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Italian Holiday Baking

This holiday season, I’ve been exploring coffee-forward Italian baking! Read on for my best Biscotti, Tiramisu, Gelato, and Affogato recipes.

The two simple ingredients in Affogato: Gelato and espresso
Peppermint Mocha Gelato + Italian Espresso

My global baking trek around the world continued with ITALY last month. This is a chapter in my baking journey is one I have been excited about for several reasons:

  1. Italy is the world’s capital of the Slow Food movement, and Italian chefs seem particularly passionate about where their ingredients come from and how they might affect the planet and its people.

  2. SO many Italian dessert recipes either include coffee or pair perfectly with it.

  3. I have wanted to learn Italian my whole life, and Italian baking just might be enough of an excuse to dust off my Rosetta Stone.

It’s been a quiet holiday season at the farm for us, so cooking up these Italian coffee-forward concoctions has kept Eira and me busy and given us an excuse to bond more over coffee. I have never seen a toddler so excited over the sound of an espresso machine. But don’t worry, her excitement (*I think*) is just her mimicking my daily glee over coffee. She’s too little to drink it herself, so this year she (*okay, I*) asked Santa to bring her a toddler espresso set.

Enjoy these recipes and let me know if which ones you try. Happy Holidays, everyone!

Chocolate Peppermint Bark Biscotti

Chocolate Peppermint Bark Biscotti
Biscotti = Coffee's best friend.

Adapted from the New York Times Biscotti

Makes about 2 dozen medium-sized biscotti

For the biscotti:

½ cup butter, at room temperature

2/3 cup cane sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 eggs

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon coarse ground sea salt

1½ teaspoon baking powder

1 cup dark chocolate chips

For the topping:

½ bar unsweetened baking chocolate

½ cup dark chocolate chips

1 candy cane, chopped

White chocolate, for shaving

  1. To make the biscotti, cream the butter, and gradually mix in the sugar until well combined.

  2. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract.

  3. Sift the flour into a separate small bowl and use a whisk to stir in the sea salt and baking powder.

  4. Use a spatula to stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until combined.

  5. Stir in the chocolate chips.

  6. Set the oven to 350° F. Then, divide the dough into two balls and use your hands to shape the first ball into a log on a well-floured surface. Transfer the log to a baking sheet and repeat with the second ball of dough.

  7. Bake the two logs at 350° F for about 35 minutes or until just browned on the edges.

  8. Allow the logs to cool for about 15-20 minutes or until just cool enough to handle with bare hands.

  9. Use a sharp, serrated knife to slice the logs horizontally into about 6 biscotti, each about 1-inch in width.

  10. Space the biscotti slightly and return to the oven to cook at 350° F for about 30-40 minutes or until they become crisp.

  11. Allow the biscotti to cool completely before adding the chocolate topping.

  12. To make the topping, temper the chocolate using the double boiler method. While the chocolate is still hot, spread it evenly over the top of each biscotti.

  13. Sprinkle the chopped candy cane and lightly grate the white chocolate bar over the biscotti before the chocolate cools.

  14. Leave the topping to set for at least 20 minutes before eating.

  15. Once the topping has set, the biscotti can be stored in a cookie jar at room temperature for up to 4 days.

  16. Enjoy the biscotti with a warm drink, like a peppermint mocha. Biscotti is no good unless it’s DUNKED, but that’s just my opinion.

Peppermint Mocha Tiramisu

Peppermint Mocha Tiramisu accompanied by a Peppermint Mocha
Tiramisu + Peppermint Mocha = A holiday match made in heaven

Makes one 4x9-inch pan full of tiramisu

6 shots espresso*

3 tablespoons coffee liquor

1½ cups heavy whipping cream

8 ounces mascarpone**

1/3 cup cane sugar

½ teaspoon peppermint extract

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 package of ladyfingers

4 tablespoons cocoa powder, for dusting

  1. Prepare 6 shots of espresso and pour it into a small mixing bowl. Whisk in the coffee liquor and allow the mixture to cool in the refrigerator while preparing the other ingredients.

  2. Using a mixer, whip the heavy whipping cream for about 2 minutes or until it becomes light and fluffy.

  3. Beat in the mascarpone, sugar, and peppermint extract until combined.

  4. Separate the ladyfingers, and lightly dunk each one into the espresso mixture. Do NOT leave the ladyfingers in the espresso mixture, or they will become soggy or disintegrate.

