolato bianco is white chocolate. Little bite-size versions are nocciolatini.

Cremino – In 1911 to launch its Fiat 4, the Turin-based auto manufacturer held a contest for Italian chocolatiers to create a chocolate in honor of the new car. “Il Cremino” made by Aldo Majani in Bologna won. For many years it was known as the Cremino Fiat. A square shape, it is layers of chocolate, initially four layers, but now made with three-layer. Two of the layers are gianduia chocolate. The middle layer varies in flavor and can be hazelnut cream, dark chocolate or coffee cream, to name just a few.

Tris di Nocciole – A classic in chocolate shops in Turin, they are simply three roasted hazelnuts covered in chocolate. You can find them in all three chocolate variations; dark, milk and white.

Tartufi (truffles) – Although they are a specialty of Turin, you can find truffles all over the world. Named after the expensive fungus they resemble, these balls of ganache, sometimes with a little liquor added to the ganache, are traditionally rolled in cocoa powder.

Rochers – Ferrero-Rocher (the company that also makes Nutella) introduced these “rocks” to the world in 1982. Many chocolatiers in the city make them. If you love chocolate and hazelnuts, this is a dream combination. Generally, they start with a chocolate-covered hazelnut at the center; gianduia cream encases it. A very thin wafer is wrapped around the gianduia cream, separating it from the final coating of milk chocolate and chopped hazelnuts.

Healthy Chocolate Inspired Recipes From Turin, Italy

Italian Mocha (Bicerin)

Bicerin derives from an older drink, called Bavaresia, which was popular in the XVII century; unlike bicerin, it was stirred. Bicerin made its appearance in the 1840s, and enjoying a bicerin at the caffé in the morning soon became a ritual in Turin. Bicerin, a sinful drink, is prepared from coffee, cocoa, and whipped cream. A little goes a long way — the word bicerin means little glass — and, if you like it, you’ll be joining august company: Alexandre Dumas, Italo Calvino, Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso were all bicerin fans. The caffés of Turin keep their versions secret, but you might try it with this recipe, if you can afford the calories, if not use the second recipe, which is a healthy, tasty adaption:

Ingredients for Hot Chocolate

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup good quality semisweet chocolate, chopped 
  • 1-2 tablespoons sugar (or to taste)
  • 2 cups very strong coffee
  • 1 tablespoon powdered coffee creamer (optional)

Directions

1 Heat the milk to boiling.

2 Reduce heat and whisk in chocolate and sugar.

3 Heat mixture to boiling while stirring continuously.

4 Remove from heat and whisk in coffee and creamer (if using, it thickens the drink a bit).

5 Add topping, see below

Ingredients for Bicerin Topping

  • 1 part freshly made espresso
  • 1 part freshly made hot chocolate, see above
  • 1 part heavy cream

Directions:

Place a cocktail shaker in the freezer until well chilled, at least 10 minutes. Fill a large heatproof glass with very hot tap water and set aside.

To serve: empty glass and dry. Layer ingredients in the glass by placing shot of espresso in the bottom and then, while slightly tilting the glass, slowly pouring in hot chocolate.

Remove shaker from freezer, add cream, and shake vigorously until frothy, at least 20 times. Spoon shaken cream on top of hot chocolate and serve immediately.

Tip: For an alcoholic bicerin, add 1 part coffee-flavored liqueur to the hot chocolate before layering it.

Cioccolata Calda (Hot Chocolate Italian-Style) – Healthy Version                                                                                        

Servings: 2

Ingredients:                                                                                                                                                          

  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups milk  plus 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons frozen fat-free, whipped topping, thawed

Directions:

1. Mix the cocoa powder and sugar together in a small saucepan. Stir the 1  1/2 cups milk into the saucepan until the sugar has dissolved. Place over low heat; slowly bring the mixture to a low simmer.

2. Whisk the 2 tablespoons of milk together with the cornstarch in a small cup; slowly whisk the cornstarch slurry into the cocoa mixture. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the hot chocolate reaches a pudding-like thickness, 2 to 3 minutes. Top each serving with 1 tablespoon of whipped topping.

Chocolate Fondue

Serves: 4

 Ingredients:                                                                                                                                                               

  • 2 pounds bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut up
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • Pound cake, toasted and diced for dipping
  • Assorted fruit, for dipping

Directions:

In a large microwavable bowl, combine chocolate and butter. Microwave on medium (50 percent power) 2 minutes; whisk until smooth.

