The Daring Bakers are at it again and it’s more of the sweet stuff. Much as I love doing the challenges which keep adding to my steadily improving baking skills, every time a challenge is posted at the forums I keep hoping that it would be something savoury. So when I saw we would be making Panna Cotta and Florentine Cookies, I wasn’t very excited to be baking something sweet again.
On the other hand, I had made Panna Cotta a couple times in the past but was never really satisfied with my results. Some part of the dissatisfaction was from not getting the substitution of gelatine with agar correct. So this month’s challenge turned out to be the opportunity to see if I could make a successful Panna Cotta with agar. I had also never made Florentine cookies before.
That’s right, 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 had some rather ambitious and exciting ideas about presenting my Panna Cotta but I won’t go into all that since I never got around to executing my ideas. I just don’t know where this month has gone, and it is 2 or 3 days shorter than the other month at that! I know I was reading the challenge on the 1st or the 2nd and the next thing I know is that I got up on the 25th and realised that I had not even read through the challenge properly. This gave me precisely whichever part I could spare of 1 1/2 days to read and assimilate the challenge, get creative in its execution, photograph it while the sun was still doing its thing, and then write up a decent post.
Luckily I didn’t find this month’s challenge much of one. I managed to make the Florentine cookies while cooking breakfast, and if you know Indians you know we take our breakfast very seriously. Posting within the deadline was what proved to be more of a challenge!
Panna Cotta, which translates as “cooked cream” in Italian, probably originated in the Piedmont region of Italy. It is an eggless, custard-like dessert made with cream, milk, sugar and flavouring (usually vanilla) which uses gelatine as the setting agent. Gelatine can be substituted by agar agar, if like us, you don’t use gelatin. Quite easy to make, Panna Cotta can be served in glasses/ ramekins or as a moulded dessert.
Since Panna Cotta itself is a very simple dessert, the possibility of adding flavours to it or “dressing it up” with sauces, gelee, or fresh fruit are endless. Panna Cotta is usually served as a dessert but it can be made savoury (and lighter, with less cream) and be served as an appetiser. The perfect pannacotta should be light and creamy, able to just hold its shape when unmoulded but not be as firm or have a jelly-like consistency.
Florentines are also Italian and are thin, crunchy cookies made from dough that contain nuts and candied fruit held together honey and sugar. Once they’re baked, they’re dipped in or drizzled with melted dark chocolate. Florentines make wonderful sandwich cookies but can also be baked as bars. While there are claims that Florentines originated in Florence and even in Austria, one version claims they were born in Paris in King Louis XIV’s kitchens at the Palace of Versailles. Apparently, Florentine cookies were created by his pastry chefs for the Medici family of Florence.
Our hostess for this month required us to make Panna Cotta and Florentine cookies from the recipe provided but we were free to tweak the recipes to accommodate whatever flavour combinations we wanted to experiment with. I had never heard of Florentine cookies before this challenge and have never eaten a Panna Cotta that I haven’t made. You can find the original challenge with detailed recipe here.
Cardamom Flavoured White Chocolate Pistachio Panna Cotta With A Tangy Saffron Syrup –
A lot of combinations went through my mind while trying to decide the flavours I wanted in my Panna Cotta. Vanilla was a bit predictable and I’ve been seeing too much of chocolate (the dark kind) recently. Yes, I’ve just discovered there can be something like too much chocolate, and hopefully this will be a temporary thing.
I wanted some truly Indian flavours and finally settled on making a White Chocolate Pistachio Panna Cotta flavoured with cardamom. I thought of using fruit, but the only Indian fruit that would truly go with this is mango and it’s not the season for that yet. Rather than make a gelee, I decided to make thick saffron syrup to serve with the Panna Cotta.
I started with the given recipe and changed it to my requirements. Since white chocolate is sweet, I cut down the sugar by half. I substituted agar agar for the gelatine since we are vegetarian and used cardamom. I also used less cream as there was chocolate.
The Tangy Saffron Syrup – Panna Cotta is a dessert and adding a sugar syrup would only make it sweeter, which really isn’t how a dessert should be. My Panna Cotta wasn’t very sweet but I didn’t want it overpowered by sugar so I decided to add a bit of lemon juice to the saffron syrup to balance it out.
Do allow the saffron to sit in the syrup for about an hour if you can. Really good quality saffron takes time to release its colour and flavour. In fact, the time it takes to release colour/ flavour is one indication of the quality of saffron.
You can serve this syrup with a moulded Panna Cotta or else add it to the top of chilled Panna Cotta in glass, about 5 minutes before serving. The cold Panna Cotta will make the saffron syrup thicken instantly and make it look like a layer of gelee. Just make sure your syrup is at room temperature or it will melt your Panna Cotta.
Nestle Florentine Cookies –
These butter-rich cookies should be thin, crunchy and lacy in appearance. When I made them I didn’t realise that to get the lace-like appearance, I should dropped the dough onto hot cookie sheets! The hot cookie sheets would have melted the butter in the dough causing them to spread out and give them the characteristic appearance.
These Florentine cookies are also a bit on the sweet side so I reduced the sugar a bit. Rather than go to the trouble of melting chocolate to dip them in or drizzl
e over them, I just pressed in some semi-sweet mini-chocolate chips into the flattened cookies before baking them. Oh, and I halved the given recipe which still gave me 20 or so Florentines.