Panforte- The Great British Bake Off Christmas.

Friday 22nd December 2017.

Panforte is a traditional Italian delicacy which is usually eaten with coffee after a meal.  It is full of dried fruit, nuts and spices and baked in the oven on rice paper.  A little piece goes a long way as it is very rich.

I had tried some Panforte one Christmas when my Mum had bought some. It might have come from Lakeland or Waitrose but I couldn’t get enough of it.  I remember seeing whole hazelnuts inside the Panforte and it felt very chewy, almost toffee like in consistency.  No wonder I couldn’t stop at one piece!

When I was looking for ideas to make for foodie presents this year I saw a recipe for Panforte in my Great British Bake Off Christmas Book.  It was quite an expensive sweet to make as I don’t know about you but I think both dried fruits and nuts have gone up a hell of a lot in price in the past few years.  Don’t get me started on all the other baking ingredients!  So, I would only choose to make two panfortes and for those who I knew would like one.

It was the Friday before Christmas (can you believe that’s over a week ago now, where has the time gone?) and I was trying to do everything on that one day.  By the time it got to Friday teatime I had a meltdown and started crying thinking why am I doing all this?  I still had a birthday cake to bake, I hadn’t finished my Dad and step-mum’s Christmas present and I hadn’t made our usual mince pies and sausage rolls.  Any normal person would have gone out and bought them but I’d bought all my mincemeat in and also the sausagemeat and I didn’t want to go out spending any more money.  I guess, what with my day job and school breaking up so late I was struggling time wise.

But earlier on in the day I felt as if things were more under control.  I was keeping going drinking endless cups of tea and coffee but later I got Mr SmartCookieSam to pour me a large gin and tonic.  That did calm me down!

Anyway, I’m going off on a tangent.  Back to the panforte.  In the Bake Off recipe the dried fruit you need are figs and apricots.  I don’t mind dried apricots but figs- yeuggghhh!  I needed most of the packet of them and boy did they take ages to cut up.  Then I cut up the dried apricots and put them, along with the figs into a pan and heated it on the hob with some runny honey, some light brown muscovado sugar, ground cinnamon, nutmeg and some ground mixed spice.  The recipe needed cardamom pods (which I’d not got in) and also ground cloves.  I had whole ones but not the plain ones.  I had used the mixed spice instead of the cardamom and cloves.  Also to the pan I added about a tablespoonful of water.  This mixture was heated for about 10 minutes until it became soft and sticky,

Meanwhile I had weighed out some mixed peel, whole blanched almonds and some pistachios.  I had to buy pistachios with the shells still on (so I had to remove these before mixing them in) Along with that I put in 3 tablespoonfuls of plain flour.

Panforte is traditionally lined with rice paper but I couldn’t find any in my local Morrisons with the baking stuff.  I just lined the base of two loose bottomed  round 18cm or 7″ cake tins with baking parchment.  Though obviously that’s not edible!

I spooned the mixture between two tins as I had made double the quantity and baked both the panfortes at the same time.  They took about 45 minutes in the oven.  I must admit they didn’t look very pretty when they came out of the oven.  They looked like giant cow pats! But dusted with a bit of icing sugar then they would be fine.

When the panfortes were cooled, I put them onto a thin circular cake board and wrapped them in clear cellophane.  To finish I chose some pretty Christmas ribbon to tied them up with.

I gave one of the Panfortes to my Mum, the other to our family friend Paul. I hope they both like them and don’t break their teeth on them!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Walnut, Gorgonzola and Pancetta Fusilli.

My family and I love travelling (money and time permitting, of course). So when Ingham Lakes and Mountains asked me if I would like to create a recipe inspired by one of their holiday destinations for their #InghamsFoodieFinds campaign, I jumped at the chance.

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Nearly five years ago Mr SmartCookieSam took me to Italy for my 40th birthday.  He kept the trip a surprise until a week or so before the trip. We went to Venice, Lake Garda, Lake Como and up into the Italian Alps. One day we had a memorable and breathtaking road trip up along the Stelvio Pass and stopped for lunch at a roadside hotel called La Fontanella. It was near the town of Madonna de Campiglio.  In the winter it was a ski resort but as this was July we sat outside on the terrace enjoying the stunning views of the Dolomites.  Our lunch was delicious and I remember the starter we had to this day.  I’ve recreated it and adapted it at home many times and is a perfect summer weekend lunch. Preferably sat outside with a huge glass of wine on the side (here’s hoping!)

