The recipes by Andrea Valentinetti, Nicola Olivieri, Paolo and Andrea Sacchetti, and Andrea Leali
In Italy, as in many Countries, spring (and the Easter and Passover holidays just passed) generates a variety of seasonal cakes, cookies and breads, but with pasticcerias closed because of the panedmic, baking has returned to the home kitchen big time. So what are Italy’s top pastry maestros turning out as they quarantine a casa? In many instances they’re choosing sweets with personal resonance, culled from family and historic recipes, along with pastries long associated with their regions. Here’s what these noted chefs, who provided the recipes below, are baking now.
One of Italy’s closely watched young culinary talents, Andrea Valentinetti, chef and owner of the restaurant Radici, located in a gracious 19th-century villa in Padua, says he strongly believes in “letting nature dictate what we eat. My menu at the restaurant and my shopping at home is always guided by the seasons.” Valentinetti proposed this apricot tart as “a lovely way to close your Easter meal”. But it is also ideal for the upcoming days of heat. Apricots and lemons are at their best in April [in Italy]. “If you make the cake a day or two in advance before serving, the flavors develop beautifully”, explained the chef.
Pasta frolla al limone (pastry dough with lemon)
360 grams cake flour
Zest from 2 lemons
105 grams powdered sugar
30 grams almond flour (you can make this by tossing almonds into your food processor and processing them until finely ground)
150 grams unsalted butter, softened
1 egg yolk
Place flour, lemon zest and, powdered sugar and ground almonds in a bowl and lightly mix. Add the softened butter and lightly work it into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture looks like rough breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and gently mix the dough. Pat it into a round shape, cover, and let it rest in the refrigerator for 3 hours.
Almond pastry cream
60 grams unsalted butter, softened
65 grams sugar
5 grams rum
1 large whole egg
60 grams almond flour
5 fresh apricots, quartered
In a standing mixer with the paddle attached on medium speed, cream the softened butter with the sugar and the almond flour/ground almonds. Beat the egg. Drizzle the egg into the mixture in a steady stream. Add the rum.
Take the pasta frolla out of the refrigerator at least 5 minutes before you need to roll it out. Lightly flour your worktop and roll the pastry out to fit a 20-25 cm tart tin with a false bottom. (Also consider using a metal tray under the tart tin for additional support and to moderate heat and prevent scorching.) Make sure to line the tart tin well with the pastry and trim the edges. Spoon the almond cream on top of the pastry to come halfway up to the pastry edges and level the surface with a spatula. Toss the sliced apricots in the lemon juice. Arrange in a fan shape on top of the pastry cream,
Bake at 150° C for 25-30 minutes. Let the cake cool. Heat the apricot jam until slightly melting and glaze the cake. Top with powdered sugar and slivered almonds.
Since the late 19th century, Olivieri 1882 has been producing highly regarded baked goods in Arzignano, a small town near Vicenza. “Our bakery is a sixth-generation business opened in 1882 by my ancestor, Luigi Olivieri,” says Nicola Olivieri, co-owner and baking wizard at the company, which has gained renown for its panettones and colombas (Easter cake). Last year Gambero Rosso, the influential Italian culinary publisher, cited Olivieri for producing the best artisanal colombas in Italy. As for the brioche Veneziana included below, Olivieri says, “it’s both a family recipe and classic baking recipe of our region, Veneto, one that has been a signature of our business for decades. Brioche Veneziana is typically eaten for breakfast. I’ve been preparing them for my family in lockdown—a sweet distraction in a confusing time.”
Brioche Veneziana (makes 10)
250 grams stone-ground or All Purpose flour
2 large eggs
30 grams milk
60 grams sugar
4 grams salt
12 grams fresh yeast or 6 grams dry yeast
125 grams butter
Lemon zest (a few generous gratings)
Orange zest (a few generous gratings)
Seeds from half a fresh scraped vanilla bean pod (preferable) or 1 tsp. vanilla extract
Leave the butter out for two hours at room temperature prior to use.
In your standing mixer or by hand, knead together the flour and eggs, slowly drizzling in the milk. Add the sugar, salt and yeast and continue to knead with the dough hook. When the dough is smooth, add the butter, orange and lemon zest, and the vanilla bean seeds. Let the dough rest for two hours covered with a clean cloth or dish towel. Form the dough into 50-gram balls and let them rise at room temperature for 8-10 hours, until completely risen. Fill the buns with the pastry cream (see recipe below) using a pastry bag. Heat the oven to 165° C and cook for 15 minutes until golden.
