Dolci & cocktails

Dolci & cocktails

By
Katie & Giancarlo Caldesi
Contains
27 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781784880514

Sicily is known to be one of the best places in the world for its dazzling array of sweet delights – patisserie, gelati, granite, marzipan, cannoli and cassata, to name just a few. With its bounty of citrus fruits, wonderful sheep’s milk ricotta, almonds and pistachios, as well as the Arab influence and the once thriving sugar industry, it is no surprise that Sicily is the place to go if you have a sweet tooth.

It was the Arabs who first mixed the snow from Mount Etna with fruit-flavoured syrups to produce sherbets, which were later turned into granite. They made marzipan cubes from water, almonds, honey and gela, a firm jelly made from the juice of watermelons and cinnamon. They also introduced the flavours of jasmine, orange water and rose, still popular today, and they sweetened ricotta with sugar and added spice, which began the history of the cassata and cannoli. I haven't included either cassata or cannoli here as I feel they are pastries that really only work in Sicily. The sheep’s ricotta, which is so hard to find in the UK, is what gives the pleasant tang to the desserts and helps to balance the incredible sweetness.

The Spanish brought cocoa beans into Modica from Mexico and at the well-known chocolate shop Dolceria Bonajuto chocolate is produced using the same techniques as centuries ago. They use cocoa mass as it is, with no added cocoa butter or soy lecithin. It goes into a double boiler at 40°C, which doesn’t melt the sugar. The grainy texture is an acquired taste. It isn’t important to them that the sugar melts – the important thing is that the cocoa has 100 per cent flavour.

The traditional flavourings have always been vanilla and cinnamon and the best quality you can get. The staff will tell you that the cocoa changes the flavour of the spice, not the other way around. They run tours so that you can see the chocolatiers shaking the tins during the battitura as the chocolate cools. The chocolate was originally used in a drink, which they still make every Christmas. They also produce a delicious liqueur which is a tribute to the Maya tradition of mixing chocolate and chilli. Do pick up a bottle when visiting – it is wonderful on a cold night

The famous patisserie Casatelle at Erice should probably come with a health warning. The sweets behind the counter are perfectly beautiful and totally irresistible. If you are cutting down on sugar, beware the temptations in Sicily!

Almonds

The sweet smell of the almond blossom is wonderful in spring and it is a great time to visit the island. Ground almonds are widely used in Sicilian cooking: they are ground into cakes, used to make milk, ice cream and granite, as well as chopped and added to salads, couscous and aubergine (eggplant) dishes.

Sicilian ice cream

Look in any guidebook and it will tell you not to miss the experience of eating ice cream in Sicily. In the lower main square outside the Duomo di San Giorgio in Ragusa Ibla is the specialist ice-cream shop Gelati di Vini. Do pay a visit and sit outside in the square while you eat ice cream and admire the pastel-coloured houses – obviously painted to match the flavours in the shop, we thought. We met a lovely English couple who didn’t mind us dipping into their ices, and between us we tasted rose, jasmine, fichi d’India, Moscato, Mayan specialities with chocolate and spices, cinnamon and chilli, toasted almond packed with nuts, olive oil flavour and even a deep purple beetroot. These are proper artisanal ice creams made with love and care.

Rose

We tried spritzing some of our Welsh rosewater, Petals from the Valley, directly on to the frozen ice cream just before serving. It is wonderful and makes you feel like someone has just given you a bouquet of roses, told you they love you and asked you to marry them! However, if you don’t have a spray to hand add approximately 3–4 tablespoons of rosewater (depending on your taste and brand of rosewater) to the hot custard. Taste and adjust accordingly.

Vanilla

Sitting on this terrace at Sant'Andrea hotel in Taormina eating cool vanilla ice cream in the hot sun was heavenly. Add the seeds of a vanilla pod to the custard base while it is still hot. Leave the pod in the mixture too until you are ready to churn.

Chocolate & cinnamon

This is a flavour inspired by the amusing and unusual Dolceria Bonajuto chocolate shop in Modica, where they sell a Mayan-inspired liqueur made from chocolate and spices. Add 200 g dark (bittersweet) chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids), broken into small pieces, into the hot custard, off the heat, as soon as it thickens, with 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Taste and adjust the salt and cinnamon flavours as necessary. For a kick of heat, add a dried red chilli to the milk and cream as they heat. Remove before freezing.

Saffron

Saffron strands will vary in flavour depending on their age and quality. To make this, we use 3 level teaspoons of saffron strands. Add to the base while it is still hot, according to taste – you may find you need more or less than our measurement. Do bear in mind that you need a fairly robust flavour as the strength softens when it is frozen.

Clementine

We love the subtle flavour of clementines but you could use any citrus fruit to flavour the ice cream as follows: add 2 teaspoons of finely grated clementine zest to the hot custard base.

Vanilla olive oil

This brilliantly simple idea comes from the restaurant in Palermo called Bio and Sicily. ‘Bio’ means organic and the restaurant specialises in zero-kilometre food that is grown organically. In this case, they have used a local light oil and in the words of the manager, Marco Piraino, ‘mixed it with vanilla pods and time’.

We make small amounts as, although it keeps well in a small bottle, a little olive oil on a dessert goes a long way. Simply put around 50 ml of a delicate light extra-virgin olive oil in a jar and mix with the seeds of a vanilla pod and the bean cut into a few pieces so that it fits in the jar. Screw on the lid and leave in a cool, dark place for at least 3 days and up to 10 days. The flavour will develop with time. When you are ready to use it, shake the bottle to distribute the vanilla seeds and drizzle over ice cream, whipped cream and berries or fresh fruit salad.

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