Meanwhile in a small saucepan, heat water, milk, and honey over medium-high heat just until small bubbles appear around edge of pan. Whisk milk mixture into chocolate mixture until smooth. Serve fondue with cake and fruit.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Mousse

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup sugar (or 2 tablespoons sugar alternative, such as Truvia)
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups 2% reduced-fat milk
  • 1/4 cup Frangelico (hazelnut-flavored liqueur)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 cups frozen fat-free whipped topping, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts, toasted

 Directions:

Combine the sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, salt, and eggs in a medium bowl, stirring well with a whisk.

Heat milk over medium-high heat in a small, heavy saucepan until tiny bubbles form around edge (do not boil). Gradually add hot milk to sugar mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk.

Place the milk mixture back in the saucepan and cook over medium heat until very thick and bubbly (about 5 minutes), stirring constantly.

Spoon mixture into a medium bowl, and add liqueur, vanilla, and chocolate, stirring until chocolate melts.

Place bowl in a large ice-filled bowl for 15 minutes or until mixture is cool, stirring occasionally.

Remove bowl from ice. Gently fold in one-third of the whipped topping. Fold in remaining topping. Cover and chill at least 3 hours. Sprinkle with hazelnuts.

Yield: 6 servings (serving size: about 2/3 cup mousse and 1 teaspoon hazelnuts)

Chocolate Chip Biscotti                                                                                                        

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons flaxseed
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 large egg whites and 1 large egg or 3/4 cups egg substitute
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup dark chocolate chips (such as Hershey’s)
  • 3/4 cup unsalted sliced almonds

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, flaxseed, soda, and salt in a bowl, stirring with a whisk. Set aside.

Combine sugars, egg in an electric mixer bowl; beat at high speed for 2 minutes. Add vanilla; mix well.  Add flour mixture to egg mixture; stir on low speed until combined. Fold in chocolate and almonds with a spatula.

Turn dough out onto a floured board and divide dough into 3 equal portions. (I use a scale to weigh the dough.) Roll each portion into a 6-inch-long roll. Arrange the roll, 3 inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Shape each into a 6 by 1-inch log. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until firm. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

3. Remove rolls from the baking sheet; cool 20 minutes on a wire rack. Cut rolls diagonally into 30 (1/2-inch) slices. Return slices, cut sides down, to the  baking sheet. Reduce oven temperature to 325°; bake 10 minutes. Turn cookies over; bake 10 minutes (cookies will be slightly soft in center but will harden as they cool). Remove from baking sheet and cool on wire rack.

Yield: 2 1/2 dozen (serving size: 1 biscotti)

Chocolate Espresso Cheesecake

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup amaretti or chocolate wafer cookie crumbs (See brands below.)
  • 2 tablespoons butter or trans-free margarine, melted, such as Smart Balance
  • 2/3 cups sugar (or 1/3 cup sugar alternative for baking)
  • 3 cups bittersweet chocolate chips, divided
  • 2 packages (8 ounces each) fat-free cream cheese
  • 1 cup light sour cream
  • 3 eggs or 3/4 cups egg substitute
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
  • 2 tablespoons fat free half-and-half
  • 1 cups fresh raspberries + 1 tablespoon sugar

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat a 9″ springform pan with cooking spray and set aside.

2. Combine the cookie crumbs and margarine in a bowl and mix together. Press into the bottom of the prepared pan and refrigerate until ready to use.

3. Melt 2 cups of the chocolate chips in the top of a double boiler, taking care to keep the water from touching the bottom of the pan containing the chips. Remove from the heat and set aside.

4. Meanwhile, beat together the cream cheese, sour cream, eggs, and remaining 2/3 cup sugar or 1/3 cup sugar alternative with an electric mixer until smooth. Slowly beat in the flour, almond extract, and coffee granules. Add the melted chocolate and beat on high speed until well incorporated.

5. Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and run a knife or thin metal spatula around the edge of the sides to loosen the sides but do not remove the cake from the pan. Place pan on a rack and let cool for 45 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan and chill in the refrigerator for 3 hours or overnight.

6. When the cake is chilled, melt the remaining 1 cup chocolate chips in the top of a double boiler and stir in the half-and-half. Cool slightly and pour onto the top of the cake. Spread with a spatula to the edge so that some of the chocolate runs down the side of the cake. Chill until ready to serve.

Toss the raspberries with 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Serve with cake.

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Ferrara’s Bakery & Cafe in New York City, one of the more well known Italian bakeries in America

Rich Italian dessert recipes are known around the world. They rank right up there with the French creations. Any cook interested in preparing delicious desserts will tell you of their favorite tiramisu recipe.

Decadent, flavorful and classic: Italian desserts have it all. These delicious desserts also have a long history, and many of the items on your favorite Italian restaurant’s menu have been around for ages.

