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Daring Bakers: Panna Cotta & Florentines

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Here are three facts about my first attempt at making panna cotta:
1. I enjoyed the process and experimenting with flavours, but had some problems along the way.
2. Neither the taste nor look was what I had envisioned.
3. It was delicious ­­– which makes facts 1 and 2 irrelevant.

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.

Here's the original recipe in pdf. For all the fantastic pictures from other Daring Bakers, go to The Daring Kitchen.

A cool dessert ­­– now that's what you want when you live in a hot, humid country, and panna cotta and jelly is perfect.

Mallory apologises for the enormous amount of fat in this panna cotta. So it has a lot of cream in it. Well, add rich, thick coconut milk (instead of plain milk) to that, as I have, and anyone with even the slightest issue with their heart or cholesterol level should stay away from it. This is TO BE EATEN ONLY IN MODERATION! (Apologies for shouting out this warning with the capital letters and exclamation point.)

Agar-agar strips and kaffir lime leaves
In attempt No.1, kaffir lime leaves were steeped in the coconut milk for flavour. The coconut milk came out of a box. Instead of gelatin (which is available here), I used agar-agar (I can't really say how much; just eye-balled it), and used palm sugar instead of white sugar. I also made a gelée from fresh coconut water. The panna cotta is made in a rose-shaped silicone mould.

The citrus taste wasn't as strong as I would have liked it to be, but the panna cotta was creamy and still delicious.

For the florentines, instead of instant oats, I used rolled oats which I processed for a bit. In terms of shape and "lacy-ness", they came out perfect. But they were a little too sweet. I also added a bit of minced crystallised ginger.

Attempt No. 2: Moulded (left) and layered in a glass
In the second attempt, I squeezed milk from grated fresh coconut and left the kaffir lime leaves in the coconut milk overnight and a stronger flavour came through. I had to stop myself from drinking the mixture on its own! The gelée was layered on top of the panna cotta so that the rose shape was more defined. Before processing the rolled oats, I toasted them first and that made the florentines taste better, but they didn't come out lacy. However, I liked the taste better than the first attempt.

The middle layer in the glass is plain jelly with Kahlúa added to it. It goes very well with the rest of the flavours.

C-lucky find

Monday, February 21, 2011

The first recipe in America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2010 magazine is for Chicken Vesuvio, a specialty of Chicago. The picture, while small, stopped me on that page and I read the whole story and recipe before moving on. Actually every page of this magazine has something interesting. What a good deal I got when I found this in the bargain bin at one of the magazine stores close to where I live.

As this post appears, I am in India. Obviously, I wrote this before I left to visit a huge handicraft fair in New Delhi and write about it for my newspaper. I didn't want to have a gap in my publishing schedule, and that's why this post is out. Today, according to the programme, I will be in Agra, at the Taj Mahal. I will probably be tearing a little in awe at the majesty of the structure.

I'm sure I would already have gorged on lovely Indian vegetarian food and will be looking forward to some more until I leave in a few days. I know I'll be taking pictures of all the dishes I tried.

For now, here's a dish I made some time ago; it is really good, so those of you who like chicken, this is a good recipe to have (the picture doesn't do justice to the dish, though, so please don't judge it by that). Enjoy!

