Sablé alla nutella

In last week's post I talked about Bologna, piadina, and how my first year living in Italy expanded my culinary horizons -- what I didn't talk about, but which definitely deserves a mention, is the cooking course that I took in the Spring of 2010, with an excellent teacher named Rita Mattioli. The course focused on Italian food and  covered a variety of topics, from antipasti to fish to fresh pasta to desserts. Not surprisingly, it was right up my alley, and I remember practically skipped down Via San Vitale every week to get to Rita's apartment for class. During the course I learned how to make fresh pasta dough, shape tortellini, clean and roast a whole fish, and make an authentic ragu' alla bolognese, among many other skills. My cooking class with Rita was the source of some of my nicest memories the whole year, and even now, 8 years later, I still look back on it with great nostalgia.

After my course with Rita however, I didn't take any more cooking classes -- I returned to the U.S, moved to Rome a year later, and was suddenly working full-time, even teaching a few of my own (American) cooking classes to the high school students I taught English to that year. I went on to work for a University that paid me very little, and spending any extra money on a class didn't seem wise; I eventually started up this blog, where I was cooking and recipe testing non-stop, and doing additional cooking didn't seem necessary. For one reason or another, my cooking course kick went by the wayside.

Until recently, that is -- I may have mentioned my frolleagues (friend-colleagues) in my old division on here before. When I was sadly transferred to a new division, one of their parting gifts was a cooking class of my choice at Gambero Rosso, a super cool association here in Italy that, in addition to offering cooking classes at its headquarters in Rome, also has its own magazine, TV channel, guide books, and food-related degree programs. Gift certificate in hand, I ended my cooking-class drought and  signed up for a class on piccola pasticceria (roughly translated, little pastries) which are popular here in Italian bakeries (a tray of these makes the perfect contribution to a dinner party you've been invited to when you haven't had time to cook, in my experience. See also: Prosecco). The class promised to cover more European desserts I wasn't so familiar with, things like eclairs, pastry cream, and sablé (I'll get to that last one in a minute).

My confirmation email told me that the piccola pasticceria class would last three hours, from 7-10pm, and be held in one of the (dreamy, professional -- my words, not theirs) Gambero Rosso kitchens at headquarters. When I arrived, I was partnered up with Benedetta (all students work in pairs) and we were introduced to our instructor, the very knowledgeable, very authoritative pastry chef Monia Achille. I was a little nervous at first -- too many years of baking by myself in my own kitchen?!-- but I needn't have worried, as the whole class was so much fun. It was in some ways unlike than the classes I had taken with Rita -- the type of food and the kitchen was different, the class was larger -- but the spirit was the same. I learned new skills and tricks, met lovely new people, and at the end of the class, sat back and savored all the sweets we'd whipped up (the milk chocolate ganache will forever hold a special place in my heart). In fact I was so inspired and excited about my class that I signed up for Carla Tomasi's bread class that same week (more on that here). 

But I digress! Putting the class aside and getting to the recipe -- sablé, if you're not familiar, are sort of France's answer to the Scottish shortbread cookie. They are crumbly and delicious and buttery and addictive, and naturally, since they're French, very elegant and understated (miles away from the far less subdued Funfetti Cookie, for example). That being said, sablé cookies may be French, but I'm not French, and therefore I didn't leave the chic sablé as is. Nope -- the American side of me decided to take the sablé to the next level with a little embellishment, and the Italian side of me thought that the best way to do this would be with an Italian classic, Nutella. Nutella, if you didn't know, has the same properties as bacon, cheese, and butter, or rather, tends to make most things its added to even better. The sablé is no exception -- here we have a swirl of dreamy, chocolate-y hazelnut filling sandwiched between two crisp, buttery, cocoa cookies, the bittersweet flavor of the chocolate countering the sweetness of the filling, and the crunch of the cookie contrasting beautifully with the smooth Nutella. These were heavenly, you guys (did you expect anything less from a chocolate-Nutella-sandwich-cookie?!) and if more cooking classes means more recipes like these, well, my cooking class kick has officially recommenced. Stay tuned...!

