The February 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by MissMallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Nestlé Florentine Cookies.

I had never tasted panna cotta before so I could not tell if the final outcome of this challenge was anywhere close to the real thing. At first sight, it looked and sounded something like a flan minus the caramel but then it was a Daring Bakers challenge and therefore could not be as simple as a dish of baked custard.

The next rough spot I hit was that the recipe called for gelatin, something that’s a strict no-no in my kitchen. I wondered how well agar agar would work as a substitute here and would like to thank the Daring Bakers for their most helpful comments on the forum. I was further encouraged by the success of some vegan bakers and ended up being very happy with the texture of my own creation.

For the flavours, I did not feel like going too fancy. A couple of alphonso mangoes were pretty effortlessly converted into mango gelee and I used 2 tablespoons of strawberry preserves for the bottom layer. I would suggest that you omit the sugar if you make this; the honey should be enough to satisfy your sweet tooth.

HONEY & MILK PANNA COTTA

 

Ingredients:

1 cup whole milk

1 1/2 tbs agar agar flakes

3 cups whipping cream [30+% butterfat]

1/3 cup honey

1 tbs granulated sugar

pinch of salt

Method:

  • Pour milk into a bowl and sprinkle agar agar evenly and thinly over the milk. Make sure there are no clumps.
  • Make sure the bowl is cold by placing the bowl in the refrigerator for a few minutes before you start.

  • Let the mixture stand for 5 minutes to soften the agar agar.
  • Pour milk into the saucepan and place over medium heat on the stove. Heat until hot, but not boiling, about five minutes.

  • Next, add the cream, honey, sugar, and pinch of salt. Whisk a couple of time making sure the mixture doesn’t boil.
  • Continue to heat and stir occasionally until the sugar and honey have dissolved 5-7 minutes.

  • Remove from heat, allow it to sit for a few minutes to cool slightly. Then pour into serving glasses or ramekins.
  • Refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight. Dip ramekins in hot water before inverting if you plan to unmould.

Note:

First, when you sprinkle your gelatin over your milk, be sure that it’s a thin even layer of gelatin, no clumps. When you heat it up after it’s soaked a bit, you’ll be less likely to get any lumps of gelatin in the finished product.

Second, if you would like to unmold your Panna Cotta from a ramekin simply run a knife along the edge, dip the ramekin in a bit of hot water, then invert onto your serving platter. 

Milk substitutes, such as skim, almond, or even coconut milk can be used in place of the whole milk, but cream is important. In order to get the right texture there needs be a certain % of cream fat.

FRUIT GELEE

 

Ingredients:

1 cup fruit

3 tbs water

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp agar agar flakes

Method:

  • Sprinkle agar agar over water. Place fruit and sugar in a small saucepan and simmer until sugar has dissolved.
  • Now mix the agar agar into the fruit mixture and stir until agar agar has dissolved. Remove from heat.

  • Allow to cool to room temperature if you’re planning on layering the gelee on top of your Panna Cotta.
  • While strawberries, raspberries, mangoes, blackberries work well for this, please note that certain fruits [e.g. kiwi and pineapple] interact with agar agar and stop it from jelling.

Florentine cookies are something I’ve made before, several times actually. Except that I had no idea they were called florentine cookies. In our Home Economics class they had always been referred to as Chewy Oat Cookies. While the ingredients remain basically the same for both recipes, the technique we used was to melt the syrup and sugar together with the butter, then add the molten mixture to the dry ingredients.

I expected these cookies to spread out considerably but they did not. They did not disappoint tastewise though; I believe they can be improved by adding chocolate chips to the batter instead of being sandwiched together. This month’s challenge was lots of fun to put together and I’d like to thank MissMallory, for turning this February into a creamy, dreamy, crunchy one!

NESTLE FLORENTINE COOKIES

 

Ingredients:

2/3 cup unsalted butter

2 cups quick cooking oats

1 cup granulated sugar

2/3 cup all purpose flour

1/4 cup dark corn syrup

1/4 cup whole milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

pinch of salt

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 375°F. Line baking sheet with parchment.
  • Melt butter in a medium saucepan, then remove from heat.
  • To the melted butter, add oats, sugar, flour, corn syrup, milk, vanilla, and salt. Mix until well combined.

  • Using a tablespoon, drop cookies 3″ apart onto your prepared baking sheet and flatten slightly.  
  • Bake in preheated oven for 6-8 minutes, until cookies are golden brown. Cool completely on the baking sheets.

  • While the cookies are cooling, melt chocolate in the microwave or over a double boiler until smooth. 
  • Peel the cookies from the silpat or parchment and place face down on a wire rack set over a sheet of wax paper.

  • Spread a tbs of chocolate on the flat side of your cookie and sandwich with another cookie atop the chocolate. 
  • If you choose not to sandwich yours, drizzle the tops with chocolate. Makes abt 2 1/2 to 3 dozen sandwiched cookies.
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