3 little ancient sweet “dolci” for the holidays
|December 21, 2012||Posted by ameliaps under christmas, dessert, holidays, Italia, Italian, italy|
Under my tree, this year, all I am asking is for “time”. Time to spend with my little guys, and my big guy.
There is nothing more precious. I need no-thing, no boxes, no parcels, no wrappings, and no big accomplishements. Just good old fashioned time. And old family traditions, sweets included.
I have been taking every little bit of time I have left-over, lately, which is not much, to just “be present”. Whether it’s turning the clock on 30 minutes earlier in the morning to read the paper with my tea before the rush, or soaking up 5 minutes of sunshine mid-day, or sitting on the floor to play legos with my children, or reading them a story every night before bed. I have been trying to make the most of every hour in the week-end.
I don’t feel the need anymore to “do” stuff. You might have noticed the slower pace of my blog over the last few months… it is indeed a reflection of this new found attitude. I used to feel bad about not always having something to do, if a moment went by without having a plan or a project to finish. But I find this slower me more pleasant to “talk” to. She does not feel any less for doing any less. She is a woman who is starting to finally get what life is about. No, the Joneses won’t mind if she does not win the latest competition… in fact, the Joneses might like her a little more, for being a tad more humble and humanly. This new me is more relaxed, she sits for longer one-on-ones with family and friends to savor a conversation, she lets things go, she “breathes”.
Yes, she still really enjoys time in the kitchen… but with a different purpose, one of sharing and conviviality with those she loves. It’s her time, when she is stirring and chopping, and it’s communal time when the goods are laid out, we break bread, and the table becomes an offering to life itself.
As the holidays approach, the kitchen in our home becomes a winter wonderland, one covered in sugar and flour… as we bake our way through Christmas traditional Italian sweets. This post includes three classic and ancient “dolci di Natale” (Christmas sweets): “folarielli”, “torrone di nocciola”, “struffoli con miele”.
(And if you need more, here are other Italian traditional Christmas sweets I have made in the past, on the blog: Panettone, cuccidati, seadas, monte bianco, ovis mollis or thumbprint cookies…)
Buon Natale (or happy season, however you celebrate it)!!!
“Folarielli” (packets of dried and candied fruit wrapped in lemon leaves)
This is an ancient tradition from Sorrento, which is, as you know, the land of lemons. It dates back to Roman times.
They used to be prepared months before the holidays and then served on Christmas after the main meal, together with a basket of fresh fruit and mixed nuts, before the era of commercial desserts. Folarielli (or fogliarelli or follovielli) means small leaf packets.
The dried fruit (typically sultana raisins and dried figs) are boiled in mosto (unfiltered grape juice cooked down to a syrup) then wrapped with candied citrus peels (lemon, orange, tangerine) in lemon leaves, tied into small packets with raffia. They are finally left in the oven to dry and to allow flavors to mingle. Because mosto is not easy to make or access, you can use wine instead.
Lemon leaves, as needed (NOTE: you can ask your local florist for them)
1 lb. (450 gr.) The best largest and juiciest sultana raisins you can access (in the original recipe grapes are slowly sun dried)
1/2 liter sweet wine
1/2 lb. (450 gr. sugar)
1 shot of cognac
2 cups candied citrus peels
Boil the wine and sugar until reduced by half, about 1-2 hours. This will act as the “mosto”
Allow the sultanas and the diced peels to soak in reduced wine and cognac for 2 days.
Drain, pat dry, and then slowly dry in the oven (~200F) for a couple of hours. Allow to cool.
Lay some lemon leaves in a circle, overlapping each other. In the center, place a tablespoon of candied peel and one of dried sultanas.
Wrap in a package that you will tie like a gift with rafia. Bake in the over at 300 for about 15-20 minutes, or until dried out but not browned.
Set aside, allow to cool, and enjoy on Christmas day!
Torrone alla nocciola (hazelnut nougat with lemon peel aroma)
This is my grandmothers’ (nonna Amelia) recipe. It’s relatively easy to do and so incredibly addictive!!! And I love 3 ingredient recipes. Don’t you?
1 lb. (450 gr.) hazelnuts
1 cup sugar (you may make part of that honey, e.g. 1 Tbsp or 2)
To prepare a good torrone of this type, it’s ideal to use an old copper (not tin-plated) skillet as the basic tool of your trade (do NOT use a non stick pan!).
Put the hazelnuts and the sugar into a saucepan over lively heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the sugar liquefies and then caramelizes. This process should take 15 minutes. Now wet a kitchen counter surface (marble is best) with a little water, turn out the hazelnuts onto it, grate the peel of one lemon, and with the help of the lemon crush the hazelnuts so that you obtain a single layer. When this has cooled, you can easily break off pieces of it and preserve them in a glass jar – or eat them on the spot!!!
Struffoli (little fried dough balls, seasoned with honey and orange zest)
This is another ancient recipe, with Middle Eastern or possibly Greek influence, due to the honey and citrus zest.
It is the children’s favorite Christmas dessert, as they can pick up hundreds of little fried dough balls and then lick their sticky hands.
For the dough:
3 ½ cups flour – 5 eggs – 2 tbsp vegetable oil – 3 tbsp sugar – ½ tsp baking powder – 1 shot-glass Anise liqueur – salt – vegetable oil for frying
For the coating:
1 cup honey – 2 tbsp sugar – 1 lemon peel – 1 orange peel – 2 mandarin peels
Sift and mound the flour, make a well in the center, and into this well put all the other ingredients. Prepare a good, consistent, elastic dough, at first with the aid of a fork, and then with your hands, working the dough vigorously. Cover the dough with a napkin and let it stand for about an hour. Then take small quantities of the dough, roll it between your fingers into the shape of tiny, thin tubes, and cut these into little balls that you’ll arrange on a napkin.
When this operation is finished, it will be time for you to fry all the little balls in plenty of hot oil. When they’re pretty, golden, shiny, and crunchy, use an appropriate tool to remove them from the heat. Let the oil drain off and place them on paper towels so that as much of the oil as possible is absorbed.
Now, make the coating by liquefying the honey with the sugar in a saucepan. Add 2 tbsp. water and the grated, fragrant citrus peels. As soon as a light foam begins to form on the surface, the coating will be ready to receive the struffoli. Pour them in and stir them around a bit; they will shine brilliantly.