February Daring Bakers’ Challenge: Panna Cotta & Florentine Cookies

Pomegranate is my new “it” food. I’ve always loved the bloody red fruit, but within the past year, this love has intensified to an all out infatuation. As expensive as they can be, I try and get my hands on one as often as possible, especially pomegranate juice, which, with a splash of seltzer, is a perfect refreshing drink.

When I saw the challenge for this month, I knew that I was going to be able to sneak my new fruit obsession into this dessert quite perfectly. 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.

Now I have never made Panna Cotta before, nor can I say I’ve eaten myself many time either. I was excited for a new challenge for something that sounded delicious, moderately easy to make, and would allow me to add some of my own variations on. I made the basic vanilla Panna Cotta recipe, but added a pomegranate jelly over the top with some sprinkled on fresh pomegranate seeds. The result was the perfect mixture of vanilla sweetness with a hint of tangy fruit. I’m now a fan of Panna Cotta, as it’s a fairly easy dessert to make that can be made to seem super fancy when put in little cups and set out on table of desserts.

Florentine cookies are pretty to look at, but in my opinion not that all exciting to eat. They are definitely a hit of sweetness that are complemented well with some drizzled on chocolate, but I can’t say that they really go all that well with the Panna Cotta. In the future, I would stick to making one or the other, but not both at the same time.

If you’d like to make this Panna Cotta, which I really think you should, you can find the recipe for the pomegranate jelly here. Enjoy!

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A Day of Love

Valentine’s is right around the corner and in my opinion, the Hallmarkification of this holiday is fine because it just means that I can bake all that much more without any remorse. “It’s Valentine’s Day? Chocolate? No problem!”  It’s great! I’ve also spent many hours making holiday cards and plan on running to Michael’s the moment this holiday is over to stock up on discounted Valentine’s craft things for next year. So whether you’re not a Valentine’s Day fan, or are going to be having an amorous day about town – these recipes are bound to please.

I believe that I have written of the famous Julia Childs mousse in a previous posting. Well, I have made it yet again with this sublime recipe. This mousse is just slightly labor-intensive but so worth it. It comes out the perfect texture: between light & airy and thick & creamy. And after all: isn’t chocolate the ultimate aphrodisiac?

Chocolate Mousse

(Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 6 ounces unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup dark-brewed coffee
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 3/4 superfine sugar
  • 1/4 cup orange liqueur
  • 4 egg whites
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tbs sugar

DIRECTIONS:

1) Heat a saucepan one-third full with hot water, and in a bowl set on top, melt together the chocolate, butter and coffee, stirring over the barely simmering water, until smooth. Remove from heat.

2) In a bowl large enough to nest securely on the saucepan of simmering water, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until the mixture is thick, like runny mayonnaise.(3-4 minutes) Beat in orange liquer.

3) Continue to beat mixture over an ice bath for an additional 3-4 minutes.

4) Beat the chocolate into the egg yolks and sugar.

5) In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt until frothy. Continue to beat until they start to hold their shape. Whip in the tablespoon of sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks are formed.

6) Fold one-third of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then fold in the remainder of the whites just until incorporated, but don’t overdo it or the mousse will lose volume.

7) Transfer the mousse to a serving bowl or divide into serving dishes, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, until firm.

8) Enjoy!

But of course, mousse wasn’t enough for this holiday: I also made these sumptuous Red Velvet Cake Balls. After a trek through New York City to find red velvet cake mix on Valentine’s Day (it’s worse than finding a pumpkin on Halloween!), I was able to purchase the last box the store had. The deep, lustrous red of the cake mix was really necessary for these cake balls. The rich and chocolatey texture of the inside (my roommates even referred to them as truffles) with the firm white chocolate outside made for a perfect Valentine’s combo. I even sprinkled some pink luster dust for a festive finishing touch.

Red Velvet Cake Balls

(Adapted from Bakerella)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 box red velvet cake mix (cook as directed on box for 13 X 9 cake)
  • 1 can cream cheese frosting (16 oz.)
  • 1 package chocolate bark (regular or white chocolate)

DIRECTIONS:

1) After cake is cooked and cooled completely, crumble into large bowl.

2) Mix thoroughly with 1 can cream cheese frosting. (It may be easier to use fingers to mix together, but be warned it will get messy.)

3) Roll mixture into quarter size balls and lay on cookie sheet.

4) Chill for several hours. (You can speed this up by putting in the freezer.)

5) Melt chocolate in microwave per directions on package.  (Or over a double boiler as I did, being careful not to burn the chocolate)

6) Roll balls in chocolate and lay on wax paper until firm. (Use a spoon to dip and roll in chocolate and then tap off extra.)

7) Enjoy!

