Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Famous Torta Barozzi (recipe & video included)

It all started with a really cute, wonderfully sappy movie my husband and I watched years ago called "Just Desserts," starring Lauren Holly and Costas Mandylor. It was both a love story and a foodie film about two pastry chefs who teamed up for the Golden Whisk Dessert Competition and its $250,000 prize.

But the real star of the show was the dessert they made: the famous Torta Barozzi.

What makes it so famous? The recipe -- which was actually truly invented in real life by an Italian baker, Eugenio Gollini, back in 1897 and named after native son, Jacopo Barozzi (a famous Renaissance architect who designed the spiral staircase) -- contained some very hush-hush, secret ingredients. The recipe was then handed down from generation to generation.

Even though today we pretty much know the basic ingredients of this much-heralded cake, the original recipe, the ingredients' proportions, and the baking methods are still top secret, making the authentic Torta Barozzi available only at the family bakery in Vignola, Italy (just outside Modena).

As fate would have it, about seven years ago, my husband and I were going on a trip to Italy that would serendipitously take us straight through that town.

"Could we please, please, PLEASE stop and get some real Torta Barozzi at the Pasticceria Gollini while we're there?" I implored my husband.

Since I would be accommodating him by spending a day at the Ferrari Museum, I felt that was the least he could do for me! (Don't you agree?)

"Sure, honey," he said, half paying attention to me.

So I was very careful -- and very adamant -- to remind him of his promise as we wound our way through the back roads and roundabouts (i.e., notorious circles of roads that leave you both dizzy and exasperated) of Vignola on our way to Venice.

Many wrong turns and false directions later (we later learned there is both a Gollini FACTORY and a Gollini BAKERY), we finally arrived!

I walked straight into the bakery...tired, hot, and sweaty, but with the anticipation of a giddy child.

"Un pezzo di Torta Barozzi, ti prego," I said with a smile to the two nice ladies behind the counter. (Translated: "One slice of Torta Barozzi, if you please.")

Sorry about this fuzzy shot; my hands were trembling with anticipation!

I then took my treasured slice and went outside to sit on a bench. I took one bite, then another, and finally finished it all, cherishing every last crumb of that sinfully delicious cake.

When I returned back home to Cleveland, I was thrilled to find a copycat recipe online, which (although I know is not the original) comes pretty damn close.

The cake is not fancy. And it's not elaborate. But it's truly, genuinely delectable.

So for all you pastry lovers out there who particularly appreciate dense, flourless cakes made of rich, dark chocolate like I do, this one's for you!
(Note: Be sure to watch the video below for easy step-by-step instructions. Also, some important points before you begin. Be sure to use only high-quality chocolate; beat the sugar and egg yolks very well; do not overbeat the egg whites; and most importantly, do not overbake the cake. It should still be moist and a bit wet when a skewer is inserted into the center. As Mary Ann says, "This cake delivers every taste sensation of a moist, fudgy texture, punctuated with the crunchiness of ground almonds and a meringue-like top.")

Makes 1 (9-inch) cake
Recipe courtesy of Mary Ann Esposito

Unsweetened cocoa
1 cup slivered almonds, toasted on a cookie sheet for 4 minutes in a 350-degree oven
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons rum or orange liquor, or Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale (not commercial balsamic vinegar used for salads, but the much more expensive, artisinal version)
1/4 cup coffee
2 tablespoons powdered sugar or almond-flavored powdered sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Coat a 9 x 2-inch springform pan with butter or cooking spray. Dust with cocoa, tapping out the excess, and fit a sheet of parchment paper in the base of the pan. Butter the paper. Set the pan aside.
  3. Grind the toasted almonds to a powder in a food processor. Set aside.
  4. Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl set over hot water.
  5. Beat the yolks and sugar until lemon colored and very fluffy. Stir in the almonds, chocolate mixture, rum, and coffee. Set aside.
  6. Beat the whites in a separate bowl until soft peaks form. Fold into the chocolate mixture. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center is slightly damp.
  7. Remove the pan from the oven and set on a cooling rack. Cool completely. Carefully run a knife along the inside edges of the pan and release the spring. Remove the pan sides.
  8. Place the cake on a serving dish. Put the powdered sugar in a small sieve and dust the top of the cake.
  9. Cut into thin wedges to serve.

