Blog - baking
Cavallucci are traditional, rustic biscotti (cookies) that date back to 16th century Tuscany. They are now frequently given as gifts during special occasions or holidays. They are especially beloved during the Christmas holiday season.
According to some really old Tuscan cookbooks, their name seems to stem from the cavalli (horses) used for delivering the mail. It is believed that the postal workers who substituted the tired horses with new horses ate the cookies on a regular basis…presumably as a snack. At one time, the shape of a horse was stamped on the surface of the cookies, but that is rarely seen these days.
The cookies are traditionally round and fairly large with an irregular shape. Original versions were made using only flour, a little sugar, anise seeds and a couple of walnuts. Modern day versions are now made with acacia honey and sugar slowly melted over low heat, then mixed with flour, chopped walnuts and hazelnuts, minced candied citron and orange, some spices (anise seeds, nutmeg, coriander powder) and a pinch of baking soda to lighten the dough. Once cooled, the dough is rolled into long logs and divided into pieces before being baked for about twenty minutes.
There is another version coming from the seaside village Grosseto, which tend to be a bit larger and softer than most other Cavallucci. They tend to have almonds, coriander seeds, nutmeg and cinnamon…which do seem perfect for Christmas.
Cavallucci are simple to make…and are always completely dairy-free! A bonus to me and a real treat for my sweet tooth!
Strudel desserts are perfect during cool fall evenings because they really highlight the fruit inside. I like to think of a strudel as a rolled up pie – much the same as a calzone is basically a rolled up pizza. The classic recipe, of course, is apple strudel which is very difficult to beat in terms of overwhelming satisfaction. But I like to tinker a bit, so I added some pears or green figs to the recipe…you know, just to be a bit different. Sometimes I even feel a bit more bold and replace the traditional roasted hazelnuts with walnuts.
However I decide to make the filling, I always make sure to make the dough in the same manner which is more in the Austrian style.
Austrian-style strudels are typically a bit smaller in diameter than their German or Hungarian counterparts…and the dough is much crispier – somewhat reminiscent to phyllo dough. German-style strudels are typically made from a dough similar to puff pastry, while Austrian strudels are made with essentially a pasta dough which has vinegar added to it. The addition of vinegar to the dough is very important…if not a bit odd sounding at first. Vinegar will help the formation of a very elastic gluten network, which helps greatly when stretching out this dough to a paper thin consistency. I always use a mild flavored white wine vinegar in my strudel dough.
Most traditional recipes include copious amounts of butter – both inside the filling and as part of the dough. I personally think the butter covers up the wonderful fruit and spice flavors, so I replace it with oil…plus, I don’t eat any dairy products.
Traditional soda bread recipes should only contain flour, baking soda, salt and sour milk – that’s it! I have seen many recipes that a fat or raisins in the ingredients, but this is actually considered an entirely different recipe called ‘spotted dog’.
Soda bread will often turn out rather heavy, with a gummy texture when using the simple ingredients. I find the interior of the bread becomes more flaky and the crust a bit harder when adding about 20 gr. of olive oil. The added fat will shorten the gluten a bit, which can also be achieved using butter. But, olive oil also hardens the crust during the baking process and butter just creates the flakiness inside.
You can also make this recipe lactose-free by replacing the buttermilk with a mixture of: 180 gr. soy yogurt, 220 gr. rice milk, 5 gr. cream of tartar and 1 Tbl. lemon juice oil).
This recipe makes one large round loaf.
If you are a fan of Moroccan cuisine like I am, then you have no doubt come across the iconic version of bisteeya, which is traditionally made with chicken or pigeon. The dish is customarily served as a first course offering. It is always eaten with your hands…which is already appealing to me. It is also always consumed hot – just hot enough to slightly irritate your fingertips. Paula Wolfert, in her classic book Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco, described the eating experience like this: “To enjoy [bisteeya] Moroccan style, plunge into the burning pastry with the thumb and first two fingers of your right hand and tear out a piece as large or as small as you want. You will burn your fingers, of course, but you will have a lot of fun and the pain will be justified by the taste!”
Now that’s a piece of descriptive food writing which makes you want to jump in and try a bisteeya!
I will freely admit having a real weakness for a good cookie…and a well-executed chocolate chip cookie rises to the top of my list of foods I crave but wish I didn’t.
I was eventually faced with an important decision after giving up consumption of all dairy products more than three years ago…either give up chocolate chip cookies or figure out how to make them without dairy. My ultimate decision is the following recipe for Chocolate Chip Olive Oil Cookies.
