Remember when I used to do “Monday Bites…?!” Me neither.
Thoughts, inquiries, and photos from The Bite-Sized Baker… about our holiday vacation.
I’m back in Italy and it’s slightly bittersweet; I’m delighted to cuddle with Louie every morning and eat a phenomenal panini for 5 euros, but my heart aches for my family back in California.
This was one of the most amazing years of my life and our holiday vacation was no exception; starting with our snowboarding trip in the Alps with our two best friends, Chelsea and Hunter (where they got engaged!), our trip to California, where we spent much needed time with my family and best friends, and a brief trip to Chicago, where we got to check in with our college friends and some of Tony’s family.
Oh, and Tony and I got ENGAGED! On Christmas Eve morning, Tony had an arch delivered to my house without my knowledge and while I was getting ready that evening, my dad and Tony decorated the backyard with candles and lights. My sisters asked me to grab a bottle of Prosecco from the cooler and when I walked outside, Tony turned on all the lights and proposed! It was very sweet and romantic and thankfully, my entire family was there to capture the moment!
Our holiday was a bit magical and I’m just so grateful that I was able to celebrate with all my loved ones at a “surprise” engagement party that weekend that my sisters, Judith (my future mother-in-law ;)), and Tony organized. Judith rented out a super cute space in downtown Los Gatos called The Lexington House, where the owners worked with my sisters to create a customized menu of various appetizers and themed drinks and even recommended a photographer so we could enjoy and capture the night without constantly whipping out our own cameras… The only downside is Tony and I don’t have a SINGLE photo together so I’m hoping the photographer has some good ones when we finally get to see them!
Our family and friends flew in from all over the United States to celebrate with us and it was truly the best engagement party I could ever ask for and the best part is, I didn’t have to plan a thing! Except for what I was wearing, of course!
Thank you to all of our friends and family that were able to celebrate with us! You made our holiday AMAZING! Now I’m homesick, dreaming, and pinning all things wedding… Also, since I’m sappy and our anniversary is coming up, I already wrote a
little post about how Tony and I met so there’s that… I know you’re looking forward to it. There will also be some food in the mix, eventually.
For Christmas dinner, my family and I are planning an Italian feast complete with apertivo, pear and pecorino toretlloni, pumpkin risotto, bistecca, white beans, roasted veggies, budino, and tiramisu! Words cannot express how excited I am to see my family… and to serve them this dinner!
As much as I would love to pretend that I have a loud Italian grandmother to teach my sisters and I how to make pasta from scratch, I don’t… I’m also not really enthused about the idea of buying a pasta roller that I’ll most likely use once. Sooo we’re ordering fresh sheets of pasta from one of our favorite Italian restaurants in the area, La Villa, to make our toretlloni.
The last thing I wanted to worry about on Christmas day was ruining one of my favorite dishes and not having a back-up plan so I thought it would be in my best interest to do a “test run” of Pumpkin Tortelloni while I was in Florence.
I made the pumpkin filling the day before to save some time and used a great picture tutorial from the Williams Sonoma blog to assemble the toretlloni. I know… I’m in Italy and I’m using Williams Sonoma as a reference, but it is an excellent guide for beginners! The first time I tried to assemble the toretlloni, I made the mistake of buying cheap store-bought pasta sheets and as soon as I started making little triangles the pasta started breaking. I got annoyed, had a little hissy fit, and I was about to call it a loss and throw everything away… But then I remembered, “I have to do this for Christmas! I must persevere.”
The following day I went to the fresh pasta vendor at the Mercato Centrale and explained (in Italian, might I add!) that I wanted to make tortelli at home and walked away with some fresh, quality pasta sheets that don’t break when you fold them! The Williams Sonoma blog was super helpful, but of course, there were still a few mishaps… How are you supposed to learned otherwise?!
