Welcome to the new and improved Carano's Cucina. I make a lot of kick ass food and go out to some amazing restaurants. Take a look around and make yourself at home :)

Monday, December 31, 2007

First Resolution for 2008 - Make more pie!

I have decided I need to master the pie. And yes, Nick will be VERY happy about this resolution! Granted, I have made this particular pie before, but I've never really mastered pie. I don't really know how to make a good pie crust, or a good fruit pie filling. I have no doubt though, that it will be a lot of fun learning!

For now, I do know how to make this one... Chocolate Hazelnut Pie. I LOVE chocolate and hazelnuts together in any way, shape or form. This pie starts out with a crust of flour, brown sugar and finely chopped hazelnuts. Add melted butter then press into the bottom and sides of the pie plate. I am using a recycled Baker's Square pie plate. I save them whenever possible for this reason. They do come in very handy when you are taking a pie to a party, which is what I am doing with this one tonight. The crust then bakes for 8 - 10 minutes or until lightly browned.

Take your mixing bowl and whip attachment and put them in the freezer while you use another bowl and another mixer (I used the Kitchen Aid hand mixer for this) to beat one 8 oz. block of softened cream cheese with sugar, melted/cooled semi-sweet chocolate and milk.

Take your bowl and whip attachment out of the freezer (that is, if you have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, if not then you will need to do this step after the previous one) and add one cup of heavy cream and whip to soft peaks.

Fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture.

Place the now mixed pie filling in the cooled/prepared pie shell.

Top with more hazelnuts or chocolate shavings or both! Refrigerate.

And enjoy!

Here is the exact recipe. I found it on Better Homes and Gardens website. The recipe includes ingredients for a raspberry sauce to serve with it, but I've never found it necessary. The chocolate and hazelnut is delish on it's own!

Chocolate Hazelnut Pie
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup very finely chopped hazelnuts
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate pieces, melted and cooled
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 cup whipping cream

1. For crust, in a bowl stir together flour, hazelnuts, and brown sugar. Stir in melted butter; toss to mix. Spread evenly in a 9-inch pie plate. Press onto bottom and sides to form a firm, even crust. Bake in a 425 degree F oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until brown. Cool.

2. For filling, in another mixing bowl combine cream cheese, melted chocolate, granulated sugar, and milk; beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. In a chilled bowl beat whipping cream until soft peaks form; fold into cream cheese mixture. Spread in the cooled crust. Cover loosely and chill for several hours or overnight.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Why did the chicken cross the road? To get the Struffoli!!

What the heck is a Struffoli, I can hear you asking. Well it is a traditional Italian Christmas dessert that consists of fried balls of dough draped in honey and then mounded into a tower so you can pick them off and eat them all day long. My family never had this dessert, but for some reason last year I thought to myself... "if I have time next year, I'm making Stuffoli!" Well, I didn't really have time, but I decided to make it anyway. I searched my cookbooks and the internet for a good recipe that would make a lot because I wanted to have one for my family and one for Nick's family. I opted to use Mario Batali's recipe because it called for 3 1/2 cups of flour and I thought that would make a huge batch. Still, it wasn't enough for two trays worth.

To make the dough, you mix 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 6 egg yolks, 6 eggs, Grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange (of course, if you know me at all you know I left the orange out!), 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1 tablespoon limoncello (I don't normally have this on hand to I used vanilla extract instead). Once the dough forms a firm ball, you cover it and put it in the refrigerator to rest for 30 minutes. When you take it out, pull off pieces and roll to the about the size of a golf ball and then roll that into a rope about 1/2 inch in diameter. From there, cut pieces about a half an inch and then roll them into balls.

In the meantime, be heating up a large pot with about 3 inches of oil (I used vegetable, canola or something similar would work too. I've seen recipes that call for olive oil, but I don't think I'd try that, there is too much likelihood that it could burn) and heat to 375 degrees.

When the oil is ready, drop the struffoli in one by one and make sure not to crowd the pan. They will puff up. Cook them until they turn a nice golden brown.

Then remove with a slotted spin (or I use a spider) to a cookie sheet lined with paper towels to drain. There are a lot of struffoli and it will take a little while to get them all done. Make sure you watch your oil temp, once you start frying, the temp fluctuates quite a bit.

After you finish frying, in a large skillet with high sides, heat 2 cups of honey with the juice and zest of one lemon until the honey is significantly thinner and warmed through. Then put the struffoli in the pan and coat with the honey mixture. Turn off the heat and let the struffoli sit in the pan for 5 minutes, stirring regularly.

After they are liberally coated, take the struffoli and mound them up on a nice platter, and pour any honey left in the pan over the top. Then top with sprinkles (you can also use lemon and orange zest for garnish or whatever you like!). Mario says these should keep for 5 days, as is.

Now that all that is out of the way, I will say that I'm not overly thrilled with my result. My struffoli came out dry and tough. They improved greatly with the addition of the honey/lemon sauce, but I'm still not going to serve them. This morning they feel very hard. They just didn't come out as puffy and light as I had hoped. I attribute this to a few things... 1) it was my first time making them and 2) I had to go out yesterday to buy eggs and I could only find extra large. That adds a lot more liquid to the dough and I had to keep adding more flour to make the dough less sticky. But even though these came out less than perfect, I will make them again next year!

12/29/07 - I discussed this outcome with my Grandma (99 years old and going strong!) and she suggested that if it happens again (that I can only find extra large eggs), that I should just omit one. Good advice! I wish I had thought of it at the time. But (thanks to Elaine!) new information has come to light that the recipe I used had a typo in it!! It was supposed to be 1 egg yolk, not six. That makes much more sense!

Friday, December 21, 2007

I never met a cookie I didn't like :)

This year, because of how busy I was with Carano's Cucina, I only made four varieties of cookies in addition to pizzelle. And I got them all done in one day. I don't care how busy I ever get, Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without some cookies. It is crucial that I make the Ritz cookie. If I didn't, there would be rioting in the streets! It kind of amuses me that everyones favorite cookie isn't even a cookie at all. To make them you take two Ritz crackers, spread peanut butter in between (smoothy or crunchy, it doesn't matter) and then take the whole Ritz sammitch and dip it in chocolate. You can buy the ready made Ritz peanut butter sandwiches too, but I never tried them so I'm not sure if they taste as good as buying your favorite peanut butter to do this with.

I also made Cranberry Noel Cookies. I started making these about 4 years ago and they quickly became my favorite. The are a shortbread style of cookie with dried cranberries and walnuts. I can't remember where I got the recipe, but I think they are from my gal Martha Stewart. There is very little sugar in them so they are not a real sweet cookie, which I like. You should definitely chop the dried cranberries some. I put them in the food processor for a few pulses.

Cranberry Noel Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (you can also use pecans)

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Add milk, vanilla and salt. Beat until just combined. Gradually add flour, cranberries and nuts. Mix on low speed until fully combined. Divide dough in half. Shape each half into 8-inch logs, about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm (2 hours minimum, you can leave it in the fridge overnight).

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Using a sharp knife, cut logs into 1/4 inch thick slices. Transfer to ungreased baking sheets about 1 inch apart. Bake until edges are golden, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Store up to 2 weeks in an airtight container.

Next up, Ricotta Cookies. These I started making a few years ago as well. I think I started because my Grandma cannot eat nuts and just about every Christmas cookie I know has nuts in it. They have turned into a crowd favorite with their super moist texture and mild sweet taste. They are easy as can be to make and the recipe makes tons!

Ricotta Cheese Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
1 (15 oz) container of ricotta cheese
3 Tablespoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 cups all purpose flour


1 cup powdered sugar
milk or heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all the cookie ingredients well until dough sticks together into a big ball. It will be sticky. Drop by teaspoonfuls on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 10 minutes or until the bottoms turn golden brown. Let cool for one minute and then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. In a small saucepan, slowly stir milk or cream into powdered sugar until it creates a glaze thin enough to be spread over the cookies. Stir over low heat then spread over cooled cookies. Quickly top with sprinkles. (put sprinkles on as soon as cookies are glazed or the glaze will harden and the sprinkles will not stick!)

This year I wanted to try something new and had Rogelach on my mind. I wanted one with cinnamon, sugar and nuts, and my friend Elaine had the perfect recipe! Hey Elaine, I hope you don't mind that I'm posting it! lol


1/2 lb. cream cheese
1/2 lb. butter or margarine
2 cups sifted flour

1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup finely chopped nuts (I used pecans)
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar

Soften cream cheese and butter and then cream together until well blended.

Add flour a little at a time, using a fork until all is mixed together. (You can use a Kitchen Aid and pulse it until mixed. Do not turn it on to a constant speed.)

Form into a large ball and refrigerate at least two hours, preferably overnight.

Mix ingredients for filling.

Divide dough into 4 pieces. (Take out 1 at a time to keep rest chilled.) Roll one piece the size of a large dinner plate (the dough is rather hard, just keep working it). Spread 1/4 of filling over dough. Using a sharp knife (a pizza cutter works great!), cut into 16 pieces by first cutting in fourths; then each 1/4 into fourths. Roll up each piece starting at outer rim, working towards narrow center. If any filling falls out, use it to sprinkle on top. Repeat with other three pieces of refrigerated dough.

Bake end flap down at 350° for 20 minutes until delicately brown.

Nick LOVES them!

And last but certainly not least, Pizzelle! I use the late Jeff Smith's recipe from his book, The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Italian. The recipe is so huge though, that I have cut it in half. I'm posting the halved recipe. I bought my pizzelle iron, a very old one, at a flea market about 10 years ago. It's not non-stick so I use cooking spray each time I put batter in the iron.


3 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup margarine, melted and slightly cooled
1 Tablespoon anise extract (you can use vanilla if you don't like anise)
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

Beat the eggs and sugar together until thickened and pale. Add the cooled margarine and anise (or vanilla). Sift in the flour and baking powder and mix until smooth.

Place a heaping Tablespoon of batter into each side of the pizzelle iron. Close and cook until it starts to brown. Each iron is different so watch and time yours! Remove with a fork and lay flat to cool.

Now share your recipes with me in the comments section :)

So much time and so little to do. Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it.

With the holiday season in full swing, so is business! Carano's Cucina was booming this year with candy orders, with over 100!! I made various chocolate nut clusters, peanut butter cups, turtles, almond brittle, English toffee, peppermint bark, and pretzels galore!!! Pretzels dipped in chocolate with toffee, nuts, sprinkles, M&M's, coconut, or rice krispies.

This year, as last, I only had one nervous breakdown. There comes a point when, after 10 hours of making candy, several days in a row, you just lose your mind. Well I do anyway. But it passes because I have the best support system in the world. Nick loves being a part of the business. He is PR, inspector, boxer, bagger, taper and ribbon bow maker. All I have to do is make everything!!

Wouldn't it be wonderful if, by this time next year, we had our own little place? Big dreams, but if you don't dream, what do you have? This is my wish for 2008... first and foremost, health for me and my family. A beautiful 100 year celebration in October for my Grandma. And lots of business with more opportunity to grow!

So now that it's done, what am I to do? Well, bake cookies of course! But that's another blog :)