Sunday, February 27, 2011

February 2011 Daring Baker Challenge - Panna Cotta with Florentine Cookies

Blackout Panna Cotta! Why is it blackout panna cotta, you may wonder. Well, I was in the middle of making it - had the glasses in the freezer so the panna cotta would look nice on the raspberries, when the power went out. I prepared the layers by candlelight.

I'm only giving you one picture, because I love that picture. It's a little too yellow, but I just love that pic. I think it may have something to do with my deep love of that crystal. I have a thing for crystal and glass. If I had my way, I would have tons of it.

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.

Phew! Glad we got that out of the way.

On to the challenge. I chose to make mine with coconut milk. Why? Well, some of you know with my long and stormy relationship with milk. I love it, it hates me. I didn't feel like risking it this time, so I decided to make a coconut milk version. I chose to flavor it with coconut milk caramel, because I love the stuff, and this was a great excuse to make some more!

The Panna Cotta was smooth, and rich, and had just enough gelatin in it. It was a great contrast to my raspberry sauce, since neither were very sweet.

I am happy I got to do this challenge. It also gave me a great opportunity for a rematch with my nemesis, the Florentine cookie. I had tried to do them for Christmas...and it wasn't a success. They tasted great, but no matter how many I put on a pan, then ran together into one big blob...and the rest of the batter cooled and stuck to the bottom of the pan. That stuff was like glue! This recipe, I didn't have the same challenges. Well, the first batch did all run together, but I discovered no matter how little I think the batter is, cut it in 1/2, and the cookies will be a reasonable size and won't be one big blob.

Thanks again for the great challenge, and I look forward to the next one!

For a printable recipe, click here.

Coconut milk caramel Panna Cotta (inspired by Giada’s Vanilla Panna Cotta)

2 cups coconut milk

½ cup coconut milk caramel (You can make this, recipe below)

2 cups heavy cream

1 Tablespoon powdered gelatin (one package)

1 Tablespoons brown sugar

Pinch salt

½ t. vanilla extract

  1. Pour the coconut milk into a bowl or pot and sprinkle gelatin evenly and thinly over the milk (make sure the bowl/pot is cold by placing the bowl/pot in the refrigerator for a few minutes before you start making the Panna Cotta). Let stand for 5 minutes to soften the gelatin.
  2. Pour the milk into the saucepan/pot and place over medium heat on the stove. Heat this mixture until it is hot, but not boiling, about five minutes. (I whisk it a few times at this stage).
  3. Next, add the cream, caramel, sugar, and pinch of salt. Making sure the mixture doesn't boil, continue to heat and stir occasionally until the sugar and caramel have dissolved 5-7 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat, add vanilla, allow it to sit for a few minutes to cool slightly. Then pour into the glass or ramekin.
  5. Refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight. Add garnishes and serve.

Coconut Milk Caramel

2 14 oz cans coconut milk

1 ¾ c. brown sugar (I use dark brown sugar)

1 t. salt

1 t. vanilla extract

½” fresh ginger (optional)

Combine milk, brown sugar, ginger, and salt in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Heat until boiling, stirring occasionally. Cook for 30 minutes at a low boil, until mixture has been reduced by ½. Remove from heat, and add salt and vanilla, and remove ginger. Let cool and store in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Raspberry Sauce

1 pint raspberries (can be fresh or frozen)

1 t. lemon juice

1 cup raspberry jam (I use seedless)

1 T. raspberry liquer or cassis

Combine all ingredients in a food processor, and mix until well blended. Taste and adjust sweetness to your liking.

Nestle Florentine Cookies

Recipe from the cookbook “Nestle Classic Recipes”, and their website.


2/3 cup (160 ml) (150 gm) (5.3 oz) unsalted butter

2 cups (480 ml) (160 gm) (5 2/3 oz) quick oats

1 cup (240 ml) (230 gm) (8 oz) granulated sugar

2/3 cup (160 ml) (95 gm) (3 oz) plain (all purpose) flour

1/4 cup (60 ml) dark corn syrup

1/4 cup (60 ml) whole milk

1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla extract

pinch of salt

1½ cups (360 ml) (250 gm) (9 oz) dark or milk chocolate


Preheat oven to moderately hot 375°F (190°C) (gas mark 5). Prepare your baking sheet with silpat or parchment paper.

1. Melt butter in a medium saucepan, then remove from the heat.

2. To the melted butter add oats, sugar, flour, corn syrup, milk, vanilla, and salt. Mix well. Drop a tablespoon full, three inches (75 mm) apart, onto your prepared baking sheet. Flatten slightly with the back of your tablespoon, or use a spatula.

3. Bake in preheated oven for 6-8 minutes, until cookies are golden brown. Cool completely on the baking sheets.

4. While the cookies are cooling melt your chocolate until smooth either in the microwave (1 1/2 minutes), or stovetop (in a double boiler, or a bowl that fits atop a saucepan filled with a bit of water, being sure the water doesn't touch the bottom of the bowl).