Here in the United States most of us think that desserts were devised for our pleasure and, if we have a good meal, we must have a luscious dessert at the end. The Italians reserve these luscious desserts for only special times of the year. Typically they serve fresh fruit and maybe a piece of robust cheese at the end of a meal. Perhaps this comes from their early history of not having regular access to sugar and using much less sugar in their recipes than American cooks.

It is all the fresh ingredients, like cream and cheese, which make Italian desserts so delicious. For example, a dessert originating from Florence is Zuccotto, a semi frozen dessert of ice cream, cake and brandy, that is made in a cone shaped mold. The Panforte recipe is a traditional dessert with a spicy flavor containing fruits and nuts like a fruitcake. This recipe originated in the Tuscany region and, after it was baked, the cake was used as a tax payment to the monks. It is similar to Panettone, a sweet bread made at Christmas time. Biscotti, which are now considered by many to be a gourmet dessert, also originated around this time, although the original versions were less complex than those of today.

Italian dessert recipes are broken down into two groups. The ancient or the oldest of the sweets that were derived from bread recipes. A little honey or fruit was added to sweeten bread recipes. Later came the more modern recipes, when sugar became plentiful. Italy began producing milk, eggs, honey, and almonds. These, along with added sugar, turned out sweet creamy desserts like Italian cheesecake, Panna Cotta, Cannoli and Italian cream puffs.

As sugar became affordable to more home cooks, a new range of Italian dessert recipes appeared, such as Tiramisu, Rum Cake and Cassata Cream Cake. These old-fashioned cakes were made with ricotta or mascarpone cheese. Italian ice is refreshing and popular and is similar to a snow cone, except Italian ice cream is frozen after the fruit juice is added to the water. Italian ice dates back to the time of Nero.

The history of Italian desserts, also, reveals that torrone dates back to Roman times when it was used in religious ceremonies. This nougat confection is made with egg whites, nuts, and honey and  is popular all over the Mediterranean.

Chocolate is often used in Italian cookie recipes and some of the most famous ones include Baci, which is a dark chocolate “kiss” filled with hazelnut cream and Gianduiotto, which is a combination of hazelnuts, sugar, and cocoa. Chocolate has been layered with cream and espresso in the Torino region of Italy since 1763. Today, chocolate is one of the most popular additions to Italian recipes.

Italian desserts continue to be made throughout Italy, and the various regions of the country have their own specialities. Italian American immigrants have made changes to the classic desserts with some delicious results. For example, since mascarpone cheese was not as common in America, many desserts began to use ricotta cheese more frequently in desserts such as cannoli and cheesecake. Despite these changes, Italian desserts are still outstanding and their long historical significance makes them even more appealing to many Italian American families.

Like all countries, Italy has its own Italian food customs. Special days of the years, especially Easter and Christmas, are times to bring out all the Italian desserts. All holidays are celebrated with special foods. Italian Easter food always consists of a traditional Easter pie. Each family has its own unique recipe and each one discusses it with friends and neighbors. For these special days most desserts are made at home but they are, sometimes, purchased in the local pastry shop (or pasticceria). The art of pastry making has been passed down and Italian chefs are renowned for their skills.

Italian Rum Birthday Cake

An Authentic Bakery Version of Italian Rum Cake

My Version of Italian Rum Cake

Once A Year Italian Rum Cake

Italian rum cake is a traditional Italian dessert often purchased at an Italian bakery and served on birthdays or other special occasions. It is a stunning four layer creation that is flavored with rum, filled with alternating layers of vanilla and chocolate (pasticciera) pastry cream, topped with whipped cream icing, and garnished with almonds. I developed my recipe, below, because I am not a fan of the typical rum cake and because my family has shown a preference for this cake at Italian restaurant dinners, I decided to experiment. Since my version of the” Italian Rum Cake” is still very rich and decadent, I only make it once a year, usually for my husband’s birthday. No other cake comes close to this for him.

Ingredients:

For the layer cake:

  • 1 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 1/4 cup all purpose flour plus 1 tablespoon flour
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 1 cup finely ground hazelnuts (almonds can be used if you cannot find hazelnuts)
  • 1/2 cup rum

For the cake filling:

  • 1 cup Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread)
  • 8 oz. mascarpone cheese

For the topping:

  • 2 cups heavy cream (whipping cream)
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup rum
  • Shaved chocolate

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat the bottoms of two 9 inch round cake pans with cooking spray – don’t spray the sides of the pan. Line the bottoms of the pans with wax paper circles cut to fit. Spray paper with cooking spray and dust with 1 tablespoon flour. Set aside.

