Torta della Nonna brings together the best Italian sweets recipes from Emiko Davies’ books, Florentine, Acquacotta, and Tortellini at Midnight, plus five brand new recipes.
Across eight chapters, this stunning collection features classic well-known recipes, as well as family recipes passed from generation to generation.
Recipes include sweet Italian breakfasts (including Lemon and ricotta cake, Italian brioche croissants, and Little custard and quince jam pies); classic treats from nonna’s oven (Hazelnut cake, Chocolate and amaretti flan, Stuffed peaches); snacks (Rosemary and sultana buns, Sweet breadsticks, Strawberries and wine); biscuits (Red crown biscuits, Almond biscotti, Polenta biscuits); recipes for celebrations (Florentine cake; Honey and nut pastries; Chocolate-filled sponge roll); treats to eat with a spoon (Baked rice pudding; Coffee-laced ricotta; Zuppa Inglese); frozen treats (Milk gelato; Plum sorbet; Gianduia semifreddo); and five essentials any Italian cook needs up their sleeve.
Full of beautiful photographs, all shot in Italy, and Emiko’s evocative words, Torta della Nonna will bring the sweet tastes and romance of Italy into your home.
Italian Brioche Croissants
Think of cornetti as Italian croissants but with a difference. They’re less buttery (and therefore somewhat less flaky), more brioche-like (thanks to the addition of eggs) and, most importantly, they are always sweet, with a distinct citrus perfume. They’re a staple of the Florentine bar counter or pastry shop and probably the most popular breakfast choice. You can find cornetti of all types: plain, wholewheat, dusted with icing sugar, shiny with sugar syrup, marbled with chocolate, or with a variety of fillings from jam to pastry cream to honey. Many pasticcerie will offer a selection of mignon pastries—that is, dainty half-sized ones if you only want a small bite to eat.
This recipe, which is inspired partly by Paoletta Sersante’s popular blog, Anice & Cannella, partly by Carol Field’s method in The Italian Baker and partly by my own preferences, will give you small, mignon cornetti vuoti (or ‘empty’ cornetti) with a bit of shine from a lick of sugar syrup and some crunch from raw sugar. Once you’ve perfected these, you may like to try filling them by placing a teaspoon of your favourite jam (for example, see page 23) or other filling, such as Pastry cream (see page 16), on the widest part of the dough before rolling them.
While it looks like a lot of work, making cornetti is easier than it seems, mostly involving resting time to make this elastic dough easier to work with, and just a bit of rolling and folding in between. One piece of advice: it is best to work in a cool environment so that the butter doesn’t get too soft, so resist the urge to make cornetti on a hot day. An ingenious tip I got from a pastry chef: if you have a warm kitchen, cover the work surface where you will be rolling your cornetti dough with a baking tray topped with ice or bags of frozen peas, and leave for a while to chill.
I like to make these over two or three days—it seems like a long time but it is very low maintenance this way and will easily fit around a work schedule. By the morning of the last day, which simply consists of shaping the cornetti and letting them rise before baking, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best pastries you’ll ever taste.
Makes about 20 small pastries
20 g (3⁄4 oz) fresh yeast, or 7 g (1⁄4 oz/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast
150 ml (5 fl oz) lukewarm water
75 g (23⁄4 oz) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
50 g (13⁄4 oz) sugar
500 g (1 lb 2 oz/4 cups) strong (bread) flour (see note)
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon salt
250 g (9 oz) well-chilled unsalted butter (for the ‘butter block’; see note)
1 egg, beaten
raw (turbinado) sugar, for sprinkling (optional)
45 g (11⁄2 oz/3 tablespoons) sugar
3 tablespoons water
To prepare the dough, stir the yeast into the lukewarm water in a large bowl until dissolved. In a separate bowl, beat the soft butter into the sugar, add the eggs, then pour this into the yeast mixture and combine.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, zest and salt. Stir the dry mixture bit by bit into the wet ingredients until the dough comes together (towards the end you may have to use your hands if not using a mixer).
Knead lightly on a floured work surface for 1 minute, or until the dough is smooth. Be careful not to over-knead or you will introduce too much elasticity. Put the dough into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let it rise for 1–1½ hours, or until doubled in size. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead a few times on a lightly floured surface to expel the air, then flatten into a disc. Double wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4–6 hours or overnight.
For the butter block, remove the well-chilled butter from the fridge 30 minutes before you need to use it. Place the butter between two sheets of baking paper and bash with a rolling pin until malleable but still cold, then shape it into a square roughly 12.5 cm (5 in) wide.
