With Thanksgiving only two weeks away, it’s time to start planning your holiday menu. Next week I will feature our favorite Italian style dinner recipes, so this week we will focus on dolce.
This year, ditch the plain pumpkin pie and prepare a Thanksgiving dessert brimming with the flavors of the season like winter fruits and warm spices with the cakes, pies and tarts featured here. Your holiday guests will love digging in to one of these Italian Thanksgiving desserts.
Italian Walnut Pillow Cookies are little bits of nutty goodness enveloped in a flaky crust and topped with sweet white icing. My grandchildren will grab them by the handful. On the other hand, if you are looking for something decadently rich, my recipe for chocolate cake flavored with chestnut puree will delight your family and guests. Add a dollop of whipped cream, dust it with cocoa and garnished the plate with fresh raspberries. Since the cake is very rich, a small sliver is all you need. Whether you make one of my recipes or both, be sure to make plenty, as I think they make they make ideal treats to send guests home with.
A delightful recipe that is bursting with seasonal fruits is the Pear and Cranberry Crostata, while the Apple Ciambella with Almond Cream captures traditional Italian flavors coupled with the all-American apple.
For a fall version of a classic, try my Pumpkin Amaretti Tiramisu. Chocolate and espresso is substituted with layers of amaretto-soaked ladyfingers, crumbled amaretti cookies and rich pumpkin-mascarpone filling.
Give thanks for family and friends by making these delicious Italian inspired Thanksgiving desserts.
Italian Walnut Pillow Cookies
Makes approximately 7 dozen cookies
For the dough
1 cup sugar
1 cup shortening
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup milk
4½ cups all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
For the filling
1½ lbs walnuts, chopped (I use my food processor)
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1½ cups sugar
4 egg whites, lightly beaten
For the Icing
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
4 tbsp milk (approximately)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease cookie sheets or line them with parchment paper. In a bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. Cream together the sugar and shortening. Add the egg and vanilla and combine well. Add in the remaining ingredients, alternating between the flour mixture and milk, starting and ending with the flour mixture and making sure all of the ingredients are well incorporated. The dough will be soft. Divide the dough into four even pieces, wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
To make the filling, either process the nuts through a food processor until finely chopped (just a smidge larger than all-out ground), or chop by hand. The smaller the pieces, the better. Combine the chopped nuts with the sugar and then add in the melted butter. Mix well, making sure there are no large clumps. Add the egg whites and again, mix well.
On a well-floured surface, roll out a piece of dough into a rectangle measuring about 6 inches by 18 inches. Spread ¼ of the nut filling onto the dough, leaving a small border around the perimeter of the dough. Roll up as you would a jelly roll, with the short ends to the left and right of you and seal the ends. Cut the roll into 1-inch pieces and place on the cookie sheet. Bake for 15-20 min or until the tops are just slightly starting to turn brown. Cool completely. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough and remaining filling.
Once the cookies are done, prepare the icing by mixing together the powdered sugar, vanilla and enough milk to achieve the desired consistency. You’ll want the icing to be thick enough, but not too runny, but still easily spreadable. Ice the tops of the cookies and let set completely before storing in an airtight container.
Apple Ciambella with Almond Cream
For the Ciambella
1 lb of flour
5 medium-sized apples
1 cup sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
1 cup olive oil
5 large eggs
zest of 1 large lemon
pinch of cinnamon
For the Almond Cream
16 oz Mascarpone cheese
1 cup sliced toasted almonds
4 tbsp sugar
zest of one medium lemon
Pre-heat the oven at 400°F. Using a mixer and bowl, you will be adding one ingredient at a time and then mixing. Add the eggs and beat until they begin to froth, then add the baking powder and incorporate into the eggs. Add the olive oil and mix, then add the lemon zest and cinnamon and mix well. Finally, add the sugar and mix well. At this point it is time to add the flour. You will want to do this little by little and mix until the flour is completely absorbed into the liquids. The mixture should be semi-soft. Put aside.
Peel the apples and slice them into half-moon shapes, about ¼” thick. Squeeze the juice of a lemon on the apple slices to prevent oxidation and give them a little zest. Use a 10” Angel Food Cake Pan and grease the bottom and sides with butter. Pour half of the mixture into the pan and make sure that it is evenly distributed. Add a row of apple slices onto the batter and cover the entire surface. Add the remaining mixture to the pan and level it. Position apple slices on it with each slice overlapping half of the preceding slice. Sprinkle sugar over the entire top of the Ciambella and bake for 60 minutes.
For the almond cream, in a high speed food processor add the almonds and sugar and process for about 3 minutes. Add the mascarpone and lemon zest and process until you have a smooth cream – about 1 minute. Slice the Ciambella and serve with a scoop of Almond Cream and garnish with fresh mint.
Beat cream and sugar until stiff peaks form. Combine with mascarpone, pumpkin and spices and beat until smooth.
In a small, shallow dish, pour the amaretto. Dip each ladyfinger before arranging along the bottom of a 13- by 9-inch baking dish, overlapping to fit. Spread 1/3 of the filling atop the ladyfingers, evenly sprinkle with1/3 of amoretti cookies and repeat for two more layers.
Smooth top of dessert and wrap tightly in plastic and foil. Refrigerate. Best when chilled overnight.
Pear and Cranberry Crostata
For the pastry
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp coarse salt
½ lb chilled unsalted butter, diced
For the filling
3 lbs Bosc pears
½ tsp grated orange zest
2 tbsp dried cranberries
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp coarse salt
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground allspice
1 stick chilled unsalted butter, diced
For the pastry, place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and toss quickly with your fingers to coat each cube of butter with the flour. Pulse 12 to 15 times or until the butter is the size of peas. With the motor running, add ¼ cup of ice water all at once through the feed tube. Keep hitting the pulse button to combine, but stop the machine just before the dough comes together. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board and form into 2 disks. Wrap the disks with plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour.
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Roll each pastry disk into an 11-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Transfer them to two baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
For the filling, peel, core and quarter the pears. Cut each quarter into big chunks. Toss the chunks with the orange zest. Divide the pear chunks between the pastries, covering the dough and leaving a 1 ½” border. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of cranberries over the top of each tart.
Combine the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and allspice in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Pour into a bowl and rub it with your fingers until it starts holding together. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the two tarts. Gently fold the border of each tart over the pears, pleating it to make a circle.
Bake the crostatas for 30 minutes or until the crust is golden and the pears are tender. Let the tarts cool for 5 minutes, then use 2 large spatulas to transfer them to wire racks to cool completely.
Chocolate Chestnut Cake
1 lb chestnut puree
¼ cup Italian liqueur
¼ cup heavy cream
6 large eggs, separated
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
½ cup sugar
1 pound dark chocolate 70%
2 tablespoons corn starch
Lightly butter an 8 inch spring-form pan. Preheat oven to 300°F. Break the chocolate into small pieces and melt it in a double boiler over simmering water. Beat together the chestnut puree and liqueur, add the melted butter and mix well. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until light and fluffy adding a little sugar bit by bit until you have incorporated all of the sugar into the whites. Beat the melted chocolate into the chestnut mixture and mix well, then add the eggs yolks, beating until smooth. Stir in the corn starch. Gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture using a spatula to mix well.
Pour the mixture into your prepared pan and bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool. To serve, add a dollop of whipped cream to each slice, dust with cocoa and garnish with fresh raspberries.