A couple of notes: This dough is quite versatile; feel free to leave the cookies plain if you just want sablè cookies, or you can use the dough to make a tart crust (see the photo of the chocolate tart and raspberry tartlet above). They could also be filled with dulce de leche and I might try and fill them soon with a mascarpone filling per the suggestion of a friend of mine. If you make a plain version of these, they would also be good plain dipped in semi-sweet or white chocolate. Finally, Monia was an excellent instructor -- I would highly recommend taking a course with Monia at Gambero Rosso (if you are an Italian speaker, though -- the courses are in Italian). Head to the Gambero Rosso site (www.gamberorosso.it) if you want to sign up. If you happen to be in Bologna and want to take a cooking class, you can contact Rita here at remmattioli@gmail.com. Note that she does classes both in English and Italian.

Looking for other cookie recipes? A few more favorites: these Funfetti Cookies from last week, Brutti ma buoni, these White Chocolate, Almond, and Apricot Biscotti, these Brownie Cookies, these Brown Butter and Chocolate Chunk Cookies, these Gingerbread Cookies, these Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, these Dark Chocolate Coconut Macaroons, these Magical 4 Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies, and these Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies.


SABLE' ALLA NUTELLA
(recipe from Monia Achille)

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups (200 grams) of flour
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) of salt
2/3 cup (75 grams) of powdered sugar 
11 tablespoons (150 grams) of unsalted butter, cold and cut in to small pieces
1/4 cup (25 grams) of cocoa powder
15 grams (2 tablespoons) of beaten egg 

Nutella, for filling (or dulce de leche or another filling of your choice)
Cookie cutter of your choosing - if you want to make these a round one is best. I used one with a diameter of 2-inches (5cm).

Directions:
Place the powdered sugar, flour, and salt in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Add the butter and using your fingers, work it into the dry mixture until it begins to look like buttery sand (fun linguistic facts: sablé means "sand" in French, and the verb for this action in Italian, I learned, is "sabbiare" -- "sabbia" means sand). Add in the cocoa powder and mix with a spoon until fully incorporated, then the egg and stir everything to combine well. Turn the dough out on to a very lightly floured work surface and knead it a few times until it comes together. Form a ball with the dough, then flatten it into a disk, and wrap it in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until firm enough to roll out. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (170 degrees Celsius). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. When you're ready to use the dough, place it again a very lightly floured work surface and roll it out until it is 1/4 of an inch thick for thicker cookies, or 1/8 of an inch for thinner, crisper ones (I made both)
Using your cookie cutter, cut out your cookies, spacing them on the baking sheet evenly (they won't spread much). Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until set. Repeat with the remaining dough, putting together the scraps and rolling out again. Let the cookies cool completely.

When the cookies are completely cooled, dollop a nice bit of Nutella (I'd say about a generous teaspoon) over half of the batch (about). Top the Nutella filled cookies with another cookie, and enjoy. Makes 18 sandwich cookies (using a 2-inch cookie cutter).





Piadina romagnola

I've mentioned the year I lived and studied in Bologna -- aka The Best Year Ever -- more than once on this blog, and with good reason. It was an extremely formative (not to mention incredibly fun) year for me, one where I traveled all around Italy and Europe for the first time, really learned to speak Italian, and was overall pushed out of my usual generally-shy-person comfort zone (having to make friends in another language will do that to you). Traveling and timidness aside, it was also 12 months in which my gastronomic horizons were greatly expanded; while I already knew I liked to cook and bake, Bologna gave me a culinary education of sorts, introducing me to a all sorts of new dishes and a whole new way to eat; I learned that the typical Italian breakfast was a cappuccino and a brioche, discovered the delicious convenience of pizza al taglio, and experienced the simple joy of the afternoon gelato break (up to three different flavors allowed in one cone!) I sampled bolognesi specialties like multi-layered and super sumptuous lasagne alla bolognesetortellini in brodo, made with tortellini no bigger than a thumb nail, pistachio-studded mortadella, and the star of today's post: piadina alla romagnola

If you're not familiar, the piadina is a flatbread from the Romagna region of Italy that is cooked on the stove and filled with any ingredients you like, a deliciously blank slate (think of it as Italy's answer to the Mexican tortilla or the American wrap). There was a piadineria not far from the building I took classes in at the University of Bologna, and it was where my (new Italians friends!) and I often had lunch. My usual order was a piadina with stracchino cheese, arugula, and prosciutto, and sometimes, if a class had been particularly long and we all felt we needed a little something extra, we'd all split a sweet piadina filled with Nutella. When I said good bye to Bologna at the end of the year, the piadina was one of the foods that I missed most. 

