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Celebrate the Season with Sweet Italian Treats

Chocolate-Dipped CannoliThe holidays are filled with sweet treats, great parties and plenty of reasons to celebrate. Around the world, everyone is gathering with family and friends to honor the season.

I love to find new recipes from international cuisines that represent how each culture celebrates. From lebkuchen in Germany to plum pudding in England, each country has its own sweet tradition. One of my favorites is Italian cannoli, and you can’t talk about Italian desserts without mentioning tiramisu.

For both, you will need to venture down the cookie aisle to find Alessi Cannoli Shells and Alessi Ladyfingers. Alessi Foods was created by the Vigo Importing Company to bring Americans the specialty foods that capture the best of traditional Italian cuisine. From the sun-kissed peaks of Sicily to the northern vales of Tuscany, every facet of Italian culture can be tasted and experienced.

Also known as savoiardi, ladyfingers are delightful and delicately light cookies that have been enjoyed by Italians for generations. Eaten as a snack alongside a glass of milk, children love their simple goodness. Adults also enjoy nibbling on them between sips of espresso or cappuccino. They are best known for tiramisu, where they are dunked in coffee and layered with a cream filling.

Cannoli also has an interesting origin. With the Arab introduction of sugar into Sicily in the ninth century, the cooking style changed forever. Ricotta had long been an essential part of Sicilian cuisine as well as pine nuts and currants. Resourceful Sicilians added the natural sweetness of sugar to these staple foods and wrapped them in a fried but delicate pastry tube, hence the birth of cannoli. Originally enjoyed by Sicilians only at Carnival time, word spread quickly of their goodness. The wonderful legacy of this Sicilian invention now enjoys worldwide popularity.

Both of these classic desserts are easy to make and always a hit at parties. Make some today, and start your new holiday tradition.

Chocolate-Dipped Cannoli

1 pkg cannoli shells
2 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup chocolate, chopped
1 cup chocolate chips, melted
1/4 cup cream

In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, sugar, cinnamon and chopped chocolate. Stir to combine and set aside. In a double-boiler, add chocolate chips and cream; melt over medium heat. Dip bottom of cannoli shells in the chocolate deep enough that the inside and outside of the bottom of the shell are covered in chocolate. Also, dip each end in the chocolate. Place the shells upside down on a plate, and let chocolate cool and harden. Using a pastry bag, pipe ricotta filling into shells from both ends. Lightly sprinkle with powdered sugar or cocoa powder. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Serves 6

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Alessi Tiramisu

5 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup Marsala wine
1 cup whipping cream, chilled
4 Tbs sugar
1 lb mascarpone cheese
2 cups coffee
1/2 cup brandy or marsala
1 Tbs vanilla
14 oz Alessi Ladyfingers
3 Tbs cocoa powder

In the top part of a double-boiler, beat eggs and sugar together until the mixture is pale yellow in color. Place egg yolk mixture over water; gradually add marsala wine, beating continuously. Scrape bottoms and sides of pan occasionally, and cook for 6 to 10 minutes or until soft mounds can be formed. Transfer to bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Make the mascarpone filling by whipping cream with 2 tablespoons sugar until soft peaks form. Fold in mascarpone and prepared egg mixture; mix until well-blended. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

In a separate bowl, mix espresso, 2 tablespoons sugar, brandy and vanilla. Arrange 16 cookies on the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan. Carefully spoon about 1 tablespoon of the coffee mixture over each cookie, so they are well-saturated but not falling apart. Spoon 1/3 of cheese mixture over cookies, and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon cocoa. Add another layer of cookies; repeat steps two more times, ending with cocoa. Cover and refrigerate for at least 5 hours or overnight, so the cookies soften as they absorb moisture.

Serves 8

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Make a Fresh and Light Dessert for Mom

Puff Pastry Napoleons with Lemon Custard and Fresh BerriesTo be perfectly honest, mothers probably deserve more than one day a year of celebration. After all, they’ve given us endless days of caring, nurturing, worrying and looking after us in a way that no one else ever will.

That’s why Mother’s Day is so special. Moms teach us the most basic things: talking, walking, loving and especially eating. So, on Mother’s Day, she deserves something sweet and special. If you make it yourself, it will be even more special.

Don’t worry, it’s an easy recipe with only six ingredients and even the kids can help make this one. Best of all, Mom will love it!

Puff Pastry Napoleons with Lemon Custard and Fresh Berries

1 box Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets (2 sheets)
1 box JELL-O Vanilla Pudding (prepared according to package directions)
2 cups fresh mixed berries (sliced strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries)
1 cup blueberry jam
1 lemon, juiced
1 cup Cool Whip

Preheat oven to 400° F. Unfold the pastry sheets and lay them flat on a greased baking sheet. Prick the pastry with a fork in several places across the sheet. Doing this will keep the pastry from puffing too much when it is baked. Cut the sheets with a sharp knife into 9 even-sized squares. Bake for 20 minutes and set aside to cool. If making in advance, wrap the squares tightly in plastic and leave on the counter. Do not refrigerate.