This dairy-free version of chocolate chip cookies comes very close to everyone’s favorite original tollhouse recipe. They should end up chewy and oozing with chocolate…an ultimate treat for all cookie aficionados! After some experimentation, I finalized the ingredient list which included a few surprises. I decided to use both baking powder and baking soda in the recipe to create a nice rise in the batter as the cookies baked. This was ultimately important because I eliminated the use of whole eggs. Originally, I wanted to make a completely vegan version…which I did accomplish. I just felt the addition of a slightly whisked egg white added a tremendous amount of structure to the final product…and without adding any additional fat (the completely vegan version eliminates the use of the egg white and adds 30 gr. of egg replacer, which is essentially guar gum, starch and a binder).
So, back to the recipe and the use of olive oil. I really enjoy baking with olive oil as I believe the final product is much cleaner in taste…allowing one to enjoy all of the ingredients rather than having their flavors muted by the overwhelming flavor of butter. I like that. But, using olive oil in recipes which call for creaming flour and fat became an issue because the mix always leaked fat and never really became homogeneous. I finally added a bit of arrowroot to help bind the mix in the final product…but more importantly, I simply changed the method. Instead of creaming the fat and flour together, I just treated the fat (olive oil) as a liquid ingredient and mixed it together like one would do in making muffins. I worked fine for me…
Finally, I used the half banana as part of my egg replacer. I was worried about this ingredient at first because I thought the flavor would become too prevalent in the cookie, but in the end, the marriage of flavors actually worked to an advantage and I was thrilled with the result.
Baking a cake with olive oil? I know, this does sound strange at first to many who are used to baking with traditional fats (think butter), but the result with olive oil is a very light tasting product resembling a sponge cake. The absence of butter allows the other flavors to become more prevalent making this cake a truly delicious and fresh-tasting revelation.
Any fat acts as a shortening in baking, because it ‘shortens’ gluten strands and tenderizes the product. Most professional bakers use shortenings made from vegetable oils. The liquid fats are made solid during the manufacturing process and the fats become hydrogenated…and these types of fats are not very health-friendly. Hydrogenated fats are mostly used because of cost considerations. They are far less expensive than butter, and they will create products with a longer shelf life. Good for the manufacturer…bad for the consumer.
Most hydrogenated shortenings are intentionally flavorless and leave an unpleasant coating in the mouth. Fresh butter on the other hand has a highly desirable flavor and melts nicely in the mouth. Butter does cost more than hydrogenated fats and has less shelf life. But for the home baker, these factors seldom come into play.
So why change fats now? Well, my two reasons are really quite simple. I think olive oil is a healthier fat alternative and I like the way olive oil performs in baking vs. butter. Butter makes such a big impression in the final product; it simply selfishly takes over and will not allow the other flavors to be recognized.
When I came across a version of olive oil cake some years ago from Marcella Hazan’s classic book on Italian cooking, well I knew I needed to experiment and try out the cake. It was stunning and I was immediately convinced on the merits of baking with olive oil.
Zopf has always been one of my favorite breads – especially fresh out of the oven and slathered with jam on a lazy Sunday morning. Traditional zopf, though, has quite a lot of butter and milk…not good for those watching their health or waistline. So, we came up with this method as an experiment to see if we could substitute the butter with olive oil and create something similar to a traditional zopf. We already knew substituting rice milk for the milk in the original recipe would be no problem, and just to keep things challenging and vegan, we came up with a vegan egg wash (combine 35 gr. water with 1 tsp. malt, 1 tsp. corn flour and 15 gr. olive oil).
The result was astonishing. We simply couldn’t believe how good the experiment went and proceeded to consume the entire loaf. To ensure the recipe works consistently, we went ahead and made the zopf again the next day…you know, just to see if we could produce the same high quality bread a second time or if we were the benefactors of beginners luck.
Fortunately, the recipe worked a second time and we are once again enjoying zopf at home – but without the animal fats!
Braiding of the zopf is simple – once you get the hang of it. We have a nice video in our original zopf recipe posted in our blog. Follow this URL: /blog/How-to-Make-Zopf/
Olive Oil Zopf
Makes about 3 loaves of 500 gr. each
1 kg. zopf flour
30 gr. fresh yeast
1 Tbl. sugar
1 Tbl. salt
5,5 dl rice milk
145 gr. olive oil
egg wash or vegan egg wash
Mix the flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Dissolve the yeast with the rice milk, then add this to the flour by creating a well in the middle of the flour and pouring in the yeast mixture. Leave for about 10-15 minutes to let the yeast come to life. Once the yeast is foamy, add the rice milk and olive oil then mix together to form a dough. Knead for about 5-7 minutes. The dough should be a bit sticky, so add some flour when it sticks too much to your surface. The dough is right when it’s still sticky, but not sticking to your hands. Put the dough in a bowl, lightly cover with a towel and allow it to double in size – about an hour. Form one large zopf, or 3-4 smaller loaves. Allow the formed bread to proof for 20 minutes, then coat with an egg wash (or vegan egg wash). Add poppy seeds to the bread and bake at 200° C (with fan) for 30-40 minutes (bake for 20 minutes if you would like to freeze the bread). Cool before slicing.