5. Peel the cookies from the silpat or parchment and place face down on a wire rack set over a sheet of wax/parchment paper (to keep counters clean).

6. Spread a tablespoon of chocolate on the bottom/flat side of your cookie, sandwiching another (flat end) cookie atop the chocolate.

This recipe will make about 2 1/2 - 3 dozen sandwiched Florentine cookies. You can also choose not to sandwich yours, in which case, drizzle the tops with chocolate (over your wax paper).

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"Kitchen Sink" Bran Muffins

Look at those yummy little things. Don't they look good? Well, they are!

I've been trying to incorporate healthier food into my daily diet. Yea, I know you all are laughing right about now, since I post a lot of cheesecakes, but I don't eat them on a daily basis (well, most of the time I don't). My meals are, in general, healthy. But, they could be better. They could be a lot better!

I'm sure I've also stated that I really don't like breakfast that much. Don't get me wrong, I love breakfast foods. Pancakes, waffles, yum! Sign me up...actually eating them before 10am? No thanks! These muffins I could actually eat for breakfast. Or for an after dinner snack. They are just sweet enough without being overly sweet. So, it could satisfy my sweet tooth when you really need it.

This is just another step for me in the right direction. I also had another evil intention making this recipe - I wanted my brothers to like it. They both shun things that are brown - unless they are fried brown, that is. Brown bread is like their kryptonite. And, Matt is so anti-vegetable, he won't even eat spinach wraps...So, I have my work cut out for me!

These muffins are a good start. They are loaded with goodness, and while they may not be low in carbs, they are full of bran and oatmeal. And, they contain nice dried fruits to help combat those winter blues!

For a printable recipe, follow the link here.

“Kitchen Sink” Bran Muffins

1 cup all-bran cereal

1 ¼ cup buttermilk

1 orange

½ cup raisins

1 ½ cups oatmeal

½ cup dried cranberries

½ t. baking soda

½ t. salt

1/3 c. water

1 ½ cup flour

½ t. cinnamon

¼ t. nutmeg

¼ t. cardamom

½ t. vanilla extract

½ c. walnuts

1/3 c. brown sugar

1/3 c. oil

In a small bowl, combine the all-bran cereal and buttermilk. Set aside. Zest and juice the orange. If you don’t get 2/3 cup orange juice, add enough water to measure 2/3 cup. Add dried cranberries and set aside to soak. Both of these should soak at least 1 hour.

After your cereal and cranberries have soaked, preheat oven to 350. Grease 12 muffin tins. In a large bowl, combine cereal, the liquid not absorbed by the cranberries, the water, oil, sugar, and flour. Mix until just combined. Add remaining ingredients, mixing gently just to combine the ingredients but careful to not overmix.

Fill muffin tins almost to the top. These don’t rise much. Place in the preheated oven, and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the tops are browned, and a toothpick comes out clean.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Baklava Inspired Cheesecake

I've had this cheesecake in my head for over 5 months now. I was convinced it was a good idea. After tweaking it a few times, turns out, it is. I have changed the garnishes quite a bit since this picture (for the better), but the cheesecake is about the same.

The pics don't do this justice, it was really fantastic! You could taste both the honey and cinnamon in the cheesecake, which complimented the walnuts in the crust. And, the honey brushed baklava provided just enough sweet crunch to remind you of baklava. Overall, I'd say this is a pleasant end to the experiment. The only thing I missed was the sticky bottom layer!

This was really good! The nuts and sugar in the crust reminded me of baklava, while the cheesecake itself had a cinnamon honey taste that complimented it perfectly. I chose not to add nuts to the cheesecake itself. I wanted to leave that rich and creamy.

For a PDF of the recipe, click here. Enjoy!

Baklava inspired cheesecake

Walnut sugar mixture (used for the crust as well as a topping):

4 cups walnuts

1 ½ cups sugar

2 t. cinnamon

¼ c. water

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, combine walnuts, sugar, and water. Bring to boil over medium high heat, and cook until you smell a light walnut smell and sugar has been dissolved. Take off heat and add cinnamon. Spread mixture on parchment paper to cool. Once completely cool, chop walnuts. Use ½ for crust, and reserve ½ for topping cheesecake.


½ of walnut sugar mixture (if you don’t want to make this, you can combine 2 cups walnuts, chopped, ½ ½ c. sugar, and 1 t. cinnamon)

1 ½ cups vanilla wafer crumbs (this is about 1/3 box)

6 T. butter, melted

Combine all ingredients and press into 9” spring form pan. This mixture is a bit sticky, so it will take some time.

32 oz cream cheese (that’s 4 8oz bricks), softened to room temperature

1 ½ cups honey

½ cup sugar

Zest of 1 lemon (approx. 1 t.)

4 eggs

1 t. salt

2 t. cinnamon

1/3 c. cornstarch

Preheat oven to 350. In a large mixing bowl, whip cream cheese until fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Add honey, and sugar, mixing well. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition. Add lemon zest, salt, cinnamon, and cornstarch, mix for 1-2 minutes, scraping down bowl as needed.

