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October 2008 COTM Batali: Desserts, Cheese & Drinks

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October 2008 Cookbooks of the Month:

Mario Batali’s Babbo, Molto Italiano, and Simple Italian Cooking.

Please post your full-length reviews of dessert, cheese and drink recipes here. Please mention the name of the recipe you are reviewing and the book and page number, if possible, as well as any modifications you made to the recipe.

A reminder that the verbatim copying of recipes to the boards is a violation of the copyright of the original author. Posts with copied recipes will be removed.

Thanks for participating!

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  1. Lemon sponge cake with pear marmalade, "Molto Italiano" p. 465.
    I had planned a whole "Molto Italiano" menu, and dessert was originally going to be peaches in primitivo, using the last of the local peaches. But then I found out that it was the birthday of one of my guests. I love peaches in wine, but it would be difficult to put birthday candles in a serving of peaches in wine. I needed a cake. "Molto Italiano" doesn't have any recipes for American-style birthday cakes loaded with icing. I decided to try this recipe since it was at least a layer cake, which seemed festive.
    It's an olive oil cake with lots of lemon zest and a restrained amount of sugar. Mario says it's the type of cake that is typically eaten in the late afternoon when Nonna might have a slice with an aperetivo. So I knew it might not be as sweet or moist as most cakes I would serve for dessert. But I was intrigued by the pear marmalade, which is the filling between the layers. You cook unripe pears with sugar and then add ground black pepper. I decided to serve it with ice cream to make it more birthday-ish. I made toasted almond gelato, which wasn't a Batali recipe but was from "Dolce Italiano." That's by the pastry chef at Babbo, so it's all in the family. The gelato was very good and easy, by the way.
    The cake was good, but as I feared, a bit dry. And I don't think I baked it too long, I think it's just kind of a dry cake. On the plus side, the pear marmalade was good. The pepper was not at all overpowering. I'm just not sure I'd make this cake again _ not when there are so many cake recipes out there.
    I wrapped the uneaten portion and put it in the freezer. My mother is coming to visit over the holidays and I'll take it out then. She's a nonna, after all. And she does get hungry in the late afternoon.

    1. My dessert contributions to the Phoenix 'hound Batali Potluck generously hosted by Rubee and her husband (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5615... ) were the Chocolate-Hazelnut cake (Babbo Cookbook, p. 281) and the Honey Vanilla Gelato (Babbo Cookbook, p. 314), but I can only take full credit for the gelato, as my SO did most of the important work on the cake.

      The cake is flourless, with a batter composed primarily of butter, eggs, chocolate, granulated sugar, and a blend of cocoa, ground hazelnuts, and confectioner's sugar. Of the cake-related tasks I tackled, making the cocoa-hazelnut-sugar blend proved to be the most challenging (well, aside from tracking down hazelnut paste). The instructions call for achieving a fine sand-like texture using the food processor. From a previous experience with trying to grind almonds this way, I knew that I would have to avoid turning the mix into nut butter. I succeeded, but only barely. The mix that came out of the processor was oily, but fortunately, still fairly crumbly--sort of like poppyseed pastry filling. As I alluded to above, my SO took care of all of the critical mixing steps and created a lovely thick (but not dense) batter which poured pretty easily into the pan (we pursued the single 9" round cake option here).

      The cake cooked a bit faster than we expected (40 minutes vs. the 45-50 minutes specifed in the recipe). Our oven was running a teensy bit hot (332 instead of 325), so maybe that explains the difference. The finished cake had an intense chocolate flavor with a dense moist center and delicate crusty exterior. I didn't think the hazelnut flavoring came through all that strongly, which was somewhat disappointing given the trouble associated with buying and prepping those ingredients, but overall I was very satisfied with the cake. I think the other potluck guests were too. :-) .

      Next time I make this cake (and there will be a next time), I might try upping the amounts of hazelnut paste and Frangelico to see if I can get a bigger hazelnut flavor.

      The gelato was an even bigger hit with the crowd than the cake was. I tweaked the recipe a bit by subbing straight half-and-half for the specified 3:1 blend of milk and heavy cream and by scraping and stirring the vanilla bean seeds into half-and-half before adding the bean itself. I think the real key to the success of this batch, however, was the robust slightly smoky-flavored local mesquite honey I used. The final product was rich and silky smooth, which I suspect was due in large part to the 9(!) egg yolks that went into the 1-quart batch.

      Each dessert was great on its own, and I think the two of them worked very well together. I would heartily recommend these to anyone looking for a grown-up cake and ice cream combination.

      2 Replies
      1. re: hohokam

        This was really a fantastic dessert. Batali mentions that this Chocolate Hazelnut Cake was the first dessert created by Gina DePalma for Babbo's original dessert menu. I appreciated it even more the next day when I could enjoy a slice without being so full - rich and smooth and intensely chocolatey. The use of Mesquite honey in the Honey Vanilla Gelato was pure genius.

      2. Roasted Pears with Chocolate, Molto Italiano

        I give it a 5/5. Vin santo is too expensive, so I used Port instead. The picture shows a fluffy chocolate mousse, but mine came out creamy.

        1. BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE PUDDING "SANGUINACCIO" p. 486

          A very chocolatey dessert with a pudding consistency. Don't make this if you expect a chocolate mousse-type dessert--or DO make this, but expect something unctuous, spoonable, and like a childhood pudding that has moved into the adult realm because of the bittersweet chocolate. 1 cup cocoa powder (I used Callebaut) 1/2 cup flour, 2 cups sugar and 4 and 1/2 cups whole milk are whisked together and brought slowly to a boil. Then 12 ounces of grated semisweet chocolate (I used Trader Joe's) 1 tsp vanilla, and 1 tsp. ground cinnamon are added and stirred until the chocolate is melted. The resulting pudding is poured into ten 6-ounce ramekins and cooled, covered, and chilled. Five TBS of toasted pine nuts are sprinkled over the ramekins before serving. The instructions also suggest serving with a good dollop of unsweetened whipped-cream.

          I followed the instructions regarding the unsweetened whipped cream--heck; I followed all the instructions just as given and the result was delicious. Not for the faint-of-chocolate, because the result is quite bittersweet but so tasty. We finished off the last of the Cabernet with it . . . I did end up with extra pudding (oh darn) which I poured into four little dishes.

          Just found this thread, hence my "late" review! ;-)

          2 Replies
          1. re: Goblin

            Sounds wonderful. Thanks for posting, I had totally missed that recipe in Molto Italiano. You've inspired me to make it this weekend.

            1. re: Rubee

              Hi Rubee--I hope you enjoy the chocolate pudding! It makes quite a lot--the recipe specifies ten 6-oz. ramekins, but I found that I needed at least four more. Next time I might half the recipe so I don't have several extra ramekins calling out to me from my refrigerator! ;-)