Tag Archives: fall

Holiday Entertaining: Italian Fruit Cake Recipe

While perusing through my archives, I rediscovered this Italian fruit cake recipe and felt like with the holidays in full swing, I should share it again.

A few years ago, I asked my friend Skye McAlpine to put together a little holiday cheer in the form of a post for my blog, and she delivered in a big way! She put together this absolutely stunning (and delicious) Italian fruit cake recipe. While perusing through my archives, I rediscovered it and felt like with the holidays in full swing, I should share it again.

On Skye’s recommendation, this cake is lovely with a sweet red wine, like Port. If you have a local wine merchant, picking up a Port to finish a holiday dinner party. It’s such a fun ending to a fun evening.

While perusing through my archives, I rediscovered this Italian fruit cake recipe and felt like with the holidays in full swing, I should share it again.
Certosino di Natale: Honey, Pinenut and Almond Fruitcake
Serves: 8-10

For the cake, you will need:

– 40g raisins
– 40g mixed candied peel
– 30ml dry red wine or Marsala
– 320g flour
– 30g cocoa powder
– 2 tsps bicarbonate of soda
– 300g honey
– 40g butter
– 70g sugar
– 1 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
– 1 tsp ground cinnamon
– 3 tbsps water
– 60g pinenuts
– 200g blanched almonds
– 60g dark chocolate

For the decoration, you will need:

– 2 (heaped) tbsp apricot jam
– 2 tsp water
– 10-12 slices of glacé orange
– 3 glacé pears
– 10-12 glacé cherries
– handful of blanched almonds

To prepare:

Add the raisins and candied peel to a medium sized bowl and pour in the wine, then leave to soak overnight.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees, grease and line a 25cm cake tin. Sift the flour, cocoa and bicarb into a large mixing bowl and set to one side.

Add the butter to a small saucepan along with the sugar, honey, fennel seeds and cinnamon, then set over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Stir now and then to make sure that nothing burns on the bottom of the pan.

Add the raisins (with all their juices) and pine nuts to the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl, stir well.

Roughly chop the chocolate and the almonds, then add them too. Stir again.

Now pour in the melted butter and honey, and stir until well combined. The batter will be quite stiff, so stir vigorously with a wooden spoon. If needs be, add another splash of red wine.

Pour the cake batter into the tin and bake for 45 mins to 1 hr, until it’s golden on top, and when you press a skewer into the cake, it comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin.

To decorate, spoon the jam into a small saucepan with the water; set over a low to medium heat until the jam becomes syrupy and begins to bubble. Take it off the heat and use a pastry brush to glaze the cake, then lightly press the glacé fruits and nuts on to the top of the cake leaving no gaps. Brush the remaining glaze over the nuts so that it is all shiny.

For those of you that need measurements in cups see the conversion chart here

Photos by: Skye McAlpine

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Olive Oil Cake, from All About Olives Workshop in Italy

As you might remember our November workshop All About Olives” was literally all about olives. Since then, I have been searching for the perfect olive oil cake recipe. At the olive press, we all tasted fresh press and they also served us the most delicious olive oil cake which they informed us is something that Italians serve their children,since it’s a mild and sweet soft cake. Children and adults alike will love this cake. I tested a few versions, but this one was the winner.

Olive Oil Cake
Serves 12

You will need:
2 large eggs, room temperature
– 1  cup sugar
– 1 cup whole milk
– 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
– 1 teaspoon vanilla
– 1 tablespoon lemon zest
– 2 cups all-purpose flour
– 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
– 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
– 1 teaspoon fine salt
*1/2 teaspoon flour and 1 teaspoon butter, to butter then flour the pan
*1 teaspoon powdered sugar for dusting

To Prepare: 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 10” spring-form ring pan.

Lightly beat eggs with a paddle attachment in standing mixer on high for 1 minute until frothy. Add sugar beat until fluffy, and add milk, add olive oil, lemon zest and vanilla. Mix for 1 minute until well blended. Mix in the flour, baking soda and baking powder and salt until well blended and smooth.

Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan. Bake for 45 minutes – 1 hour. Place on a rack to cool upside down. Remove spring pan. About 5 minutes into cooling the cake will drop, let cool. Invert on to a cake plate and dust with powdered sugar.

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All About Olives Workshop Recap

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What can I say? Our All About Olives Workshop went off without a hitch. Perfect group, perfect weather, and perfect instructors, Emily Followill and Alisa Barry.

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This is Emily’s second time teaching with us in Italy, and it will not be the last time. She’s an amazing teacher and mentor, and most of all, she’s a just a wonderful person to be around. She had many lessons for our attendees and was most importantly loads of fun.

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We enjoyed hiking through the olive grove and seeing the olive harvest in full swing. Our picnic in the olive grove after a long morning trekking was picture perfect. It included the ever popular brown butter chocolate chip cookies, Teri’s super secret recipe. Let’s just say they are the best cookie I have every tasted, and our attendees agreed. A beautiful vegetable torta baked by Alisa was a special treat while we enjoyed the sunshine on our faces. We also stuffed ourselves with homemade focaccia sandwiches, so thanks to Teri, we could barely get up to go to our cooking lesson that afternoon with Alisa. I think we would have all loved a nice nap under the olive trees.