For the layer cake:

In an electric mixer beat together the sugar, butter and vanilla for 5 minutes. This is important- do not cut the time down.

Add eggs one at a time beating well after each addition.

In a separate bowl whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.

Add 1/3 of the flour to the sugar mixture alternating with 1/3 of the milk. Repeat until all flour and milk are incorporated ending with flour.

Stir nuts in on low speed.

Pour evenly into pans and bake for 30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Do not overbake or the cake will be dry. Cool 10 minutes and remove layers to a cooling rack and carefully peel off the paper. Cool thoroughly.

 

Place layers on kitchen towels and cut each in half horizontally. Drizzle each of the four layers with the rum and let sit for awhile.

For the filling:

Beat together the Nutella and the mascarpone cheese until very smooth.

Spread evenly on top of 3 cake layers.

For the topping:

Whip the cream until very stiff. Add powdered sugar and blend. Add rum on low speed.

To assemble:

Place one layer covered with filling (filling side up) on a cake plate and top with remaining layers ending with the unfrosted layer on top. Completely cover the cake with the whipped cream mixture.

Chill in the refrigerator for several hours. Just before serving decorate the the cake with chocolate shavings.

Italian Desserts

The rest of the year – try one of these healthier Italian dessert recipes for your next special occasion.

Sweet and Savory Taralli Cookies

Italian Cookies

Italian Taralli cookies are a great example of Italian baked goods. These crunchy, curly cookies can be sweet or savory. They can be plain or with fruit or nuts and they might also contain spices like fennel or anise. You can find Italian Taralli cookies all over southern Italy but they are especially popular in Puglia. These light-flavored, not very sweet, cookies make an appearance in Italy on birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and Christmas because most Italians associate them with these events. Everyone has their own preferences as to what to eat on these occasions but taralli are really good and, if you have not had them before, you will be impressed with them for sure. You can frost them if you want to, using any frosting recipe to do this.

Another characteristic that makes Italian Taralli cookies wonderfully unique is their shape. These cookies come in different shapes but the most common ones are rings. There is no reason for making them this shape – it is purely traditional.

Sweet Taralli Cookies

Makes 2 1/2 dozen

Ingredients

For The Cookies

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar or 1/4 cup light sugar alternative
  • 1 large egg or 1/4 cup egg substitute
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup Marsala wine
  • Zest of 2 oranges

For The Icing

  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, orange zest and salt.

In a separate larger bowl, whisk together the sugar and egg until well combined. Stir in the olive oil and wine. Slowly add the flour mixture until well combined, kneading slightly until the dough is easy to handle and medium-soft.

On a clean surface, use your hands and roll the dough into 1/2-inch-thick, cigar-like rolls. Cut each cigar into 6-inch pieces, folding each piece into a loop-shape. Press the dough with fingers to seal together. Place on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until slightly golden. Remove to a cooling rack and cool completely.

If you wish to ice them, whisk 2 tablespoons of milk and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice into 1 cup confectioners’ sugar. It should be the consistency of thick whipping cream. Dip one side of the cookie in the glaze and let dry. For special holidays the cookies are decorated with sprinkles.

Savory Fennel Taralli                                                                                                                                               

Ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 envelope active dry yeast
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds

Directions:

Pour the water into a bowl and whisk in the yeast. Whisk in the oil.

Put the remaining ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse several times to mix. Add the liquid and pulse again until the dough forms a ball. Let the processor run continuously for about 10 seconds to knead the dough.

Invert the dough to an oiled bowl and carefully remove the blade. Turn the dough over so that the top is oiled and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise at room temperature until in doubles in bulk, about an hour.

After the dough has risen, scrape it out of the bowl to a lightly floured work surface and use a bench scraper or knife to cut it into two equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough under the palms of your hand to a 15″ length and cut each into 1″ pieces to make 30 equal pieces in all.

One at a time, roll each piece of dough under the palms of your hands, into an 8″ strand. Join the ends together to make a circle, pressing firmly to seal. Line up the formed taralli on a lightly floured work surface or floured baking sheets, making sure they do not touch each other.

Set the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350°F. You will need two baking sheets with cooling racks (see picture of baking pans in this post).

Fill a large pot (such as the one in which you would cook pasta) 3/4 full with water. Bring the water to a full rolling boil. Set one of the baking sheets on the stovetop next to the pan of boiling water. Drop the taralli, 6 or 8 at a time into the boiling water and remove them with a skimmer as soon as they float to the surface. Arrange them about an inch apart in all directions, on the prepared baking sheet with rack.

Bake the taralli about 30 minutes, rotating from the upper third of the oven to the lower third, and vice versa, midway through the baking. Continue baking the taralli until they are golden and crisp. Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature on the cooling racks in which they were baked.