From Cooking for Two 2010
Serves 2

¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 (170-225g) boneless, skinless chicken breasts (please use free-range), trimmed and pounded 1¼cm thick
Salt and pepper
5 teaspoons olive oil
340g red potatoes (about 3), cut into 2½cm chunks
1 garlic clove, minced
⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano or ¼ teaspoon dried
½ teaspoon minced fresh rosemary or ⅛ teaspoon dried
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
¼ cup dry white wine
½ cup frozen peas, thawed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • Place the flour in a shallow dish. Pat the chicken breast dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Working with 1 breast at a time, dredge in the flour, shaking off the excess.
  • Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 25cm nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Carefully lay the chicken in the skillet and cook until lightly browned on both sides, 6-8 minutes, flipping the breasts halfway through. Transfer chicken to a plate.
  • Wipe out the skillet with paper towels. heat the remaining 2 teaspoons oil in the skillet over medium-high heat until simmering. Add the potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally until golden brown, about 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic, red pepper flakes, oregano, rosemary and ⅛ teaspoon salt and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the broth and wine, scrapping up any browned bits. Nestle the chicken, along with any accumulated juice, into the potatoes and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until the chicken is cooked, 12-18 minutes, flipping the chicken halfway through.
  • Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and tent loosely with foil to keep warm. Increase the heat to medium and continue to cook, uncovered, until the potatoes are tender and the sauce is thickened slightly, 5-7 minutes longer. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the potatoes to the platter with the chicken. Off the heat, stir in the peas, butter and lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the sauce over the chicken and potatoes and serve.

    Bread bulletin: 1 dough, 6 ways

    Monday, February 14, 2011

    Breakfast should be quick to make and easy to eat. Making toast from a thick slice of homemade loaf and spreading it with butter and jam is easy enough, but sometimes even that seems too much work for me. Terrible.

    So I thought that if I just baked different flavours into a batch of dough, I could avoid using the knife, getting the toaster out and cleaning up afterwards. The usual amount of dough I make is enough for six rolls, so I looked through the fridge and  found enough items to do that: 1 dough, 6 ways!

    Here's a different roll for breakfast every work day and an extra one for whenever. The pictures show the ones I made recently, and the flavours are easy to adapt with whatever you have at hand.

    Top row, from left: Sambal pasty; jam twist; chocolate crescent.
    Bottom row: Cinnamon-apple pocket; sausage roll; cheese windmill. 
    • Roll dough into a square; place a little square of hard cheese in the centre. With scissors or sharp knife, cut diagonally through dough from each corner until the edge of the cheese. Fold alternate points of square to centre to form a windmill, overlapping and pinching gently to seal in the centre. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with grated cheese.
    • Shape the dough into a long triangle; make a small snip in the short end. Place a square of chocolate or some chips in the centre and roll up from the snipped end.
    • Roll or press the dough into a circle; put a heaped tablespoon of any sambal (I used ikan bilis or anchovy) on one side and fold the other side over to enclose and form a half moon. Pinch the seam into a ruffle. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
    • Roll the dough into a long strip and wrap along the length of a cooked sausage, overlapping the edges slightly. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with grated cheese. 
    • Roll out the dough into a wide strip; spread with jam and fold lengthways, with the seam facing upwards. Twist into a spiral, like a snail shell.
    • The apple is finely diced and mixed with brown sugar and cinnamon. Roll the dough into a square. Place apple filling in the centre and bring up the corners into the centre to form an envelop. brush with melted butter and sprinkle with a mixture of sugar and cinnamon. 

    Ring-a-ring o' rosy cakes

    Monday, February 7, 2011

    For some reason, ring moulds are currently my favourite baking pans. I used mini bundt moulds last week for the gingerbread cakes featured at the bottom of this post and a fluted one for the Apple Streusel Coffee Cake I made for this month's Don't Call Me Chef column (out in print today; link to pdf up soon here's the link). Two days ago, I baked a Zebra Cake in a ring mould.

    I first saw the recipe and instructions for a zebra cake – a marble cake but with zebra stripes on the inside! ­­– at AZ Cookbook back in 2008. (Real Epicurean has a slightly different recipe but with the same design.) I tried the recipe, and the stripes came out quite nicely, but the centre of the cake was uncooked. I usually have myself to blame when my cooking attempts fail, but this time it was the fault of my oven which didn't heat properly from the bottom.

    Now it was time to try that cake again. But with my current obsession with rings, it had to be doughnut-shaped. I used a cake mix this time – BUT it was a homemade cake mix, not from a box.

