Sunday, February 27, 2011

February Daring Baker's Challenge: Panna Cotta and Florentine Cookies

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.

Lemon Tangelo and Strawberry Panna Cottas with Cherry Gelee Stripes and Curled Florentine Cookies

When I read this month's challenge, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. My hope had been that the challenge would not eat an entire weekend for preparation. I am very much a fan of learning new things without having the element of a time challenge to get them to work. Last month when I made the Daring challenge, I filled my entrement (special sponge cake) with panna cotta and Bavarian Cream. The panna cotta was the easier to prepare of the two fillings so I entered the challenge with confidence. The cookies looked like a thin, simplified chocolate chip cookie. Nice.

Now for the real challenge....what could I do to make my results look different from everyone else's? I thought of what I had in my fridge and kitchen. I also thought about the lemon panna cotta I had made last month. My mind rolled to Valentine's Day and the inevitable presence of pink and red this month.

Idea 1: Make the cookies with strawberry panna cotta and maybe a raspberry gelee. (Gelee is rather a hybrid between jelly and jello.) Place the strawberry panna cotta on top of the cookies like an icing and use the raspberry gelee to make a heart shape in the center of the cookie.

Idea 2: I have cherry juice in the fridge. I could make a strawberry or lemon panna cotta and use cherry gelee as a striped flavor in the middle.

Idea 3: Cone shaped cookies filled with panna cotta and a dot of gelee on top.

Reality check: I need to use the panna cotta recipe provided. This means I can't exclusively use the lemon panna cotta recipe I used last month.

Sometimes after lots of thinking the best plans come at the moment of preparation. I woke up the other morning to pouring rain and a pair of very playful kitties. Despite my efforts, sleep would not return so I got up at 5:30 am and decided, hey, I could go ahead and make my challenge.

I stepped in the kitchen and started the cookies first. The "dough" was much stickier than I imagined. It was closer to a thick batter than cookie dough. The recipe said to use a 1 Tbsp measure to scoop the dough and then to pat it out on the baking mat. I used 1 tsp and 1 Tbsp so that I had tiny baby cookies and larger cookies too. My goal was to roll some up into tubes and maybe a cone shape. I didn't quite know what I'd do with it but I wanted to show myself I could do it.

When the first cookies came out of the oven, I realized they had to sit a bit to be cool enough to roll. Yes, I learned this by first trying to make them comply and watching one  crumble to sticky bits clinging together. I waited a few more minutes and was able to roll the sides but the middle was still too warm to manipulate. Final method: Wait 7-8 minutes, then roll them up as desired. For the smaller cookies, it was important to roll them after around 5-6 minutes of cooling as they set up a bit more quickly. Using this method I was able to keep baking and rolling while starting the panna cotta.

Rolled Florentines

Cone Shaped Florentine with Round Florentines around it

For the panna cotta, I decided I'd make 2 flavors. Why not? I knew the lemon flavor had come out well before so I decided to go with it and since I needed to use provided recipe I chose to take the vanilla recipe and modify it. I didn't want to be overnrun with panna cotta though. I halved each recipe and to the vanilla panna cotta recipe provided I added 1/2 c. of pureed strawberries. (I just dropped about 12-15 berries in the mini food processor and went to town. The cats weren't fans but it only took a minute or so.)

I started the strawberry first, then shifted to the lemon. As I started the lemon recipe, I realized I had already grated the peels off my lemons in the fridge. Ooops. While it was now 6 am and I could go to the grocery, I didn't want to leave. I decided to work with what I had. Surely there was something here that would work. Then I noticed the bag of tangelos on top of the fridge. Yes, that'd be different and tasty, rather like an extra flavorful version of a meyer lemon. I added 1/4 of a lemon worth of juice, 1/4 of a tangelo worth of juice and all the gratings off a tangelo to my half recipe of the "lemon" panna cotta. After about 15 minutes, both were done. I set them off their respective stove eyes to cool.

The only clear containers I had that would work well were some white wine glasses a friend had given me. Perfect. I poured lemon tangelo and strawberry panna cotta halfway into each glass. Then I set the glasses at an angle in the fridge. As I shut the fridge door, I heard a clatter! My heart fell. Upon opening the door, I found a mess! No problem, only 2 had spilled. I quickly cleaned up the spill, wiped out the glasses and started again. This time, I decided to use an 8x4" Pyrex pan to hold the glasses in place. This worked pretty well....except, the strawberry was taking forever to set up and the lemon tangelo was setting up very quickly.

Solution? The freezer! I stuck the strawberry pana cotta's in the freezer and turned back to the stove to make the cherry gelee. I added 2 tsp of gelatin to 1 c. of cherry juice (which had already been combined with 1/3 c. sugar)  and let the gelatin sit about 10 minutes while I dealt with cookies. Then I turned the heat to low and heated the cherry sauce until it thickened to a very thick syrup. I let the cherry gelee cool and checked on the panna cotta. Fabulous! The strawberry had firmed in the freezer.

I added the cherry gelee and followed it with a layer of panna cotta. To get good edges, I wiped with dampened napkins. The process was a little frustrating but worth it when I looked at the finished product. I set the panna cottas in the fridge and got ready for work. Once ready to go, I grabbed my camera for a few pictures. The strawberry was still pretty soft but the lemon had set up quite a bit. I popped a cornucopia cookie in the top. Success.

Lemon Tangelo Panna Cotta with a stripe of Sour Cherry Gelee and a cone shaped Floretine on top!

Lemon Tangelo Panna Cotta on the left, Strawberry Panna Cotta with Lemon Tangelo Panna Cotta on the right, each with a cherry gelee stripe and a rolled Florentine

Tasting: I loved the flavor and texture of the lemon tangelo panna cotta in the morning. The warm strawberry one tasted a bit like gelatin to me. By evening, the lemon tangelo was a bit too thick for my liking but the strawberry was delicious and had a fabulous texture. Next time, maybe I'll make the lemon tangelo using the Giada de Laurentiis recipe. I had two flavor testers who really like the strawberry but wanted to try the lemon tangelo with a bit less thickness. That will have to wait for another day! The cookies were super. They start out tasting lightly sweet and then you taste the surprising sweetness of the honey. At once they are crunchy and a little chewy. They're such a tasty treat, I'm surprised not to have had one before now.

If you don't try anything else from this challenge, try the cookie. The recipe is easy enough to make with small kids and they're tasty enough to satisfy. Some folks dipped them in chocolate for extra sweetness. They were sweet enough for me but I'm sure they'd be great that way too.

Thanks for a great challenge!


Lemon Panna Cotta:

Vanilla Panna Cotta and Florentines:


  1. You actually just made panna cotta sound interesting to me! That's impressive in and of itself. And the cookies, we'll, I'll definitely need to try that one.

  2. By the way, I love your wine glasses!