Michelle Darmody: Baking one of life’s simple pleasures

Freshly baked brown bread, a smear of ricotta and a drizzle of honey, is one of life’s simple pleasures.

Michelle Darmody: Baking one of life’s simple pleasures

Freshly baked brown bread, a smear of ricotta and a drizzle of honey, is one of life’s simple pleasures.

Ricotta epitomises the taste of fresh milk, it is a very simple and subtle flavour that has a soft creamy finish. Ricotta can be used in both sweet and savoury baking.

I use a buffalo ricotta from Toonsbridge dairy, which is based near Macroom, in Cork. Ricotta is made from the whey of the milk which gives it the slightly sweet taste.

Ricotta can spoil very quickly, so it is best used almost immediately. In parts of Italy tasty methods have been devised to preserve its shelf-life. Smoking is one such way or in the case of ricotta forte, the pungent very flavourful type of ricotta from the Puglia region, it is aged for months or even years with the use of salt and fig leaves.

The chocolate and ricotta mess is a rich dessert that can be made for an after dinner occasion. I feel it is important to use dark chocolate as you need some bitterness to offset the richness of all the dairy.

I recently served the baked lemon tart with a spoonful of sun-set pink forced rhubarb, which had been lightly stewed in honey. It was the perfect accompaniment. You can add some berries to the cake mixture before baking but I quite like its simplicity.

Ricotta and chocolate mess

Chocolate and hazelnut cake:

250g of dark chocolate, broken into small pieces

250g of soft butter

4 eggs

320g of caster sugar

150g of plain flour

200g of toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped

Ricotta and honey cream:

200g of ricotta

50g of cream cheese

100mls of cream

1 tbs of honey

1 tsp of vanilla essence

To decorate:

50g of dark chocolate, shaved

6 digestive biscuits, roughly chopped

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees and line a 9in square cake tin with parchment.

Place the chocolate and butter into a heavy based saucepan and heat gently until melted, stir to combine.

Beat the eggs, sugar, flour and hazelnuts together. Stir in the melted chocolate. Pour the mixture into your prepared tin and bake for 25 minutes until shiny on top. Set aside to cool in the tin.

Whisk all of the ingredients for the ricotta cream until light and fluffy. Add a little more cream if you wish to have it smoother.

Break the cake into pieces and place into a glass jar or bowl, add some broken biscuits, spoon the ricotta cream over and then top with the shaved dark chocolate.

Baked ricotta and lemon tart

400g of puff pastry

6 eggs, separated

120g of caster sugar

100g of mascarpone

400g of ricotta

the zest of 6 lemons

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees and grease and flour a 10in, loose base, fluted tin.

Roll the pastry just a bit larger than the tin. Lay it over the tin and gently press it into the tin.

Whisk the egg whites with 30g of the caster sugar until stiff peaks have formed. Set aside.

Whisk the mascarpone, ricotta, 90g of sugar, 5 egg yolks and the zest in a large bowl until combined. Fold the egg whites into the bowl. Scoop the mixture into the pastry case and smooth it out.

Cut off any excess pieces of pastry from the edge and brush the remaining crust with the last egg yolk. Bake for 30 minutes until the pastry is golden and the centre is almost set. Let it cool in the tin then gently remove before cutting.

Savoury ricotta rolls with spinach and herbs

a dash of olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

220g of baby spinach, chopped

a handful of parsley, chopped

a handful of chives, chopped

200g of ricotta

75g of cheddar, grated

40g of parmesan, grated

1 egg, lightly beaten and an extra egg yolk

1/2 tsp of nutmeg

1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper

1 sheet of puff pastry, approximately 350g

a handful of sesame seeds

Heat the oil in a pan and sauté the garlic until it starts to give off an aroma, add the chopped spinach and turn down the heat to low. Place a lid on the pan and allow to simmer for about five minutes, shaking the pan gently every now and then. Season the spinach to taste and set aside to cool.

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees and line a baking tray with parchment.

Place the chopped herbs, ricotta, grated cheddar and parmesan into a bowl with the egg, nutmeg and cayenne pepper. Season and then mash with a fork to combine everything completely. Stir the spinach through the mixture. If there is excess juice from the spinach you can discard it.

Lay the sheet of pastry onto a lightly floured surface. The sheets are generally square so cut this in half so you have two rectangles. Scoop a line of the filling down one side of each rectangle and roll the pastry into a sausage shape. Press the pastry with a fork to seal it and then place the seal underneath. Cut the sausage into small rolls. Brush the top of each with the egg yolk and sprinkle with the sesame seeds.

Bake for about 30 minutes until the pastry is golden and the filling is heated through.

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