The starter was a very filling Walnut and Gorgonzola Fusilli.  Mr SmartCookieSam is not a big pasta fan but he loves this.  I sometimes add pancetta to mine at home to appease the carnivores in my house. It is very quick to make and makes a perfect weekday supper if time is short.  Not an everyday treat though as there is a lot of butter, cream and cheese in the recipe!

Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a starter.

WALNUT, GORGONZOLA AND PANCETTA FUSILLI

Ingredients:

200g fusilli fresh or dried (whatever you prefer)

125g creamy Gorzonzola

100g walnut halves

50g butter

150ml single cream

1 packet of cubed pancetta

First you  need to cook the pancetta in a frying pan.  I dry fry it as it contains enough fat.  Preheat your oven to 180oC/ Gas 4 ready for toasting the walnuts.

While you have the pancetta frying, cook the fusilli in a large saucepan of boiling water according to the packet instructions.  Or if you are like me who was in a rush, you’ll end up chucking the pasta in the cold water and hoping for the best!

When the pancetta is crisp, remove from the frying pan and put to one side.  Chop the walnuts up into bite size pieces and lay on a baking tray.  Toast them in the oven for about 5-8 minutes checking them regularly so they don’t burn.

Next, melt the butter in the frying pan.

Then add the cubed Gorgonzola to the melted butter.

Add the pancetta and the toasted walnuts into the pan.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  When the pasta is ready, drain carefully and toss with the sauce.  Serve immediately.

My family love this dish with chunks of toasted ciabatta bread to dip in olive oil and balsamic vinegar or with a side of mixed salad leaves.

 

Cooking The Books February 2014- Italian Biscuits from How To Be A Domestic Goddess.

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Italian Biscuits- cherry topped swirls of lemon flavoured shortbread. Featured in the biscuit chapter of Nigella’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess.

Last week I baked for a tea party at the school where I work as a teaching assistant.  My friend and work colleague was retiring from her post and we held a special party for her in the afternoon.  The children had made sandwiches and decorated cupcakes and I decided to bake some biscuits along with the large celebration cake.  As I looked through the biscuit chapter of How To Be A Domestic Goddess I wanted to choose something which wasn’t too overpowering and would be fairly simple to bake.  This was to be my Biscuit chapter recipe for my Cooking The Books challenge this month.

In the recipe introduction Nigella says “This is a rather sweeping description of those shortbready swirls punctuated by glace cherries that  you see everywhere in Italy, mostly sold by weight.” I saw some of these pretty biscuits for sale when my hubby and I went to the Italian Lakes nearly two years ago.  I didn’t buy any as I don’t tend to crave biscuits and sweet things (only maybe ice cream) on holiday in warmer climates.  But I did think they looked rather pretty, they reminded me of a cross between melting moments and Viennese Whirls! 

So here is how I made them:

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I washed roughly about 20 glace cherries. Nigella says to use natural coloured ones. I had the bright red ones as I couldn’t find any in the supermarket at the time.
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Then I creamed some butter and sugar together until it was light and fluffy. I used the hand mixer though it would have done my bingo wings some good if I’d got the wooden spoon out!
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After this I beat in a large egg and grated in some lemon zest.
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Now for the flour, salt and baking powder.

At this point I felt the dough was a bit stiff to pipe with and I wondered how on earth I would get it through the piping nozzle.I managed after a little bit of wrestling with the bag though.  What did surprise me was how the recipe said it made 40 cookies, I couldn’t even get 20 out of the dough.  I tried piping small but maybe it was due to the mixture being a bit stiff and me being over generous with the sizes.

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The dough was put into a large piping bag fitted with a star nozzle.
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The piped swirls on the prepared baking sheets.
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The finishing touch! Half a cherry is added to each biscuit.
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All ready and waiting in the tin to be taken along to the tea party.

I was impressed with the overall flavour and appearance of the biscuits. I sneaked one at the tea party even though I’m meant to be dieting. You could taste the lemon flavour without it overpowering the flavour.  They were a winner at the tea party and I’m definitely going to make them again.  They would make lovely gifts wrapped up in a cellophane bag tied with pretty ribbon for birthdays or Christmas.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx