Lemon Raspberry Cannoli

Today’s Musings:
If there is such a thing as a project saturation point, I’ve attained it.  I’ve always had a handful of projects that I attempt to juggle – one of the most time-consuming being this blog.  Creating a blog post begins with writing a recipe idea, followed by kitchen testing.  No small task, the ‘standard’ for food bloggers is to test a recipe seven times before posting.  I don’t have that luxury of time – nor the budget for all those ingredients.  With a full work schedule, and a life outside of posting, the most I’ve ever tested was four or five times, on recipes that often never make it to prime time.  For every posted recipe, there are one to two that never make the cut.  A friend joked the other day, “What does it matter if the recipe is any good? No one cares anyway.”  Fuck that – I care.  If someone tries one of my recipes, I want it to work – and that’s what matters.   After kitchen testing, there’s the photography and editing, the writing, the posting, and finally the promoting on aggregators and food sharing sites.  If I’m posting twice a week, I’m blissfully happy…and most likely on vacation. 

If you’ve noticed I haven’t posted lately, that’s because I’ve managed to make this particular project an even more elusive goal. Amidst blogging and my other projects, I’ve decided the world needs yet another cookbook memoir – and it’s more work than I ever imagined.  At roughly 200 pages, I haven’t even begun developing the recipes.  The old adage, “writing is rewriting,” is true.  I edit a little, hate what I’ve written, move on to another section in the book, hit upon new paragraphs or new chapters while in the shower or driving, write some more, edit, set it down, pick it up.  And this process has just begun. 

I cannot take credit for this – I have two good friends to thank.  Feeling like my COVID time has been squandered in relative isolation, I’ve been desperately searching for a project – any project – to convince myself I’m being productive.  And, no, binge-watching an entire season of Peaky Blinders is not productivity.  Dozens of people have suggested I write a cookbook over the years, but I could never settle on the correct focus, or hook.  These two friends hit upon my unfortunate expertise – comfort food for soothing heartache.  The title is still in the works, so I’ll keep quiet on that point for now. 

Accordingly, my free time, on the nights I convince myself I have something to say worth reading, has been spent in my ‘writer’s studio,’ picking through my own past loves and losses.  It’s been cathartic, eye opening (patterns! patterns! patterns!), frustrating, and gut wrenching.  After four hours with the manuscript, tacking on another hour writing this blog is daunting.  I usually have nothing left.  Have I bitten off more than I can chew?  Maybe, but it’s given my COVID time purpose, something I sorely needed for my sanity. 

 Today’s Recipe:
I developed two different flavors of cannoli for a friend’s birthday this weekend.  Receiving good reviews on both, this mouth puckering lemon-raspberry version was crowned the crowd favorite, although the birthday boy liked the other better. 


LEMON RASPBERRY CANNOLI

Springtime Cannoli - tart lemon and raspberry filling come together to make your mouth celebrate the season in this Italian ode to spring.


Ingredients

    Raspberry Jam
  • 6 oz. frozen raspberries
  • 6 oz. superfine sugar
  • Cannoli Shells
  • 12 cannoli shells
  • 6 oz. milk chocolate
  • 3 oz. freeze-dried raspberries, finely ground
  • Filling
  • 10 oz. whole-milk ricotta, drained in a mesh sieve overnight
  • 8 oz. mascarpone
  • 4 oz. lemon curd
  • 2 oz. superfine sugar
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • pinch salt
  • powdered sugar (for dusting)

Directions

  1. Make the jam: Combine the frozen raspberries and sugar in a small deep-sided saucepan and bring to boil over a medium heat. When the sugar is melted, increase the heat and boil for another 4-6 minutes until thick. Remove from the heat and leave to cool and set.
  2. Prepare the shells: Melt the chocolate in the microwave by heating it at 30 second intervals and stirring until melted (about 90 seconds total). Dip both ends of cannoli shells in chocolate then in the freeze-dried raspberries. Cool to set.
  3. Fill the shells: Stir together ricotta, mascarpone, lemon curd, sugar, zest, and salt. Let rest for 30 minutes in the refrigerator to allow sugar time to melt. Fill a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle with filling. With a small spoon or knife, spread a little raspberry jam inside each shell. Pipe the filling into both ends of the cannoli, filling completely. Dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately.

Baked Cassetelle

Cassatelle cooling on a wire rack

“Thoughts disentangle themselves when they pass through the lips and fingertips.” – Dawson Trotman

Today’s Musings:
Without a particular game plan in mind, Two-Bit Tart has molded itself into a mash-up of half personal essay (aka Musings) and half food blog.  It has taken me an exceptionally long time to arrive here, but this blog is now unmistakably my own with its singular, quirky, yet clear direction.  This began as a personal essay blog, morphed into a food blog, and has finally, after almost 13 years, unapologetically matured into a blending of both.  My challenge with the personal essay section is that it’s an intense delving into the recesses of my most intimate thoughts and feelings. Nothing is off limits from examination, holding these bits of my life up to the light for anyone to see.   While I feel reasonably comfortable splaying myself in front of you, many of my stories involve others, as most personal stories do. Today, I’m experiencing a smattering of remorse and hesitation in exposing others’ secrets without permission, desiring to keep their story, tightly intertwined with mine, a compact between us.  I am passionately steadfast and loyal to those who reciprocate, even those long dead. I’ve been working on a piece the last five days that I would describe as raw, honest, authentic. 1817 words with all the beastly details. How, I wonder, can I speak my truth while protecting others’ privacy?  I have no wish to cause pain or embarrassment to those around me; just a desire to share my story. I’ve been reading Joan Dideon lately – The White Album.  She deftly manages that delicate dance between stark, personal exposure and others’ privacy.  I’m no Joan Dideon, but I’m taking mental notes.  What is off-limits?  Who is off-limits? Living family members?  Current friends? Current lovers?  How terrible that someone would eschew me for fear their secrets are exposed.  Who becomes fair game?  Strangers and mere acquaintances? One-date wonders?  Dead boyfriends?  Those who have injured me by accident?  On purpose?  I strive to behave better than my enemies and have a clear moral compass – but in my quest for self-discovery, have I forgotten that, if only for a post or two?  I’ve decided not to share the piece I’ve been fervently writing.  I’m pleased with it – my own missteps and failings exposed and acknowledged.  Hours of work that will never come to fruition, but it’s the correct decision, this time.  It’s my truth, but tugs too many others too far into the light, regardless of their own culpability.  Today, I am setting down rules – otherwise, I will too easily cross the line. 

Today’s Recipe:


Baked Cassetelle

These cassetelle are baked rather than fried and are best eaten warm, when the chocolate is melty, the ricotta velvety and the pastry crisp and tender. I pop them in a oven for a few minutes to heat them through before enjoying with a steaming cup of coffee.


Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, very cold
  • 1 large egg plus 1 yolk
  • 1 cup full-fat ricotta, drained overnight
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar, plus more for dusting
  • ¼ cup mini chocolate chips
  • ¼ cup candied orange peel, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon grated orange zest)

Directions

  1. In the bowl of food processor, combine flour, sugar and salt. Add very cold butter and pulse until butter is well dispersed. Add egg and yolk and pulse until dough begins to clump together. Scrape dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap and press together to form a disk. Wrap plastic wrap around dough and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine drained ricotta, powdered sugar, chocolate chips and candied peel. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  3. Cut dough in half, keeping one half refrigerated and roll out the other half to about ⅛” – ⅙” thick between two pieces of parchment or waxed paper. Cut out twelve 3” rounds. Dollop a generous teaspoon of ricotta mixture on one side of each round, fold other side of dough over, making a half-moon shape, being careful to enclose the filling completely. Seal edges with the tines of a fork. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
  4. Repeat the process with the remaining ½ dough. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350⁰ F.
  5. Bake for 25-30 minutes until cassetelle are golden along the edges and underneath. Cool slightly and dust with powdered sugar. Enjoy the same day and refrigerate any remaining cassetelle (due to the ricotta filling). If refrigerated, reheat in the oven a few minutes before enjoying.

Gourmet S’mores

Homemade Marshmallows

Today’s Musings:
It’s a new year. Time to shove 2020 out the window and welcome a fresh start.  The following handful of posts are a series, written a lifetime ago, that track my journey from a painful breakup with a man I adored, to the shock of discovering the truth behind his mask, to glimpsing the depths of his depravity, and finally acknowledging my own error in blindly trusting him.  This tale ended long ago, but only now am I ready to disclose it – and perhaps help others who find themselves in a similar situation. Thank you to those who shared evidence and convinced me to tell my story.

 Chapter One

Peeling the skin back from my eyes
I felt surprised
That the time on the clock was the time
I usually retired
To the place where I cleared my head of you
But just for today, I think I’ll lie here and dream of you.
 – Matt Johnson

This is a food blog.  I am a food blogger.  As a food blogger, writing a food blog, I’m expected to write about, um, er…food; I’m expected to be light and bubbly and happy, bringing baked goods and witty banter to your world.  But, larger than this blogger’s persona, I am decidedly human with human emotions and, this morning, I am the antithesis of happy.  I’m trying…I’m truly trying to wiggle out of this melancholy, but today, I’ve lost the battle.

This morning, the kitty sprawled across my desk lacks softness, the candle flickering in front of my nose is scentless, my French-pressed coffee is water in my mouth.   Where is the sun? This morning, I am bereft, hollow, yearning for a missing piece of joy that darted from my gentle fingers. I’m trying to move my mind to other things, but a shower to refresh my thoughts brings him to my mind, a walk to clear my head recalls our evening strolls, the music from my speakers is the soundtrack of us.  Even my baking doesn’t distract…and I mourn.

Allow me my melancholy today.  Tomorrow, I will be better.

Today’s Recipe:
Making marshmallows is messy business.  Around step 3, and covered with goo, I was wondering if they were worth the trouble.  However, after toasting my first sample, no more convincing was needed.  Toasted homemade marshmallows are soft and gooey and not too sweet, adding refinement to this ubiquitous campfire treat.  


Gourmet S’mores

Toasted homemade marshmallows are soft and gooey and not too sweet, adding refinement to this ubiquitous campfire treat. Ghirardelli chocolate squares in various flavors such as caramel or raspberry add sophistication.


Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons unflavored powdered gelatin
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ⅔ cup plus 3 Tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 3 Tablespoons honey
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Confectioner’s sugar
  • 32 Ghirardelli Chocolate Squares in various flavors (milk, dark, caramel, raspberry, mint, etc.)
  • 1 box graham crackers

Directions

  1. Lightly grease an 8-inch square pan with canola oil. In a medium heatproof bowl, mix the gelatin with ½ cup plus 2 Tablespoons cold water. Let stand for 5 minutes and then microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring in between, until gelatin is completely melted. Set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, honey, and ⅓ cup plus 2 Tablespoons water. Bring the syrup to boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until syrup registers 250⁰ on a candy thermometer. Immediately pour the hot syrup into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Add the gelatin and vanilla and beat at high speed until mixture is fluffy, glossy and sticky, about 4-5 minutes.
  3. Spread the marshmallow in the prepared pan and smooth the surface. It helps to smooth the surface by using a slightly damp hand to avoid sticking. Press a lightly greased sheet of parchment paper on the surface and set aside for 3 hours.
  4. Run a sharp knife around the marshmallow. Lightly dust top of marshmallow and work surface with confectioner’s sugar. Add more confectioner’s sugar as needed to avoid sticking. Invert marshmallow onto work surface and cut into 16 2” squares. Cut each square in half horizontally into 32 marshmallows. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.
  5. To make S’mores, break graham crackers in half. Cover the lower half with a Ghirardelli square of your choice, cover with a toasted marshmallow (either toasted over a campfire or by blowtorch), and sandwich with remaining graham cracker half.

Recipe adapted from Dominique Ansel.

