Italian baking reinvented, with Melissa Forti

By
Eve O'Sullivan
Added
15 June, 2016

We're thrilled to welcome Melissa Forti to Cooked; we caught up with her about her favourite classic Italian bakes, her influences from around the world, and which cakes fly off the counter in her Tuscan tea room.



Can you explain where you passion for baking developed?

I have always loved cooking. My father is a wonderful cook, and ever since I was a little girl I used to spend time in the kitchen with him; it started as a game for me, and I think helped to develop my creativity. I’ve continued to cook throughout my life as a way of showing love for the people I care about, but for some reason I was always frightened of baking. The first thing I baked was cupcakes to impress my boyfriend - they were horrible! Being a perfectionist, I accepted the challenge with myself and baked more cupcakes until I got it right. I never thought it could become a profession, but studied, then I baked, and baked and baked some more and have never stopped since then.




Classic recipes from countries around the world seem to be a big influence; what’s the best bake you’ve eaten abroad? 

I like simple things. Real things made with real ingredients. So I would definitely say lamingtons from a small bakery in the deep outback of Australia, or the most wonderful, rich Victoria Sponge I ate in a bakery near Norwich in England. A friend and I had tea and cake in a charming garden near a church - it felt as we were having tea with Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury group!




If you could pick one classic Italian bake that everyone should try from the book, what would it be? 

Oh, wow! This is a difficult one, but I would say Pastiera Napoletana. I am obsessed with ricotta cheese in cakes. It provides such a distinct flavour and tenderness! People from Naples really know a thing or two about cakes and pastries.




For those out there who feel intimidated by baking, which recipe in the book do you think is the most visually impressive for little effort? 

Layered cakes are always visually very attractive, but they can be time consuming. So for an occasion when time is of the essence, I’d choose my torta paradiso. Three are only three ingredients; it’s so simple, and it will make any chocolate lover drool!




Which are your favourite three ‘forgotten’ Italian recipes in the book? 

Firstly, I’d say cuccìa al vino cotto. It is a Christmas dessert that’s very hard to find outside of Sicily. It’s made in December to celebrate Santa Lucia, but personally, I make it all year round! Then I choose biscotto di Savoia, which isn't a cookie, as the name suggests, but actually a cake. The shape recalls our pandoro, but the method is very different. It’s a super old recipe that’s been the basis for those monumental cakes baked in tall moulds served at the Court of great Kings. Finally, I’d say parrozzo. The fine writer and poet Gabriele D'Annunzio wrote about this cake celebrating its shape and colour; he said it resembled the colour of the bread once made by the farmers using cornflour, and is It is famous in the region of Abruzzo.




If someone were planning a tea party, which three recipes would you recommend making?

Canestrelli cookies, because cookies are essential while having tea! I personally dunk cookies in my cup of tea and some tea lovers might argue with that - but I can't help it, sorry! When I think about tea in a garden on a sunny afternoon, a raspberry tart with poppy seeds pastry is perfect. The flavour and colours are simply divine! For a winter afternoon tea though, chocolate would be my choice. My ricotta orange and chocolate cake pairs well with chai tea; the spices are really enhanced by the zesty aroma.


Which cake is the most popular at your tea room?

My red velvet layered cake.The recipe is a secret, for now. Or until my second book perhaps...




If you could only eat one cake from the book ever again, what would it be? 

My torta tiramisù a modo mio. It is a layered cake, so very different from the original dessert. It’s made with coffee, cocoa and mascarpone cheese - what could it be more Italian?




What’s the most memorable slice of cake you’ve ever eaten?

Mimosa cake; I am so fond of it. Ever since I was a little girl, my mum bought this cake for my birthday every year at the local pastry shop, Euclide. I will never forget how good it was, and it’s been my mission to recreate the flavours. Every time I have a slice of mimosa, I get thrown back in time; that’s probably one of the reasons I love food so much.


Feeling inspired? Then cook from the book

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