Sunday, February 27, 2011

Creamy Not Dreamy


I've always been on the fence about panna cotta. I've eaten both sweet and savory panna cottas quite a few times, but only when it's part of a restaurant's tasting menu or as an amuse bouche. My most recent one was a savory cauliflower panna cotta with caviar. I would never actually order panna cotta if I had a choice. It's not something I gravitate towards. And I'm not a fan Giada de Laurentis and the Food Network either, but they came together for this month's Daring Bakers' challenge.

Hostess Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen asked us to make Giada's panna cotta from the Food Network website. And since making the panna cotta didn’t involve any baking, Mallory randomly threw in a cookie recipe for us to try too. I really wanted to skip this month, but I felt that I should participate since I had the time and both recipes were pretty easy.

Panna cotta is an eggless custard. The most basic sweet version is cream and milk cooked with some kind of sweetener (like sugar or honey) and then some gelatin is added to stiffen it up. If you plan to serve the panna cotta in a cup or goblet, then you can get away with less gelatin. If you want to unmold the panna cotta onto a plate and expect it to somewhat hold its shape, then a tad more is needed. But panna cotta should never be stiff enough to "wiggle and jiggle" like Jell-O.

I desperately wanted to like this month's panna cotta. I tried to stack the deck in the panna cotta's favor by using some great ingredients - Tahitian vanilla bean, orange blossom honey, Strauss Family Creamery heavy cream and milk. I plated my panna cotta with a sauce I made with bitter orange marmalade and homemade citrus simple syrup (that I had left over from making candied citrus peels). The sauce went really well with the sweet, creamy panna cotta. Sadly I was not converted. It was a waste of good ingredients. My panna cotta turned out very smooth and creamy, but I guess I just don't like panna cotta. Now I finally know what side of the fence I am firmly planted.

chocolate glazed oatmeal florentine cookie sitting next to the panna cotta

I liked that the florentine cookie recipe that Mallory chose for us was a simple one bowl recipe that came together quickly. And even though the cookies were not really in line with my own personal preferences, I will most likely make the cookies again in the future. The florentine cookie tasted fine on its own, but I thought it was a strange addition to the panna cotta. They did not pair well together at all.

Can you tell that I was not excited about this month's challenge? I know, I know. That's not the Daring Bakers' spirit that I should be exhibiting. Maybe it was too hard to top the grandeur of last month's jaconde imprime wrapped entremets challenge?

My own preferences (or should I say prejudices?) aside, people seemed to enjoy the dessert. I got quite a few requests for the panna cotta recipe so it must have been pretty good. So don't let my dislike of panna cotta turn you off. Try it and decide for yourself.

Blog-checking lines: The February 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Nestle Florentine Cookies.

Vanilla Panna Cotta and Florentine Cookies

Preparation time:
• 20-25 minutes to prepare the panna cotta and at least 6 hours to chill
• 20-25 minutes to prepare the Florentine cookies and 6-8 minutes to bake

Equipment required:
• Small mixing bowl
• Two medium sized heavy bottom pot or saucepan
• Wooden spoon and/or whisk
• Glasses or ramekins - something to pour and serve your Panna Cotta in
• Measuring cups
• Measuring spoons
• Silpat or wax paper or parchment paper
• Baking sheet
• Small bowl

Giada's Panna Cotta
(Recipe from the Food Network website)

1 cup (240 ml) whole milk
1 tablespoon (one packet) (15 ml) (7 gm) (¼ oz) unflavored powdered gelatin
3 cups (720 ml) whipping cream (30+% butterfat)
1/3 cup (80 ml) honey
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (15 gm) (½ oz) granulated sugar
pinch of salt


1. Pour the milk into a bowl or pot and sprinkle gelatin evenly and thinly over the milk (make sure the bowl/pot is cold by placing the bowl/pot in the refrigerator for a few minutes before you start making the Panna Cotta). Let stand for 5 minutes to soften the gelatin.
2. Pour the milk into the saucepan/pot and place over medium heat on the stove. Heat this mixture until it is hot, but not boiling, about five minutes. (I whisk it a few times at this stage).
3. Next, add the cream, honey, sugar, and pinch of salt. Making sure the mixture doesn't boil, continue to heat and stir occasionally until the sugar and honey have dissolved 5-7 minutes.
4. Remove from heat, allow it to sit for a few minutes to cool slightly. Then pour into the glass or ramekin.
5. Refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight. Add garnishes and serve.