Pour over crust, and bake at 350 for 75-90 minutes, until middle of the cheesecake is only slightly jiggly when the pan is gently shaken back and forth. Remove from oven, and let cool on counter, at least 4 hours. If not serving immediately, place in refrigerator. Remove from refrigerator 1 hour before serving.

Garnish with whipped cream, phyllo triangles, and cinnamon candied walnuts before serving.

For the phyllo garnish:

10 phyllo sheets

4 T. butter, melted and cooled

2-3 T. honey, warmed 10sec in microwave

Work with one sheet of phyllo at a time. Brush ½ the sheet with butter. Fold in ½. Repeat twice (so you have 8 layers), and cut into triangles. Bake at 350 for 5-6 minutes, until golden. Remove from oven and quickly brush generously with honey. Let cool, and store in airtight container.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Cherry Cheesecake Bites

I forgot to use my cute little candy holders last year for Valentine's Day, so I had to take a picture of them this year. Aren't they cute? I originally bought them because I was going to bento...but I've found that I have zero motivation to make a cute lunch if I'm not going anywhere to eat it. So, my bento stuff got put in storage, and now I'm looking for ways to use it.

I first thought of these little cheesecake bites for my niece. She likes little things - mini cupcakes, bite size cookies, etc. So i was thinking...I wonder how I could make a bite size cheesecake. Now, I do have some "individual" cheesecake pans, but I wasn't really looking for something like that.

These little bites are just perfect. The are a bit more than a bite - well, they are a BIG bite, or 2 small ones. And, they are delicious. I really love the way the cherry juice tints the cheesecake pink. I think these are quite perfect for gifts. They are just enough cheesecake in a bite to satisfy that sweet tooth, without taking a piece. And, my niece loved them.

You may think it's wasteful to make a cheesecake, and then cut out little molds to dip into chocolate. However, you would be surprised at what you can do with some leftover cheesecake. You can roll the leftovers into balls, refrigerate, and dip in chocolate for the non-cherry in the center version. You can just stick them in the freezer, and then eat it yourself - one bite at a time. Finally, you can fold it into ice cream for cheesecake ice cream. I must admit, just eating it a little at a time worked the best for me.

Like my stylized pic? I'm learning photoshop...

Finally, this is an option for your leftover melting chocolate. Make chocolate coated pretzels. I did this, but I added some caramel. So I thought I would include a quick how to on this. The easiest way I've found to include caramel is unwrap some caramels and place them in a large ziploc bag. Melt the caramel for about 10-15 seconds in the microwave. Smoosh (yes, that is a word!) the caramel around the bag and form it into a thin layer within the bag. Freeze for 5-10 minutes.

Peel the caramel off the ziploc bag and cut into strips with a pizza cutter. Twirl the caramel around a large pretzel stick, then dip the entire thing in coating chocolate. The best way to do this is to buy a tall thin slurpy cup, and put your melting chocolate in that. It's easy to dip your pretzel sticks in that!

For a PDF of the recipe, click here.

Cherry Cheesecake Bites

For the cheesecake:

24 oz cream cheese (that’s 3-8oz packages), at room temperature

1 7oz jar maraschino cherries with stems, with juice reserved

1/3 c. all- purpose flour

3 eggs

½ t. lemon juice

1/3 c. sugar

Preheat oven to 350.

Place cream cheese in the mixing bowl, and mix until smooth. Add maraschino cherry juice and sugar, and mix until very well incorporated, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, flour, and lemon juice, and mix well. Mixture will turn a light pink, but should be an even color when finished mixing.

Pour the mixture into a tight 8” spring-form pan. Since there is no crust for this recipe, it’s a good idea to cook on a baking sheet, and/or tightly wrap the outside of the pan with aluminum foil.

Place the maraschino cherries in the mixture, letting the stems stick out, so you know where the cherries are located. The cheesecake mixture is solid enough the cherries will stay upright. You really want to know where the cherries are, so you can cut around them, so it’s important to leave the stems on.

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes, until the center is starting to get firm when the pan is gently shaken. Cool completely to room temperature, followed by cooling in the refrigerator.

To make the bites:

1/2 lb. coating chocolate

Cherry cheesecake from above

With a 1” or 1 1/2” diameter round cutter, cut the cheesecake into bites. The best way to do this is to center the stem within your cutter, and press evenly down. These can be a bit tricky to get out of the pan, so it’s easiest to start on the outer edges, and work your way in. In order to get a clean cut around the sides, keep your cutter warm by having a shallow bowl full of hot water, and dipping it in the water after each cut. I used a metal spatula to remove the bites

Reserve your scrap cheesecake and shape into 1” round balls. You can dip these in chocolate as well, or put them in the freezer for cooks snacks later.

Refrigerate your candies for at least 4 hours, until the sides are firm. They should be well chilled before you coat them in chocolate.

Melt chocolate according to package directions. Dip your candies in chocolate, removing any excess before placing on waxed paper or aluminum foil. Let set until chocolate is firm. If desired, you can double dip the bites into a bit of white coating chocolate as well.

Store in refrigerator.