On my first sheet of pasta, I didn’t use a ruler so all of my squares looked more like rectangles and didn’t create even triangles, which was fine because I jut cut off the excess dough… But still, not perfect. The second sheet of pasta I used a ruler and made 2”x2” squares, which were a bit too small for my liking and I got overzealous with the pumpkin filling and I couldn’t seal my edges completely. But alas, on the third sheet of pasta I made 3”x3” squares, I only put two teaspoons of filling in the center, and I was able to seal my edges and fold over my corners. Success! Tortelloni for the win!
The pumpkin filling is a great balance of sweetness and acidity from the vinegar and honey and then it’s coated in a simple brown butter sauce and topped with sage and toasted pumpkin seeds for a little extra crunch and nuttiness. Seasonal, cozy, and delicious.
Pumpkin Tortelloni with Sage and Pumpkin Seeds from Williams Sonoma:
20 ounces/625 grams of fresh pasta sheets (1/16-inch/2 millimeters)
6 tablespoons (¾ stick) (3 ounces/90 grams) unsalted butter
2 ¼ pound (1 kg) Cinderella or other heirloom pumpkin or butternut squash, halved, seeded and stringy fibers removed (seeds reserved)
Olive oil for drizzling
Kosher salt, to taste
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 ½ cups (6 ounces/185 grams) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 tablespoon honey (optional)
Semolina flour for dusting
3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
½ teaspoon olive oil
Kosher salt, to taste
5 tablespoons (2 ½ ounces/75 grams) unsalted butter
6 fresh sage leaves, finely slivered
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for finishing
- Preheat an oven to 350°F (180°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Heat a sauté pan over medium heat and add the butter. Once the butter has melted and the foam has subsided, cook, stirring constantly, until the butter becomes a light tan color. Smell the butter; it should have a nutty aroma. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- To make the filling, cut the pumpkin in half, drizzle with olive oil and season liberally with kosher salt. Place the pumpkin, cut side down, on the prepared baking sheet. Roast the pumpkin until fully tender when pierced with a knife, 45 to 60 minutes. The pumpkin should be soft to the touch but not mushy or deflated. Scoop out the flesh of the pumpkin and discard the rind. Add the warm pumpkin to a blender along with the brown butter, cinnamon, nutmeg and vinegar. Puree until smooth and season to taste with salt. The puree should have a nice balance of sweetness and acidity. If the pumpkin lacks sweetness and depth of flavor, add the honey to balance the flavor. Spoon the puree into a bowl and fold in the cheese. You should have about 3 ½ cups (28 fl. oz./875 ml) filling. Cover and transfer to the refrigerator to cool.
- Dust 2 baking sheets with semolina flour and set aside.
- To make the tortelloni, using a straight wheel cutter or sharp knife and a ruler, cut the dough into 2 ¾-inch (7-cm) squares. Using a piping bag or spoon, place 2 teaspoon of filling into the middle of each square. Fold the pasta in half so the opposite corners meet, forming a triangle. Use a spritz of water from a spray bottle to help seal it if necessary. Gently press out the air around the filling by running your fingers from the tip of the triangle downward. With your thumbs along the base of the triangle and your index fingers halfway down each side of the triangle, gently pinch your index fingers and thumbs together and rotate your left index finger to fit under the base of the triangle. Wrap the corners around your left index and middle fingers and pinch them together to seal. You should have a small gap between the filling and the pinched dough, like a ring.
- Working quickly, place the tortelloni on the prepared baking sheets, spaced apart, until ready to cook. Don’t let the tortelloni touch each other or they may stick together. Repeat until you run out of dough or filling. You should have 30 to 40 pieces.
- Preheat an oven to 350°F (180°C). Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- In a small bowl, stir together the pumpkin seeds with the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Spread the seeds on a baking sheet and toast until golden brown, about 11 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
- Drop the pasta into the boiling water. Meanwhile, heat a 12-inch (30-cm) sauté pan over high heat. Add ¼ cup (2 fl. oz./60 ml) of the seasoned pasta water and the butter and bring to a simmer. Once the pasta is cooked 80 percent through, until almost al dente, about 2 to 3 minutes, add it to the pan along with the sage and swirl until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Reserve the pasta water. If needed, add a few more tablespoons of pasta water to keep a saucy consistency and continue cooking until the pasta is tender, about 90 seconds. Season with salt.
- To serve, divide the pasta and sauce between 4 plates. Sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano and the toasted pumpkin seeds and serve immediately. Serves 4.
Yesterday, my friends, marked the day that I can no longer say that “I’m in my early 20s.” That’s right, it was my birthday yesterday and I am now TWENTY-FIVE years old.
I am surprisingly not freaking out about this milestone birthday… I don’t know if it’s really a milestone, but the mere fact that I can now rent a car without an additional fee is KIND OF a big deal. Twenty-five is typically the age where people start freaking out about their “life goals” and what they’ve accomplished so far.
Although my list of accomplishments is rather brief (I mean, so what if I’ve only held one job in my life for less than two years?!) I’ve never been in a better place; mentally, physically, and emotionally. I’ve reached a quarter of a century mark and I’m happy in my own skin and that’s a big enough accomplishment for me… Or maybe that’s just because I’m unemployed at age 25 and I have zero desire to use my college degree in the future… IRRELEVANT!
Speaking of accomplishments… I made Oatmeal Peanut Butter-Fudge Bars and they are gosh dang delicious. I always feel like a baking all-star when I give any of my friends a dessert with peanut butter… Let’s just say, in the peanut butter department, America reigns. Specifically the most artificial American peanut butter you can find with a light blue cap; there’s just nothing like Skippy when baking!
These bars are full of peanut butter-fudge and layered with a chewy oatmeal cookie crust and topping. They’re simple to make and they’re the perfect dessert to share with friends and family over the holidays!
Oatmeal Peanut Butter-Fudge Bars by The Bite-Sized Baker:
Oatmeal Cookie Crumble:
3 cups old fashioned oats
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup butter, room temperature
2 cups brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon vanilla
16 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup peanut butter
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line a 9”x13” pan with parchment paper.
- To make the oatmeal cookie crumble, combine oats, flour, salt, and baking soda in a large mixing bowl.
- In the bowl of a standing mixer, cream sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating to blend between additions, and scraping down bowl as necessary. Add vanilla until just combined. While mixing on low, add dry ingredients until evenly combined. Set aside.
- To make the peanut butter ganache, place chocolate morsels in a large non-reactive bowl and in a medium saucepan, heat cream until bubbles begin to form around the edge of the pan. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and pour it over the chocolate. Let chocolate and cream mixture sit for 3 minutes. With a wooden spoon, begin stirring small circles in the middle of the bowl. As the smooth mixture begins to form in the middle, slowly expand the size of the circle until the cream and chocolate is fully incorporated. Add peanut butter and let ganache cool for 5 minutes.
- To assemble, spread two-thirds of the oatmeal cookie crumble into prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool slightly for 5 minutes. Spread cooled peanut butter ganache over oatmeal cookie crumble and top with remaining oatmeal cookie crumble and bake for 30 minutes or until edges are set. Cool in pan on wire rack and cut into squares.
- If peanut butter ganache doesn’t set, place pan in freezer for 10-15 minutes until set. They also taste delicious when served chilled!
Sometimes when I have time to kill and I’ve already checked my email and looked at every possible website that I am remotely interested in, I stalk pictures of doughnuts on different forms of social media.
I look up hashtags of #DoughnutVault, #DoughtnutPlant, #GlazedandConfused, #Firecakes, and #StansDonuts and I immediately crave a fresh, fried doughnut straight from the peanut oil. It’s a sick and tormenting game that I play with myself. So fun!
On this particular day, I didn’t need to do any doughnut hashtag stalking because it seemed like EVERY SINGLE PERSON on my Instagram feed was eating their share of doughnuts and taking aerial shots to prove it. I needed to get my hands on one… AND FAST!
Unfortunately, I’ve burnt myself more times than I care to admit this week and seeing how it was only Wednesday at this point, I didn’t want to take any chances with spitting hot peanut oil… So I took the easy route, I made Baked Chocolate Cake Doughnuts.
