Holiday Baking has Begun!

I don’t consider myself a baker, using exact measurements is a difficult thing for me to do, as regular readers of my blog well know, but there are certain things I must bake every holiday season and one thing is Italian fig cookies or Cucidati, they’re truly a family favorite.
I’ve posted them a few times before but since my blog chronicles my life in food I thought I’d share some recent pic’s of the day we made them. I say “we” because I never make them alone, always with family, we make a day of it, we start early, I usually always make a pot of soup or chili to eat for lunch because we go way beyond lunch time!

I have a big dining room table, I clear everything off and cover it with wax paper, after they cool on racks they get placed there waiting to be frosted.

There were four of us, we ended up making a little over 400, we started at 9:00am and ended at 4pm, not bad! We each took 100 plus for ourselves.
We started off drinking coffee as we worked.
But as the day went on we were sipping this! Have you tried? Dumante, it’s a pistachio liqueur, luxurious, smooth and might I add, it went very well with our cucidati taste testing!
I love it so much I made a zabaione with it a couple of days later, a light boozy custard usually made with marsala wine, but I replaced it with Dumante Verdenoce.
Here’s how you make it in case you happen to pick up a bottle.
1/4 cup of Dumante** 1/4 cup granulated sugar** 1/4 cup heavy cream** 3 egg yolks**
Set up a pan of simmering water** place a heat safe bowl on top of the water filled with all the ingredients** whisk the mixture continuously over simmering water, not boiling.** cook until you get a consistency of a thin pudding with the internal temp of 145 degrees** remove and continue whisking until you reach room temperature** if it’s too thick add cream or water.**
I make the same recipe every year for the fig cookies, it’s so similar to my mother-in laws except butter is replaced for the Crisco that she always used, here’s the link.
We never made them in the form of X’s but rather like above. You can change up the nuts, sometimes I use walnuts instead, and in place of orange peels I find a good orange marmalade to work wonderfully, you could also replace whiskey for the rum. As I mentioned before we never put chocolate in ours but it’s optional.
We always glaze them by using confectioners sugar mixed with water or milk, vanilla, and sometimes a little anise extract. Non- perils for sprinkling.
Happy Holiday Baking!


Almond Crepes, Pan Roasted Strawberries and Amaretto Sabayon

First of all before I go on, I must disclose that I didn’t make the fabulous dish featured above, but I can assure you that I soon will! This dish was created by a local here, Chef Paul Virant of Vie. Chef Paul took part in the Chicago Cadillac Culinary Challenge last week along with,

Chef Martial Noguier of Cafe des Architectes.

Two local Chefs in a friendly competition using strawberries as the key ingredient in their recipe creations.

The event was sponsored both by Bon Appetit magazine and Cadillac and I was fortunate enough to be invited and to be one of the judges of the challenge, thanks to my friend Courtney of Coco Cooks.
To kick off our day we were treated to a wonderful lunch at Braxton Seafood Grill along with other media, the Chefs, representatives of Cadillac and our hostess Mary Nolan of Food Networks Chic and Easy. It was fun and informative to be able to visit and speak with them on a casual basis.
Courtney and I both chose the grilled seafood platter for lunch consisting of shrimp, scallops, salmon and a crab cake. A decadent chocolate truffle cake was our dessert.Judging the challenge was difficult because each Chef went a different direction, one decided to do a dessert and the other a savoury dish. Above is Chef Noguier’s, Peekytoe Crab Salad with Strawberry, Rhubarb, Pickled Turnip and Radish. What I loved about his dish was his use of lemon confit, it really made all the flavors pop!

But in the end it was Chef Virant’s dish that blew everyone away! For me it was the amaretto that he put in the sabayon, also known as zabaione in Italian, which is a very smooth and light whipped custard that usually is made with Marsala wine. The strawberries and all the almond flavors were a match made in heaven!
We ended our day by getting to test drive Cadillac’s 2010 SRX.
Here’s the fabulous winning recipe!

Almond Crepes, Pan Roasted Strawberries, Amaretto Sabayon
4 Servings

Sweet Almond Crepe

9 ounces milk
1 ounce sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 ounces butter
1 ounce almond flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
2 ounces all purpose flour
Combine milk, sugar, extract, butter, almond flour and salt in a saucepan. Heat until the butter melts.
In a mixing bowl combine eggs, all purpose flour and mix well. Carefully pour the hot milk mixture
into the egg mixture, mix well. Allow batter to rest for an hour. Cook 2 ounces of crepe batter at a
time in a 10 inch skillet. Set aside.

Amaretto Sabayon

4 egg yolks
1⁄4 cup sugar
1⁄4 cup amaretto
1⁄4 cup + 2 tablespoon heavy cream
Combine yolks, sugar and amaretto in a mixing bowl. Cook over a simmering water bath, whisking
constantly, until the mixture is thick. Set aside to cool. While the base cools, whip the heavy cream to
soft peaks. Fold into chilled base and set aside.

Pan Roasted Strawberries

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon sugar
1⁄2 pound strawberries, washed, hulled
and quartered
1 tablespoon amaretto
Salt to taste
Heat a large saute pan and add butter. When the butter melts, add the sugar and strawberries. Cook for
1 minute on high heat, deglaze with amaretto, season with salt and set aside.
To Finish
Preheat an oven to 350F. Divide the strawberries onto 8 crepes, fold them in half and heat in the oven
until warm. Place two crepes on each plate, dust with powdered sugar, spoon sabayon over and serve.

The garnish was sugared marcona almonds.

I hope you give this a try, I’m still dreaming about how good it was!