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Filtering by Category: Desserts

Buccellato Siciliano (Christmas Fig and Nut Pastry Ring)


This year I would like to share with you a traditional dessert that is prepared in Palermo, Sicily for Christmas – Buccellato. Think of the Buccellato as a super-sized fig cookie. The smaller size of this pastry is called Cucciddati or Buccellatini. I think it is more impressive (and easier) for the Christmas table to prepare one Buccellato than a dozen small cookies. 

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Dolci di Noci (walnut cookies)


This is the first recipe that I am sharing with you from my new cookbook “Southern Italian Desserts”.  It has become one of my favorite cookies and it couldn’t be more simple to make.  Can you think of any other cookie that has only three ingredients?  It is so good that anybody that has one wants more and more.

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Carnevale, or "Fat Tuesday", is coming up, so it is time to make chiacchiere. The word "chiacchere" translates into "chatter", "chit-chat", or "gossip", but in this context it is a strip of sweet pastry dough fried and coated with powdered sugar. These crispy strips of dough are made throughout Italy and are called by various names: I have heard them called bugie, cenci, crostoli, and frappe. Check this link for a list of all the names. "Chiacchiere" is what we call them in Calabria. Below are pictures and a short video to show you how to shape them.

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Bocconotti calabresi


The Calabrian town of Mormanno is famous for sweet pastry tartlets called bocconotti, a word that literally means “small bites”, because they can be eaten in one bite. They are traditionally filled with grape jam or cherry preserves and covered with pastry dough. I baked a couple of them with grape jam (mostarda d’uva) so you can see what they look like.

Someone wrote to me last week saying that her relatives in Rende used to make bocconotti with an almond chocolate filling, and wondered if I had a recipe for them. I had never heard of this particular filling for them, so I promised her that I would do some research in my collection of Calabrian cookbooks and pamphlets. These books, by the way, are usually self-published, very small, and always have recipes for local food. You can usually find them in little stores and markets in Calabria.

I went through my collection and lo and behold, I found a recipe for bocconotti from Amantea, in the province of Cosenza, that are filled with almonds and chocolate. They sometimes have a bit of cinnamon and cloves when they are made at Christmas time. I also found other recipes for bocconotti with just an almond filling, like a frangipane.

Unfortunately a typical Italian cookbook usually gives you the ingredients but not all the amounts, so in a way I had to create my own recipe for the filling. I used my basic recipe for the pastry dough. I like the traditional bocconotti filled with jam but these are even better, a heavenly treat, especially when made with cocoa and good dark chocolate like Valhrona. I made them without a pastry cover as you see in some recipes, but you can add a cover of pastry dough to look like the traditional ones from Mormanno.

Make a batch of my pastry dough as follows in the recipe below. Take a small amount about the size of a ping pong ball and using your fingers press the dough into 1 1/2" tartlet forms (measured across the bottom). Trim the edges.

To make the filling, grind all the dry ingredients in a food processor.

Make sure you grind the whole almonds with the rest of the dry ingredients until very fine.

Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold in the dry ingredients, about a quarter at a time. You should have a thick fluffy batter.

Spoon the batter into the dough-lined tartlet shells and bake for 15–18 minutes at 375 F.

Here are my beautiful bocconotti dusted with powdered sugar.

The bocconotti in the center are the traditional shape covered with pastry dough. If you prefer, you can fill them with any jam you like, or with Nutella. Below are the bocconotti with the chocolate almond filling.

If you make them let me know what you think.

Bocconotti Calabresi

Pastry dough:

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch kosher salt

4 ounces unsalted butter, chilled, cut into tablespoon-size pieces

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

Grated zest of 1 lemon


1/2 cup almonds, about 3 ounces

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

2 ounces dark chocolate

1/4  cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of ground cloves

2 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Make the dough: Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a food processor. Pulse several times to blend. Add the butter and pulse four to five times, until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolk, and lemon zest. With the food processor running, add the egg mixture through the feed tube. Process just until the dough begins to come together.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it gently, just until it comes together into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours. If refrigerated for more than 1 hour, you will need to soften the dough slightly by removing it from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you plan to use it.

Preheat the oven to 375° F

Make the filling:  Place all the dry ingredients in a food processor and grind them until you have a fine powder.  Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Fold in the dry ingredients in the egg whites, about ¼ at a time.  When all the dried ingredients are folded in the egg whites, add the vanilla and stir.

Take a small amount of dough, about the size of a ping pong ball, and using your fingers press it into the tartlet mold up against the edges.  Trim excess dough.  When all the tartlets are done, place a heaped tablespoon of filling in each tartlet.  Place all the filled tartlets on top a cookie sheet and bake at 375F for 15 to 18 minutes until the dough is lightly colored.

Cool on a rack. When cool remove the bocconotti from the tartlet forms.   Dust with powder sugar.

