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.
I was so excited when this month's challenge was announced. I had seen panna cotta before, and had wanted to try my hand at it, but, for some reason, I never tried. It could be that the versions of panna cotta that I had seen before were on foodgawker, and looked so exquisitely fancy that I was a little intimidated. Or it could be that I am always a little wary of recipes calling for gelatin, since I have had the oh-so-fun experience of getting the proportions wrong with that ingredient before. Or it could be that I have a very long baking-wish-list, and I just hadn't gotten to it yet. But this was my perfect opportunity!
And to make it even more fun, when daddy saw the challenge, he was super excited about the florentines. Apparently he loves them, and was very excited at the prospect of me learning to make them. Worked out well!
Panna cotta is a classic Italian dessert. The name itself literally translates to "cooked cream," and that is pretty much what the recipe is - a stabilized cooked creamy almost custard type of dessert. It is relatively simple to make, yet is smooth, creamy, delicious, and can be prepared and presented very elegantly and beautifully.
I chose to make vanilla panna cotta. Here's how it went:
First, I softened the gelatin by sprinkling it over milk:
After a few minutes, the gelatin was softened up, and the mixture looked kind of like a bowl of brains:
(a little hard to see, what with the picture being white on white, but seriously, I looked in the bowl and thought it looked like a brain...)
Anyway, while the gelatin was doing its thing, I also measured my cream, and, to up the vanilla flavor of my dessert, added the seeds and pod of a vanilla bean to soak in it:
Once all of my ingredients were measured, prepared, soaked and softened, it was time to combine them in a saucepan:
Then the ramekins went into the fridge so that they could cool and set.
I knew that I wanted a fruit component to my panna cotta dessert, and, as luck would have it, blueberries were on sale that week. So I mixed together a simple blueberry sauce from some apple juice, sugar and the fresh blueberries. I let all of the ingredients cook down and simmer until most of the blueberries had burst, then let the sauce cool. It then joined the panna cotta in the refrigerator to wait until dessert time.
After dinner, I was very excited to prepare our dessert. I was anxious to see if the panna cotta had actually set, and to see if I would actually be able to remove them from the ramekins, yet have them retain their shape.
It was interesting to see how each member of the family chose to prepare their dessert. Little miss did not want to bother with un-molding her serving. Nor did she want to bother with the blueberry sauce. She chose to garnish her panna cotta with chocolate chips:
Me? I tried to make mine simple, un-molding the panna cotta and serving it with the blueberry sauce:
Yes, that is panna cotta, topped with whipped cream and chocolate chips, with a side of blueberry sauce. He take dessert very seriously!
The next day, it was time to tackle the florentine cookies. Florentines are a thin, almost lacy oat cookie. They are also super fun to make with a four year old sidekick, as they are prepared differently from any other cookie she has ever made. When I told her we were making cookies, she thought she knew what she was in for, but when I told her that we would not need the mixer, she was confused. Then when I told her that we would be making our cookies in a pot, she was amused.
The florentine recipe provided called for two ingredients that I didn't have. Well, kind of. The recipe called for quick oats. I never have quick oats in the house, but almost always have old fashioned oats. A quick bit of research taught me that the only difference between old fashioned and quick oats are the size of the pieces - quick oats have been chopped to make them smaller, thus allowing them to cook more quickly. No problem - I just gave my old fashioned oats a quick spin in the mini-blender (seriously - about two seconds did the trick!), and we were in business.
The other ingredient that I didn't have was dark corn syrup. I have light corn syrup. A couple more minutes on google taught me that the difference between dark and light corn syrup is molasses, an ingredient I also had on hand.
Handy conversions ready to go, we were ready to bake.
To make the florentines, butter is melted in a saucepan, and then all of the other ingredients are mixed right in that same pot:
The resulting cookie dough was thick and sticky. And thanks to their being no eggs in the dough, we were able to confirm that the dough is also quite delicious.
We then spooned it out onto our baking sheets, where little miss helped to carefully flatten out the balls of dough before I put them into the oven.
The final step in preparing these cookies is to add chocolate. Usually, two florentine cookies are sandwiched together with chocolate. As the cookies themselves are very sweet, dark chocolate is a favored choice. Me? I chose semi-sweet.
We sandwiched about half of the cookies, but I chose not to sandwich all of them because, even for a sweet-tooth dessert lover like me, that made for a pretty big cookie. For the rest of the cookies, I made designs with the chocolate for a delicious decoration:
I have to say, this was really a wonderful challenge, and a great pairing of desserts. The cool, creamy panna cotta and the crisp, sweet florentine were each so much fun, and together made for a really decadent dessert.
I highly recommend checking out the impressive and amazing work of the other Daring Bakers this month - they went above and beyond in creating some amazing, beautiful desserts this month. You can check them out here.
Can't wait to see what next month brings!