I am not going to sit here and claim that baked doughnuts taste anything like the real thing, but they are an excellent alternative when you need a quick fix and/or maybe you’re just afraid of kneading or frying dough. They are super quick to make, moist, and full of chocolate flavor. The perfect treat on a chilly December morning!
Baked Chocolate Cake Doughnuts from the Pastry Affair:
¾ cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
1 ¼ cup (160 grams) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (20 grams) cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons butter, melted
½ cup (115 grams) sour cream
1/3 cup (78 ml) milk
1 cup (125 grams) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ tablespoons milk
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Grease a standard-size doughnut pan.
- To make the chocolate doughnuts, whisk together the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the egg, vanilla, melted butter, sour cream, and milk until thoroughly mixed.
- Transfer the batter to a pastry bag (or large kitchen bag with the corner snipped off). Fill the depressions in the prepared pan with the batter until 2/3 full. Alternatively, if appearance does not matter, you could spread the batter into the pan using an offset spatula, but this results in more unevenly shaped doughnuts. Bake the doughnuts for 15-18 minutes, or until puffed and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.
- To make the vanilla glaze, stir together all ingredients until smooth in a small mixing bowl. If the glaze is too thick, thin with a teaspoon or two of milk.
- Spoon the glaze over the cooled doughnuts, allowing any excess to drip off. The glaze will take 10-15 minutes to set, depending on the thickness.
It’s December 1st and this makes me EXTREMELY happy. Normally, the first of December marks the day I finally allow myself to start listening to Christmas carols, watching Christmas movies, eating Advent calendar chocolates, and baking Christmas cookies…. But I was slightly impatient this year and started all that two weeks ago… I’m going to have to come up with a good excuse as to why Tony is missing December 1st, 8th, and 13th on his Advent calendar…
Since Thanksgiving isn’t too big of a deal in Italy (surpriiiise!) they kind of skipped over that part of the year that America holds so dear and jumped right into Christmas… Every storefront in the center of Florence is covered in garland and snowflakes and the streets have been ablaze with Christmas lights since Halloween ended… So obviously… I had to join in on the fun a little earlier than normal!
Unfortunately, I didn’t really get the “crafty” or “artistic” gene so my attempt at turning my house into a Winter Wonderland looks like a bunch of eight-year-olds ate too much cake and then tried to decorate… I have fake snow smeared across my windows, snowflakes dangling from the ceiling, and lots of bright, glittery ornaments hanging from the tree… It looked a lot better on my Pinterest “Holiday Things” board… at least Louie had fun watching me risk my life while climbing the most janky ladder I happened to find abandoned in the attic.
I did do one thing right though, I made this cake when my friend Laura came over last Wednesday for a Baking Day Extravaganza. I met Laura at good ole CrossFit… She’s from Germany, but is studying in Florence and is just about the smartest person I’ve ever met…Thankfully, she speaks English along with SEVEN other languages. Can I just ask WHO speaks eight languages unless they’re absolutely brilliant? It baffles me. I can barely speak a sentence of Italian without butchering one… or seven… words.
Anyhow, we planned on baking a bunch of cakes and desserts, but this cake ended up taking the majority of the time so we didn’t get around to baking anything else… I’m not complaining either because this cake was BOMB. It’s inspired by Bon Appetit’s Salted Caramel Ding Dong Cake, but since the holidays are near, we turned it into a Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate Cake instead. Just when you thought life couldn’t get any better…
Two layers of chocolate cake layered with caramel ganache and marshmallow filling, covered in chocolate buttercream, drizzled with more of that caramel ganache goodness, and topped with toasted Swiss meringue puffs. Yeah. I know. I’m currently sitting in front of the computer screen with my second slice of cake and a carton of milk by my side. It’s reaaaaaal gooood. Just make sure you have a glass or a carton of milk ready. I foresee a “Got Milk?” commercial in the making with a slice of this cake.
Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate Cake inspired by Bon Appetit:
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
4 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup hot strong coffee
¾ cup buttermilk
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 large eggs
9 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/8 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup sugar
1 ½ cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt
1 ¼ teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1 ½ cups chilled heavy cream
½ cup powdered sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 ½ cups butter, room temperature
¾ cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
3 ¾ cup powdered sugar
3-4 tablespoons heavy cream
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
5 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- To make the cake, preheat oven to 350°. Coat cake pans with nonstick spray. Line bottom of pans with parchment-paper rounds; coat paper.
- Place cocoa powder and chocolate in a medium metal bowl. Pour hot coffee over. Let stand for 1 minute. Stir until smooth. Stir in buttermilk and vanilla; set aside. Whisk cake flour and next 3 ingredients in a medium bowl.
- Using an electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating to blend between additions and occasionally scraping down sides and bottom of bowl. Beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with chocolate mixture in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients.
- Divide batter evenly between pans; smooth tops. Bake cakes until a tester inserted into the centers comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Transfer to wire racks; let cakes cool in pans for 10 minutes (cakes will deflate slightly). Run a knife around pans to loosen cakes; invert cakes onto racks. Peel off paper and let cakes cool completely. Turn cakes over. If needed, use a long serrated knife to cut off bumps or trim dome from top of each cake to create a flat, even surface.
- To make the caramel ganache, place chocolate and salt in a medium bowl. Stir sugar and ¼ cup water in a medium deep saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and cook without stirring, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with a wet pastry brush, until sugar is deep amber, about 9 minutes. Remove from heat and gradually add cream (mixture will bubble vigorously). Stir over medium heat until caramel bits dissolve. Pour over chocolate in bowl. Add vanilla; stir until mixture is smooth. Let cool slightly.
- To assemble, place 1 cake layer in springform pan. Pour 1 cup ganache over and sprinkle with sea salt. Chill until set, about 30 minutes. Cover remaining ganache and let stand at room temperature.
- To make the marshmallow filling, place 2 tablespoons cold water in a small heatproof glass or metal bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over; let stand until gelatin softens, about 10 minutes.
- Pour water to a depth of ½ inch into a small skillet set over medium heat. Transfer bowl with gelatin to skillet; stir until gelatin dissolves, about 2 minutes. Remove bowl from skillet. Set aside.
- Place cream and powdered sugar in a large bowl. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean. Using an electric mixer, beat cream until soft peaks form. Add gelatin; beat filling until firm peaks form.
- Spoon filling over chilled ganache on cake layer in pan; smooth top. Gently place second cake layer on top. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill until cream layer is set, at least 6 hours or overnight.
- Remove sides from spring-form pan. Using a knife or offset spatula, scrape off any filling that may have leaked out from between cakes to form smooth sides. Transfer cake to a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet.
- To make chocolate buttercream, cream butter in the bowl of an electric stand mixer on moderately high speed until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed and add cocoa powder and powdered sugar until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes. Add vanilla and heavy cream and continue to beat on high speed until the mixture is pale and very fluffy.
- To assemble, cover entire cake with a crumb coat (thin layer of chocolate buttercream) and return cake to freezer to set, about 5-10 minutes.
- Frost the top and sides of the assembled cake with the remaining chocolate buttercream and return cake to freezer to set, about 5-10 minutes.
- While the cake is setting, rewarm remaining ganache until just pourable (microwave in a microwave-safe bowl, or set a metal bowl over a large saucepan of simmering water until just warm, not hot.) Pour ganache over the edge of the cake, occasionally tilting cake as needed to allow ganache to drip down sides. Chill until ganache is set, about 1 hour.
- To make the Swiss meringue, mix egg whites and sugar in a heat-proof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Whisk with a hand whisk continuously until the mixture reaches 65°C (149°F). Remove from heat and place egg and sugar mixture in the bowl of an electric stand mixer and beat on high speed until the meringue is shiny, glossy, and stiff.
- Transfer to a pastry bag with a round-tip attachment and pipe rounds on top of the cake.
- Use a creme brûlée blowtorch to brown the meringue and serve immediately. Put the cake back in the fridge if not serving right away.