It’s another month and another Daring Kitchen baking challenge. 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 were also given a chocolate Panna Cotta recipe from Bon Appetit, which was the one I made, and allowed to source as own recipes as well; so rather than making the Nestle Florentine cookies which called for corn syrup, I used a recipe for orange and ginger Florentine cookies from Bon Appetit on Epicurious.
Until this challenge, I’d never made Panna Cotta and I hadn’t even heard of Florentine cookies. (Seriously! Have I mentioned that I grew up in a sugar-free household?) I was excited to try both and had no idea what to expect.
My first thought when I looked through the ingredients was, “wow, that’s a lot of cream!” Between the two recipes, almost three cups of at least 30% cream was called for. I knew this was going to be my elusive ingredient for this challenge since I knew I’d want to use a natural or organic heavy cream.
Why? Well, I don’t mind using non-organic milk products from Quebec, however, have you ever looked at the ingredients on a conventional carton of whipping cream? It’s not just cream. A typical ingredient list is “cream, milk, microcrystalline cellulose, locust bean gum, cellulose gum, carrageenan, and Polysorbate 80.” As I understand it, these additives are thickeners and stabilizers. Whatever they are, I don’t want them in my cream! (Also cellulose gum may not suitable for people with gluten-intolerance.) And why is my cream being diluted with milk?
The only pure heavy creams I’ve found are from the Ontario-based dairy cooperative, Organic Meadow and from Beurrerie de la Patrimoine in Compton, Qc. Neither seem to be routinely stocked in health-food or specialty stores though, which usually means I may have to visit a few shops before finding my cream. Rachelle Berry and Loblaws stores may carry Organic Meadow, and Fromagerie Atwater sometimes has Beurrerie de la Patrimoine. If you know of any other dairies producing additive-free cream and dairy products, please let me know!
Okay, so back to my challenge. The panna cotta was delightfully easy. The other potentially challenging ingredient in it was the gelatin, which I insist on being organic. (It’s made from the boiled bones, connective tissue and organs.) Luckily I had some GoBio! organic gelatin stashed in my pantry (purchased from Papillon on St-John’s in Pointe-Claire). Unlike conventional gelatine which is powdered, GoBio! gelatine comes in sheets. So rather than use the powdered gelatine measurements in the recipe, I based the gelatine requirement on the instructions on the package, so for the 3 cups of milk and cream in the recipe, I used 6 sheets of gelatine. This worked perfectly and the panna cotta set perfectly.
The Florentines were more of a challenge and a bit of a disappointment. Usually recipes from Bon Appetit work well for me, but this time I’m wondering if there wasn’t an ingredient missing or with the wrong measurement since the batter was very, very runny. When baked, the cookies spread out so much that they almost took over the whole baking sheet. They also spread very thin. The end result was more like a brandy snap that could be rolled around the panna cotta than a cookie. It was very tasty though.
A note on the orange and ginger Florentines: The recipe calls for you to make your own candied orange peel. I found this really fun and have tonnes of candied peel left over. If you don’t want leftover peel you could probably get away with using only one orange instead of three and reducing the other ingredients accordingly. Also, since you’re using the peel of the orange, please do try to go organic. Pesticide residues are higher in the peel, also many conventional oranges are dyed orange to make them look more appealing.
I tested the panna cotta and Florentines on some friends who stopped by. Some found the panna cotta a bit grainy, which I think may be due to the quality of the chocolate. I used Camino Fair Trade bittersweet chocolate chips. Next time I will get a better quality chocolate. The florentines, despite being either chewy or a bit like a brittle, were well-received and matched well with the chocolate panna cotta. What didn’t work so well was the raspberries I added into the as it set. They worked okay in the panna cotta itself, but not when combined with the orange-ginger florentines. I think if I did this combination again, I’d stick with plain chocolate.