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Cookbook Club: Giuseppe's Italian Bakes
Sweet and savory recipes from the GBBO winner.
The casting director of The Great British Bake Off gave the baking community such a gift when they introduced us to Giuseppe. An instant favorite in our house and stand-out contestant from Week 1, Giuseppe brought so much passion and precision for Italian baking into the tent.
Born in Rome to a professional chef, Giuseppe moved to England to complete his masters in Engineering. Science and baking have always gone hand in hand, but it’s Giuseppe’s drive and pastry skills that no doubt fast-tracked his success in the culinary world.
His first book, Italian Bakes, preserves his father’s hand-written recipes transcribed for the home cook. Much restraint was used to keep the recipes timeless Italian classics, but I can’t wait to see what creative endeavors he’s baking up next!
With over 60 classic desserts and savory bakes, there are simple and celebratory recipes for all occasions. You’ll recognize global favorites like Panna Cotta al Marsala, Amaretti, and Focaccia and discover plenty of new (to me) recipes like Ricciarelli, Torta Paradiso, and Rustici Leccesi to fall in love with.
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Tessa Huff: Why did you decide to write this book?
Giuseppe Dell’Anno: I grew up in a family of passionate bakers. My dad himself was a professional chef. His skills were truly off the chart, but he wasn't the tidiest...
His recipe book was little more than a collection of hardly intelligible notes, sometime scribbled on old napkins or bits of disused calendar pages. I have always wanted to tidy up his legacy and write up a proper collection of recipes, so I could pass them on to my kids as a family heirloom. Winning The Great British Bake Off in 2021 made me realize that there might have been a much broader audience to share my family recipes with than just my three kids. I feel incredibly privileged to have been given the opportunity to do so: the thought alone that some of mine and my dad's recipes are now sitting in kitchens all over the globe makes me immensely proud.
TH: Which recipe should readers try first? Or which has become a stand-out recipe with readers so far?
GDA: I do not have a sweet tooth, and I would take a slice of well made bread over a pastry any time of the day. So, if I had to pick a single recipe, it would certainly be a savory one. Probably my focaccia barese is the bake that I would recommend anybody to try first. The ingredients list is extremely sparse and simple; as is often the case, it's all in the method. But the result it delivers is nothing short of phenomenal: a thick, flavorsome focaccia, with a crispy skin and the softest crumb you can ever imagine. To me, that is simply heaven on a plate!
TH: Can you name a must-have ingredient or signature flavor that you use in your recipes often? Or do you think there is special quality about your recipes or writing that readers can identify as being uniquely yours?
GDA: All my recipes are unapologetically Italian: the flavors are those that I grew up with, and are all grounded in what you would find readily available in a conventional Italian pantry. In fact, very few recipes of mine do not use some form of citrus flavoring, in the form of zest, juice or candied peel. Citrus trees need little or no attention to grow in the Italian climate, therefore every single garden, no matter how small, includes the mandatory lemon tree standing proud in a corner. Such abundant availability of top quality fruit is reflected in my flavor palette: most of my bakes include either the zesty acidity of lemons, the sweet scent of oranges or the tanginess of clementines.
TH: What keeps you inspired and creative in the kitchen?
GDA: Baking has always been my 'own space': I don't need much extra motivation other than just being able to spend time in the kitchen, surrounded by pans and open bags of ingredients. Growing up in true Italian style, everything in my parents' home was cooked from scratch: my Sunday mornings smelled of fresh pasta and baked cakes. I have only good memories associated with food, and the idea of creating an equally homely environment for my kids keeps me going. There is nothing more motivating and inspiring than your children's face, flushed with delight when they savor one of your creations.
TH: What were you listening to or reading at the time of writing this book?
GDA: I am very much an introvert, so while I write or read I need absolute silence. However, while testing recipes and baking, I must have something on. I am not a picky listener and I must admit that I happily delegate to my phone apps the task of choosing music for me. I tend to go for very easy listening Italian or international pop. Anything upbeat or that I can possibly whistle along makes me happy.
TH: Walk into a reader’s home and where can you find your book? Displayed on a coffee table, next to the bed for late-night studying, or splattered with batter in the kitchen? What is the main takeaway you want readers to get from your book?
GDA: My first objective when setting out to write this book was to put together a 'useful baking bible'. I did not want to produce the pristine coffee table book, and I'm certainly not good enough a story teller to create a bedside table book. My ambition was to collate recipes of timeless Italian classics, presented to the reader in the context of my own background and heritage and explained in a way that would guarantee success from the first bake. Nothing would make me more happy than knowing that my book has been used, abused and flicked through until the pages come off!
TH: What is one important key to success for home bakers wanting to try new recipes?
GDA: My advice to bakers, novice or experienced, would be: keep it simple! Internet and social media churn out fads at the speed of light and I see way too many bakers jumping through hoops to find the most exotic ingredients or the most extravagant cake decoration. There is certainly a space for all that, but it just does not resonate with me: to my eyes those are unnecessary overcomplications that only end up putting people off baking. I would rather taste a good, well-made and simple sponge than an architectural masterpiece covered in fondant... so if you want to try new recipes, pick the simplest ones and you will be amazed by how much they can deliver. Simplicity is wildly underrated!
“I love the mix of recognizable recipes alongside Italian classics that I’ve yet to discover. Whether it be a homemade calzone or a chocolate almond torta caprese, the beauty is in their simplicity. Take these ricciarelli - almond cookies with orange zest and a thick coating of icing sugar. Made with simple ingredients and classic baking techniques, they are as perfect for dipping in coffee as they are with a flute of chilled Prosecco.” - Tessa Huff
Makes about 24
250g (2 ½ cups) ground almonds or 250g (generous 1 ¾ cups whole blanched almonds
250g (1 ¾ cups) icing sugar, plus extra for shaping and decorating
Zest of 1 unwaxed organic orange
85g (3oz) egg white (about 2-3 medium egg whites), at room temperature
⅛ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
½ teaspoon natural almond extract
If using whole almonds, grind them in a food processor. In a large bowl, mix the ground almonds with the icing sugar and orange zest until fully combined.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar with a handheld electric whisk until foamy. Incorporate the vanilla and almond extract into the egg whites and keep whisking to form stiff peaks.
Incorporate the egg whites into the almond mixture to make a paste. You will be knocking most of the air out of the whites while mixing, but this will not be a problem. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and rest in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day, line 2 baking sheets with baking paper and set them aside. Sift a generous layer of icing over a clean, dry work surface and roll out the dough to make a 5cm (2in) diameter sausage. Dust the dough with extra icing sugar to ensure that it does not stick to the work surface.
Slice the dough into discs about 12-15mm (½ - ⅝in) thick, ensuring that the surface is always generously dusted with icing sugar. Shape each disc into an oval, about 1cm (½in) thick, to give the biscuits the typical rice grain shape. Lay the biscuits over the prepared baking sheets and dust them again with icing sugar: the surface should be entirely covered in sugar.
Let the biscuits rest on the baking sheets for 1-2 hours or until their surface is completely dry. The resting time will depend on the humidity of the room, so check the dryness of the dough by gently pressing on one of the pointed edges: the biscuits are ready to be baked when the dough offers some resistance and cracks when pushed.
Meanwhile, set the shield in the middle of the oven and preheat it to 325°F (160°C).
Bake the biscuits, one tray at a time, for 15-16 minutes, increasing the temperature to 350°F (180°C) after the first 5 minutes. All being well, the biscuits will crack while baking, creating golden cracks across the white sugared surface.
When they come out of the oven, ricciarelli are still soft: let them cool completely before taking them off the baking paper. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.