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.
This month’s challenge was really fun for me, because it combined two very different elements: an old favorite dessert of mine, and something I’d never tried before. Often when I was growing up, my mom would bring home Florentine cookies from this great little bakery in our town, and I had a love/hate relationship with them. Part of me wanted to love their chewy, caramely, chocolatey goodness, but another part of me hated biting into the pieces of cookie with candied orange rind, so I always chose my bites carefully. Eventually my aversion to orange rind faded and I just loved the cookies, but it’s been a few years since I’ve had one! It was fun to recreate them in my own kitchen, as I’d never tried them before, or worked with a dough quite like the one the recipe below produces.
Panna Cotta was a mystery to me, a dessert I’d never tried making, and never even tasted before! I knew what it was, but don’t tend to work much with gelatin, so it kind of scared me away. I was surprised to find out how simple it was to make, and loved getting to try it for the first time! The texture was interesting to me, especially with the firmer gelee on top, and the flavor reminded me a lot of creme brulee.
I went with a Strawberries ‘N’ Cream spin on the basic panna cotta recipe, adding a vanilla bean to the milk mixture, and a sweet strawberry gelee on top. The taste was certainly reminiscent of strawberries ‘n’ cream, and I thought it was a fun play on textures to have the firmer gelee atop the softer panna cotta. Once you break through the strawberry layer, it’s like striking creamy, luscious, vanilla gold at the bottom. I was quite pleased with the end result, both in terms of flavor, and in terms of presentation. It’s certainly very aesthetically pleasing, which is always fun.
1 cup (240 ml) whole milk
1 tablespoon (one packet) (15 ml) (7 gm) (1⁄4 oz) unflavored powdered gelatin
3 cups (720 ml) whipping cream (30+% butterfat)
1/3 cup (80 ml) honey
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (15 gm) (1⁄2 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.
1 cup fruit strawberries diced
3 tablespoons (45 ml) water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
11⁄2 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin
1) Sprinkle gelatin over water.
2) Place fruit and sugar in a small saucepan and simmer until sugar has dissolved. Now mix the gelatin into the strawberry mixture and stir until gelatin has dissolved.
3) Remove from heat and allow to cool (close to room temp, again, if you’re planning on layering on pouring on top of your Panna Cotta, a hot mixture will also heat up your chilled Panna Cotta).
The Florentine cookie dough was different than any dough I’d worked with before. It was easy enough to portion and shape, but baking was a different story! The first batch came out beautifully — I baked them on a half sheet pan with a silpat for 8 minutes and they came out golden and beautiful (like the ones above). But then I had to let those cool, and I only have one silpat, so I baked the next batch on a thinner meal pan with parchment paper, and the edges of those got a little bit too dark, the center too light. I think my error was in letting the dough sit too long — these cookies should really go right into the oven once the dough comes together in the pan, otherwise it gets too firm and doesn’t spread properly once it gets into the over. That being said, even the problem cookies looked and tasted pretty good, and I was really happy with the end result! The cookies looked pretty with the chocolate spread over the backs of them, and peeking through the little holes on top. They tasted pretty fantastic too! The cookies themselves are a fun combination of tender and crispy, with a rich buttery caramel taste, and a hint of salt. Salty + sweet = prefection. The chocolate smothered all over the back was just perfect too — I used bittersweet, which balanced out the sweetness of the cookies perfectly, for a wonderful, satisfying, crunchy treat.
2/3 cup unsalted butter
2 cups quick oats
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup plain (all purpose) flour
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
1/4 cup whole milk
1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla extract pinch of salt
11⁄2 cups (360 ml) (250 gm) (9 oz) dark or milk chocolate
Preheat oven to moderately hot 375°F (190°C) (gas mark 5). Prepare your baking sheet with silpat or parchment paper.
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.