    There are some really good box mixes on the market and I have even used them without feeling guilty about it. Recently, I tried the lemon cake and English tea cake mixes from the Australian brand Green's and liked both. But with any box mix, there are always those nasty preservatives to contend with. When you make your own, you can use the best quality, natural products.

    There are quite a few sites with recipes for homemade cake mix. Here's mine:

    Makes 3 portions

    4½ cups plain flour
    ½ cup cornstarch
    ½ cup milk powder
    2 tablespoons baking powder
    1 tablespoon salt
    2¼ cups sugar
    ½ cup cold unsalted butter, chopped
    1 tablespoon vanilla extract 
    • Sift the flour, cornstarch, milk powder, baking powder and salt together; place into a food processor and pulse for 10 seconds to combine. Add remaining ingredients and pulse to form a fine meal. 
    • Divide into three portions, about 420g each, and store in zipper bags in the freezer.
    To make a vanilla cake using the cake mix, beat with 2 medium eggs, 3 tablespoons softened butter and ½ cup milk or water. For a chocolate cake, sift 3 tablespoons cocoa powder into the cake mix before beating with the other ingredients to make a batter. Blend 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda with 1 tablespoon milk or water and stir this into the batter; immediately pour batter into prepared tin to bake. Baking instructions as for the Spiced Zebra Cake below.

    Batter up
    1 (one-third) portion homemade cake mix
    2 medium eggs
    3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
    ½ mixed spice
    ½ cup milk or water, divided
    2 tablespoons cocoa powder, sifted
    • Preheat oven to 180°C. Base-line, grease and flour a 20cm ring mould. Combine cocoa powder with 1 tablespoon water; stir until dissolved. Set aside.
    • Place the rest of  the ingredients in a large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer for 2 minutes. The batter will have a flowing consistency but will not be runny. Place half the batter in another bowl and blend in the cocoa mixture.
    • Starting on one side of the prepared pan, place 2 tablespoons of the plain batter into the pan; it will start to spread slowly on its own. Quickly drop 2 tablespoons of the cocoa batter on top of the plain batter; the cocoa batter will push the plain batter outwards (pictured top, left). Continue alternating the batters until they are used up; by this time, the batters would have met on the other side of the pan (pictured top, right).
    • Bake for 30-35 minutes until top is springy and a skewer comes out clean when inserted near the centre of the cake. Cool on wire rack for 15 minutes; remove tin and leave on wire rack to cool completely. Serve plain or with a simple sugar glaze (icing sugar mixed with a little milk to a drizzling consistency).

    And here are more spicy ring cakes, this time flavoured with ginger...

    Bundt on the run
    I know I have used both cup and weight measures in this recipe –  it couldn't be helped. I adapted this recipe from one in Donna Hay magazine, which uses cups, but made a smaller amount and weighed the dry ingredients instead.

    Makes 12 ⅓-cup Bundt cakes

    100g plain flour
    1¼ tsp baking powder
    1 tsp ground ginger
    ½ tsp mixed spice
    Pinch of nutmeg
    60g butter, chopped
    ¼ cup golden syrup
    ½ cup brown sugar
    100ml milk
    1 medium egg, lightly beaten
    2 tablespoons chopped crystallised ginger
    • Preheat the oven to 180°C. Process the flour, baking powder, ginger, mixed spice, nutmeg and butter in a food processor until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Place the golden syrup, brown sugar and milk in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Cool until lukewarm. Pour the mixture into the processor while the motor is running and process until smooth. Add the egg and process for 1 minute. Stir in crystallised ginger until combined. Spoon the mixture into 12 lightly greased mini ⅓-cup capacity Bundt cakes tins and bake for 12-15 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer. Cool on wire rack.

    I have linked up this post to Sweet As Sugar Cookies, a blog by Lisa; her "Sweet for a Saturday" linky party is great! You'll get a lot of ideas for sweet treats there from many bloggers.