Daring bakers: Honey panna cotta and chocolate florentines

February 27, 2011 § 1 Comment

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.

The blog has been quiet for a while, but I was finally inspired to do some baking again, especially thanks to the Daring Bakers challenge for February.  This month we were challenged to make some creamy panna cotta and some crunchy florentine cookies.  I think this is a great dessert combination, so I jumped on board and actually made this dessert twice this month!  I was in a bit of a rush to take the photos, so I don’t think they quite do the deliciousness justice, but you’ll get the idea.

For the panna cotta, I went with a somewhat lighter, tangier version and incorporated some yogurt, honey and orange juice.  The sweet and chocolately florentines were a really great pairing–  I even recommend scooping up some panna cotta with a piece of the florentine– yum!

Honey yogurt panna cotta
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Yield: 8 servings
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 envelope (1/4 ounce) unflavored gelatin
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup fresh squeeze orange juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
1. Prepare individual ramekins for the panna cotta by applying a non-stick spray and dusting with sugar.  Tap off the extra sugar and set the dishes aside. (Alternatively, serve panna cotta in wine glasses or ramekins without unmolding makes this step unnecessary.)
2. Pour the cold water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it.  Let it sit for 5 minutes.
3. In a large bowl, whisk the yogurt, honey, orange juice and vanilla extract.
4.  In a medium saucepan, dissolve the sugar in the cream and bring to a boil.
5.  Remove the cream from the heat and mix in the gelatin. Stir quickly to dissolve.
6.  Pour the cream and gelatin mixture through a fine mesh sieve into the yogurt mixture.  Whisk well until combined.
7. Divide the mixture between the ramekins and chill for at least 4 hours.
8. To unmold from the ramekins, slid a knife around the outside, turn upside and tap out of the ramekin.  Drizzle with honey and zest of orange before serving.
Chocolate florentine cookies
Yield: 2-3 dozen cookies
  • 2/3 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 cups quick oats
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 1½ cups dark chocolate

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper or a silpat and set aside.

2.  Melt butter and let it cool slightly.  Add butter to a large bowl.

3.  Add the oats, sugar, flour, milk, corn syrup, vanilla extract and salt to the bowl.  Mix well to incorporate all ingredients.

4.  Drop a tablespoon on to the baking sheet, placing cookies 3 inches apart.

5. Bake for 6-8 minutes, rotating once during baking.

6.  Remove from the oven and let cookies cool completely on the baking sheet.  (They will be too fragile to remove from the baking sheet until cooled.)

7.  Once the cookies have cooled completely, melt the chocolate in the microwave or using a double boiler.  Spread the melted chocolate on one cookie and sandwich another cookie on top.  Drizzle more chocolate on top if desired.

Cranberry and chocolate granola bars

January 23, 2011 § 4 Comments

Last weekend we visited some good friends who live too far away for my liking.  They are really only about 40 minutes away (without traffic), but it’s just too far.  I’d much rather they lived no more than 10 minutes away, just to be able to stop by and say hello for any occasion.  Instead, it feels more like a special occasion every time we see each other.  Because of that, I usually feel the need to bring some type of treat with me, just to honor the occasion.  We planned on going for a hike last weekend, so I figured granola bars would be perfect for the occasion.  The only problem: these granola bars had to be vegan and legume and nut-free.  Our friends are vegan, and my wife has a legume and nut allergy, which frequently makes them mutually-exclusive when it comes to sharing food.  Creativity is a necessity.  Now, a vegan granola bar is really not a stretch.  But, a legume and nut-free granola bar (what, no peanuts?!)– that’s a little more of a stretch.  Fortunately, we had recently learned that the so-called cashew nut is actually the seed of the fruit of the cashew tree and often not a problem for people with nut allergies.  (Warning:  lots of cashews are processed with other nuts and therefore contaminated with other nut or peanut oils, so I’d be wary of snacking on just any cashews if you have a nut or peanut allergy.)   I found a really great customizable recipe for granola bars over on smitten kitchen and I used seeds as the “nutty” base: cashews and sunflower, to be exact.  I loved the recipe because I hardly had to do any work– just decide on the ingredients I wanted to use, mix them together and bake.  So easy and so delicious!  I really see no reason to buy granola bars at the store again.  I’ll just be making these with whatever ingredients we happen to have on hand.     Cranberry and chocolate granola bars

