It doesn’t look like many of us are going to get to spend a long, lazy holiday in Italy this year, eating ice-cream-stuffed brioche for breakfast, perfectly ripe peaches for lunch, and mountains of creamy, boozy tiramisu for dinner, ahem, dessert.
There’s still a slight sliver of hope, but if the anticipation is liable to leave you sad and restless, it might be wise to throw open your own kitchen windows, don a red and white checked apron, locate an Italian radio station on your phone, and capture a little continental charm right here.
Read: Ten classic desserts
We recommend grabbing a copy of England-born, Sicily-based food writer Letitia Clark’s new collection, La Vita e Dolce, dedicated solely to ‘Italian-inspired desserts’. Gladly, we had a go at three recipes – a sponge, a chocolate fridge cake and a sorbet. Here’s what we learned.
Ella Walker tried: Caramelised Apricot, Almond and Orange Blossom Upside-Down Cake
I shall admit upfront, I had a bit of a nightmare with this one. It began with ordering a new and unfamiliar pan (Ms Clark specifies using one that is 23cm/9in and all of mine were too small), forgetting to grease said pan properly (in my defence, I baked on the hottest day of the year and my butter was in molten revolt), and then absolutely not getting the hang of caramel. Combine this with a poor flip-and-catch action, a lack of patience (did I mention how hot it was?) and the result is the shocking image you see above.
However, I will say that this higgledy-piggledy, very upside-down upside-down cake was a triumph in taste, if not in structural integrity.
It all began so well. The sponge is a doddle. Spiked with orange blossom water – track a bottle down in Middle Eastern deli shops or order online – the batter is laced with almonds and yoghurt, making it super light and, once all the fruit has soaked into it, suitably sweet, sodden and syrupy. The problems kicked in when I realised the recommended seven to eight apricots would not nearly be enough for the topping (I added in the segments of a satsuma that was on its last legs), followed by two attempts at making caramel. On the first go, the sugar wouldn’t caramelise, it just bubbled mockingly at me. The second batch eventually started to change colour, but I panicked because it was sticking to the sides of the pan and whacked it in the cake tin too soon, where it crystallised palely. I hoped for the best and shoved the lot in the oven for 45 minutes, regardless.
It was on its re-emergence that I flipped it and the whole middle of the cake leapt into a jumble … There was no rescuing the look of it, but it was ridiculously good eaten straight from the tin, or later for breakfast with a dollop of yoghurt. Next time, I solemnly swear to grease the pan.
Lisa Salmon tried: Chocolate, Hazelnut and Sour Cherry Salame
I picked this recipe for two main reasons. One, it sounded like something my kids would love, and two, it looked easy to make. I was right on both counts.
Often when you’re following a recipe, the preparation can be far more time-consuming than anticipated, but in this case there was no hidden fiddly-ness: crushing the biscuits and roasted hazelnuts with a rolling pin was quick and easy, and I was glad Ms Clark pointed out the biscuit pieces needed to be larger than just crumbs, or I almost certainly would have over-bashed them.
Mixing the sugar, butter and eggs together with an electric mixer was also unproblematic, and all you do then is stir in the chocolate, cocoa, fruit and nuts and you’re ready to roll, literally. Even hand-rolling the mixture in cling-film was easy (and quite satisfying). And Ms Clark is quite right, the salame you’re left with is obscenely large (but neither I nor the kids were complaining).
Our verdict on the chocolate salame? Delicious. Ms Clark does suggest adding a splash of booze to the mixture, and if I make it again I’ll definitely be popping in a glug of rum or Amaretto, for extra deliciousness.
Prudence Wade tried: Peach and Basil Sorbet
Few things are more refreshing than a cool sorbet on a sticky, hot summer’s day. We were having blistering weather, so I thought it was high time to try this delicious-sounding peach and basil recipe. But when I cracked out my ice cream machine on the day, it suddenly started pouring with rain. I persevered regardless (all in the name of sorbet) – and am glad I did.
Read: Pineapple Peach Sorbet
While you can’t go wrong with classic lemon sorbet, peach transports you to Tuscany, and the hint of basil is a delightful background note (and not overpowering, as I worried it might be). The recipe itself is simple – all you have to do is make a sugar syrup, add the basil, and pour it over some macerated peaches. Once that’s infused for a few hours, you sieve the mixture and pour it into an ice cream machine.
In just 15 minutes, I had sorbet that tasted fully professional – sweet and absolutely satisfying, even if it wasn’t quite the weather for it. It’s easy if you have an ice-cream machine, and even though Ms Clark gives directions for how to make it without the expensive kit, that really would be more of a faff.
La Vita e Dolce by Letitia Clark is published by Hardie Grant. Photography by Charlotte Bland, available now.
What’s your favourite Italian dessert? Why not share which one you would pick in the comments section below?
– With PA
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