When Christmas is around the corner, baking is in high season. Whether cookies or stollen – the ovens are running hot. Someone who understands the fine art of baking is Melissa Forti. Star chef Tim Raue once had to experience this when he was supposed to bake the Italian's tiramisu cake for a task on "Kitchen Impossible" - and failed.
Melissa Forti is an exceptional talent who had to turn a few loops in her biography before becoming a pastry chef. She has become known for compositions that are as unique as she is. On an autumn day, the petite woman with the rocking Snow White aesthetic, jet-black hair, vintage clothing and tattoos sits in her apartment in northern Italy and laughs into the camera . A black cat strolls around in the background.
The cake designer would have liked to present her new "Christmas baking book" at an actual meeting, but now the conversation - like so many this year - has to take place virtually. She shrugs her shoulders, picks up the book and starts leafing through it. It includes, she says, all of her favorite recipes that she has collected over the years and kept like a treasure in her notebook.
Many, she says, have loved her since childhood. "After all, this is the time in life when your head is still free for unconditional enjoyment." Others she discovered on her travels around the world. Both memory and experience are important to Forti; the stories behind the recipes are part of the composition and are part of the enjoyment for her. She says, “If I can’t find a story for the recipe, I won’t bake it.”
In her book, Forti spans the spectrum from baking classics to rarities, from opulent cake creations to simple Christmas breads. She modifies and refines, giving each of the 70 recipes its own touch. In the foreword to the book, Raue writes: "The fire in her eyes and the intensity of her words can be found in each of her baked goods. The cakes and tarts themselves have something of the graceful silhouette of their creator, and they are direct and puristic in nature. " Every ingredient is present and interacts with the other actors - always supported by a kind of tension.
Why just talk about something when you can taste it? Before the book presentation, Forti sent a package containing a bag of polvorónes. These are cookies reminiscent of shortcrust pastry that fall apart in the mouth without being dry and leave an intense almond flavor. The topping, she reveals, is the passito provided. A fortified wine made from sun-dried grapes in which the biscuit is intended to be dipped before consumption.
When Forti bakes, it's not Schmalhan's head chef, then it's time to get down to business. Whether butter, eggs or cream - the Italian likes a lot of everything. She doesn't create diet cakes, but rather makes full use of them. “I always say, eat a little less cake, but eat real cake,” she laughs. Her mantra is anyway: “Eat what you want and enjoy it!”
Melissa Forti loves polvorónes - and not just at Christmas time. The Spanish cookies are similar to the French shortcrust pastry cookies Sablé, but are also reminiscent of the Italian lady's kisses (Baca Di Dama). In the original, polvorónes are prepared with lard, but the vegetarian Forti has modified the recipe and uses butter.
125 g blanched almond kernels280 g butter, at room temperature500 g wheat flour type 405250 g powdered sugar (plus a little more for dusting)1 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder1 tsp vanilla paste (or extract) of real vanilla
Preparation of the polvorónesPreheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Spread the almonds on a baking tray lined with baking paper and roast on the lowest rack in the oven until golden brown - about 15 minutes. Caution: The almonds must not become too dark. Then let the almonds cool to room temperature before chopping them in the universal chopper. Forti recommends the pulse function.
Cream the butter in a bowl. Add flour, powdered sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and almonds and work into a crumbly dough. Place the dough between two layers of baking paper and roll it out with a rolling pin until the dough is still about two centimeters thick. Then cover with cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for at least three hours.
Polvorónes are traditionally round. Shapes with a diameter of three to four centimeters are best suited for cutting out. Spread on the baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the dough. When the edges are slightly golden brown, but the polvorónes are still light in the middle, they can be taken out of the oven. Allow to cool completely and dust with powdered sugar.
Melissa Fortis “Christmas Baking Book” was published by Prestel Verlag, 224 pages, 32 euros.
This article contains so-called affiliate links. Further information are available here.