(Makes 30)

Italian Cakes

Cornmeal was introduced to Italy around 1600 through commerce with Asia. Cornmeal is used throughout Italy to make polenta and is also traditionally added to dessert cakes and other baked goods.

Torta Di Meliga (Italian Cornmeal Cake)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup chopped blanched almonds
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar or 1/4 cup light sugar alternative
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 ounces melted butter or Smart Balance Blend
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400F. degrees.

Combine in a mixing bowl almonds, cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt and butter.

Spray a 9 inch springform pan with cooking spray; spread dough in pan.

Bake 30 minutes or until golden brown; let cool slightly and remove sides of pan.

Let cool completely and sift powdered sugar over top. Serve with fresh fruit.

Italian Plum Cake

Italian Plums

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unblanched almonds
  •  1/2 cup sugar or 1/4 cup light sugar alternative
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs (1/2 cup egg substitute also works)
  • 1/2 cup milk (low-fat is fine)
  • 4 tablespoons butter or Smart Balance Blend, melted
  • 2 pounds Italian plums or regular plums if your market doesn’t carry Italian plums

Directions:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Spray a 10-inch springform pan with cooking spray.

Put the almonds and the 1/2 cup of sugar (or sugar alternative) in a food processor.

Pulse until the almonds are finely ground.

Add the flour and the salt and pulse once more.

Transfer this to a mixing bowl.

Beat the eggs with the milk then add the butter.

Add the egg mixture to the flour almond mixture. And mix until the batter is smooth.

Pour the batter into the springform pan and smooth with a spatula.

Pit the plums and slice in thick wedges.

Place the plum slices in a circle pattern on top of the batter.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the top begins to brown. Remove to a cooling rack and let rest 10 minutes.

Take a butter knife and go around the circumference of the pan. Open the clip of the pan and carefully lift up the rim. Cake can be served warm.

Italian Fruit Desserts

Italian fruit dessert are served at the end of a meal; they are very popular all over Italy.

Stuffed Figs                                                                                                                                                           

Ingredients:

  • 4 ripe even sized figs
  • 1/4 cup sugar or 2 tablespoons light sugar alternative
  • 1 cup skim ricotta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons amaretto liqueur
  • 4 shelled whole almonds

Directions:

Cut fig from top to bottom in half: DO NOT CUT ALL THE WAY THROUGH.

Cut fig the same way through the halves making 4 quarters still hooked together.

Then cut all the way through 1 of the cuts.

Now you can open the fig and have 4 sections still hooked together. See picture in post.

Combine in a mixing bowl the sugar and ricotta cheese and beat together (with hand mixer) until mixture is light.

Add amaretto and fold lightly into cheese mixture.

Spoon 1/4 cup mixture into the center of each opened fig and top with an almond.

Balsamic-Macerated Strawberries with Basil                                                                                                                          

Ingredients:

  • 2 lb. fresh strawberries, rinsed, hulled, and sliced 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick (about 4 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons white balsamic vinegar
  • 8 to 10 medium fresh basil leaves
  • Frozen yogurt, optional

Directions:

In a large bowl, gently toss the strawberries with the sugar and vinegar. Let sit at room temperature until the strawberries have released their juices but are not yet mushy, about 30 minutes. (Don’t let the berries sit for more than 90 minutes, or they’ll start to collapse.)

Just before serving, stack the basil leaves on a cutting board and roll them vertically into a loose cigar shape. Using a sharp chef’s knife, very thinly slice across the roll to make a fine chiffonade of basil.

Portion the strawberries and their juices among four small dessert dishes and scatter with the basil to garnish. Top with a spoonful of frozen yogurt.


As a child, I remember my father taking me with him when he went shopping on a Saturday morning, in what was, “the little Italy” neighborhood in our city. We would visit the Italian deli for cold cuts, Sorrento’s Bakery for bread, Sacco & Sons for sausage and a quick lunch trip to Spirito’s for a slice of pizza. I didn’t mind the excursion during the warm months because my father always bought me a lemon ice from one of the push cart venders. The neighborhood that I remember is no longer there, but eating lemon ice or sorbetto or gelato is timeless. The recipes for frozen ices and other Italian treats will keep you cool in the coming months, but light enough so you do not have to worry about the calories.

