(recipe for the above Pizza Cioccolato is at the end of this post.)
The turning over of a new year begets a seasonal soul searching. What is my direction? Where are my passions taking me? What is my why? It’s a simple question with profound nuggets of wisdom when applied to all pursuits in your life. As a mother or father, what is your why? As a partner or spouse, what is your why? In your business or your art, what is your why? More often, we tend to consider first the what and how of our aspirations and goals. Simon Sinek’s popular Ted Talk, Start With Why, is inspirational fodder for flipping it inside out and thinking in reverse.
My annual soul searching usually evolves slowly, very slowly… imagine that graph of the evolution of homo sapiens. That slowly!
I started my blog nearly three years ago with this botanical photograph. In the early goings, my “why” for creating a blog was simple. To inspire the pursuit of one’s dreams and passions as a daily habit. How? By following nature’s lead and the trail of breadcrumbs in the forest. What? Found and foraged bits & botanicals as metaphors for following one’s true path. I included weekly posts called Thursday’s Tribute which featured an artist following his or her own unique voice and expressing it.
As 2015 opened her promising doors, I was feeling somewhat incomplete. I felt like I wasn’t stretching myself enough nor was I expressing my own voice. What was my voice? I looked at the magazine articles and blogs I was following to see what they all shared in common. My passions were so obvious that I wondered why I’d not seen it earlier. It was all about the culture of artisan foods and cooking adventures. There was my why: An artistic exploration through food and foraging. How? Food adventures in my own kitchen. What? Cooking, styling and photographing my own recipes with a stylistic nod to the obsolete and vintage.
Oh man, did I have fun last year! Nonetheless, my thoughts began to turn outward and away from the confines of my own kitchen studio. Is it really my passion to be in the kitchen cooking and concocting recipes? I love artisan foods and craft because of their authentic record of bygone methods passed down from generation to generation. Heritage foods and the slow method of small-batch crafting have seen a huge resurgence. Chef Sean Brock of HUSK restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina, has a few manifestos that are gems.
“Be proud of your roots… your home… your family and its culture.”
“Cook as if every day you were cooking for your grandmother.”
Foraging for our history through food is a birthright, like a heritage food forensic scientist that unearths hidden stories of generations past. This is my why. How? I’m stepping out of my kitchen to collaborate with local small-batch craft and food artisans, to explore firsthand these age-old methods. What? Styling and curating the methods and manifestations of the bakers, the wood shapers, the spirit distillers, the truffle hunters, the goat whisperers, the letter-pressers, the coffee sniffers and so much more.
Here is one final recipe of my own, a very special one that brought me so much joy at the end of last year because it was a lost recipe. Pizza Cioccolato was my mother’s favorite Christmas pie. After years of searching for the recipe under this name and inquiring amongst Italians with no luck, I got the idea to work backward from the ingredients. I remembered the cake was dense (likely flourless), flat and round like a torte (no leavening), and the chocolate was bittersweet mixed with nuts (almonds or hazelnuts) and candied fruits. I concluded her cake was a combination of the traditional Italian Panforte Cioccolato and a flourless chocolate torte. So this past Christmas, I made my own candied citron and tested a recipe with my brother. He agreed this was indeed the Christmas Pizza Cioccolato of our childhood. Its revival created a tender connection to our own heritage and that of the Siciliano family from the town of Camposano in the province of Naples.
The vintage french serving platter is from Elsie Green House & Home where they believe “not making something new is the greenest thing of all.” Don’t you agree?
- ½ cup water
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup granulated sugar (add ½ cup sugar if you prefer sweeter)
- 10 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 6 eggs
- ½ cup blanched and lightly toasted almonds
- ½ cup blanched and lightly toasted hazelnuts, chopped
- 1 cup candied citron
- ⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 TBSP cinnamon
- 1½ teaspoons powdered instant espresso or coffee
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- Confectioner's sugar for dusting cake top
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Grease one 10 inch round springform cake pan.
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the water, salt and sugar. Stir until dissolved and set aside.
- Using a double boiler or the microwave, melt the bittersweet chocolate and pour into the bowl of an electric mixer.
- Cut the butter into pieces and beat into the chocolate while it's still hot, one piece at a time.
- Add the hot sugar-water.
- Slowly beat in the eggs, one at a time.
- Meanwhile, place the candied citron in a large mixing bowl. Sift together over the fruit: the cocoa, cinnamon, allspice, and coffee/espresso powder. With your hands, mix the fruits with the dry ingredients to help separate and coat all the fruit pieces.
- Add the almonds and hazelnuts. Mix again.
- Add nut-fruit mixture to warm chocolate-egg mixture. Mix by hand.
- Pour batter into prepared pan. Have a pan larger than the cake pan ready. Put the cake pan in the larger pan and fill the pan with boiling water halfway up the sides of the cake pan.
- Bake cake in this water bath at 300 degrees F for 45 minutes. The center will still look wet. Chill the cake overnight in the pan. Unclip the springform cake pan and invert while pressed to a serving plate. Decorate the top with a dusting of confectioner's sugar and thinly sliced small citrus fruits.