Nestle Florentine Cookies
(Recipe from the cookbook “Nestle Classic Recipes”, and their website)

2/3 cup (160 ml) (150 gm) (5.3 oz) unsalted butter
2 cups (480 ml) (160 gm) (5 2/3 oz) quick oats
1 cup (240 ml) (230 gm) (8 oz) granulated sugar
2/3 cup (160 ml) (95 gm) (3⅓ oz) plain (all purpose) flour
1/4 cup (60 ml) dark corn syrup (Note: I used honey instead of corn syrup)
1/4 cup (60 ml) whole milk
1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1½ cups (360 ml) (250 gm) (9 oz) dark or milk chocolate

Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C/gas mark 5). Prepare your baking sheet with silpat or parchment paper. (Note: The cookies have to tendency to stick to the baking sheet so using parchment paper or a silicone baking mat is recommended.)

1. Melt butter in a medium saucepan, then remove from the heat.
2. To the melted butter add oats, sugar, flour, corn syrup, milk, vanilla, and salt. Mix well. Drop a tablespoon full, three inches (75 mm) apart, onto your prepared baking sheet. Flatten slightly with the back of your tablespoon, or use a spatula.
3. Bake in preheated oven for 6-8 minutes, until cookies are golden brown. Cool completely on the baking sheets.
4. While the cookies are cooling melt your chocolate until smooth either in the microwave (1 1/2 minutes), or stovetop (in a double boiler, or a bowl that fits atop a saucepan filled with a bit of water, being sure the water doesn't touch the bottom of the bowl).
5. Peel the cookies from the silpat or parchment and place face down on a wire rack set over a sheet of wax/parchment paper (to keep counters clean).
6. Spread a tablespoon of chocolate on the bottom/flat side of your cookie, sandwiching another (flat end) cookie atop the chocolate.

This recipe will make about 2.5 - 3 dozen sandwiched florentine cookies. You can also choose not to sandwich yours, in which case, drizzle the tops with chocolate (over your wax paper).


Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

You did a great job nonetheless! Both creations are beautiful and very tempting.



Audax said...

I LOVE how honest you are in your blog you can't like everything (clearly other people liked it) and the Florentines look smashing. Lovely work on this challenge.

Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

Renata said...

Sorry to know that it wasn't your "thing", because they both look great! Great that you gave it a try anyway.

Rochelle said...

I was apprehensive about panna cotta as our challenge to and sorry to hear you didn't like yours.

The Florentine cookies look great and I agree they aren't my typical cookie either but definitely worth another go with a bit more experimenting :)

shelley c. said...

I appreciate your honesty and candor, as well as your willingness to proceed despite not liking the subject of this month's challenge. I have to say, your panna cotta and florentines certainly look beautiful, so just know that you do beautiful work, even when your heart isn't fully in it. :)

MaryMary said...

I feel the same way about panna cotta--but it looks fabulous regardless!

Ruth H. said...

It was very daring and brave of you to try this challenge, despite having had previous experiences with panna cotta that you weren't thrilled with. Thank you for sharing your true feelings with us, and for giving this your best shot and an open mind. I hope next month's challenge is something you enjoy more!

chef_d said...

I like the way you plated your panna cotta. And the cookies look so delicious.
Can't wait for next month's challenge :)

Aparna said...

Yes, your florentines look smashing as Audax says. And the panna cotta comes pretty close. :)

Valerie said...

your pannacotta is beautifully photographed !
I usually make them with aga-agar & arrow-root (this last one makes it smoothier) because I believe gelatin is not always a safe choice (and i'm a vegetarian anyway)
I've always thought I wasn't a pannacotta person, but I found out that if I make them in tiny glasses or small silicon molds and add some fruit toppings to them, I really enjoy them so my guests always do so,too.
I found your blog via Pinterest today and am really enjoying your recipes !