While I've been able to recreate most of the dishes I learned during my time in Bologna -- lasagne alla bolognese, tigelle, and an Incredible Chocolate Cake  from my favorite bakery -- the seemingly simple piadina had, up until recently, always eluded me. Simple flatbread though it might have been, the piadina was deceptively tricky -- no matter what recipe I used, my attempts resulted in piadine that were tough or chewy or that broke easily once cooked, miles away from the ones I so enjoyed in Bologna. As of a few weeks ago, it was still on my To-Conquer-List (along with perfect poached eggs, the Thanksgiving turkey, and profiteroles, if you were wondering) and I figured that I'd have to wait until my next trip to Bologna for a piadina-fix.

Enter Carla Tomasi! Carla -- a self described cookery teacher/pickler/jammer/baker/preserver/busy body -- is a walking culinary encyclopedia, a complete extraordinaire in the kitchen, and lucky for me, offers cooking classes here in Rome at the gorgeous Latteria Studio in Trastevere. When I saw she was offering a lesson on bread -- specifically, when I saw that she was offering a lesson on bread including piadina -- I signed up right away, ready to tackle the one, seemingly simple recipe that had always escaped me. With Carla's help, I realized that I'd been making a few mistakes over the years -- for example, piadina dough needs to be covered at all times, to prevent it from drying out (the fat in the dough makes it an easy target for this); it needs to be cooked over pretty high heat, and turned consistently; and, interestingly enough, when baking soda (the leavening agent) was left out of the recipe, I found it resulted in much softer, more fold-friendly piadine, unlike the cracker-y ones I'd produced in the past. At the end of the lesson, I triumphantly carried a bag full of piadine home with me, having successfully tackled the beast. Piadina victory was finally mine! 
Or was it?! To truly put myself to the test decided to make piadine at home, no Carla to rescue me (gulp), and I'm happy to report that her spot-on recipe works even when she's not in the kitchen with you (phew!) The below recipe produces piadine that are downright perfect, soft and pliable and polka-dotted, with a slightly salty, buttery flavor, the perfect vehicle for rich prosciutto, peppery arugula, and tangy sharp stracchino -- I was transported back up north to Bologna at the very first bite (there's nothing quite like nostalgic eating). My piadine horizons have been expanded, and the options are endless: a more brunch-y piadina, with scrambled eggs and cheese?! sweet piadina with ricotta and Nutella?! piadina with cicoria and sausages?! After so many years of piadina failure, I have some catching up to do, I think, and Carla Tomasi is to blame.

(More photos from our lesson below!)

A couple of notes from Carla herself: Piadina is a tender and chewy flat bread that used to be the everyday bread of Romagna’s farmers. It was cooked in the hearth on a terracotta slab (called testo) and over coals. Piadine are incredibly easy to make, but I suspect that outside Romagna nobody makes them at home. Piadine- and all manners of wraps- are some of the best selling food lines in supermakets. They freeze well, either cooked or portioned into small discs. They are the perfect partner to all manners of food the likes of salumi, cheeses and best of all sautéed garlicky greens. You do not really need a testo to cook the piadine, just a sturdy pan will do. However if you know how to control the heat any pan will do as long as it is shallow and not a tall saucepan. The pan is hot enough for the piadine when drops of water skip off the surface. They are delicious when just made but also reheats well in a very hot oven or toaster.

A couple of notes from me: If you're in Rome or based in Rome and like to cook, I highly recommend a class with Carla -- you can contact her for more information at cookingwithcarla@virgilio.it. Regarding the piadine, you can quite easily find strutto* (un-glamorous translation: pig fat) in supermarkets in Italy, but if you're based outside Italy might have some trouble finding it. If this is the case, feel free to substitute olive oil, which also makes for a vegetarian-friendly piadina. The dough here is a dream to work with, as long as you keep it covered, and the strutto leaves it shiny and smooth and stick-proof -- no flour needed when you're rolling this out, and no oil needed when you're cooking the piadine in the pan. Finally, I would recommend using a kitchen scale here to be most precise with the ingredients and measuring out the dough, but if you don't have one I've also included cup measurements below.

