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!

January Daring Baker’s Challenge: Biscuit Jaconde

I feel like I keep tacking onto my New Year’s Resolutions, but since it’s still only January – at least for one more day – I think that it’s okay. To add on to more baking, more blog updating, and more bread, I know want to go the whole year and do every single Daring Baker’s Challenge. I can already foresee some problems that I will face as the year wears on, but at least I can say I will try.

The January 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Astheroshe of the blog accro. She chose to challenge everyone to make a Biscuit Joconde Imprime to wrap around an Entremets dessert. I’m not going to lie, this was one of the more difficult challanges that I have done. I’m not even going to go into what went wrong with my biscuit jaconde, because I myself don’t quite know what was wrong with it, but the truth is that the mousse inside was what made the dish amazing. I made some of Ms. Julia Childs’s classic chocolate mousse that was the perfect accompaniment to the spongy jaconde cake that I tried to make.

As we sat around the table eating the mousse, my roommates pointed out that it was like eating fluffy dough – the denseness of cookie dough with the fluffiness of mouse. I’m not quite sure what that means, but it sounds good! The cake didn’t make it in the fridge for more than a day or two before it was licked clean off the plate. I always have Mastering the Art of French Cooking at the back of my cookbook shelf and never quite take advantage of all the amazing recipes it has to offer.

At the end of the day, I realized that while the jaconde didn’t quite turn out how I wanted it, the whole process, which took more than a few hours, was well worth it as I discovered the most amazing mousse recipe in the entire world. I plan on making the mousse again very soon, sans jaconde, and am hoping that it works out just as well.

November Daring Bakers’ Challenge: Crostata

In addition to all the baking I had in-store for Thanksgiving, I also had to complete my Daring Bakers’ challenge for the month. I decided to wait until the end of the month,  so I could use the crust for a pumpkin pie, given the necessity of pumpkin pie at any Thanksgiving table. Some people think that pumpkin pie isn’t a necessary item on a Thanksgiving dessert menu. I on the other hand, think it’s the only dessert worth having. I wait all year for it!

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

The crostata was really quite simple to make – just like most other pie doughs with the addition of an egg. It was a little dense the following day out of the fridge, so I made sure to let it warm up a bit before it rolled out. After all the baking of the weekend, we only had a pie tin left, so it was not exactly a tart per-se as the recipe wanted it to be, but I still think it was delicious nonetheless. I was worried the crostata wouldn’t cover the whole pan given how big it was, but my worries were not needed, as it fit perfectly.

Of course, I find it almost impossible to bake a pie without burning it, especially pumpkin, which has to stay in the oven for so long. After 40 minutes, my friend said to me “Oh right, we should have tented it!” Oh well. The side was a little burnt, but the inside still tasted yummy. I love pumpkin pie, I wait for it every year, and with the addition of a new pie crust, it was better than ever. I just followed the recipe off the side of a can for the filling, and voila! A perfect (albeit little bit burnt) pumpkin crostata pie.

Head over to http://thedaringkitchen.com/ to see the recipe and other daring adventures!

September Daring Bakers’ Challenge: Sugar Cookies

I love sugar cookies. They’re pretty easy to make, you can make them in any shape or size you want and if you have the time and patience, decorating them is very fun. The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!” Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking.

I had a lot of trouble with this dough recipe. I’m not sure if it was a mistake I made, or I just wasn’t used to my dough being this dry, but I had a hard time getting the dough to roll out properly. I ended up more or less handshaping a lot of discs from which I cut out pieces.

I settled upon some fall themed cookie cutters – apples, acorns, and leaves. Fall in  New York is one of my favorite seasons, although the recent rain/humidity spell has not been all that pleasant. I love walking through Central Park when all the leaves have changed and cannot wait to start wearing my jean jacket and boots more often.

I spent a lot of time decorating these cookies, for as you can see from the photos, my lovely roommate decided to make a paper-maché tree to hang them on. It’s possible that the tree was more complicated than the cookies, although it did take me about 2 and half hours to do all the cookies. I’m most proud of the apples, I think they’re just so cute. I had a hard time deciding on colors for the leaves but when it was all set up on the tree, they looked good. Perhaps this new ”fall tree” will be the new fad!

August Daring Bakers’ Challenge: Baked Alaska

What a month this has been! I finally moved into my amazing new apartment and at long last, all the roommates are together. There are four of us in a great two bedroom in the most perfect location in all of New York. It’s easy to get to work and I’m anticipating that it will be easy to get to classes once they start next week. I can’t believe that school starts in just a little over a week. In some ways, this summer has flown by, but at the same time it seems like ages ago that we were moving out of our dorm last May.