  5. Once dunked, lay a layer of ladyfingers evenly across a 4x9-inch baking pan****.

  6. Top the ladyfingers with a layer of the peppermint cream mixture.

  7. Dust the layer of cream with cocoa powder using a sieve or small shaker to avoid cocoa clumps.

  8. Top the cocoa layer with a final layer of dunked ladyfingers.

  9. Top the ladyfingers with a final layer of the peppermint cream mixture.

  10. Top the peppermint cream layer with an even dusting of cocoa powder.

  11. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and allow to set in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight.

  12. Store the tiramisu in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

  13. To serve, cut carefully to capture each layer in horizontal slices. Enjoy with a hot drink. Is it possible to have too many peppermint mochas this time of year?

* This sounds like a lot of espresso because it IS. You can increase the volume of coffee liquor and reduce the amount of espresso, but I’ve found this tastes a little too boozy – in a bad way. If you don’t have an espresso machine, you can also use 1.5 cups of strong brewed dark coffee.

** If you can’t find mascarpone, cream cheese is the closes thing I’ve found. BUT cream cheese will be a little tangier than mascarpone.

*** I also tried this using two small packages of madeleines from Trader Joe's, and the final texture was not quite right because madeleines have an irregular shape, so it’s not as easy to get evenly distributed cream and cake in each bite. You can also try making the ladyfingers yourself – this ladyfingers recipe from Bigger Bolder Baking looks promising.

**** Clear pans are best if you plan on photographing your creation.

Peppermint Mocha Gelato

How to make homemade Peppermint Mocha Gelato
Homemade Peppermint Mocha Gelato

Adapted from Allrecipes Gelato

Makes one 4x9-inch pan full of gelato*

2 cups milk**

1 cup heavy cream

4 egg yolks

½ cup sugar

½ teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons coffee liquor

3 tablespoons cocoa powder

½ teaspoon peppermint extract

  1. Heat the milk and heavy cream in a saucepan until the point just before a boil. Remove from heat and set aside while preparing the custard.

  2. To prepare the custard, use a mixer to beat together the egg yolks, sugar, and salt.

  3. Pour the custard into the milk mixture, whisking constantly.

  4. Return the mixture to low heat and use a wooden spoon to stir until it begins to thicken.

  5. Transfer the mixture to the mixing bowl and add the coffee liquor, cocoa powder, and peppermint extract. Mix at a low speed for about 30 seconds.

  6. Use a mesh sieve to strain*** the mixture into a 4x9-inch baking pan.

  7. Cover with aluminum foil, and transfer to the freezer.

  8. Stir the mixture with a whisk every 30-45 minutes for 4-5 hours or until the gelato has set****.

  9. Once the gelato has set, transfer to an airtight, freezer-proof container. Store in the freezer for up to 1 week.

  10. To serve, allow the gelato to soften at room temperature for 3-5 minutes. Then, use an ice-cream scoop to shape the gelato into even scoops. Top with mint for garnish.

* What’s the difference between gelato and ice cream, you ask? They contain essentially the same ingredients, but gelato has a higher milk to cream ratio than ice cream. This typically makes gelato less dense than ice cream.

** I’ve tried this recipe with whole milk and oat milk, and I prefer oat because it seems to improve the taste and texture.

*** I’ve found this is a critical step because it prevents clumping from bits of egg or cocoa powder.

**** This is another critical step because it prevents or minimizes ice crystals.

Holiday Affogato

How to make the ultimate Holiday Affogato.
A perfect pour of Holiday Affogato.

Makes about 2 dozen medium-sized cookies

Makes 1 drink

2 scoops of homemade peppermint mocha gelato (see recipe above)

1 shot of espresso*

Dark chocolate, for shaving (optional)

Mint leaves, for garnish

  1. Chill a small mug or a wine glass in the freezer for about 10 minutes*.

  2. Remove the gelato container from the freezer and allow it to soften for 3-5 minutes at room temperature. Then, use an ice-cream scoop to transfer 2 scoops of gelato to the wine glass or mug. Place the wine glass or mug of gelato in the freezer while preparing the espresso.

  3. Extract your shot of espresso.

  4. Remove the wine glass or mug of gelato from the freezer. Use a grater to top the ice cream with dark chocolate shavings.

  5. Pour the espresso onto the gelato, garnish with fresh mint, and serve immediately.

* The ultimate affogato has a dramatic hot-cold contrast of espresso and gelato and freezing the serving glass can help with this effect, according to this YouTube video.

** If you don’t have espresso, you could try Turkish coffee or strong, dark coffee.

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