Walnut M’hanncha

A walnut M'hanncha Snake Cake

Today’s Musings:

I am a baker first, a writer second – and what’s baking away in my oven rarely coincides with the words sautéing on the page.  In most cases, I’m bustling around my kitchen to escape these very musings. Baking is my art.  My kitchen is my studio where I practice and play. At its denouement, my art is devoured, without regret. My passion lies in the crafting, my delight in the sharing.  My kitchen is bomb shelter and Band-Aid, my respite when I’m overwhelmed and my surefire reason for procrastination. It’s my voice, my meditation, my recreation and only occasionally my vexation. 

Conversely, when I write, I’m tortured; I lash myself to my desk, yearning to be anywhere else, struggling to create order from the chaotic ruminations pacing around my head.  I type words to release them from their cage, allowing them to organize and settle into coherent ideas on the page.  The process is cathartic, painfully honest and deeply personal, but never easy.  It’s an exorcism of sorts.

Born from the same mother, yet conceived in different moods at separate times, my baking and my writing are two distinct children.  My baking is my golden child; my writing, the black sheep.  I love and need them both, but in different ways.  Consequently, and unlike most food blogs, my musings rarely relate to the recipe on the page. 

Here, you will never read a 500-word memoir about apple picking as an introduction for my classic apple pie.  If this eccentric mash-up of a blog bothers you, there are thousands of other food blogs to satisfy your tastes. 

Two-Bit Tart unconventionally chronicles what’s in my head and in my oven on any given day.  It’s a candid account of my attempts to decipher life through my love of food and words; a window into an imperfect woman and chef chronicling her vices – culinary or otherwise.

Today’s Recipe:


Walnut M’hanncha

M’hanncha is made from rolled phyllo pastry, stuffed with nuts, spices and orange flower water coiled to look like a snake.


Ingredients

  • 1 cup walnuts, toasted and cooled
  • ⅔ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 ¾ cup almond flour, toasted and cooled
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus additional for brushing phyllo
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon cardamom
  • 2 Tablespoons orange flower water, divided
  • 6-8 sheets phyllo dough
  • 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water
  • ⅓cup honey
  • sliced toasted almonds, chopped walnuts, or powdered sugar for decoration

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Line a 10” springform pan with parchment.
  2. Place the walnuts in a food processor with the granulated sugar and process until the mixture resembles sand.
  3. Add the almond flour, powdered, sugar, melted butter, egg, cinnamon, cardamom and 1 tablespoon of the orange flower water to the food processor. Process until the mixture is a combined dough.
  4. Unroll the phyllo dough and place it on a work surface. Cover the phyllo with plastic wrap and then a damp towel to keep it from drying out. Remove one sheet of the phyllo and place it on your work surface, with a long side closest to you. Lightly brush the phyllo with melted butter.
  5. Take a golf ball sized piece of dough and roll it into a log about ½ inch in diameter. Place the roll of filling on the buttered phyllo, about ½ inch from the edge in front of you. Continue to form rolls of the dough and place them end to end, gently pressing them together until you have a log of filling that extends across the long side of the phyllo sheet.
  6. Gently roll the phyllo sheet around the log of filling. Brush the top and sides lightly with melted butter to keep the phyllo roll flexible. Starting from the center, coil the first roll around itself inside the pan.
  7. Continue rolling logs of dough in the buttered phyllo and placing them end to end to form a tight coil until you have used up all of the paste and the pan is full. Brush the top of the pastry with the egg yolk and water mixture. Bake until crisp and golden brown, 30-40 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes.
  8. In a small saucepan, heat the honey to loosen it slightly. Add the remaining 1 Tablespoon orange flower water. Brush the honey mixture over the warm pastry. Cool slightly, dust with powdered sugar and additional nuts, if using. Slice into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature.

Today’s Tip:

Phyllo dough can be a pain in the ass to work with.  If it dries out, you’re done.  If it gets wet, you’re done.  While working with one sheet, it’s important to keep the rest of the phyllo covered with plastic wrap and a damp towel to keep it from drying out. Don’t stress if your phyllo tears a bit or comes apart when you are peeling off a sheet. It will not matter in the final product.  Work gently and slowly and you’ll be fine.