Pumpkin Cheddar Muffins

Have I ever mentioned that I like pumpkin 😉 I think it goes without saying that ever since getting this cookbook for my birthday last month, I have been dying to make these muffins! It saddens me so much to think, that while you can buy canned pumpkin anytime of the year, it’s really a fall season flavor. I have decided that I will not let this pumpkin stereotype hinder me and I shall continue to bake with pumpkin all year long, no matter the weather!

These were super easy to make and would be the perfect breakfast muffin if one decided to wake up just 3o minutes early. Once all the wet and dry ingredients have been added together, the dough may seem a little dry, but not worry, as this is normal. Be sure to add some pepitas and extra cheese on top to give it that last boost of yumminess. These are definitely a little bit on the spicy side, but I’m sure one could leave out the cayenne and black pepper and they would still be quite enjoyable.

PUMPKIN CHEDDAR MUFFINS

Adapted from Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Revisited

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups (about 4 ounces) grated sharp cheddar
  • 2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds, optional

DIRECTIONS:

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly oil a 12-cup muffin pan.

2) In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin and sour cream. Add the eggs and butter and whisk until combined.

3) In another large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cayenne pepper, salt, black pepper and brown sugar.

4) Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients. Pour the wet ingredients into the well, and fold until just combined. Fold in three-quarters of the cheese.

5) Divide the batter among the muffin cups. Sprinkle the remaining cheddar and the pumpkin sees on top of the muffins. Bake them for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

6) Let the muffin pan cool on a rack for 10 minutes before turning out the muffins. Serve them warm. Makes 12 muffins.

7) Enjoy!

Lemon Lime Bars

Sometimes, you have those nights, when it’s 9:30 pm, you want to bake something, but realize that anything you make is going to take almost an hour from start to finish (unless you make 5-minute cake of course). Well, that happened the other night and instead of settling on something that would actually be done in an hour, my roommates and I settled on lemon bars, which may take 10 minutes to bake, but then take another 2 hours to cool down in the fridge. Whoops! Well, we went forward anyway (actually, I didn’t realize they would have to cool for that long until I was half-way through making them, so there was no turning back).

The outcome – expedited by the freezer – was still delicious. I have a hard time in general with custards and this was no exception. I don’t think I let it heat up for long enough, making the lemon custard a little more liquidy than I would have liked, but after baking and freezing, it turned out just fine. I myself, am not the biggest sour lemon eater, but all my roommates, who suck on lemons as a hobby, said that they were the bars had the perfect balance of sweet and sour. I added coconut into the crust as per the recipe. I’m not sure it added anything to the crust, although mine wasn’t sweetned, so perhaps some sweet coconut would have tasted better and added to the texture. They are a delicious lemon lime bar that should be made in advance of any occasion, not in a rush 😉

LEMON LIME BARS

(Adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking)

INGREDIENTS:

For the crust:

  • 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 2 tbs dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melter

For the lemon lime filling

  • 11 large egg yolks
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tbs fresh lime juice
  • 2 tbs grated lemon zest
  • 2 tbs grated lime zest
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream

DIRECTIONS:

For the crust:

1) Preheat the oven to 3oo°F. Butter the side and bottom of a 9×13 inch baking pan or spray with nonstick cooking spray.

2) Spread coconut on baking pan. Toast in oven for 7 to 10 minutes until it turns golden brown. Remove from oven, toss the coconut, and return it to over for 3 more minutes.

3) Put the graham cracker crumbs in large bowl, add the toasted coconut and brown sugar, and toss with hand until combined. Add the melted butter.

4) Use hands to combine, then turn it out into the prepared pan. Using your hands, press the crust into an even layer on the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Use the bottom of a measuring cup to create a perfectly even crust.

5) Put the crust into the fridge for 15 minutes, then bake for 10 minutes or until golden. Let the crust cool before adding the filling.

For the lemon lime filling:

1) Increase over temperature to 325°F.

2) Whisk together the egg yolks, eggs, sugar, lemon and lime zests, and lemon and lime juices in large metal pot. Whisk until combined.

3) Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture registers 180°F on a candy thermometer – about 10 minutes.

4) Remove from heat and whisk in butter and cream. Pour through a fine-mesh sieve directly into the cooled crust. Use a rubber spatula to press the curd through the sieve.

5) Make sure the curd is evenly distributed. Tap the pan gently against the counter to make a level layer.

6) Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the filling is just set. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature. Wrap the pan in plastic, being sure to not let the plastic touch the filling, and put in fridge for at least two hours.

7) Enjoy 🙂

Pour over the crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes (less if you are using the thinner topping), or about five minutes beyond the point where the filling is set. Let cool to room temperature.

Cut into triangles and dust with confectioners’ sugar.