500 grams whole milk
Zest of half a lemon
Zest of half an orange
Seeds from 1 fresh scraped vanilla bean pod (preferable) or 1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 egg yolks
2 large eggs
150 grams granulated sugar
45 grams corn starch
50 grams unsalted butter
Bring the milk to a boil with the 25 grams of sugar, lemon zest, orange zest and vanilla. Whisk the yolks and eggs with the remaining sugar and corn starch in a separate bowl. Remove boiling milk from the heat. Pour the whisked egg combination into the boiling milk mixture in a steady stream, mixing vigorously, and cook until you have a thick, creamy consistency. Take off the heat and whisk in the butter until completely melted and cover with clear film to prevent “skin” from forming. Let cool.
Pasticceria Nuovo Mondo, headed by Paolo Sacchetti and son Andrea, turns up regularly on lists of Italy’s best pastry shops. Based in the Tuscan town of Prato, this pasticceria is revered among sweets’ lovers for its irresistible cakes and pastries made with fine seasonal and regional ingredients.
The Sacchettis chose this recipe because the biscotti are “popular in Florence and in Prato and made during Lent, specifically from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday,” says Paolo Sacchetti. The stories of how these cookies came into being are varied. One version, according to Sacchetti, attributes them to a convent in Prato in the 1880s, where the Mother Superior, touched by the plight of hungry local children, created the biscotti but without butter or egg yolks to respect the Lenten fasting rules of the time.
These cookies could be a good alternative to the recipes with butter and eggs!
Biscotti Quaresimali “Lenten Cookies” (makes approximately two baking sheets’ worth of cookies)
25 grams cocoa powder
40 grams almonds
40 grams hazelnuts
300 grams sugar
90-95 grams egg whites
In a food processor grind the almonds, hazelnuts, sugar and cocoa powder until it’s a fine powder. Make sure to blend in intervals. If you blend everything together continuously there’s the risk that the blades will heat up and the hazelnuts and almonds might become oily. Next, add the raw egg whites to the powder and stir with a wooden spoon until smooth. Heat in a double boiler for about 5-6 minutes on medium heat, stirring occasionally (this will give the cookies a nice shine). When no longer hot but tepid, put the dough in a pastry bag with a 3mm nozzle and pipe alphabet letters on buttered baking sheets. Let them rest for 5-6 hours until they form a bit of crust on top. Bake at 165° C for 7-8 minutes. In the last two minutes of baking, open the oven door and prop it open 2 inches using a heat-proof implement. When finished, cookie texture should be crunchy/crisp.
“This recipe is one of our signatures at Casa Leali and draws its inspiration from the citrus that grows around Lake Garda where our restaurant is found,” says Andrea Leali, designated Italy’s Emerging Chef of the Year in 2018 by Gambero Rosso. “This is an homage to our beloved land,” says Leali, whose restaurant in Puegnano del Garda is renowned for the fresh and innovative interpretations it gives to Gardesana cuisine. This torta, which was developed with pastry chef Sara Leali, uses oranges, lemons and olive oil from the region. It can be eaten for breakfast, or as a dessert “al piatto,” that is plated for an after-dinner sweets course, says Leali.
Torta Gardesana (makes 10 small cakes)
80 grams whipping cream
8 egg yolks
230 grams sugar
500 grams all-purpose flour
6 grams fast-action dry yeast
230 grams unsalted butter at room temperature
Seeds from a vanilla bean
Zest from a lemon
Zest from an orange
10 grams extra virgin olive oil
To brush on the buns before baking:
1 egg yolk mixed with 3 tablespoons whipping cream
2 tablespoons Demerara or pearl sugar
Place the whipping cream, egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and gently mix the ingredients together. Do not use a whisk or the cream will harden.
Place the flour and yeast in the bowl of a free-standing mixer, with the hook attachment on. Stir the flour and yeast a couple of times and then turn the mixer on to medium speed. Trickle in the yolks, cream and sugar mixture, with the mixer still on medium speed. While this is happening, cream the soft butter with the vanilla bean seeds, citrus zest and the olive oil. Divide the butter mixture into three parts and set aside. When the dough easily leaves the sides of the bowl, proceed to the next stage of kneading. Increase the speed of the mixer one notch and add the first portion of the creamed butter mix. Keep going until the mixture has been incorporated into the dough and then until all the mixture has been added.
Scrape the dough out of the bowl, gently pat into a ball and place into a mixing bowl. Cover (with a double layer of cling film) and leave to rest in a cool spot for 2 hours. Put the bowl with the dough in the refrigerator overnight.
The day after, place the dough on a lightly floured worktop, gently knead it and split into 100-gram pieces. Shape the pieces and place into greased molds. (Leali says greaed muffin or cupcake tins are fine as a replacement, but don’t put more than 100 grams of dough per cup in the tin so that the mixture doesn’t overflow when cooking.) Let rise until well doubled up, brush the top with the yolk and cream mix, sprinkle some sugar on and bake at 175° for 10 minutes. Once cooled, fill with crème Chantilly or whipped cream.