Make the recipe,
then post a pic at

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

10 Ways to Use Your Mini Whisk

If you happened to buy a book at one of my book signings, you got a mini whisk. It's my free gift-with-purchase giveaway. My way of saying thank you for your support. (For the whole story on how this idea came about, click here.)

And if you got one, you probably also heard me tell you that it's a really practical little kitchen tool.

I'm sure you believe me, but let me tell you again: There are soooo many different ways to use it! Want examples? Actually, 10 of them? Here goes.

Vinaigrette - If you're just making a small batch of vinaigrette for a single or double serving of salad, a mini whisk is the perfect size. No need to pull out the full-size version. For a tasty vinaigrette recipe, click here.

Scrambled Eggs or Omelet - If you want to just whip up a couple eggs, a mini whisk is exactly the right size. For a delicious omelet recipe, click here.

Hot Cocoa - If you're just planning to make one cup of hot cocoa at a time, a mini whisk works wonders as compared to a spoon. In fact, whip it up extra quick and you'll achieve a little froth as a bonus. For a rich homemade hot cocoa recipe, click here.

Egg Wash - If you want to achieve a beautiful, shiny, golden brown coloring on anything from biscuits to pie crust, you'll need to paint it with a little egg (yolk, white, or whole) wash first. And this is the perfect time to whip out that mini whisk. For a useful basic recipe, click here.

Pancake Batter - You never want to overwhip pancake batter lest it get too tough. For just a few servings, a mini whisk gets the job done well. For a great pancake recipe that serves just one person, click here.

Dipping Sauce - When you're just mixing a few ingredients into a liquid base for a dipping sauce, a mini whisk is the ideal-sized utensil. For a top-rated dipping oil recipe, click here.

Kid Cooking/Baking - When kids are helping you out in the kitchen, a mini whisk is the perfect size for their cute little hands. For a healthy and easy kid recipe, click here.

Cocktails - There's no need to make things sloppy and messy by using a full-sized whisk when mixing just a few drinks. For over 12,000 cocktail recipes, click here.

Dry Rub - If you're only making a small batch of dry rub, a mini whisk fits the bill exactly. For 10 top meat rub recipes, click here.

Yeast - When you need to stir your yeast into your warm liquid, nothing beats using a mini whisk to complete the job. For a great cinnamon bread recipe, click here.

What other uses do you have for your mini whisk?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Lemonade Makin' Mama's Gluten-Free Carrot Cake Cupcakes

Dear Readers,

Today I am very proud to introduce you to fellow blogger, Sasha from Washington State, whose popular blog, Lemonade Makin' Mama, is such a hit nationwide with foodies, DIYers, and moms alike. She is ultra creative and a downright talented woman. She was so kind to write the following post just for you, my readers, about her super delicious, gluten-free carrot cake cupcakes. Please enjoy!

By Sasha (aka Lemonade Makin' Mama)

I'm so excited to be guest posting for Maria Isabella today! I confess, I'm a bit of a closet foodie and especially love baking. So I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to share with you my son's favorite gluten-free treat: carrot cake cupcakes.

I've made carrot cake for every birthday he's ever had since he was two years old.  He never requests anything else. 

The funny thing about this particular recipe is that I wasn't a big fan of carrot cake all those years, until I was introduced to this one, by a favorite blogging friend, about three years ago. It happens to be gluten free, but I didn't know anything about gluten when I tried it for the first time. It was so good that I could have cared less what it did or did not contain. I suddenly really liked carrot cake!

A few months after that, I came to discover that my children and I all had allergies and intolerances to gluten. You see, I had been having some vitamin deficiencies requiring daily shots and was also severely anemic, along with having other nasty digestive symptoms and stomach pain after eating almost every meal. My daughter had suffered from similar stomach and digestive issues since she was a baby, beginning with acid reflux. She and I were both tested for gluten intolerance (negative for celiac), and going gluten free took care of all the issues we were having.

My son has ADHD, and after being away from gluten experimentally, he reacted very severely upon having only a little. We quickly realized he had also been suffering from gluten intolerance. That's why I was so happy to know of this recipe as I began to navigate the waters of gluten-free (GF) eating. More importantly, my son's favorite birthday request didn't have to be denied or taste like gritty, flavored cardboard. 

