It’s strange to see everyone gear up for Mother’s Day in March. In Italy, Mother’s Day is not until May; if I gave my mum a present two months earlier, she’d no doubt give me a puzzled look, and dismiss my gift as a sign that I share my dad’s forgetfulness for recurrences of all sorts (including our birthdays, yes).
Organisation may well be one of very few things I inherited from my mother, my diametrical opposite in many ways. Our differences, product of striking personality clashes and a substantial age gap, marked out most of my teenage years. Her reluctance to display affection always felt out of tune with my need for reassurance; her smothering anxieties fuelled my most radical efforts to be my own person. And yet, mutual love laid, untainted, beneath all misunderstandings; how ironic that our best years, the years of unity and harmony, started when I left home. Or maybe that makes perfect sense: maybe spending a couple of weeks together every six months, and spending the rest of the time longing for the next hug, really is our recipe for balance.
When it comes to food, we’re different on the surface, but similar at heart. Mum’s a frugal eater, with no patience for the complexities of cookery; most of the time, her idea of “meal” involves nothing more than a quick pasta, topped with the leftovers of the sauce she made last week. And yet, genes don’t lie. It was her who introduced me to baking, even though she never baked a thing in her life. Her passion for tea, essential during the long winter afternoons she spent working at home, became mine, too, over the years.
All began with my first box of vanilla tea, which she unexpectedly brought home one afternoon. It was the start of a lifelong addiction: vanilla tea was my breakfast drink long before I discovered coffee, and my favourite complement to all afternoon snacks. As coffee took over my morning routine, and the first leaf tea shop opened in our hometown, we both went through a change of heart. Mum’s pantry is now full of little sachets, all bearing original, sophisticated names; she’s so enthusiastic about trying every possible combination of flavours, that she never buys the same tea twice, and refuses to go back to “boring” teabags.
I’m still fond of vanilla tea, though. When the opportunity to try Jing Tea knocked at my door, their Vanilla Black Tea was my first and most natural choice; I’m happy to report that it was every bit as flavourful as I hoped for. Their Phoenix Honey Orchid variant, with its sweet aftertaste of honey, also earned a place in my list of favourites. I paired the delicate notes of Phoenix Honey Orchid tea with my latest bake: a bunch of gluten-free tartlets, filled with white chocolate and ricotta cream, and topped with the first strawberries I’m getting to eat this year. I enjoyed tasting this colourful, mood-lifting dessert this morning, and I’m sure my mum would like it too. At first, she’d protest that she doesn’t like white chocolate, but then she’d realise that the cream is not overly sweet, and nod in approval while taking the next bite.
I’d love to share my tartlets and tea with her, but alas, attaching cakes and mugs to Skype chats is not yet an option (wouldn’t that be great?). While I wait for technology to bridge the gap, I’ll save the recipe for the next time she comes to visit. I still owe her one for discovering vanilla tea; feeding her strawberry tarts and Phoenix Honey Orchid tea would be the perfect way to return the favour.
(makes 4 tartlets)
For the crust
- 150g almond flour
- 60g unsalted butter
- 50g caster sugar
- 80ml skimmed milk
- 100g white chocolate
- 250g ricotta cheese
- Strawberries, to decorate
Prepare the crust
- Use my recipe for Gluten-free Hazelnut and Ricotta tartlet crust, replacing ground hazelnuts and cocoa powder with 150g ground almonds.
- Beware: you will only bake the crust once before adding the filling. Try to leave it in the oven as long as you can, while making sure it doesn’t burn; I baked it for 15 minutes, but if your oven lets you get away with 20, go for it.
Prepare the filling
- Pour the milk in a saucepan; heat it up on the hob, and bring it to a boil.
- Add the white chocolate, and stir until completely melted.
- Remove from the hob, and set aside to cool down for a couple of minutes.
- Pour in the ricotta, and mix until you obtain a smooth cream.
Put the tartlets together
- Fill the cooled tartlet cases with the white chocolate and ricotta cream.
- Put the tartlets in the fridge, and refrigerate for 1 – 2 hours, or until the filling is just set. Leave them in the fridge overnight for best results.
- Remove from the fridge before serving, decorate with strawberry halves, and enjoy.