Yield: 16 square bars

  • 1 2/3 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup oat flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 oz. dried cranberries
  • 3 oz. chocolate chips
  • 3 oz. chopped, unsalted cashews
  • 2 oz. sunflower seeds
  • 2 oz. puffed rice cereal
  • 1/3 cup sunflower butter
  • 6 tblsp vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tblsp light corn syrup
  • 1 tblsp water

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line an 8x8in baking dish with parchment paper and set aside.

2. In a large bowl, mix together all of the dry ingredients.

3.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the vegetable oil, maple syrup, corn syrup and water.

4.  Add the wet ingredient mixture and the sunflower butter to the dry ingredients and mix well.

5. Press the mixture in to the prepared pan.

6.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 30-40 minutes until golden brown at the edges.

7.  Remove from the oven and let cool entirely in the pan.  Once cooled, chill in the fridge for 15 minutes before cutting in to squares with a sharp knife.

Yummy granola mix before baking

Notes on these granola bars: I loved the flavor in these granola bars, but I had some trouble with them sticking together as actual bars.  They started to crumble more in to gooey granola, rather than maintain their bar shape.  For the next time, I might try using honey instead of maple syrup, because it seems a bit more gooey.  Also, I think adding more of the sunflower butter would help.  And, if I make a non-vegan version, I might try using butter instead of the oil and maybe adding an egg to help it all stick together.  What is great about this recipe is that you can pretty much do whatever you want, and they are guaranteed to still taste great!

Guest baker: Mexican hot chocolate cookies

January 1, 2011 § 2 Comments

Today is the first day in 11 days that my house is quiet.  There are no more house guests or meals to prepare or excursions to organize. I’m happy to be coming down from the holiday buzz, especially because I was feeling a bit under the weather this holiday week.  Fortunately, my sister was here to help complete the holiday baking, because I was not going to be able to do it alone.  She is just beginning to delve into baking, so I was happy to supervise as she mixed up our holiday treats.  I have to admit, I was a bit hesitant to give up control in the kitchen.  My sister has been both unsure of her baking in the past, and exhibited some questionable skill, having specialized in the “unicookie”.

I need not have worried though.  She has moved well beyond the unicookie, and no longer feels the need to watch the development of every baked good in the oven.  She did a superb job making these mexican hot chocolate cookies (and some other cookies, which will be the subject of the next blog post).  I adapted this recipe from Martha Stewart’s Holiday Cookies .  I had made them previously, and felt like the chocolate flavor needed to be enhanced a bit, so I added chocolate chips to the mix.  I also liked the idea of a sugared crunch on the outside, but the mixture in the original recipe didn’t deliver as I’d hoped.  So, I opted to add the cinnamon and chile directly to the cookie batter and crust the cookies with some raw turbinado sugar for a sweet crunch.  I was really happy with the texture of these cookies– perfectly chewy on the inside, with just a bit of crunch on the outside.  They also have an addictive combination of chocolate and chile, where the spicy kick builds up as you eat through the cookie.  Fortunately for me, we still have a few leftover, despite all the visitors.  I just need to keep them away from everyone else, including one fat cat.  Thanks to my sister for making some truly delicious treats for the holidays.  

Mexican hot chocolate cookies

Yields 2-3 dozen

  • 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground chipotle chiles (or other chiles)
  • 1 cup softened unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 8 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup raw turbinado sugar

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silpats and set aside. (The texture of these cookies turns out much better on a baking sheet without rims on all sides.)

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, cream of tartar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and chile powder.

3. Using a handheld or standing mixer, beat together the butter and granulated sugar until it is pale and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.