This cake uses Thai rice flour rather than all-purpose flour and is found in any Asian grocery store. It's normally less than a dollar a bag, and it's extremely fine in texture. I've used it as a great substitute in many GF recipes.  Sometimes the taste is off, but more often than not, it's a good alternative for inexpensive GF baking. (Some experimenting may be required.) Plus, going into an Asian market gives me a fun excuse to poke around all the exotic food options. 

Lissa's Gluten-Free Carrot Cake Cupcakes

2 cups rice flour

2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

*Combine above dry ingredients and set aside.

In a stand mixer, blend the following:

1 1/4 cups oil

4 eggs, lightly beaten

3 cups grated carrot, pulsed in a food processor a few times

*Slowly add the dry mixture into the the wet mixture until just combined.

*Pour into 2 (9") prepared baking pans or 24 cupcake liners.

*Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes.

This year, my son, Joe, requested a new twist on his traditional birthday treat: cinnamon cream cheese frosting. I added a bit of cinnamon to my stand-by cream cheese frosting recipe, and I have to say, it was phenomenal. In our house, we like to taste the subtle flavors in the cream cheese, so I don't make it super sweet. 

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened to room temperature

1/2 cup butter, softened to room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

4 cups powdered sugar

*Combine the cream cheese and butter. Whip until fluffy. Add the remaining ingredients and whip until combined well and fluffy in texture. Scoop into a piping bag and frost cake as desired. (I used a big round tip for these.)

Thank you again for letting me share a beloved food item in our home with you. It's so nice to find GF alternatives to old favorites, and this one really hits the mark. Try it. I hope you'll agree.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Charlene Makes Eric's Sofrito Green Beans - Part 2

Guest blogger, Charlene Lyon, continues on her journey to making Eric Wiliams's delicious SOFRITO GREEN BEANS. This is part 2 of her series on this recipe.

Sofrito Green Beans

By Charlene Lyon

The green beans part of this recipe was super-fast to make. They only require a few minutes in lightly salted boiling water, then just a few minutes in a saute pan.

Having blanched green beans in the past, I knew it was best to have them at room temperature as you add them to the boiling water. If they are too cold, they may cool the water down so that you have to wait longer for it to boil back (and you may never get that slightly-tender-but-crisp-in-the-middle texture you need for the next step). You certainly don't want them too soggy at the end. Room-temperature beans only slow down the boil for about a minute, then it gets rolling again soon after.

The ice bath is another key to prevent the sogginess factor. If you're going through all of these steps, you probably don't want a texture you could instantly get by opening a can. The bowl I used may have been too small. I tossed them in the bath for about 15 seconds, then let them sit for another 30 seconds until the beans felt cold. After that, I quickly strained and discarded the ice cubes. Too much exposure to ice and water may be another soggy risk.

(Note: When it came to the corn, I added enough thawed, frozen corn for the full recipe even though I used only half of the requested green beans. I was just cooking for two, after all. But I thought the full amount of corn couldn't be bad. It was a welcomed addition to flavor and texture in my house, but perhaps not necessary for those who are sensitive to higher-sugar vegetables.)

This dish tasted so good with the packaged corn that I think it puts a fresh twist on frozen or imported vegetables some of us have to endure in the colder months. I can only imagine how stellar this would taste with locally grown produce in season. I can't wait to try it this summer, maybe even making this dish in an outdoor saute pan on the grill!

I'm not quite sure what to think of the size I diced the shallot for this first attempt. As I began to saute and wait for the beans to brown a bit, I feared that I may have diced it too small. The tiny bits were shrinking and thinking about caramelizing. I didn't want them to get too brown or burnt, so I turned down the heat to about 6 (medium) from a 10. Plus, I feared I was going to miss out on the pleasure of biting into a tender-but-firm, warm, and mellow shallot nugget. I think I'll dice one half of the shallot fine and the other a bit larger next time to see if there's a difference in taste or texture.

Plus, I may have used too much oil. I have non-stick pans, so I used only half the oil, which still may have been too much. I noticed that the corn and beans that didn't touch the oil browned almost instantly on one side. I'm just guessing that all of the oil will be necessary if one is using a stainless steel saute pan, which may also provide more browning if that is your desire. If one has a non-stick pan and wants better browning or lower fat and calories, perhaps just a few drops of oil will do. If you have a non-stick pan and think you used too much oil for a desired browning, try to lay the beans flat in the pan for one or two of the few minutes.

