Plum Cobbler with Cinnamon Biscuits


As I have mentioned in previous posts, the only thing I find I dislike about the arrival of Spring in Rome is that I have to say good bye to the PROLAW students I work with every year, who complete their coursework in April and return home to write their theses. It is strange to work with a group of people on a daily basis for 8 months – or more, if you count in the five or so months I correspond with them pre arrival while completing their preparations for the program – and then suddenly not have them around anymore. The upside of all of this is of course that I now have friends all over the world, and lots of places and people to visit. 

My friend Charity is a PROLAW student due to leave to go back to the U.S (San Diego, CA, to be specific) in a week. Charity is not only a lawyer, a student, and the PROLAW Administrative Fellow, she is also a wife and mother – her husband, Rocky, and their adorable baby Constance are also living in Rome this year. In short, Charity wears many hats and manages to be spectacular in all of her many roles. In her role as Administrative Fellow she shared my office this year, which was so much fun – I couldn’t have asked for a better colleague or friend. I admire her greatly and value her friendship more than I can say, and I will miss her greatly next year. I am so glad to have met her, Rocky, and Constance, and can’t wait to make a trip to California to see them all.
Me and Charity!

Recently Charity and Rocky (who are, may I add, one of the sweetest, most lovely couples you’ll ever meet) invited me to dinner at their apartment. I got a chance to cook with Rocky, a chef with his own awesome blog chronicling his adventures in Rome this year. I will be detailing what he prepared in his own guest post, so for now we will skip right to the dessert, which I contributed. Rocky had requested a fruit dessert, and Charity’s favorite fruit is plums, so I opted for this Plum Cobbler with Cinnamon biscuits. This is a dessert that I’ve been making since it was published in Bon Appetit magazine back in 2004, in my early baking days, and it is absolutely delicious. For our non-American readers – a cobbler is essentially a fruit dessert with a biscuit topping, not to be confused with a crisp or crumble, which has more of a streusel crumb topping. It is reminiscent of a fruit pie, without the time consuming homemade pie crust.

This dessert is light, refreshing and perfect for summer, especially when served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Note that if you’re not a fan of plums you could also substitute peaches, apples, or pears, or even a mixture of fruits (I’m hoping to try peach and blueberry next). It was a great finish to our meal, and even got the stamp of approval from Constance. Thanks for a lovely evening, Rocky and Charity! 

PLUM COBBLER WITH CINNAMON BISCUITS

Ingredients for the filling:
4 pounds plums (about 12 large), halved, pitted, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 cup sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Ingredients for the biscuits:
2 cups flour
5 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg
Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, optional

Directions:
For the fruit: Preheat oven to 400°f. Toss plums, sugar, cornstarch, and vanilla in large bowl to coat. Transfer this mixture to a 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Bake the plums until the juices begin to bubble, about 30 minutes.

For the biscuits: Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl to blend. Add butter; rub in with fingertips until coarse meal forms. Whisk 3/4 cup whipping cream, vanilla, and egg in a small bowl to blend. Stir cream mixture into flour mixture just until blended. Stir all the ingredients together until dough comes together.

Remove plums from oven and stir gently. Use a large spoon to scoop out pieces of dough and arrange them over the hot plums, spacing apart (the biscuits will expand while baking). Brush the cobbler dough with remaining 2 tablespoons cream and sprinkle with a little cinnamon and sugar mixed together, if you’d like.

Bake the cobbler until the biscuits are browned, and a toothpick inserted into the center of the biscuits comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool slightly. Serve hot or warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. Serves 8.





Blog post n°100: Back in Bologna!




I wasn't quite sure what to post to celebrate the 100th post for this blog -- should it be one of our favorite recipes, some sort of elegant and impressive cake recipe, a roundup of the most popular recipes so far? In the end, I decided however that this milestone post should be dedicated to Bologna, a city that is, as we say in Italian, "la mia citta' nel cuore," or rather "the city in my heart." Bologna is the place where I first fell in love with Italy, learned how to make lasagne alla bolognese, and of course where Gloria and I met and became friends. Without Bologna then, there would be no Pancakes & Biscotti!


Bologna, 2009

Bologna, 2015

Between work, traveling to other countries, and life in general, it had been two years since our last trip to Bologna (!!!) so my sister Alexandra and I were long overdue for a visit and were super excited to see Gloria. And as if spending a couple of days in Bologna wasn't exciting enough, we were also joined by our friend Steve (from Luxemborg, living in Berlin) who studied in Bologna with us as well. He brought along three of his friends from Switzerland and Germany, who were lovely. 


Reunited with Steve!!!

               
New friends!!!

