It all started with a crazy tiramisu craving. One day I woke up in the morning with an overwhelming need to make myself some tiramisu. But it would just be so much effort, and time, and fuss, and my life at the moment is crazy as it is without hours spent in the kitchen. But before I knew it, I was thinking hard about how to incorporate this crazy need for a coffee extravaganza (and I don’t even like coffee!), and then ended up baking a whole batch of free from Italian desserts.
In advance, let me apologize to all Italians. I am by no means an expert on Italian food. I just like it. As it is mostly so gluten-ous and egg-full, eating out in the real Italy is a big pain. So please forgive me.
And if I fail, please blame Pinterest. It’s all Pinterest’s fault!
Orange, cranberry and almond polenta cake by Anu (Easy Bites Online)
Did I ever mention I cannot eat corn…?
I probably have, as it’s one of the biggest challenges I face with my diet. Corn is in EVERYTHING. Yes, I know it thickens stuff very well, but let’s not kid ourselves – it is also dirt cheap and can fill the place of almost all of the more expensive ingredients easily. I do not recommend life without corn, especially if you’re living a life without gluten, but some things cannot be changed, no?
But polenta cakes are such a staple of Italian baking, at least in my book, so even though I could not taste it myself, my journey through free from Italian desserts had to start with this recipe by Anu.
Don’t ya worry, my boyfriend has got us covered on the taste front. Long story short, I had to be quick with photo taking, as once I was done, the cake was also done… within the next 12 hours. It cannot be good for his diet, but it seems as if it was good for his spirit; I’ll leave you to his expert commentary:
The polenta cake tasted rather like a dry sponge with cherries in it, which is by no means a bad thing at all! Judging by the rate at which is disappeared, I’d say that it could also accurately be described as ‘more-ish’.
As for the preparation, this was definitely one of those very easy recipes one could prepare blindfolded which is always very much appreciated, especially for such a successful bake. I did cheat a bit, as I always cheat, and used cherries instead of cranberries – I swear, fresh cranberries are a modern unicorn of the UK market scene as they are never anywhere to be found (only beaten to the title of most elusive by blood oranges).
Oh, and one word of warning – the recipe calls for lemon zest at first, but then somehow forgets about its existence… leading to little dumb dumbs like me forgetting to add it in too. Make sure you leave the zest in your line of sight not to follow in my erroneous footsteps!
Coconut Panna Cotta by Claire (The Kitchy Kitchen)
It’s the first one in my Let’s try series to share the credit – mostly because I had my little blonde moment and didn’t notice the recipe I was following was based on Claire’s recipe until I was halfway through my compote, and it was too late to turn back.
But the panna cotta is the true star of the show here; and this particular one deserves all the credit it can get.
I am a real sucker for all things creamy, which is very unfortunate for someone who is lactose intolerant. I’d kill for a good Crème Brule. And for a good Panna Cotta, although this one is even more unusual for me.
This recipe does come with a warning: it contains gelatine. I know there are vegan gelatine substitutes around and whatnot, but they are tricky to find (best shot is probably a Kosher shop, out of all places in the world); also, not everyone is a fan of things gelatined-up, so that is something to take under consideration in this panna cotta recipe.
Can you imagine a journey through free from Italian desserts without one though?
Claire’s recipe delivers even for people as useless at setting creams as I am. It tastes really good – with a very strong presence of coconut in it, of course, who knew coconuts work well in panna cotta? Where do coconuts NOT work well? Exactly.
I have not tried the chocolate sauce this time; but I have made chocolate sauces just like it over and over throughout my baking life, so I can assure you: it will be lovely and it would go super well with the coconut too.
What I prepared instead was the blackberry compote suggested by Todd. Blackberry and sloe gin compote, let me add, although in my case it ended up being blackberry and tequila and… let me just tell you: putting tequila in a berry compote is the best thing I ever accidentally did. I wholeheartedly recommend you do this at home. Trust me.
Or you could put some tequila in the chocolate sauce too.
Just add tequila to panna cotta, somehow, sometime.
Castagnaccio by Emma (Coconut and Berries)
In my quest to find all of Pinterest’s free from Italian desserts on offer, I decided that I am going to learn at least one completely new thing – and this time around it came to this castagnaccio recipe by Emma.
Don’t worry, if you have no idea what it stands for. I didn’t either. But it turns out that it is somehow a naturally gluten free and vegan Italian chestnut cake. It doesn’t even need its special version. It’s just that – me friendly au naturel.
As is often the case, I was attracted to by how gorgeous it looked in the pictures. I mean, it is just picture perfect, isn’t it? With all the herbs, and nuts, and dried fruits, and chocolate… What is there not to love? Yes, I agree, Emma’s version is way more attractive than mine, but even in my ignorant hands it turned out… alright, right?
What I’d say about this recipe is that for someone who knows nothing of what to expect, it is terribly vague. 1 to 1 ½ cups of flour and 1 to 1 ½ cups of water is not exactly the most precise way to measure things. Usually, if I do know how dough is meant to look like, I am ok with this sort of more-or-less approach; but this time around I had no clue if what I got was meant to be that liquid or I just massively screwed up.
Maybe if exact measurements are not possible, it might be good to include progress pictures. Something to aim for, for little ignorant misses like me.
At the end of the day I ended up with a rather soggy cake that got a bit overcooked on top too, as I kept it in too long in an attempt to dry it. The taste was there, though the texture wasn’t, even if someone was looking for a dense bake. I assume it was 100% my fault though, as I was absolutely clueless.
But I will be back to this recipe – just because I am curious as to how it should have felt like and because the combination of chestnut with these lovely toppings really does it for me regardless of this first slight flop.
Tiramisu Cake by Krisztina (Deliciously Raw)
And finally, we’re onto the true reason any of the above happened – the tiramisu.
If you check out my free from desserts board on Pinterest, you’ll see just how many tiramisus I have been fighting with recently – but although I searched far and wide, I could not just settle on one. There was something off about all of them, something not right. You see, it turns out that vegan tiramisu is actually a pretty hard thing to do.
So, I struggled and struggled, and finally decided to present you this recipe by Krisztina, not as the best tiramisu I have ever had but as the best effort in its class – and the most interesting one.
There’s something off about it too.
Not about the base and not about the lady fingers, taste wise, as they both are rather yummy. Sure, I had to add a ton of coconut to the lady fingers so that they wouldn’t stick so much and at the end of the day, I was still unable to roll them and cut them uniformly anyway, so they ended up very annoyingly wonky, but they were rather tasty.
It was the cream that I took issue with and that may be mostly because I am actually unused to the taste of raw baking. It’s very… distinct. Little sugar, lots of nuts and, in this case, tofu, combine as a rather unconvincing cream to me. I mean, they do form a very good cream. A stiff one. You could pipe it to your heart’s content. It looks great too. It just…
On one hand if kind of tastes like cream, and kind of tastes just like tofu.
But it is very healthy and I am sure that if someone was actually on a raw diet, it would be a hit. It is just that a raw diet is so very different to everything I am used to, and it just… doesn’t work for me that well.
On the other hand, I do have a £15 bag of lucuma powder now, so if anyone wants to convert me, it’s probably the right time.
And that’s it from me today! Any Italian desserts I might have missed?