PIADINA ALLA ROMAGNOLA
(recipe courtesy of Carla Tomasi)

Ingredients:
80 grams (3 ounces) strutto* (see note above) or 6 tablespoons of olive oil
5 tablespoons of whole milk
450 grams (3 1/2 cups) flour, preferably 00 flour 
2 teaspoons of salt
140 grams (about 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon) of lukewarm water

Whatever filling ingredients you'd like; I used prosciutto crudo, stracchino cheese, and arugula (aka rocket).

Directions:
In a medium pan over low heat, melt the lard and then add the milk to the pan. Place the flour in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Drop in the salt, water, and milk/lard mixture, and stir with a wooden spoon to get a dough started, working all the ingredients in to the flour. Once your dough has formed, cover it and let it sit for 10 minutes.
Place the dough on to a clean work surface and knead until shiny, smooth and elastic. Using a kitchen scale and a little basic math, weigh the dough and then split it in 7 equal pieces. Roll the pieces of dough into balls, then cover them well and leave them to rest for 25-30 minutes (this will allow the gluten to relax and it will be very easy to roll them out).
Time to roll out the piadine! Using a rolling pin, roll the pieces out to 20-22 cm in diameter (8 or so inches). Heat up your pan until its nice and hot, then add a piadina and cook it for about 10 seconds and the turn it over. You should see some brown specks. Keep turning the piadina over and prick it with a fork to prevent the it from puffing up. The piadina is ready when it has an opaque, dry surface with a bit of random brown spots. 
Once all your piadine are cooked, fill them with whatever vegetables, meat, or cheeses you'd like, and dig in. As you can see from the below, I went with my favorite flavor combination from my Bologna days -- prosciutto crudo, stracchino cheese, and arugula -- but feel free to experiment with whatever meats, cheeses, and vegetables you'd like. Makes 7 piadine. 









































Overnight Cinnamon Rolls

After nearly 7 years in Rome, I can say with some authority that, as lovely of city that it is, there are a few areas in which it is undoubtedly lacking (no one is perfect, after all). There are the more obvious issues -- public transport isn't the most reliable, and if we're getting really specific here, there is perhaps nothing worse than waiting for a bus on a Sunday (you'll be there a while). There are few things more daunting than a trip to the city hall or bank or post office to attempt any task, as its unlikely that you'll accomplish it (bureaucracy and disorganization abound here). The city isn't the cleanest, and in fact, the dumpster in front of my apartment building is constantly overflowing. And then there are the seemingly more minor but far more personal gripes I have with the city, including this one, which was, up until not long ago, one of my biggest issues with Rome: BRUNCH.

That's right -- a little trash, inconvenience, and disorganization is no big deal compared to The Brunch Problem. You see, while Rome clearly has the whole excellent-meal-thing down pat, it's negata (translation: kind of hopeless) when it comes to brunch, consistently missing the mark. My favorite breakfast-lunch hybrid when served here in Italy is curiously devoid of orange juice, pancakes, french toast, or eggs, consisting instead of distinctly non-brunch dishes -- lasagne, vegetables, meat, pizza -- served buffet-style and eaten a bit earlier than the average lunch (at 12:30 instead of 1:00). I shouldn't complain, I know -- Italian food is so delicious that it would be insulting to do so! -- but all the same, sometimes I really miss a good brunch. Like I said, no one is perfect.

It wasn't until fairly recently, after my umpteenth disappointing brunch that I had an epiphany; if I couldn't go out to brunch, I would just have to bring brunch to me. I'm not sure why it took me so long to arrive at this conclusion -- perhaps I was set on the idea of going out to brunch?! -- but I've found that hosting my own brunches at home is the best solution. It's a bit more time-consuming, sure, but also a lot more fun (as you may or may not have noticed, I do kind of like to cook). This is just what my friend Emily (a talented cook) and I decided to do this past Easter Sunday, and our Pasqua brunch went a little something like this: a savory multi-layered crepe cake filled with mushrooms and goat cheese; eggs baked with artichokes, spinach, and cream, finished off with a lemon-y hollandaise sauce; strawberries with honey; traditional colomba; and, of course, the star of today's post, these cinnamon rolls.