4.  Add eggs one a time and beat to combine in to mixture.

5.  Turn down the mixer speed and slowly add the dry ingredient mixture, beating until just combined.

6. Add the chocolate chips and fold in to the batter using a rubber spatula until evenly distributed.

7.  Add the turbinado sugar to a small bowl.  Using a tablespoon, remove dough from the mixture and form approximately 1 inch balls by rolling in your hands.  Roll these in the sugar on all sides.  Place on the prepared baking sheets, 3 inches apart.

8.  Bake at 400 degrees F approximately 10 minutes, or until the cookies begin to crack on the top.

9.  Remove from the oven, and keep on baking sheets for 5 minutes. Transfer to a rack for cooling.  The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for at least one week.

Banana pumpkin loaf with chocolate chips

November 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

I’m a huge fan of banana bread.  Well, actually, I’m a huge fan of homemade banana bread.  I’m not sure why, but I find that most coffee shops and grocery stores seem to specialize in dry, artificially flavored banana breads.  It is so easy to make a moist, tasty banana bread full of sweet banana flavor, I’ve just opted to only consume homemade banana breads.  The one not-so-secret tip that I’ve found makes a huge difference is to use really, ripe bananas– and I mean, REALLY ripe, overly ripe in fact.  When I have some bananas sitting on my counter that are accumulating more and more brown spots, to the point where their only purpose seems to be attracting fruit flies, I just pop them in the freezer.  I leave them there until I am ready to make the banana bread, which could be months later.  The day before I make it, I thaw the bananas in a bowl in in the fridge (the bowl is important because they will let off a lot of liquid).  When I’m ready to use them, I peel them and place them in a new bowl.  They are slimy and brown and all-around unappetizing, but so sweet and add the perfect amount of moisture to the banana bread, you won’t regret using them.

My favorite recipe for banana bread is Mom’s Banana Bread from Cooking Light.  I don’t follow all of their suggestions for making a light version of banana bread, although I have a feeling this would be just as delicious.  Here, I’ve also spiced it up just a bit for fall by adding some pumpkin.  Oh, and of course, there were also some chocolate chips.  Here’s what I used:

  • 2 ripe bananas (approx. 2/3 cup mashed)
  • 1 cup pumpkin
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter (softened), plus more for buttering pan
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinammon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 8 oz. chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9-inch loaf pan with butter or cooking spray and set aside.

2. In a stand mixer, beat butter and sugar until well-mixed.

3.  Add mashed bananas, pumpkin, milk, sour cream and egg whites.  Beat well.

4. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinammon and nutmeg.  Add flour mixture to wet ingredients in the mixer and beat until just blended.

5.  Add chocolate chips (if desired), and mix well.

6.  Pour batter in to greased loaf pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 60-70 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the loaf comes out clean.

7. Remove from the loaf pan and let cool on a cooling rack before serving.

Notes on this loaf: As much as I professed my love of bananas above, I’m not that huge a fan of pumpkin.  BUT, I loved the subtle pumpkin flavor in this bread.  I thought it really complemented the banana.  I couldn’t stop eating just the batter for this bread. I had even decided to add the chocolate chips to mask a bit of the pumpkin flavor, but I’m actually sad that I did that.  Imagine that!!  Although the chocolate was very tasty, the banana and pumpkin flavors would have been more prominent without the chocolate, and the bread would have seemed more appropriate for breakfast, rather than dessert.  It didn’t really matter though– I enjoyed it any time of day.

Almond joy bark

October 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

This Halloween, I’ve been inspired by the many examples of chocolate bark made with Halloween candy, like this one here, and this other one here.  Every year for Christmas, I usually make a couple of batches of peppermint bark, and it is soooo good, I needed to extend the usefulness of that recipe to more holidays. So, I thought about many varieties of Halloween bark, but it seemed best just to turn one of my favorite Halloween candies in to it’s own bark. Fortunately for me, I seemed to know a lot of kids that despised coconut (my sister included) back when I was still trick-or-treating, so I was able to trade my boring Three Musketeers and Hershey’s bars for Mounds and Almond Joys.    Here’s what I used to transform one of my favorite Halloween treats, the Almond Joy bar, into some tasty bark:

  • 120z. white chocolate
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1/2 cup crushed slivered almonds
  • 6oz. dark or semisweet chocolate
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup toasted coconut
  • 8 mini Almond Joy bars, chopped in to quarters (optional)

1. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

2. Melt the white chocolate in a double boiler or (carefully!) in the microwave.

3.  When the chocolate is melted and smooth, add the almond extract and mix well.  Add the crushed almond slivers and mix well.