Makes 16 bocconotti

Copyright 2010, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.

Calabrian Easter bread


At Easter time, in my town of Verbicaro everybody baked a sweet bread that we called buccellati, also called cuzzupe, cuculi or cudduraci in other parts of Calabria. Thesesymbolic breads are decorated with whole eggs still in the shell. The eggs are nestled into the surface of the dough, held in place with criss-crossed strips of dough, representing the crucifix, and baked along with the bread. These decorative breads, symbols of Christ’s resurrection, are given to children, with boys receiving a braided loaf and girls a loaf in the shape of a doll.

My mom used to bake these breads every year when we lived in Calabria and I always looked forward to my “pupa" ("doll") at Easter time. For some reason she didn’t continue this tradition after we moved to California--I guess I was too old for a doll --and not having a written recipe she had forgotten the amounts of each ingredient. So this past week we started talking about this lost tradition and it fired me up to bake these breads for my kids. She made a call to a relative in San Francisco that still makes the buccellati every year and I quickly had a recipe that I slightly modified, adding my favorite flavorings: vanilla and grated lemon peel. The recipe below will make three large breads or two of each of the three shapes in the pictures

Buona Pasqua!

Dough after kneading, ready for first rise:

Shaping the dough into ropes to form the braided bread:

Breads in three shapes ready for second rise:

Breads ready for baking; you can sprinkle the breads with nonpareils if you like:

Buccellato di Pasqua

Easter Bread

1 cube butter (4 ounces)

2 cups milk

2 packages Rapid Rise yeast

3 whole eggs and 3 egg yolks

2 cups sugar

one teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons anisette liqueur or brandy

One teaspoon vanilla

grated zest of one lemon

8 cups flour or more if needed

Whole Eggs in the shell, to bake in the bread

1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon of sugar (for egg wash)

Nonpareils to decorate (optional)

Melt the butter with the milk.  Add the yeast in the warm milk (make sure it is not hot) and stir to dissolve the yeast.

In a large bowl, mix the whole eggs and egg yolks with the sugar, salt, olive oil, anisette, vanilla and lemon peel.  Add the warm milk with butter and yeast to the egg mixture. Slowly add the flour and stir with a fork to incorporate all the flour.   Mix with your hands and add more flour if needed until the dough is no longer sticky. Knead it until you have a smooth dough.

With the dough placed in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let it rise until doubled in size, about one hour.

Shape the dough into ropes and braid into the various shapes.   Nestle the whole eggs in their shells in the braids and cover with thin ropes of dough.   Let the dough rise again for another hour.

After the second rise, brush the dough with the egg wash.  Decorate with nonpareils if you desired.

Bake at 350 F for 25 to 30 minutes.

Melanzane al cioccolato (Eggplant layered and filled with ricotta and chocolate)


As I promised you in the last post here is the recipe for the eggplant dessert that is prepared during August in towns along the Amalfi Coast. I'll show you what all the steps look like, along with some commentary. The actual recipe will be below the photos. First, the ingredients. Two eggplants, peeled and sliced thinly, and coated with flour:

A mixture of sugar, cinnamon and lemon zest will be used to coat the fried slices:

For the filling, you'll need homemade or good store-bought ricotta:

Amaretti cookies, toasted almonds and candied orange peel complete the filling:

The first layer of eggplant will cover the bottom of the baking dish and also be draped over its sides. So, after you add the first layer of sweetened ricotta and chocolate sauce, the results  should look like this:

You will be topping the  third layer of filling with more eggplant, and then covering the whole dish with the overhanging slices. It should look like a package:

Here is a cross section after it's been baked:

Give it a try...

... and let me know what you think!

Melanzane al Cioccolato

(Eggplant layered and filled with ricotta and chocolate)

This recipe, as is prepared in the town of Maiori, near Amalfi, is a slight variation from the one more widely found, in that it contains ricotta in the filling. To make the original version, omit the ricotta and egg from the filling and refrigerate to set, without baking. Just serve, accompanied with a small glass of iced limoncello.

2 eggplants, about one pound each

Flour for coating the eggplant

1 cup sugar

½ teaspoon cinnamon

Grated peel of two lemons

Chocolate Sauce (see below for the recipe)


1 cup ricotta, passed through an extra-fine strainer

1/4 cup sugar

1 ounce amaretti cookies, crushed

2 ounces whole blanched almonds, toasted and finely chopped

1 ounce candied orange peel, chopped

2 eggs, lightly beaten

Butter and sugar for coating baking dish

1. In a large, shallow dish, mix the cup of sugar, cinnamon and lemon peel and set aside.

2. Peel and thinly slice the eggplants lengthwise, about ¼ inch thick. Heat enough olive oil in a 10-inch skillet to come 1/2 inch up the sides of the pan.