Here are some highlights of the trip:

OSTERIA DELL'ORSA 
We chose to eat at Osteria dell'Orsa for our first meal in Bologna -- thankfully it is one of Steve's favorite restaurants too. Orsa is famous for its tagliatelle al ragu' (one of the most famous bolognese dishes there is) and my lunch of choice. They also make great tortellini and cotolette, and have a menu with specials that change daily. One of the specials the day we ate there was ravioli with butter and sage, which a few of our dining companions ordered and were extremely happy with. As much as I love my amatriciana, I must admit it was nice to eat some bolognese dishes again just for a chance of pace! 

 Tagliatelle al ragu'!


 IL BANCO DEL PANE

Ahhh, Il Banco del Pane -- this was a place that was particularly nostalgic for me, as it was where my sister, Gloria, and I would go routinely after class to get a slice of their famous tenerina, or flourless chocolate cake, which is literally one of the best things I've ever eaten. The owners were nice enough to give us the cake on the house when they heard we had been regulars, and even threw in a free brownie to sample. 



TIGELLINO


Another place that I was happy to visit again was the Tigellino, where I could get another Northern specialty, tigelle. Tigelle kind of remind me of English muffins in shape and size, but have a flavor and texture similar to piadina. Once they are baked they can be split open and filled with a variety of ingredients. We chose salame with ricotta and honey and ragu' as our fillings. Delish!

 Tigelle


In between all the eating we were doing, it was nice to walk around the city and take in all of its characteristic sights again.


 
 Bologna is known for its portici, or the porticos that line most all of the city and are not only pretty, but extremely useful if the weather is rainy.  


 

We stopped by Piazza Maggiore to say hello to Nettuno as well!


And enjoyed the sunshine near the San Petronio Basilica.



BAR SENZA NOME
In addition to visiting our favorite places in the city, we also discovered a few new ones, including Bar Senza Nome. This bar has a cool vibe with lots of interesting art on the walls and a loft with seating, plus great drinks. The most interesting part about this  bar though is that it is owned and operated by the deaf. Many of the bar tenders and waiters are deaf, and those who are hearing know how to sign. If you are a hearing customer and do not know how to sign, you are provided with a piece of paper on which to write your messages. Not surprisingly, this bar was a gathering place for the deaf community in Bologna, many of which were there with their whole families. I had never heard of a place like this anywhere, and am sorry to have only discovered it now -- there is something really beautiful and intricate about signing, and it was so cool to observe. I promised myself next time I go back I will learn a few signs to use!


A few reflections post trip

1.) Bologna is SUCH a calm city compared to Rome. As much as I love Rome, it was a breath of fresh air. There are far less people and things are overall less chaotic.

2.) Unlike Rome, transportation is not a problem in Bologna -- we didn't take one bus the whole time we were there, and there is no subway as the city is small. For example, going out on a Friday night in Rome means keeping in mind what time the subway closes and the buses stop running, waiting for aforementioned unreliable public transportation, and choosing what neighborhood you want to go out in. In Bologna on the other hand we were able to go to dinner and reach home after a short walk, or go to bars and pubs at night, all on foot. Life here is just easier. 

3.) The Bolognese accent, which at one point was the only one I knew, now seems almost foreign to my ears, which have grown accustomed to the Roman accent (Americans: think New York accent vs Texas accent). I must admit I prefer the bolognese one and it was lovely to hear it again.

It was overall a great couple of days, and I'm so happy we found the time to go back to this wonderful city. If all goes well we should be planning another trip for this June!

One last image to leave you with: the famous Torre Asinelli at night. Gorgeous!






Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies


Despite being a quintessential American ingredient (and this is after all an Italian/American blog) I've realized that peanut butter has been a bit neglected, being used so far in only one recipe out of 102 on this blog so far! It could be because peanut butter is pricey here in Italy, or because it's been deemed too "heavy" for most of my Italian friends, or perhaps because I have been completely distracted by the abundance of Nutella in this country (as evidenced in this recipe, this recipe, and oh this one too). Whatever the reason, I've decided to make up for the absence of peanut butter by posting an extra super peanut butter-y recipe -- peanut butter cookies with peanut butter filling!

This recipe actually comes from the legendary American chef Thomas Keller, who published this recipe in the Bouchon Bakery cookbook. Let's put it this way -- if there were such a thing as a peanut butter cookie kingdom, these cookies would most definitely reign supreme (can you tell I've been watching too much Game of Thrones lately?) They are crispy, salty, and sweet, all that the same time and are completely addictive. They have far more flavor than your average peanut butter cookie, thanks to the addition of oats that are toasted for extra flavor, and the peanut butter filling, which, by the way, would be great on cupcakes as well. I made these for a friend who was a bit homesick for peanut butter after spending six months studying in the U.S, and they did not disappoint. Make these asap, they'll be your new favorite cookie!


PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICH COOKIES

Ingredients:

Cookies
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup peanut butter
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups coarsely ground old fashioned oats (toast them for a few minutes in the oven for more flavor -- keep a close eye on them, they can burn fast!)
1 cup all purpose flour

Filling
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup + 1/3 cup confectioners' sugar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two cookie sheets.

To make the cookies, in a large mixing bowl, using a mixer on medium speed, beat together butter, peanut butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar until creamy - about 3 minutes. Beat in egg, baking soda, baking powder and vanilla until combined. Beat in oats and flour until just combined.

Drop rounded spoonfuls of dough onto cookie sheets, spacing about 2 inches apart. Bake 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool cookies on sheet for 5 minutes, before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

To make the filling, in a large bowl, using a mixer on medium speed, beat together butter, peanut butter and confectioners' sugar until well combined and creamy - about 2 minutes. Spread filling in between cookies. Makes about 12 big cookies











Lemon poppy seed cake


While I do not consider myself a picky eater, I will admit that there are a few foods that I simply do not like: oysters (too slimy), radicchio (too bitter), blue cheese (too strong), and mangoes (does anyone else think they taste like grass?!) are on this list, along with, strangely enough, any dessert made with citrus. Don't get me wrong -- I love clementines, have nothing against my mom's lemon grilled chicken, and will gladly drink orange juice at breakfast, but for as long as I can remember, I've thought something as sour citrus does not belong in dessert. I remember being extremely disappointed around age 8 when at a relative's wedding, I discovered that the towering white cake that had seemed so promising was not just a vanilla cake, but rather a vanilla cake with -- gasp -- lemon filling. A similar incident occurred not longer after where I mistook key lime pie for a slice of cheesecake at the dessert buffet (there was that sneaky citrus again!) and my dislike for this ingredient was solidified. To this day, I will always pass over the lemon meringue pie on the dessert menu in favor of something something sweeter and more chocolate-y.

So why, you ask, am I giving you a recipe for lemon cake? The truth is I needed to use up lemons leftover from making hummus, figuring I could bring the cake to my colleagues at work, who are for more accepting of citrus than I am.


To my surprise I not only liked this cake, I loved it -- it was light and moist with an intense lemon flavor that was not at all over powering, but rather bright and refreshing. It is delicious for breakfast, with tea, or as a dessert, and is perfect for Spring, and made me think that maybe citrus is another one of those ingredients like ricotta cheese that I may need to reevaluate. Here I have made it in a loaf pan, but you could definitely make lemon poppy seed muffins or a square cake with this as well.
 

LEMON POPPY SEED CAKE

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain yogurt (not low fat or non fat)
1 1/3 cups sugar
3 extra-large eggs
2 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil 

1 tablespoon poppy seeds
 
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup sugar

Directions
 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking powder. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, sugar, eggs, lemon zest, and vanilla. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Whisk in the vegetable oil. When the batter is smooth and all the ingredients are well combined, stir in the poppy seeds. I used 1 tablespoon but feel free to add more if you'd like.


Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Meanwhile, whisk together the lemon juice and 1/3 cup sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside.
When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan and  place it on a baking rack over a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, pour the lemon-sugar mixture over the cake and allow it to soak in*. Cool completely before serving. Serves 8-10.

*If you want you can skip the lemon syrup and just up the lemon zest in the recipe.




Adapted from www.foodnetwork.com.






Easter Recipe Roundup

Spring and Easter are traditionally a time of new beginnings, so we thought we would share a round up of dishes you might not have tried before to add to your Easter spread this year. Whether you are preparing an Easter brunch, lunch, dinner, or have been put in charge of making dessert, we've got you covered!

Stay tuned for a post next week about our food related adventures in Bologna, where Gloria and I are meeting up for a few days!

Happy Easter everyone/Buona Pasqua a tutti!

Easter Brunch

Banana Nutella Muffins
Berry Cake
Challah bread
Chocolate Coffee Nutella Cake 
Chocolate Swirl Bundt Cake
Fastelavnsboller 
Homemade Bagels
Individual French Toasts
Mini Frittata Panini 
Pancakes

 

Savory

Fig and Goat Cheese Pizza 
Lasagne alla bolognese
Stuffed mushrooms
Rice stuffed tomatoes

Dessert

Brownie Pie 
Chocolate Chip Cookie Icebox cake
Chocolate Swirl Cheesecake Bars 
Lemon Meringue Tart
Nutella Layer cake with mascarpone raspberry filling
Ricotta Pie
Strawberry Cake
Tenerina
Violet Cake Roll