There are three dessert recipes, belonging to the Italian tradition, that keep returning through the year, here on the blog and on my table. I rely on them when I don’t know what to prepare. If when I’m cooking I love to experiment based on what I find in the fridge, or in the pantry, when I bake I prefer to follow a recipe that I know will work.
The trick, in this case, is to choose basic recipes that you can customise according to the moment, the available ingredients, the season, the occasion – from a simple afternoon treat to a birthday cake – and the recipient: are you baking a cake as a treat for yourself, or for someone who has a specific taste? For example, my mum doesn’t touch a cake if there is fruit inside, while my sister Claudia runs away if she smells cinnamon.
My three basic recipes, part of my cooking repertoire, are the pound cake, the crostata and the Pan di Spagna arrotolato, a rolled sponge cake, or Swiss roll as they call it in English.
If you search for pound cake here on the blog, you will find desserts that, apparently, have nothing in common. On one side, there is my favourite apple olive oil cake, on the other a mascarpone cake with candied orange peel, or a pear and chocolate cake. They originate from the same basic concept, the use of four ingredients in equal proportions – hence the name quattro quarti in Italian, four quarters -, but then allow you to follow such diverse paths that make it impossible to recognise the common origin.
In winter, when it is easier to work with butter, I often choose a crostata, or I’d better say a shortcrust pastry cake.
Change the filling and you’ll be able to tune in with the seasons. You can bake a whole wheat crostata with lemon marmalade in winter, or a spring tart with elderflower pastry cream and fresh strawberries.
Making your shortcrust pastry dough, you can play not only with the filling, but also with the flours – an all-purpose one, a whole wheat flour, or even a mix with nut flour, such as almonds or hazelnuts. Then, of course, you can use the shortcrust pastry to make a jam crostata, a tart, a pie, or even cookies.
The last dessert that I always keep as an ace up my sleeve is our rotolo.
It is a biscuit rolled up on itself, brushed with a soaking syrup and filled with whatever you have at hand. The original recipe is that of my grandmother, a rotolino with an alchermes soaking syrup and pastry cream or chocolate.
My grandmother would make this for my sister Claudia when she was little, as she was a very thin child and not really as interested in food as I was. The method can seem challenging, yet once you get the hang of it, it will come off without a hitch. Before you know it, you’ll be masterfully making your own rotolo, filled with your choice of cream, chocolate, jam or coffee ricotta mousse.
This is the same sponge roll that I dress up for Christmas to make a Yule log: I frost it with a chocolate ganache, add a few sprigs of rosemary, a dusting of icing sugar to recreate the snow, or finely chopped pistachios for the moss. I fill it with chocolate mousse, I soak it with coffee, I add crumbled chestnuts… everything that reminds me of the festive atmosphere of the holidays.
Ricotta sponge roll cake
Recipe developed Sapori 1832
Searching for a cake to bake for Easter, I chose my reliable sponge roll, and I dressed it in a Spring attire. I kept the alchermes soaking syrup, probably out of nostalgia.
If you cannot find Alchermes – the Tuscan liqueur made by infusing cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and various other spices, whose uniquely red colour derives from the traditional use of cochineal insects – substitute with another spiced liqueur or coffee. Read more about Alchermes here on the blog: there’s also a recipe to make it at home.
For the filling, I used fresh sheep ricotta, which you can whip with very little sugar or leave as it is, in purity. Instead of sugar, I crumbled into the ricotta some Sapori 1832 Citrus Colombelle, Easter almond paste cookies, with an intense orange blossom aroma. You can substitute them with 2 tablespoons of sugar and a hint of orange blossom, or with the same amount of your favourite almond paste cookies.
How would you make your Swiss roll for Easter? Which ingredients would you choose, how would you make it yours?
Ricotta sponge roll cake
Ingredients for the sponge cake
- 150 g egg whites, from about 5 eggs
- 125 g (2/3 cups) caster sugar
- 100 g egg yolk, about 6
- 100 g (3/4 cups) all-purpose flour
- 50 g (1/4 cups) potato starch
- butter to grease the baking paper
Ingredients for the soaking syrup
- 100 ml (1/2 cups) water
- 50 g (1/4 cups) sugar
- 50 ml (1/4 cups) Alchermes
- Ingredients for the filling
- 500 g (2 cups) fresh ricotta, well drained
- 150 g (5 1/4 oz) Colombelle, almond paste pastries
Ingredients for the decoration
- Icing sugar
- Lemon juice
- Almond slices
- Make the soaking syrup. Boil the water and sugar until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the Alchermes and let cool before using.
- Now make the Swiss roll dough. Heat the oven to 220°C/430°F. Beat the egg whites with 75 g (6 tablespoons) of sugar until stiff.
- Beat the yolks separately with the remaining sugar until they are light and frothy. Gently combine the two.