A decorated Walnut M'hanncha

Panforte

Panforte di Siena

Today’s Musings:
His drawings are dark, Schielesque (if I can make that a word), his dissonant music even more so; his lips a vertical line without hint of teeth below intense eyes.  He’s a loner, surrounded by his art and words and noise.  Before, I would have grasped after his complicated darkness – my preternatural talent to home in on the damaged and the wounded.  Beautiful, exquisite danger.

I’ve always been drawn to broken and frayed things.  Not to fix them, oh no, but to love them, for all their splendid flaws.  I cradle them tightly against my vulnerability and whisper, “I see your shadows and I love you for them, just as you are,” like my habit of gathering discarded objects from the sidewalks and the gutters, holding them up to the light, searching for their unique worth.  I find beauty in the things others judge as trash.

We are all broken.  We all have value. The darkness that resides in me sees the masked shadows in you. 

This time, though, my heart said, “No, Enough. You have learned your lesson.”  I have learned it well this time. I can love his art without gifting my heart to the marred soul that created it.  No, I will not walk in the woods with him today. A tear escapes from my eye.  This education is not without pain.

Today’s Recipe:
Somehow I’ve equated candied orange peel with holiday baking.  All of my annual holiday bakes, including gibassier, stollen, and eccles cakes, require candied orange peel.  This year, I’ve added mince pies and panforte to my repertoire, requiring even more peel. With nightmares of dreaded fruitcake in your head, you probably believe you’re not a fan of candied citrus peel. You most likely only know those chewy, tooth sticking, flavorless, processed nuggets that come in a grocery store tub. That’s what I thought candied peel was all about, too – until I made my own. Then, ooohhhh, I fell in love. Hand-crafted candied peel is pliant and juicy with the perfect balance between bitter peel and sweet syrup. Making your own takes a bit more work, but it’s the difference between a frozen beef patty and aged rib eye steak.

Panforte is a traditional Italian dessert. My recipe contains pistachios, walnuts, candied orange peel, chocolate and a shit-load of spices. Its chewy texture is halfway between fruitcake and candy.  The secret to its soft and pliant texture is baking the panforte just until barely firm in the middle. Otherwise, it will rip the fillings from your molars.  Panforte is typically served in thin wedges dusted with powdered sugar.

This version is only slightly adapted from David Lebovitz’s recipe.


Panforte

  • Servings: 16 thin slices
  • Print

Panforte is a traditional Italian dessert. Its yielding, chewy texture is halfway between fruitcake and candy.


Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 1 cup pistachios, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 5 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup chopped candied orange peel
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ancho chili powder
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ cup dark honey
  • extra cocoa powder, for dusting the pan
  • powdered sugar, for dusting the panforte

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325ºF
  2. Spray a 10-inch springform pan with nonstick spray. Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper. Spray the parchment and dust with cocoa powder, making sure to dust the sides.
  3. In a large bowl, mix together the nuts, cocoa powder, flour, candied orange peel, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, nutmeg, and ancho chile powder.
  4. Melt the chocolate in a small bowl in the microwave, at 30 second intervals, stirring in between until completely melted. Set aside.
  5. In a small pan fitted with a candy thermometer, heat the sugar and honey until the temperature reads 240ºF.
  6. Pour the hot honey syrup over the nut mixture, add the melted chocolate, and stir well until fully incorporated. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top by using a spatula. Once the mixture is cool enough to touch, use a dampened hand to press it completely flat.
  7. Bake the panforte for 30 – 35 minutes; the center will feel soft, like a barely baked brownie; if you touch it, your finger will come away clean. (Do not over bake or it will be too firm once cooled.)
  8. Let the panforte cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, and then run a sharp knife around the edge to loosen it from the pan. Remove the springform carefully, then let cool completely. Once cool, remove the bottom of the springform pan and peel away the parchment paper. Sprinkle the panforte with powdered sugar and rub it in with your hands. Serve in thin wedges.

Today’s Tip:
 You can store panforte for several months, well wrapped, at room temperature.