To make the sauce, place the jam in a small bowl with the lemon juice. Microwave for 20 seconds and stir until melted completely. Set aside to cool. If refrigerating overnight, microwave the sauce for a few seconds before using to bring it to a pourable consistency.

To assemble the napoleons, add a tablespoon of the sauce to the fresh berries and stir together to coat the berries. Place a puff pastry square on a plate. Top with a spoonful of pudding and several berries. Press the berries into the pastry. Top with another pastry square then more pudding and berries. Top with a third pastry square, a small amount of pudding and a generous drizzle of the sauce. Garnish with whipped cream and more berries around the plate and on top.

The pudding, puff pastry and sauce can be made a day ahead, and then simply assemble the napoleons before serving. This recipe makes six 3-layer napoleons or nine 2-layer napoleons.

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Chocolate-Almond Tarts: A Recipe for Chocolate Love

Chocolate Almond TartsValentine’s Day is right around the corner, and dinner at home might just be the perfect romantic setting. Restaurants are crowded and hard to get into, but FRESH has plenty of choices when it comes to planning a special dinner at home.

When it comes to dessert, Valentine’s Day always makes me think of chocolate, and individual chocolate-almond tarts topped with delicious juicy strawberries are sure to please.

The VIP Pastry Shells, located in the freezer section, make assembling these pies an easy task. These three-inch pastry shells are often on my list for dinner parties and special events because individual pies are always a hit with guests. They look beautiful arranged on a platter, and there’s just something about having your own individual pie that makes you feel special.

There are eight shells in a box, and with this recipe, you just add the filling and bake. The filling ingredients are simple – Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate, sliced almonds, egg whites and sugar. Stir everything together, fill the pastry shells and bake.

These pies are rich enough to satisfy any chocolate craving and are so easy to make – even the men could make a batch for the ladies.

Chocolate-Almond Tarts 

8 oz Ghirardelli dark chocolate, chopped
2/3 cup sliced almonds, chopped
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg whites
1 box VIP Pastry Shells
powdered sugar and fresh berries, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350° F.In a bowl, stir together the chocolate, almonds, sugar and egg whites.Prick the sides and bottoms of the tart shells with a fork. Spoon the filling into the crust.Bake for 25 minutes until chocolate is melted and crust is golden. Cool completely.Turn pies upside down in the palm of your hand and remove from the tin. Dust with powdered sugar and garnish with fresh berries.


A FRESH Point of View: Buche de Noel

Yes, I know you probably have just barely polished off the Thanksgiving leftovers, but here in the FRESH pastry department, we’re already turning to thoughts of Christmas.

I have a special love for all things French when it comes to desserts and pastry, as you may have noticed. And of all the wonderful French culinary traditions connected to Christmas, one of my favorite is the Buche de Noel – translated from the French as “Christmas log” or “Yule log,” and a holiday tradition in France and French-speaking countries for more than a century.

If you’ve seen one, you understand why it has that name. Inspired by the Yule logs that were burned in  hearths in centuries past, a Buche de Noel is a confection of thin genoise (cake) and decadent fillings, rolled or layered to resemble a real log. It’s then frosted, usually with chocolate buttercream, scored to look even more like a log, and decorated with holly leaves, made of candy, frosting or marzipan. Pastry chefs often add their own touches – candy canes, mushrooms made of meringue, or marzipan holly berries or other decorations.  Sometimes they dust it with powdered sugar or sugar crystals, to represent snow.

Not to be outdone here at FRESH, we will be making three flavors of Buche de Noel for the holiday season. These make a great centerpiece for a holiday dessert buffet, or a special dessert for a winter dinner party:

Trianon: Chocolate genoise, filled with white chocolate mousse, milk chocolate mousse and dark chocolate mousse.

Opera: The same moist chocolate cake, filled with white chocolate mousse and brandied cherries.

Truffle: This time, the chocolate cake is accented with creamy milk chocolate ganache and dark chocolate ganache.

FRESH In: Hot From The FRESH Chefs

At FRESH, we like to keep your meal options open. So, our chefs always developing new recipes for new dishes to feature in our bakery, chef-prepared market case, and salad, soup and dip bars.

While you’re here enjoying the classes, demos and specials of our Some Like It Hot festival, check out some of our new and recent additions, all with a definitive heat factor:

Juan’s salsa at the dip/salsa bar. Traditional ingredients (jalapenos, tomatoes, onions, cilantro) carefully blended for a bold, traditional salsa good on its own with chips, or with your favorite quesadillas, tacos or enchiladas.

Stuffed poblanos in the chef-prepared case. Mild, meaty poblano peppers stuffed with moist chicken and a blend of cheeses.

