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.
We had dinner with a Tuscan friend two evenings ago. He served us an exquisite traditional Italian meal of homemade fettucine with onions and pancetta, followed by braised chicken with rosemary and garlic (both dishes have names, but I can’t remember them for the life of me, so I’ll just keep quiet). Simple dishes, but made with enough care and attention to flavour to make them truly delectable.
During the conversation, I mentioned half of this month’s DB challenge: Florentine cookies. To my surprise, our friend had no idea what I was talking about. He took out his Tuscan cookbook and found a pastry with the same name, but which had nothing else in common with what I had in mind: it looked like cocoa-flavoured quenelles of almond paste, not flat, thin cookies. Then Laurent’s father intervened and suggested that Florentine cookies are actually French, not Italian. Meanwhile, Anita Chu’s Field Guide to Cookies states that Florentines may in fact have been invented in Austria.
So, the jury’s still out on where Florentine cookies actually hail from. But that shouldn’t stop us from enjoying them, and it didn’t stop me from completing the challenge.
But first, the other half of the challenge, the one I was most looking forward to: panna cotta. I’ve had this creamy dessert a few times, and was glad to have the opportunity to make it myself. In order to make it a little more interesting, I garnished it with two kinds of gelée: pomegranate and mango. Although I have to admit I cheated a little: instead of using fresh fruit, which isn’t all that easy at this time of year, I used bottled juice.
Making the gelée and panna cotta was very easy, and the most trying part was actually assembling the desserts: making layers, then waiting for them to solidify in the fridge before adding another layer on top. It wasn’t difficult, just time consuming. I made a few variations, including two unmouldable versions: one plain (which was easy enough to unmould), and one with a layer of gelée (which stuck a bit more). I drizzled both with caramel (bottled, not homemade – more of a last minute impulse).
We enjoyed the dessert, although I felt it was just a tad too gelatinous. I know that Josée di Stasio and Patrice Demers both use yogurt in their panna cotta, which gives and allows them to use less gelatine and create a creamier result. I would definitely like to try that option in the near future.
As for the Florentines, everything started out great – well, more or less. I had to push everything back a day when I realized I had absent-mindedly bought oat flour, instead of rolled oats. And when I finally did make the challenge, I initially put too many cookies per baking sheet, and they merged together as they spread. But no biggie, I just cut them up into relatively circular shapes after they had cooled, and then I adjusted the cookie/sheet ratio for the next batches. The cooled Florentines were shiny and crispy, and reminded me of dentelles de Bruges, another lacy cookie I’ve made before.
But this went wrong when I least expected them: during the filling process. I wanted to sandwich my Florentines, as is usually done. But instead of pure chocolate, I used some ganache I had left over from another recent baking project. This turned out to be a mistake, as the cookies absorbed the moisture and became soft and mushy.
They look pretty, don’t they? Alas, ‘tis all an illusion. However, the “naked” cookies I nibbled at before garnishing – and ruining – the rest were really good, so I wouldn’t call my attempt a complete failure. Just an ultimate one.
Mallory, thank you for hosting this challenge, I learned a lot (such as: you can’t always substitute ganache for chocolate). I’m including the basic recipe for fruit gelée, and you can find the challenge recipes at the Daring Kitchen. Don’t forget to look at the DB blogroll to see what all the other bakers have accomplished this month!
Yields 240 ml, or 1 cup
240 ml (1 cup) fruit juice of your choice
1 1/2 tsp unflavoured powdered gelatine
1 tbsp granulated sugar
Pour the juice in a saucepan, sprinkle the gelatine over it in a fine layer, and let rest for 5 minutes. Stir in the sugar, and heat over medium-low until hot but not boiling, and all the sugar and gelatine have dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool before use. The gelée will reach the right texture after about 30 minutes in the fridge (depending on how you choose to use it).