Happy Christmas to my long-lost followers! I am finally back in the kitchen in time for the festive season with this easy Italian Christmas cake called Certosino. And back with the living-blogging after a good year and more of seeing builders derrieres ripping the guts out of my house, covering it with dust, bashing past new kitchen units with barrowloads of sand and rubble. It’s not been easy to rustle up meals daily for even our small family of three, let alone create something that’s photo-shoot worthy. Heartfelt apologies to you if you’ve been checking in and seeing my last post, dated June, for the past six months!
Scraping in before I have to hit the kitchen big time cooking for 11 on Xmas Day is this understated but wonderfully useful Italian Christmas cake. It’s called Certosino and I came across it in the Christmas section of Nigella Lawson’s ‘Domestic Goddess’ tome (p.255). She borrows the recipe from Anna del Conte and admits to meddling with the recipe to moisten it up for British tastes.
I prefer the drier style of many Italian cakes which, like this one, are eaten in moderation with a nip of Vin Santo at the end of a meal. Certosino, which includes a medley of wintry spices from fennel to cinnamon, is to my mind a cross between a drier gingerbread meets British Christmas cake. I liked making this Italian Christmas cake more than its British counterpart as it’s far less hassle. I find British Christmas cake mix wrist-breakingly hard to stir towards the end. Yet, Certosino seems to satisfy my desire for dried fruit, nuts, candied peel, spice and other things nice.
I also meddled with the recipe by missing out the fennel seed and adding two eggs to make it easier to stir and lighter. And adulterating the Italian Certosino tradition further, I tend to like it accompanied by a good strong coffee; with emphasis on ‘good’. One of my early New Year’s resolutions is to eat less but better by opting for quality in my core ingredients when I know they will make a huge difference to the result of a meal. Olive oil, balsamic vinegar, olives and flours, for example, are in my sights. Coffee is another of my ingredient indulgences that can’t be compromised. The perfect mokka pot brew is my 6am pick-me-up to start the day!
At this juncture, I should make mention of a very special coffee that I had the pleasure to receive in the post and which I drank alongside my slice of Certosino today. Nero Scuro is an Italian artisan coffee roaster located just outside Venice, Italy, and knows a good bean when it scouts the world for some brown magic. They have a select, cognoscenti collection of coffees from the top suppliers in the most sought-after regions, across three continents. I was lucky to bag their most connoisseur of coffees from Ethiopia. I chose the Guatemalan to sip along with my slice though. The rest of the Ethiopian is of course being guarded under lock and key as a gift to myself!
Nero Scuro roasts in micro amount of 4kg and to order. It specialises in single roasts so won’t dilute with cheaper beans in a blend. Whether you’re a cappuccino machine, mokka pot or filter coffee aficionado, Nero Scuro has the black stuff to suit. Its coffees are available mail order online so if you want to start the New Year as you mean to go on – treating yourself daily to an artisan-roasted quality brew – then I can recommend the beans prepped by the wonderful folk at Nero Scuro, whose barn cum roast house is no doubt lying under swirling wintry mists of the Venetian hinterland right now.
I am off for another slice of my Italian cake with another Italian coffee! Perfect to pep me up for the kitchen antics to come this week for Xmas and here on Red Bistro in 2016. All that remains is to say Have a Good One and I hope you will stick around for the Red Bistro’s New – operative word there for my blog – Year!
Nero Scuro kindly provided me with several coffees to taste test and review for this post.
All images © Liz Ayling 2015