Southwest red quinoa saladin the chef-prepared case. If you like our original quinoa salad, featuring the healthy grain with edamame, you should try this one, too.  It’s red quinoa blended with traditional Southwest ingredients like sweet corn kernels, cilantro and fresh bell pepper, in a light, slightly spicy vinaigrette.

Chocolate-dipped jalapeno chips in the pastry case. A kicked-up version of our chocolate-dipped potato chips, this time with spicy jalapeno-flavored chips under that hand-dipped chocolate covering.

FRESH and Festive: Talking Truffles

This weekend, we address one of the world’s most prized, most mysterious – and, yes, most expensive – foods: The truffle.

Our Truffles 101 workshop, 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday in our FRESH Taste Kitchen, will teach you the basics of handling the truffle, in all its forms: Fresh truffles, fragrant truffle oil, and, one of our personal favorites – the chocolate truffle!

The genuine truffle: Essentially a wild underground mushroom, true truffles come in both black and white varieties. The best come from small regions of Italy and France, though you can also find American-grown truffles. But they’re more than just a mushroom. Earthy, delicate, intensely flavored and extremely aromatic, they are considered one of the great delicacies of the world. They are usually used uncooked, shaved at the last minute over risotto, pasta, salad, meat or even scrambled eggs.

Yes, truffles are expensive. Some black truffles, such as those we carry in our produce department at FRESH, can be up to $250 a pound! (This is because they are so rare and hard to find. Truffle hunters traditionally employed pigs, and now often use dogs, to sniff them out.) But, you need just a tiny bit, far less than a pound, to make a huge impact on any dish. So don’t be intimidated. Pick up some serving hints at the workshop!

Truffle oil: Restaurant dishes billed as “truffled” often contain this secret ingredient – olive, grapeseed or some other oil, infused with the flavor and aroma of truffles. Technically, many truffle oils are not made from real truffles, but rather from ingredients that mimic the scent and taste of the real thing. Because of that, some chefs disparage truffle oils. (TV’s Gordon Ramsay recently scolded a Master Chef contestant for using it – even though Ramsay has published recipes using truffle oil in the past.)

We respectfully disagree with Chef Ramsay. Lots of other cooks and chefs have found truffle oil an easy, less-expensive way to bring the intense deliciousness of truffles to everyday dishes, like pasta, soup, risotto, fish or, famously, French fries. You don’t fry or sauté with truffle oil; it’s more of a finishing oil, meant to be drizzled over a dish just before serving. At our workshop, we’ll share new, yummy ideas for elevating dishes with some of the fantastic truffle oils we carry at FRESH  – and you can taste this secret ingredient for yourself!

Chocolate truffles: There’s no real reason to call chocolate truffles, truffles – except that maybe they’re so delicious that they can seem as rare and valuable as the real thing. A chocolate truffle is simply a decadent chocolate candy, traditionally made with a silky chocolate ganache center and a deeply flavored chocolate coating. Sometimes, creamy fillings, or those made with nuts, caramel, toffee or liqueurs, can substitute for, or supplement, the ganache.

Often, truffles are dusted with cocoa powder, and combined with the round-ish shape, that’s supposed to make them look somewhat like real truffles. Yeah, we think that’s a stretch, too. No matter. Chocolate truffles are elegant and delicious, but they’re really quite simple to make. Come by the workshop to learn truffle-making tricks and, of course, sample some freshly made candies.

FRESH and Festive: Your Pastry Questions Answered

One of the main things that excited me about coming to FRESH to create the pastry  department was the opportunity to bring my vision of desserts to my native East Texas. I was classically trained in the French method, and I’ve worked in some fine kitchens including La Duni in Dallas, but I also grew up around here and love homestyle goodies, made with fresh, simple ingredients.

So, yes, the pastries and delicacies in our case are gorgeous, fancy enough for any special occasion. But each one is also as delicious as it looks, crafted not just to look pretty for guests but to burst with fresh flavors.

So our pastries at FRESH are probably not like most bakery products you’ve experienced before. Here are some of the differences you may notice:

Our cakes are made with real butter and fresh eggs – not shortening and egg whites. That means the texture may be denser and richer than cakes from other bakeries. We also use a simple syrup mixture to keep our cakes moist.

Our frostings are all Italian-style buttercream. Made with 100 percent butter – not shortening – our frostings are lighter than, and not as sweet as, standard bakery icings.

Our French eclairs are made with real pate a choux (a light French pastry dough) and filed with real pastry cream (made with real eggs and vanilla bean, not pudding). So they’re lighter and more delicate in texture and flavor than an American-style longjohn doughnut.

And our chocolate desserts? We start with what I consider the very best baking chocolate available – Callebaut.  It delivers an especially intense, complex chocolate flavor to every recipe, from traditional cakes to our flourless chocolate cake to our signature pastry case items.

Have more questions about our desserts? Ask at our pastry counter. We’ll be happy to help you make the right choice, whether it’s selecting a dessert for a special gathering or a sweet ending for a family dinner.