27 Nov 2012

Comforting Italian Trifle

Italian Christmas trifle with ricotta cream and mandarin


What is comfort to our eyes? The feeling of home? A completely relaxed body? Or conversely a hyperactive session of our favorite sport? A visit to a museum can be comforting to many, but just because we stand still for hours in front of a magnificent piece of art it doesn't mean that our mind isn't going 100 miles an hour.

Generally we tend to associate the word comfort with something soft, fluffy, enveloping and translating this abstract and deep feeling into food is quite an interesting endeavor.
Certain ingredients can, by themselves, elicit such an emotional response so much so that we may find ourselves savoring luscious sour cream by the spoonful directly from the tub in these deep moments of need. The texture of fatty rich food makes us melt into expressions of pure enjoyment, probably an instinctual response to the fact that we are well provided for the cold season.

Fluffy Nap Time

When it comes to tastes and flavors  we tend to affirm our personality more clearly in the realm of comfort food.
Chocolate can be the universal answer to the need of comfort food for its peculiar textural properties, but what do you go for black, milk or white chocolate (to use a broad classification)?
Do you find the pleasing pain-sensation elicited by chilies to be your ideal comfy pillow? Or is it the umami filled taste of seared beef?
Comforting flavors are deeply cultural and rooted in personal history. So what do you offer somebody if you want them to feel at home? A warm bowl of Pho? A platter of artisanal cheeses with their promise of a sensorial firework? And what about a slice of your grandmother's buttery apple cake still warm from the oven? A simple loaf of hearty country bread might be all that is needed to bring a smile to many other afflicted souls.

Dinner Aftermath

Why am I talking about this today? First of all cause I feel the need for some comforting today (nasty anonymous comments to your efforts can really dampen your enthusiasm) but most importantly because a group of dear friends have launched a giveaway with the theme of comfort food. Who are these dear friends of mine? Jamie, Jeanne, Ilva and Meeta from From Plate to Page, the European leading Photography & Writing workshop for food-bloggers.
Comfort food is very important when organizing a workshop among total strangers. This kind of meal tend to lower our guard, softening each other edges and doubts they make social interaction easier and more natural.

Bed Time

What I propose you as my comfort food today is a dish that I created for my last cooking class: An Italian Christmas. With the cold season I think that we all would love some buttery softness to comfort our shivering bodies and my Italian Christmas trifle might just be what you need.
Made with the omnipresent Italian Christmas cakes Pandoro and Panettone, this no-cook dessert brings together different traditions of the boot shaped country with the light touch of Southern ricotta cheese and the decadent aroma of Tuscan Vin Santo wine.

With its simple richness, this dessert lends itself greatly to be served on an elegant dinner layered inside pretty historiated glasses. As such I am finally able to join my friend Simone's monthly event revolving around food-styling. This month, the creator of Junglefrog Cooking, has concentrate her monthly food-styling challenge around food or drink in a glass. Do you have any of your beautiful creation that fits these requirements? Join us!

Italian Christmas trifle with Ricotta cream and Mandarin

Ingredients (serve 4-5):
For the mandarin segments:
  • 4 mandarins
  • 3 tablespoons Vin Santo wine or other dessert wine
  • 1-2 tablespoons sugar or to taste
For the ricotta cream:
  • 250g ricotta cheese
  • 4 tablespoons cream
  • 30g sugar or to taste
  • Little dusting of cinnamon
  • 1 mini Pandoro cake
  • 1 mini Panettone cake

Let's start by marinating the mandarin segments.
Grate the mandarin peel into a bowl and using a knife, peel the fruits exposing their flesh. Cut the mandarin segment out of their skin and let them fall into the same bowl with the mandarin zest. Once you will have cut all the fruit segments out of their white skins, squeeze what has left in your hands into the bowl to recover some of the mandarin juice juice.
Add the Vin Santo wine and the sugar to the mandarin segments, stir gently and set aside until ready to assemble the dessert.

To prepare the ricotta cream, simply combine the ricotta with the cream, the sugar and the cinnamon in a bowl.

To assemble the dessert, cut the Pandoro and Panettone cake in slices and tear them into big chunks. In a big serving bowl or singular portion glasses, put together the dessert by alternating layers of the Pandoro-Panettone cake pieces with the marinated mandarin segments and the ricotta cream.
Be sure to moisten each layer of cake with a little of the mandarin marinating liquid before adding the ricotta cream. If you run out of marinating liquid mix some orange juice with a little Vin Santo and use that as moistening liquid.


  1. Definitely comforting to look at these photographs. It's hot as can be way down here in Oz but I could put away at least one of those desserts.

  2. !! Beatiful photo glass for the challange ¡¡ and ver very nice photos in the post

  3. Totally love this dish Alessio and it fits perfectly for both the photo challenge as well as the comfort food theme for Plate to Page! Love it!!

  4. Thanks to Simone and her Junglefrog challenge I discovered now also your blog and I am just glad I did it :) What a lovely post with great photos!!

  5. So love this one Alessio. It looks incredible and I think I might just have my Christmas dessert!

  6. Your photos illustrate your words so well. I find myself smiling and feeling all warm and cozy at once. But so true.... what is comfort to some is not to another, it is all so personal. Lovely post, baby!

  7. Lovely post, Alessio - and hahaha, great minds think alike! Did you see the chocolate orange trifle in a glass I made this week? Love the Christmassy flavours of this one! Beautiful descriptions of comfort foods :)

  8. I love your descriptions. It's almost food porn. I just wanted to say that I like how you don't just tell us what you want us to know- you paint a picture with your words. That's the most any of us can hope to do.