4.  Pour the melted chocolate mixture on to the prepared baking sheet and spread it using a spatula so that it is about 1/8 inch thick.  (This will most likely cover about 1/2 to 2/3 of the baking sheet.  It doesn’t have to cover the whole thing– just try to make it rectangular.  And, of course, it’s ok if the edges are messy.)

5.  Put the baking sheet in the fridge and let cool for 1 hour.

6.  In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  When it is ready, toast the coconut on a baking sheet for approximately 5-8 minutes.

7.  After the white chocolate layer has cooled, prepare the dark chocolate ganache.  Heat the heavy cream until just boiling.  Pour the cream over the chocolate in a heat-safe bowl and stir consistently until the chocolate is completely melted, smooth and shiny.

8. Add the toasted coconut to the chocolate and mix well.  Pour the melted chocolate over the white chocolate layer and evenly spread using a spatula.

9. If desired, placed the chopped Almond Joy bars on to the melted chocolate layer.  Place in the fridge and let cool for up to one hour. 

10.  When ready to serve, chop the bark into squares with a sharp knife.  Store in an airtight container in the fridge.  If stacking bark pieces on top of each other, cover each layer with parchment or wax paper.

Notes on this bark: I was quite happy with how this turned out.  There are many options in terms of how you combine the chocolate layers and the almonds and coconut.  I think the use of coconut extract would also be a good option instead of the almond extract.  I usually don’t add as much cream to the dark chocolate as I did in this recipe (in order to have a harder ganache), but I liked the softer texture of this ganache for this particular bark.  It makes it quite reminiscent of an actual candy bar. I highly recommend trying it!

Chocolate raspberry tart

October 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

This past weekend our friendly downstairs neighbors/landlords were kind enough to invite us over for dinner.  They offered to prepare a delicious feast, complete with tasty margaritas, and in return, we offered to bring dessert.  Since I didn’t have a lot of time to be slaving over a dessert, but I wanted to bring something that both appeared and tasted impressive, I opted for this chocolate raspberry tart. (It also didn’t hurt that we  had recently purchased a full flat of raspberries as a last-ditch effort to hang on to summer.)

I have made this before for another dinner party, and posted some photos of it earlier (here), following a recipe from Fine Cooking Chocolate!, but I wanted to change it up just a bit.  The original recipe calls for a gingersnap crust.  I’m a pretty big fan of gingersnaps, but for my taste, I felt like this detracted from the main show here: chocolate and raspberries.  So, in this version, I substituted a chocolate cookie crust, which I think added the same great texture as the gingersnap crust, but kept the flavors balanced and highlighted the richness of the chocolate. This tart could be made in many different ways, so feel free to use your own favorite crust, but here’s how I did it:

For the crust:

  • 6 oz. finely ground chocolate cookies (I used Newman’s Own Chocolate Alphabet Cookies)
  • 2 1/2 tblsp granulated sugar
  • 4 tblsp melted, unsalted butter

    For the filling:

    • 2 1/2 cups fresh raspberries
    • 10.5 oz chopped semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
    • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
    • pinch of table salt

    To prepare the crust:

    YUM!

    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease an 11 inch tart pan with cooking spray and set aside.

    2. In a medium bowl, use a fork to mix together the

    ground cookies and sugar.

    3. Drizzle the melted butter over the cookie crumbs and mix well with a fork.

    4. Pour the cookie crumb mixture in to the tart pan and spread it evenly over the bottom.  Use your fingers or a hard object to press the crumbs in to the bottom of the pan and up the sides of the pan, trying to achieve just under 1/4 inch thick crust.