Gelato (Italian Ice Cream) has a very low butterfat content, which makes the flavors more intense on the tongue. In addition, less air is introduced into the mixture before it is frozen, creating a much more dense dessert that adds a surprising richness to the flavor. Gelato may be made with or without eggs, cornstarch or cream in its base and, frequently, has other ingredients such as fresh fruit or coffee added for flavor. I prefer to make gelato without raw eggs yolks, so another thickener, such as cornstarch, is needed.  There are numerous recipes around but the best recipe, I found for this version, is from Mark Bittman in The New York Times.  It is easy, healthy and offers many flavor ideas but does not sacrifice taste.

Gelato

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons cornstarch.

Ice Cream Maker

1. Put 2 cups milk, the sugar and salt in a saucepan over medium-low heat. If using a vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise and scrape seeds into liquid, then add pod. Cook until mixture begins to steam.
2. In a bowl, blend cornstarch and remaining milk; there should be no lumps. Remove bean pod from pot and discard. Add cornstarch mixture to pot. Cook, stirring, until it starts to thicken and barely reaches a boil, about 5 minutes. Immediately reduce heat to very low and stir for 5 minutes or so until thick. Stir in vanilla extract, if using.
3. If mixture has lumps, strain it into a bowl. Chill for 2 hours. When cool or if there are no lumps, pour into an ice cream machine and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Yield: 1 generous pint.

Additions:

  • Honey-Jam Variation –  Substitute honey for half the sugar. Add 1/2 cup good jam to mixture before freezing.
  • Yogurt -Substitute yogurt for half the milk.
  • Cherry-Vanilla -Add 1 cup halved, pitted cherries just before freezing.
  • Strawberry, Blueberry or Peach – Add 1 cup hulled, sliced strawberries, blueberries, or peeled and chopped peaches before freezing.
  • Coffee -Substitute 1/2 cup very strong coffee for 1/2 cup milk.
  • Coconut – Substitute 1 cup coconut milk for 1 cup milk; add 1/2 cup toasted dried coconut.
  • Mint Chocolate Chip- Add 1/2 cup minced mint and 1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate just before freezing.

Fresh Strawberries With Limoncello

Limoncello has long been a staple in the lemon-producing region of the Italian Amalfi Coast, especially in Capri and Sorrento. Authentic Limoncello is made from Sorrento lemons that are grown in that region.  Families in Italy have passed down recipes for generations, as every Italian family has their own Limoncello recipe.
When my son and daughter-in-law returned from a trip to Capri several years ago, they brought me back a bottle.  Until that time, I had never heard of the product. I find it compliments many fruit desserts or adds another dimension to fruity drinks.   Bottles of limoncello should be kept in the freezer until ready to serve.

Ingredients

  • 20 whole large  fresh strawberries, cut into halves
  • 1 tablespoon limoncello
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • fresh ground pepper
  •  Biscotti

Directions

  1. Place cut strawberries in a bowl.
  2. Pour over the liqueur, orange juice and sprinkle over with freshly ground pepper. Allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Serve as is or with biscotti.

Citrus Sorbetto

Makes a perfect palate cleanser.

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice, fresh
  • 1/2 cup orange juice, fresh
  • 4 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • Zest of 1 lime
  • Zest of 1/2 lemon
  • Zest of 1/2 orange

Directions

  1. Combine sugar and water in a small pot.  Bring to a boil reduce and simmer just until sugar is dissolved, let cool.
  2. Stir together all the juices, zests and vanilla and add in the sugar syrup,  
  3. Chill syrup & juice blend in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
  4. Transfer to an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  5. You may serve the sorbetto right away, or store it in the freezer .

Ricotta With Berries

2 servings

Berries

  • 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 1/2 cup raspberries
  • 10 strawberries, hulled and chopped ( or sliced)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon sugar 

Ricotta

  • 6 ounces skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon sugar ( or more)
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon Amaretto
  • Garnish with mint leaves

Directions

  1. Combine berries with lemon juice and sugar. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. 
  2. Mix ricotta ingredients together. This may be done in a food processor, if a finer texture is desired.
  3. Serve berries over a scoop of the ricotta and garnish with mint . Serving it in a martini or other decorative glass makes for a nice presentation.