- Sift the flour with the potato starch and fold into the well combined batter, using gentle upward movements, from the bottom towards the top.
- Line a 28x38cm/11x15in baking sheet with parchment paper and then grease the paper with butter. This will allow the sponge to come away easier. Pour the batter into the dish, maintaining a uniform thickness of maximum 1 cm (about 1/2in). Bake for about 10 minutes, until golden and firm.
- Meanwhile, dampen a tea towel and spread it out on a table. As soon as the sponge is done, remove it from the oven and transfer it onto the towel. Carefully detach it from the baking paper and roll it up, being careful not to break it. Let it rest for a few minutes to cool down.
- While the sponge is cooling down, whip the ricotta with the crumbles almond paste cookies.
- Unroll the sponge and brush on the Alchermes soaking syrup.
- When the sponge is cold, spread a layer of ricotta, leaving a 2cm/1in gap around the edge.
- Take the short side of the sponge and using the tea towel underneath, roll up the sponge quite tightly, making sure the filling stays inside.
- Wrap the sponge tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours.
- Just before serving, make a quick glaze by mixing together a few tablespoons of icing sugar and lemon juice, adding it drop by drop. Mix with a fork until thick and glossy.
- Take the Swiss roll out of the fridge, remove the plastic wrap and drizzle the glaze on top of the cake. Decorate with some almond slices. Slice and serve.
- This can be kept in the fridge for a few days.
An Easter menu. Serve the ricotta sponge roll cake with…
It will be a different Easter this year, but we will try to make it as traditional as possible by cooking a reliable menu, with reassuring recipes, which are part of our experience as a family. There will be ricotta as main ingredient, and a roast as a main course.
These are some ideas, recipes that are part of my cooking repertoire.
- Bruschetta with ricotta and broad beans.Toast the bread, smother with a dollop of ricotta whipped with grated pecorino and lemon zest, top with broad beans, podded and infused with olive oil and mint. Do not be precise, be generous. Arrange the bruschette on a cutting board and dress with a your best extra virgin olive oil, then garnish with shaved pecorino and fresh mint leaves. Eat them with your hands, you are allowed to lick your fingers, yet another concession to the etiquette for a seasonal starter.
- Crespelle alla fiorentina. It is a handy recipe to learn as you can vary the filling according to the season: asparagus, artichokes and butternut squash are some of my favourites along with spinach and Swiss chard. You can mix the vegetables with fresh milky ricotta or add some béchamel into the filling. Cheese is a welcomed ingredient: Parmigiano Reggiano, Tuscan or Roman Pecorino, ricotta salata, or any other savoury aged cheese that you would happily grate over your pasta.
- Stuffed turkey breast. When I think about my mum’s stuffed turkey breast, though, it reminds me of festive days and long tables with the family gathered for a meal together. It is a juicy and tasty meat. It makes me reach for a slice of bread to mop the sauce left at the bottom of the pan, made with extra virgin oil, white wine, melted cheese and meat juices. In short, for us who do not have the tradition of roasting a whole turkey to celebrate a festive day, the turkey breast is the most convenient choice: a lean, cheap and versatile cut of meat.
How can I help you?
Whether you are in Italy, somewhere else in Europe, in the US, in Canada or in Australia, you might be experiencing what we just lived here in our country. The fear, the confusion, the feeling of being helpless and powerless.
I’m not a doctor, a nurse, or a politician. I can’t tell you how you should behave, or when this situation will be over, but I cook. I’ve been cooking and teaching for a living for over a decade now, so if I can help you with recipes, with pantry staples, with fresh pasta or a basic bread loaf, ask me, send me an email, find me on Social Media. This is the time to share, to support each other and to find joy and solace in honest, home cooked food.
How to support our business?
When the lockdown of Italy began, I was worried because I didn’t know what the future would bring to small businesses like ours. You asked us how you could support our business now that all classes have been cancelled for months and that most of our projects are in standby. Thank you for your words of encouragement and support: they helped us immensely, as you gave us many ideas and tips on how to get through this difficult moment.
We launched a Udemy virtual Tuscan cooking course. With this course you will join me in my kitchen, attending step-by-step cooking demonstrations to show you exactly how to prepare each recipe. We’re going to use simple, affordable ingredients. Stock up your pantry and be ready to start cooking like an Italian and Tuscan home cook. You’ll learn recipes to make antipasti (appetisers, like focaccia, chicken liver paté and sausage crostoni), primi(fresh pasta from scratch like tagliatelle and ravioli, risotto, gnocchi, and all the dressings for your pasta), secondi(traditional meat and fish dishes), contorni (seasonal side dishes from stewed artichokes to grilled eggplants) and dolci(my famous olive oil cake, but also crostate, almond biscotti and tiramisù). There will be also a chapter on preserves, so that you’ll be able to replicate my spicy tomato jam for a cheese platter, my limoncello or the summer tomato sauce.