With all the moving, IKEA trips (which there were many), setting up of furniture, beating the heat and the rain, there has been little time for baking. Our kitchen hasn’t been completely set up until just the other day as we were missing a lot of kitchen gear that our final roommate was bringing down with her. I love our stove – it’s a brand new gas stove. At the same time, that means we have a gas oven, which I am not the greatest fan of, but it seems to work better than other gas ones I have worked with. So, as we finally put the finishing touches on the kitchen the other day, with the addition of a garbage can, microwave, and a few more pots and pans, I realized it was time for this months challenge!

The August 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Elissa of 17 and Baking. For the first time, The Daring Bakers partnered with Sugar High Fridays for a co-event and Elissa was the gracious hostess of both. Using the theme of beurre noisette, or browned butter, Elissa chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make a pound cake to be used in either a Baked Alasa or in Ice Cream Petit Fours. The sources for Elissa’s challenge were Gourmet magazine and David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop”.

I decided to go with the Baked Alaska because the prospect of glazing a bunch of teeny petit fours seemed like too much of a hassle. That being said, the Baked Alaska wasn’t a walk in the park either. I started the process at the begining of the week, making the pound cake and the ice cream. I strayed away from the originial recipe and made a mint ice cream, as I had just found some peppermint extract in my basket of spices and baking items. Having made ice cream for last months challenge, I was prepared for the task of making ice cream with out an ice cream maker, but this was much more complicated. The addition of the eggs meant you had to heat and cool the milk and cream more often and the eggs gave the ice cream a much more custardy flavor. I added some green food coloring so no one would forget it was mint.

The task of browning the meringue without a blowtorch was daunting because I was certain that my ice cream would melt in the broiler. But, WE ACTUALLY HAVE A BLOWTORCH! One of my roommates had one in a creme brulee set and we went and bought some butane fuel, and voila, we had a funtioning blowtorch. Now that I know we have one, I’m going to try to use it for everything that I make 😉

Overall, this was a fun challenge. The pound cake was probably my favorite part – I love burnt butter. The moral of the last two challenges is that I think I really need a an ice cream maker because making it without is much harder and it never turns out quite as good as it would with a machine.

July Daring Bakers’ Challenge: Swiss Swirl Ice Cream Cake

My first Daring Bakers challenge is finally ready! I’m always reading my blogroll and seeing all the amazing recipes that come from the Daring Bakers. A few months ago I applied to become one myself and was finally admitted into the club 😉 to start baking for the month of July.

The July 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Sunita of Sunita’s world – life and food. Sunita challenged everyone to make an ice-cream filled Swiss roll that’s then used to make a bombe with hot fudge. Her recipe is based on an ice cream cake recipe from Taste of Home. At first, I looked at the recipe – which was 13 pages long – and said to myself “this will be my one and only Daring Bakers challenge.” I had no idea how – between work, going to Israel this past week for a wedding and everything else on my plate – I was going to be able to complete this multi-step recipes. After spending a lot of time reading the recipe on the subway rides to and from work, I realized that, while there were many components to this cake, they were actually not that difficult to make, you just had to give yourself freezing time.

Because of the freezing times needed for the ice cream, I split up the recipe into multiple days. I made the ice cream one day, the cakes another, and put it all together on the day of a dinner party my roommate and I put together in order to feed the cake to some friends. We quickly realized that even five of us were not going to be able to eat all of it and almost two weeks later there is still some sitting in our freezer.

As I said before, the different components of the cake were not actually that difficult to make; in retrospect, they were quite simple (although as usual, my faulty oven never fails to overbake the edges of my cakes.) I’d never thought of making ice cream before without an ice cream machine, but this method of mixing up cream and sugar makes you realize how easy it is to make your own ice cream. I even bought a vanilla bean! Something I had never done before. I know that you’re allowed to modify the recipes to a certain extent, but given that this was my first challenge, I decided to follow the original recipe to a tee. Even after following the recipe exactly, for some reason, my chocolate ice cream decided not to freeze all the way through, so while the fudge sauce froze solid, the chocolate ice cream turned more into a sauce.

After having completed this first challenge, I now understand why so many people call themselves Daring Bakers. It’s such a fun way to learn new and exciting things about baking – I’d never even heard of a swiss roll before – and there are so many other people making it, that someone has likely made the same mistake you did and is willing to help. I’m really looking forward to next month’s challenge, which will be made in my new apartment. WOOT WOOT!