Strawberry and Ricotta Crepes

Serves 4

The crepes can be prepared in advance and stored in the freezer, so that you can pull this dessert together quickly. This recipe also makes more crepes than you’ll need for the servings below.  Allow the extra crepes to cool, place waxed paper between them, stack, and place in ziplock bag in the freezer. Other fresh seasonal fruits can be used instead of strawberries.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 ½ teaspoons powdered sugar
  • 2 cups (about 10 ounces) cleaned and sliced fresh strawberries
  • 2 teaspoons agave syrup
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh mint
  • Small pinch of salt

Crepes

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup nonfat milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons agave syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  1. Measure all crepe ingredients into a blender; blend for 30 seconds. Scrape down sides. Blend for 15 seconds more. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes. (This helps the flour absorb more of the liquids.)  Heat crepe pan (or use a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet). Lightly grease.
  2. Measure about 1/4 cup batter into pan. Tilt pan to spread batter. Once crepe has lots of little bubbles, loosen edges with spatula and flip crepe over.  The second side cooks quickly, so after about 15 seconds, slide crepe from pan to plate. Repeat with remaining batter (yield: about 20 crepes).
  3. Mix ricotta with powdered sugar. Set aside.
  4. Mix strawberries gently with sugar, mint, and salt. Set aside.
  5. If the crepes were prepared earlier in the day or frozen and defrosted overnight, reheat them in the microwave for a minute or two until warm. Spread 1 tablespoon ricotta mixture on one half of each of 8 warm crepes and fold to cover. Place two crepes on each serving plate. Top with strawberries, dust with powdered sugar and serve.

Lemon Biscotti With Lemon Drizzle

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2  cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1  cup unsalted pistachio nuts
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
  • 1 tablespoon lemon extract
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • cooking spray
  • 2/3 cup powdered sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, sugar, and baking powder in a large bowl. Combine zest, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, lemon extract, oil, and eggs, and add to flour mixture, stirring until well-blended
  2. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead lightly 7 to 8 times. Divide dough in half. Shape each portion into an 8-inch-long roll. Place rolls 6 inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, flatten each roll to 1-inch thickness. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes.
  3. Remove the rolls from baking sheet; cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Cut each roll diagonally into 15 (1/2-inch) slices. Place the slices, cut sides down, on the baking sheet. Reduce oven temperature to 325°; bake for 10 minutes.
  4. Turn cookies over; bake an additional 10 minutes (the cookies will be slightly soft in center but will harden as they cool). Remove from baking sheet, and cool completely on wire rack.
  5. Combine 1 tablespoon lemon juice and powdered sugar, and drizzle over the biscotti.

If you’re making enough to freeze, store them in the freezer without the drizzle, then make it just before serving.

Tangerine and Prosecco Sorbet

“Italian Champagne” – Prosecco is a sparkling wine made from late-ripening white grapes from the Veneto – Conegliano – Valdobbiadene region of Italy.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 cups chilled tangerine juice  or tangerine orange juice
  • 1 cup chilled Prosecco
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated tangerine peel

Directions

  • Combine sugar and water in small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and bring to boil. Transfer syrup to medium bowl and chill until cold, about 2 hours.
  • Add strained tangerine juice and Prosecco to syrup; whisk to blend well. Transfer mixture to ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Transfer sorbet to freezer container. Cover tightly with lid and freeze until firm, at least 8 hours or overnight. 6-8 servings
  • DO AHEAD:  Can be made 3 days ahead. Keep frozen. Divide sorbet among wine goblets or dessert glasses.

My husband has a sweet tooth and when we married, I learned a meal wasn’t complete for him without some type of dessert.  Thankfully, he was content with a couple of cookies or an occasional fruit pie to satisfy that sweet tooth. When my children came along, they too enjoyed those cookies – made having to eat peas or spinach something they could get through. They seemed to have survived those cookie years and became healthy adults – who still look for mom’s cookies around the holidays or on visits with us. As my husband and I aged, though, we realized healthy choices were better for us.

No need to skip dessert when you are planning healthy meals.  Fresh fruit can round out a meal and make you feel satisfied.  Sweetened strawberries drizzled with balsamic vinegar or pears baked in a red wine sauce or grilled peaches served with a scoop of frozen yogurt can make you feel you are not missing out on anything.

There are occasions when you want to make a special dessert. My mother made an Italian dessert for birthdays and other celebrations that consisted of a sponge cake with a ricotta filling. This dessert was asked for and enjoyed often in our household.  Of course, an occasional over indulgence cannot be harmful.

When I entertain friends at a dinner party, I like to prepare a special dessert to end the meal, but I don’t want to go overboard on calories either.  I have developed several light recipes for these occasions and, so far, everyone seems to enjoy them and does not realize that they are lower calorie versions of some of the traditional Italian desserts popular in many Italian restaurants. Italians often eat fruit and cheese for dessert,  but some of those classic desserts are cannoli, a pastry filled with sweetened ricotta cheese and tiramisu, a coffee flavored mousse type dessert.