I then transferred the hot mixture to a bowl and added the rockin' sofrito.

I was sure to save some of the fresh sauce for my breakfast and lunch ideas for the next day. I had more than enough sauce to cover all of the veggies, and more to spare after I plated. I am so happy that I inadvertently made two similar, but distinctively different tasting sauces. Before it was cooked, the sofrito tasted tart and spicy. After mixing it with the warm oil and now caramelized shallots, the flavor is still strong, but not as tart or spicy and more mellow. I then started to imagine this version of the sofrito on a baked potato, on rice, on a steak, slathered on a slice of fresh or toasted bread ...

There are so many elements my husband and I love about this recipe. First of all, the taste is simply fantastic. It's mellow with just a hint of heat and tang when everything is mixed together. Some of the beans and corn had a nice browned, extra sweet taste. If you follow the cooking steps for the beans correctly, they should be tender, savory, but still have a fresh firmness.

We love that this healthy dish is vegan and super low-cal. We now have something fabulous for our next dinner party for our vegetarian and vegan friends.The sofrito recipe requires no oil and the calorie-conscious who have non-stick pans could do this easily with little added fat. It's so good, I can see veggies, vegans, and dieters making this for an indulgent snack instead of dry popcorn. Also, with all of these attributes, this may be the 'safest,' tastiest and most welcome addition to a friend's potluck.

Plus, if your kids aren't afraid of a little kick, I'm guessing this low-cost and quick recipe may introduce them to the magic of vegetables.

I made a nice brunch the next day with the leftover sauce. I spread the cooked sauce onto a tortilla, sprinkled on some cheese, and warmed it in the microwave for a few seconds just  until the cheese melted. I fried an egg, set it atop the quesadilla, and topped it with a bit of the fresh sauce. If there were any of the beans left, I would have added them too.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Charlene Makes Eric's Sofrito Green Beans - Part 1

Today, guest blogger, Charlene Lyon, takes us on her journey to making Eric Wiliams's delicious SOFRITO GREEN BEANS. I have decided to present her tales in two parts: the sofrito sauce first, then the green beans themselves. Put them together, and you've got one super tasty combination! So sit back and enjoy.

By Charlene Lyon

I can honestly say this is the very best green bean dish I've ever made...and now I'm officially spoiled.

You see, I'm usually a purist when it comes to vegetables. I like them steamed for just a minute or two until only slightly tender. Then I simply sprinkle a dusting of salt or Parmesan cheese on top. I don't need extra shenanigans.

But since my husband and I both love green beans so much, I decided to give Eric Williams's recipe for Sofrito Green Beans a try. Needless to say, neither one of us is ever turning back.
Step One - The Sofrito

Reading through Eric's recipe, it somewhat reminded me of a chimichurri sauce I made last summer: blended fresh herbs with varied seasonings, citrus, or vinegar. While I got to work, I put on some funky Jon Spencer Blues Explosion for background music. Secretly, I had a feeling this experiment was going to rock.

I was a bit worried at first that the mini-processor attachment for my stick blender wouldn't hold everything. But I wasn't going to pull out my large food processor if I didn't have to. Thankfully, everything fit. And as I suspected, the ingredients did concentrate after a long blend.

What a taste explosion!  

If you love Mexican or Latin food, this is a must try. It's just like summer vacation: fresh, fun, sunny, and just hot enough. (For the full recipe, refer to page 161 in Maria's book, "In the Kitchen with Cleveland's Favorite Chefs.")

FYI, although I tend to use dried herbs in late winter months, it is absolutely necessary to use fresh herbs for this recipe!
On my third or fourth taste of the sofrito, my imagination started to go wild with other ways to enjoy this tangy, spicy sauce: sofrito-topped burgers, a dip for tortilla chips, a sauce for tacos, fried or scrambled eggs for tomorrow's breakfast, sofrito quesadillas for lunch...I was in full brainstorm mode!
Leftover sofrito with fried eggs
After the sixth or seventh time I tasted the sofrito, it was time to finally make the green beans. 

Stay tuned for part 2!
[Just a note: Some of you may want to reduce the salt by half. I found the fresh sauce by itself to be slightly salty. The flavor is so fresh, tart, and strong that all of the salt may not be entirely necessary due to one's tastes or dietary needs. However, it really was perfectly fine with all the salt listed after I tossed it with the green bean mixture.]