Roll out the dough to a rough square approximately 23 cm (9 in) wide and 1.5 cm (½ in) thick and place the butter in the centre of the dough at 45 degrees to its edges, so that the corners of the dough can fold perfectly over the edges of the butter block to enclose it like an envelope. Pinch and seal the dough well so that no butter escapes during rolling.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll this dough package forwards and backwards to create a long rectangle about 8 mm (¼ in) thick—the shortest side will be closest to you.
The next series of steps are known as ‘turns’ and consist of folding the rolled-out dough into thirds, turning the dough and rolling and folding again. If at any time it begins to get too difficult to roll the dough or the butter seems too soft, let the dough rest in the fridge for a short time, then try again.
For the first set of turns, fold the rectangle into thirds like a business letter: with the shortest side still closest to you, fold the top third down and the bottom third up. Turn the dough 90 degrees to the right (it should look like a book with the ‘spine’ to the left) and repeat: roll out the dough to a long rectangle 8 mm (¼ in) thick, then fold into thirds. Wrap the dough well in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour.
For the second and third pair of turns, repeat exactly as for the first set but after the third pair of turns, double-wrap the dough (so it does not explode out of the wrap as it gets the urge to rise!) and rest in the fridge for 4 hours or overnight, weighed down with a board or a plate
and a few cans of beans or similar on top.
To shape the cornetti, cut the dough into two even pieces. Keep one piece under a tea towel (dish towel), chilling in the fridge. On a floured work surface, roll out the other piece of dough into a rectangle about 20 cm (8 in) wide on one side and no more than 8 mm (¼ in) thick. With a very sharp knife or a pizza cutter, cut into two 10 cm (4 in) long strips, then cut each strip into even triangles with a base width of about 12 cm (4½ in). Trim any uneven edges with a knife. Dust lightly with flour if the dough begins to stick. Repeat with the rest of the dough and place unused pieces under a tea towel (dish towel) or loosely cover with plastic wrap to stop the dough from drying out while you shape the cornetti.
Position a triangle with the base towards you and very gently flatten and stretch the dough. To avoid ripping, pull from the centre outwards, not from the tips. Pull the top of the triangle up and stretch the base out wide towards the sides—you should be able to stretch the triangle to about double the height and to at least 17 cm (7 in) wide.
Once stretched, hold the tip of the triangle with one hand, and with the other roll up from the base to the top, keeping the tip stretched as you go. Tuck the tip underneath the cornetto, facing you. On a baking tray lined with baking paper, place the cornetti about 5 cm (2 in) apart to make room for rising (it is very difficult to move them after they have risen) and pull the ends into a crescent shape, bringing them together in front. Repeat with the rest of the dough.
Loosely cover the pastries with plastic wrap or a tea towel (dish towel) and let them rise in a warm place until doubled, about 2–3 hours.
Preheat the oven to 220°C (430°F). When ready to bake, brush the cornetti delicately with the beaten egg.
Prepare the sugar syrup. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to the boil over a low–medium heat to dissolve the sugar. Set aside.
Put the pastries in the hot oven, then immediately reduce the heat to 200°C (400°F) and bake for 7–10 minutes, or until the cornetti are golden brown. Reduce further to 180°C (350°F) and continue baking until puffed and evenly browned, another 8 minutes or so. If the cornetti are darkening too quickly in the oven, remove them immediately and turn down heat or put them on a lower shelf. Once cooked, remove from the oven and place gently on a cooling rack.
Brush the cornetti with the sugar syrup while they are still warm. If desired, sprinkle some raw sugar over the top immediately after brushing with sugar syrup for a bit of crunch.
It’s best to use a flour that will give the dough some strength (something with
a protein content of about 12%) for successful stretching and shaping of the cornetti, so strong (bread) flour is ideal. In Italy it’s common to use a combination of half Manitoba (strong) flour, which can have a protein content of 15–18%, and half ‘00’ flour. If using only a weaker flour, such as plain (all-purpose) flour, you will risk the dough ripping when it comes to shaping or even rising. If you’re not sure how strong your flour is, check on the nutrition label on the back of the packet and you should find the protein content.
In Italy, butter is unsalted and is very pale, sweet and creamy. If you can, try to use a cultured butter (also known as European-style butter). The difference is that it has a slightly higher fat content, which means it is more pliable (it won’t crack when rolled, which can ruin all your hard work), and will create good flaky layers. Cultured butter also has a more complex flavour—all things that lead to better cornetti.
If you want to freeze any of the cornetti, do so directly after shaping. Freeze them on the baking tray covered in plastic wrap – when they’re solid you can transfer them to freezer bags. To bake, place the frozen cornetti on a lined baking tray and thaw in the fridge overnight. The next day, let them rise in a warm place for 2 hours, or until doubled. Bake as described in the recipe.
Recipe reprinted with permission from Hardie Grant Books.