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Saturday we all went to see the olives pressed. We had tastes of the fresh press and of course, stocked up on fresh olive oil to take home.

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In a tiny village, we enjoyed a tour of a small family winery and then an amazing lunch in the family owned restaurant where 2 sisters run the show. We had crepes filled with nettles and pasta with sausage and greens, housemade wine, and delicate desserts with strong espresso to wash it down. It was the most incredible little lunch stop for our group.

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The workshop was a smashing success. I made new friends and reconnected with old friends as we had several attendees who had returned. It really makes me happy that people want to join us again and again. I love welcoming everyone, and I love leisurely suppers where everyone shares stories and dreams and goals. My goal next season is to have everyone join us and experience our tiny piece of heaven here in the Italian countryside. Until then, ci vediamo spero a presto xx

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7 things I learned about truffle hunting in Italy

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First of all, I thought I have the best job in the world…I thought that until a few weeks ago that is…

I had an opportunity to go truffle hunting with a certified guide and his wonder truffle dog, Tito. In the name of research, I had to go for my workshop attendees. Let’s get it straight: my job doesn’t suck, however here’s why I think in another life, I will be a truffle hunter. Full disclosure: truffles are one of my favorite things on the planet, and it’s no wonder that hunting for them proved to me why they are so incredible as an ingredient.

I met Simone and Tito at a designated location, and then we headed off into the mountains for my first ever truffle hunting experience. You may remember I went to a truffle festival in Alba, in the Piedmont a couple years ago. But this, my friends, was truly a bucket list moment for me.

Okay back to Simone and Tito. Tito is a truffle dog, so of course I had a million questions for Simone about how one trains a truffle dog. The breed has been bred specifically for this purpose: to sniff out the yummy goodness of the truffle buried beneath the forest floor. It’s called the Lagotto Romagnolo; that’s a mouth full. Tito was in the back of the car crated and quiet. We drove up the mountain with my never ending questions about training Tito. Simone was very patient in explaining that one must spend many many many hours training these dogs. First you feed the puppies truffles, so they get a sniff and a taste for them (see even the dogs think they are yummy). Then hand signals, treats and even getting on your hands and knees to show them how to gently dig, so as not to break the truffle. Foraging the woods is a team effort. These 2 make the perfect team as I found out after 3 hours of foraging in the beautiful countryside. It was exciting and zen all at the same time. Hence my epiphany that I should have been a truffle hunter. Walking in nature endlessly looking for these hidden treasures was something that was heavenly to me. I learned a lot about truffles and hunting in these 3 hours spent with the ultimate hunting team.

What I learned about truffles:

  1. There are 7 types of truffles that one can legally hunt in Italy.
  2. Hunting for truffles is a year round activity (I thought it was only fall but no, Simone and Tito hunt all year).
  3. Moisture has much to do with the harvest, and rain is a very important factor in the quantity of truffles annually. The more rain, the more truffles.
  4. Hunting with dogs is far superior to pigs as dogs are more delicate and hunt with their paws, and pigs dig up truffles with their snouts often breaking the truffles.
  5. Truffles can be found all over the forest floors, not just the roots of trees.
  6. White truffles are harder to find and much more delicate to extract from the earth than black truffles
  7. There’s actually a school where guides can go to learn to guide truffle hunts

Needless to say, we had to eat truffles for lunch and the perfect place was right up the road. My tortellone with ricotta and egg sprinkled with black truffles was divine. The perfect end to a cool day hunting what I love with a great guide and a spectacular dog, Tito, who won my heart.

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If you’re interested in hunting truffles, you will have an opportunity at our upcoming workshop in 2018 as this will become a staple of the offerings for our free day.

All hail Tito, too! Now I want a truffle dog. xx

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Everything But the Turkey:: Use Leftovers

Thanksgiving

Today is my last post in our Everything But the Turkey series. I hope that throughout the past few weeks, you’ve become equipped with some fantastic recipes and entertaining ideas for Thanksgiving. I can’t believe that we’ll be surrounded by family and friends enjoying a huge festive spread in just a few days.

It’s no secret that I love takeaway gifts. Who doesn’t love getting a little something to take home after a great party? Of course, Thanksgiving shouldn’t be any different, and the secret is to use leftovers!

I like to give guests a few leftovers to enjoy the next day. I always think Thanksgiving leftovers are better the next day anyway, don’t you? Be prepared with a few microwaveable containers ready on hand to load leftovers into. That way, when guests take them home, the leftovers can be popped right into the fridge until the next day.

Of course, I love any excuse to add a little pizzazz. Make leftovers look special, and leave a sweet burlap bag at the front door for guests to grab on their way out. It’s a simple detail that can make all the difference.

Grab a copy of my book, Picture Perfect Parties, for more great holiday entertaining ideas.

xx Annette

Photo Credit: Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

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