3. Lightly coat the eggplant slices in flour and fry until golden on both sides. Remove and place on a platter lined with paper towels. Continue frying until all the eggplant slices have been cooked.

4. While still warm, dip each slice of eggplant in the flavored sugar and press to coat both sides. Set aside until ready to assemble.

5. Make the chocolate sauce (see attached recipe).

6. In a bowl, combine the ricotta, ¼ cup sugar, amaretti cookies, chopped almonds and candied orange peel in a bowl.  Blend in the eggs and set aside.

7. To Assemble: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Butter a baking dish (9 x 9 x 2 inches) and coat with granulated sugar. Line the bottom and sides of the baking dish with slices of eggplant, arranging them so there are eggplant slices draping over the sides of the dish. Spread one third of the ricotta filling over the eggplant, and top the ricotta filling with a light layer of chocolate sauce. Without draping any eggplant over the sides this time, repeat the layering of eggplant, ricotta filling and chocolate sauce two more times, so you have three layers of each.  Finish the dessert by topping with a fourth, and final layer of eggplant and fold the eggplant draped over the sides of the dish back over the dessert to close it like a package.

8.  Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, placing a cookie sheet underneath the baking dish to catch any sugar syrup that bubbles over. Remove the baking dish from the oven and allow it to cool.

When the dessert has cooled, it can be sliced and served with additional chocolate sauce or powdered sugar.

This dessert can also be made using individual ramekins following the same layering process as described above, spreading the ricotta filling to about ¼ inch thick.  Turn the dessert out of the ramekin before serving.

Serves 12.

Copyright 2005, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.

And here is the recipe for the chocolate sauce.

Chocolate Sauce

8 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate, cut in small pieces

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1. Place the chopped chocolate in a small bowl.

2. Place the heavy whipping cream in a small pot and bring it just to a boil. Remove from the heat and pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate. Let set for two minutes without stirring, then gently stir until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Let the sauce cool until it reaches the desired thickness and consistency.

Copyright 2005, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.

Gelato alle more (Wild Blackberry Ice Cream)


This is the time of year that I forage for wild blackberries, which grow wild here in Northern California. Luckily I don't have to go very far to pick them: they grow all over the sides of a trail right behind my house.

Picking blackberries brings back a lot of memories of growing up in Calabria. I would pick wild blackberries (called more in Italian), wild alpine strawberries and raspberries along the trails to get to my dad's mountain farm. Going to the mountain farm was a fun hike, as I would fill my belly with berries. The ones I didn't eat right away I used to thread on a strand of grass rush (Juncus tenuis); this way I could carry a lot more of them than if I kept them loose in my hands, and I could keep my hands relatively clean and completely free for picking other things!

I taught my son this trick last week when we went foraging. We took the pictures below to show you what they look like on the grass strand:

This is a great example of how in Calabria we always used what nature gave us. We had no plastic Ziploc or plastic containers; we were always green!

We'll be picking blackberries at least once a week for approximately another month. We ventured out again yesterday and managed to pick the equivalent of eight  pints in about 45 minutes. My son ends up eating more than he puts in the basket, just as I used to when I was a kid. I let him decide what to do with all the berries that he doesn't eat right away, so we spent the entire afternoon making a crostata with blackberries and nectarines:

We also made gelato (see my recipe below)...

...a wild blackberry mousse, and pureed some as a sauce that we used on top of french toast for breakfast. Next week I'll be making some jam with the blackberries I pick.

If you see bushes of wild blackberries, give yourself a treat straight from nature. Just be careful of the thorns: they like to scratch your legs and arms, so it helps to wear jeans and a long sleeved shirt.

Gelato alle more (Wild Blackberry Ice Cream)

1.5 cups blackberry puree (about 3 cups of berries)

2 cups milk

5 egg yolks

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups whipping cream

1 tablespoon Maraschino or Kirsch

1. Puree the blackberries in a blender and strain through a fine sieve to remove all the seeds. Measure 1.5 cups and set aside. If you have leftover puree, save it and make a sauce with it by adding sugar and some lemon juice to taste.

2. Place the milk in a medium-size, heavy saucepan and bring it to a simmer over medium heat.

3. While the milk is heating, in a medium size bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until the yolks are pale yellow and the mixture is thick and creamy.

4. Slowly pour half the hot milk into the bowl with the egg mixture, whisking until well blended. Pour the milk/egg mixture in the bowl back into the milk remaining in the saucepan, whisking as you pour. Place the saucepan back over medium heat. Stir constantly and cook until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

5. Transfer the mixture to a large, clean bowl and let it cool for about 10 minutes. Add the blackberry puree, the cream, the liqueur and mix well. Place in the refrigerator to chill. When sufficiently chilled, transfer to an ice cream freezer and freeze according to the manufacturer's directions.

Serve with some blackberries or with the remaining puree sweetened to taste.

Makes about 2 quarts

Copyright 2009, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.