Ahh, cinnamon rolls! There's nothing quite as heavenly as a cinnamon roll eaten warm, fresh out of the oven, and these right here are particularly dreamy, buttery and spicy and sweet all at the same time, beautified with generous dollops of glossy, cinnamon-tinged icing, 100% a joy to eat, down to the very last crumb. And wait, there's more! As the name hints, these can be prepped the night before, left to rise slowly in the fridge, and then baked in the morning, meaning no early wake-up time for you and the guarantee that your whole kitchen, your whole house, and if you're in an apartment like me, the whole floor of your building will smell downright divine as these bake. If making cinnamon rolls from scratch seems intimidating, I beg you to not be deterred; this dough is easy to work with, the filling comes together in a second, and the ingredients are simple, ones you should have on hand. Wherever you live, access to a good brunch or not -- you'll want to give these a try. 
A couple of notes: Tightly wrap the outside of your springform pan in aluminum foil to prevent any potential leaks (I learned this the hard way; some of the cinnamon roll filling seeped out the bottom of the pan). You'll notice that there are 8 buns in the photo instead of the below-mentioned 12; this is because I used some of the dough to make rolls with a Nutella and pistachio filling (see below) and then put the buns in a 9-inch round springform pan, which worked well. If you want to make all cinnamon buns, use the recommended 13x9inch pan below. If you wanted to make the filling a little different, you could also add a little cardamom to the brown sugar/cinnamon mixture. Finally, don't leave the icing out here -- I tasted the rolls before and after the icing, and without it, they a little plain, and transform completely when you add the icing -- it really brings the whole thing together.

Looking for other homemade bread recipes? I've got this pizza bianca, this rosemary focaccia, and these maritozzi, plus this challah bread and these bagels, and these tigelle. Looking for other breakfast that toe the line between dessert and first meal of the day? I've got these raspberry and ricotta scones, this ricotta pound cake, this peanut butter banana bread, these banana pecan waffles, this chocolate loaf cake, and this white chocolate blueberry cake.

OVERNIGHT CINNAMON ROLLS
(recipe adapted from Alton Brown's recipe on Food Network)

Ingredients for dough:
1 cup (240 mL) whole milk
6 tablespoons (84 grams) unsalted butter
2 1/4 teaspoons (.25 ounce or 7 grams) yeast
1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
3 eggs
4 1/2 cups (585 grams) flour
1 teaspoon salt

Ingredients for the ingredients:
1 cup (220 grams) dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons (28 grams) butter, melted

Ingredients for the icing:
1 cup (125 grams) powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
A dash or two of cinnamon

Directions:
In a medium saucepan heat the milk over low heat until bubbles form; add the butter and whisk until the butter is melted. Pour the milk and butter mixture in to a bowl and let the milk cool slightly. Stir in the yeast and let it dissolve. Let sit for 5 minutes.
Whisk the sugar in to the milk and yeast mixture, and then whisk in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in 3 cups of the flour until a dough starts to form, and then add the rest of the flour 1/2 cup at a time. Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured surface and knead, adding a little more flour if the dough is sticky, until the dough is shiny and smooth, about 8 minutes. Put the dough in a bowl covered with a tea towel and let rise in a warm place for an hour.

Once the hour is up, take the dough out of the bowl and punch it down. On a lightly floured work surface, and then roll out in to a 10x14 inch rectangle. If you'd like, use a knife to trim the dough to make the rectangle neater, keeping the scraps to re-roll and repeat.
Stir together the brown sugar and cinnamon. Brush the dough rectangle with melted butter, and sprinkle with the brown sugar filling, leaving a border around the dough. Roll the dough up tightly around the filling. Cut the dough in to 12 equal pieces. Note that at this point I used the dough scraps mentioned above/some of the dough from the rectangle to make Nutella/pistachio buns, which I highly recommend.
Place the rolls in a 13x9 inch buttered pan, side by side, or a 9-inch springform pan, where you'll fit about 8 (see notes above). Cover them with plastic wrap and place in the fridge over night. The next morning, when you're ready to bake, let the rolls come to room temperature for 30 minutes. 
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool slightly. 
While the rolls are cooling, whisk together the glaze ingredients. Glaze the cinnamon rolls and enjoy immediately. Makes 12 rolls.