Lightened Panna Cotta

Light Marscapone Panna Cotta


6 servings
  • 3 teaspoons gelatin
  • ⅔ cup plus 3 tablespoons nonfat milk
  • 2 ½ cups fat free half and half
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 whole vanilla beans, split open
  • ½ cup marscapone cheese
  • ½ cup lowfat sour cream
  1. Sprinkle the gelatin over the 3 tablespoons milk and let sit for 15 minutes to soften.
  2. In a saucepan, stir the ⅔ cup nonfat milk, half and half, sugar, and vanilla beans over medium heat until the mixture just starts to boil. Remove from heat and cool slightly.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the marscapone and the sour cream until smooth.
  4. Stir the gelatin into the heated milk mixture and stir well for at least 2 minutes or until bits of gelatin are no longer visible.
  5. Pour the mixture through a strainer (to remove any bits of hard gelatin)  into the marscapone mixture .  Whisk thoroughly.
  6. Pour the panna cotta into 6 half-cup molds. Stemmed wine glasses could be used instead. Chill, covered, overnight. Serve with raspberries and garnish with mint leaves or chocolate curls.


Cannoli

  • 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

    Cannoli

  • 2/3 cup part-skim ricotta cheese, drained overnight
  • 2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons blanched slivered almonds
  • 2 tablespoon mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 teaspoons Amaretto liqueur
  • 4 cannoli shells, purchased
  • 1 teaspoon confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  1. In a large bowl, stir ricotta cheese with 1/3 cup confectioners sugar until combined. Add almonds, chocolate chips and almond liqueur.
  2. Carefully spoon into cannoli shells (or pipe from a pastry bag), filling from the center out.
  3. Sprinkle individual cannoli with powdered sugar and cocoa.

Lazy Tiramisu

I call this recipe lazy because it is a quick preparation in comparison to traditional Tiramisu. Many authentic recipes use uncooked eggs in preparing the filling and some recipes call for making a pastry cream.  I really do not want to eat raw eggs and I cannot taste a difference between a cooked pastry cream and the quick fix filling listed in my recipe.  Why do all that work if there isn’t a big difference in taste?  The coffee flavoring in this dessert is the taste that dominates and not the cream filling.  Anytime I can lower the calorie content of a recipe and still have it taste delicious, is worthwhile to me.

Coffee Syrup

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons instant espresso granules
  • 2 tablespoons coffee-flavored liqueur

Mascarpone Filling

  • 1 (8-ounce) block fat-free cream cheese, softened
  • 1 (3.5-ounce) carton mascarpone cheese
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons coffee-flavored liqueur

Additional Ingredients

  • 24 ladyfingers (2- 3-ounce packages)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 ounce bittersweet chocolate, grated

Directions

To prepare espresso drizzle, combine first 3 ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in 2 tablespoons liqueur. Cool completely.

To prepare filling, combine cheeses in a large bowl, and beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth. Add 1/3 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons liqueur; beat at medium speed until well blended.

Split ladyfingers in half lengthwise. Arrange 24 ladyfinger halves, cut sides up, in the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish. Drizzle half of espresso liquid over ladyfinger halves. Spread half the filling over ladyfinger halves, and repeat procedure with remaining ladyfinger halves, espresso liquid, and filling. Combine 1 1/2 teaspoons cocoa and chocolate; sprinkle evenly over top of filling. Cover and chill for 2 hours.

Note: Place toothpicks in the center and in each corner of the dish to prevent the plastic wrap from sticking to the tiramisu as it chills.

Schiacciata alla Fiorentina (Florentine sponge cake)

Fat Tuesday is the end of Carnevale and a huge celebration in many parts of the world, particularly in Italy. Two very big festivals take place in Italy, one in Venice and the other in Viareggio on the Tuscan coast. In Florence, children dress up in costumes and throw confetti into the air. At home, they are usually treated to a delicious piece of Tuscan sponge cake, otherwise known as Schiacciata alla Fiorentina. This light and airy dessert is eaten throughout the year but is a favorite around Carnevale. Lighter than American sponge cake, it can be eaten in a variety of ways.

12 Servings

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder

  • Zest and juice of 1 orange

  • 3 large eggs

  • 1/2 cup warm whole milk

  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • Powdered sugar, for topping

    Directions

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9 by 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray..

    Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and orange zest in a mixing bowl.

    In another bowl mix orange juice, eggs, milk, and oil and pour into bowl with flour.

    Beat with a hand mixer until thoroughly mixed together, about 3 to 4 minutes.

    Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake for about 25-30 minutes. Test the cake with a toothpick inserted into the center. If it comes out clean, the cake is done.

    Let cool for about 30 minutes on the counter, then turn the cake out of the baking pan. Slice and serve sprinkled with powdered sugar.

    You can make this more elaborate with fresh strawberries and a few tablespoons of sweetened ricotta cheese with each serving.

 



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