    5. Bake the crust for 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees.  Set aside to cool.

    To prepare the filling:

    1. Process 1 1/2 cups of fresh raspberries in a food processor or blender and then pass through a fine sieve.  Collect 3/4 cup of strained, raspberry puree and set aside. 

    2. Pour the cream into a small saucepan and heat it until it just boils.  In the meantime, chop the chocolate and place it in a medium size bowl.  (I used this 73% Dark Chocolate Cacao from Alter Eco.  We are limited to soy-free and non-nut contaminated chocolates in our house, so this often means splurging a bit for chocolate-centric desserts.  This chocolate also has some cacao nibs in it, which adds a very small amount of crunch.)

    3. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and whisk quickly, melting all of the chocolate.

    4. Mix in the raspberry puree and the salt.

    5. Pour the ganache in to the cool tart shell.  Refrigerate until the ganache is firm (approximately 1 hour).

    5. Add the raspberries (as many as you’d like! I accidentally ground up too many of them and didn’t have as many left as I wanted for tart decoration) around the edge of the tart and chill again in the refrigerator before serving to make sure the ganache is firm.

    Ready for service at the dinner party!

    Notes on this tart: This tart is really quite simple, but tastes decadent, so there’s no reason not to make it.  I also recommend adding a dollop of softly whipped cream as a sweet complement to the rich chocolate.  My only complaint about this particular recipe is that the crust turned out a bit too crumbly.  Keeping the crunch in the crust is very important for having some contrasting texture in the tart, but I was a little worried about it crumbling in to too many pieces (mostly on the sides were the crust was a bit thinner) and ruining the otherwise elegant presentation.  So, I might add more butter next time, or maybe just make a larger amount of the cookie crumbs to make it a tad thicker.  I’ll definitely be sticking with the Chocolate Alphabet cookies though– they aren’t overly sweet and they have a deep chocolate flavor.  And who doesn’t want alphabet cookies in their dessert?

    Toasted coconut chocolate chip bars

    October 11, 2010 § Leave a comment

    These treats normally go by any number of other names, but, I have to say, I’m not a big fan of any of those other names.  I much prefer the more descriptive but boring: toasted coconut chocolate chip bar.  The main inspiration I had for these bars was to use up some pantry ingredients (namely, coconut and chocolate chips).  Not much of an inspiration, I know, but you can’t taste that in the final product.  They turned out moist, chewy and delicious!  I adapted the recipe from Baking Illustrated.  Here’s what I used:

    • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 12 tblsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
    • 1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 oz) packed light brown sugar
    • 2 eggs
    • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
    • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
    • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut flakes

    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

    2. Spread the coconut on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 5-7 minutes.  Mix coconut 2-3 times during baking to toast it evenly.  It should be light brown.  Set aside and let cool.

    3. Line a 13 x 9 inch baking dish with parchment paper and spray with nonstick cooking spray, if desired.

    4. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.

    5. In another medium bowl, mix the melted butter and brown sugar.  Mix in the eggs and vanilla.

    6. With a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.  Fold until all ingredients are just mixed, but don’t overmix!

    7. Add the chocolate chips and toasted coconut and fold into the mixture.

    8.  Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and smooth slightly on top using a rubber spatula.

    9. Bake at 350 degrees for 22-25 minutes, until the top is shiny and crackly.

    10. Let cool on cooling rack and cut into bars before serving.

    Notes on these bars: These bars were not exactly what I expected out of the oven.  For some reason, I imagined them to be a little bit more cakey, and less dense.  But, I’m glad I imagined wrong.  I think the density was actually perfect, and lead to a very moist and perfectly chewy bar.  These were really great right out of the oven (I kept cutting off bigger and bigger pieces before they had even cooled!), but they also kept very well in an airtight contained for almost a week!  There is really only one small change I might consider next time:  add more coconut.  I love coconut, so I could always have more, but I think the flavor here was a bit too subtle.  Maybe 2 cups of coconut would have worked just a bit better?  I’ll let you know how it turns out next time.

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