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!

Apple cinnamon oatmeal scones

October 25, 2010 § 1 Comment

It was a rainy weekend here in the Bay Area.  What better way to spend it than lounging in a comfy chair, drinking tea and watching the rain drip down the window?  Sounds lovely, but somewhat sadly,  that’s not how I spent my weekend. Even so, I still made some scones that would complete this little daydream of mine, and enjoyed them perfectly well on the go from one place to another.  I used a variation of Martha Stewart’s scone recipe as a base, and then spiced it up a bit.   Here’s what you need for these comforting fall treats:

  • 3/4 cup peeled and diced apples (2 small or 1 large)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 3/4 cup rolled oats
  • 6 tblsp granulated sugar
  • 1 tblsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 8 tblsp chilled, unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup half-and half, plus 2 tablespoons
  • 2 tablespoons raw turbinado sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment paper and set aside.

2. Peel and dice the apples in to bite-sized pieces, approximating 3/4 cup total.  Place in a small bowl and add 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon and mix well.  Set aside.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, 5 tablespoons of sugar, 1 tablespoon of cinnamon, baking powder and salt.

4.  Cut the chilled butter in to small pieces and add to the dry ingredients.  Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the butter in to the flour mixture until coarse crumbs form.

5.  Stir in 2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon half-and-half until just moistened.  Add the apples and mix until they are evenly distributed.

6. Transfer the dough to a light-floured surface.  Knead the dough a few times, and then pat it in to an approximately 1-inch thick round. 

7. Using a dough scraper or sharp knife, cut the round in to 8 sections. Transfer the pieces to the lined baking sheet.  Brush the tops with the remaining half-and-half.  Sprinkle with the turbinado sugar.

8. Bake at 425 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Remove from the baking sheet and let cool on a wire rack.

Notes on these scones: I think these turned out quite well, and there are very few changes I would consider making to the recipe.  Some things I might tweak for next time would be to add more oats.  Or maybe to incorporate a toasted oat topping, instead of the sugar crystals, just to highlight the oat flavor a tiny bit more.  It might also be possible to get away with using less butter, but I didn’t want to risk it for this particular batch…maybe next time. Or maybe not.



Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

September 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

This past weekend, our neighbors/landlords set off on a journey to the far away land known as Palm Springs.  The last time we left on a trip, we were greeted with two slices of cake in our fridge (and happy, well-fed kitties).  So, I figured the least I could do was provide them with a tasty treat for their road trip to the desert.  What better treat can you have on a road trip than sweet and satisfying, chewy and chocolatey oatmeal chocolate chip cookies?  Certainly none that I could think of.  So, in my attempt to expand my baking repertoire, I tried a new-to-me recipe, again from Baking Illustrated.  With the exception of using whole wheat pastry flour instead of the called-for all-purpose flour, I made no changes to the recipe, so I will point you in the direction of the Cook’s Illustrated website.  Also, from what I read on the blogs, this recipe is very similar to the one on the Quaker Oats package, although there is less butter and sugar in the Quaker Oats recipe.  I’ll let you make the call on which recipe to use.

Notes on these cookies: These cookies were perfect, and yet they stirred up some complex emotions for me.  On one hand, I delighted in their chewiness, the perfect, slightly-crispy outside and moistness inside.   On the other hand, I sadly came to the conclusion that oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, even perfect ones, are not my favorite kind of cookie.  Rather, my favorite kind of cookie is actually chocolate chip oatmeal cookies.  The difference, I decided, is that the chocolate chip oatmeal cookie has a chocolate chip cookie base, and then oats are added to provide some texture and depth to the cookies, differing from the oat cookie that then has chocolate chips added to it.  One of these days I’ll make some chocolate chip oatmeal cookies and elaborate some more then.  Something to look forward to.  

From the picture above, you might have noticed that I made two different batches of cookies.  I split the dough in half and to one half, I added some large Guittard milk chocolate chips, and to the other half, I added soy-free, nut-free, dairy-free (anti-allergen) semisweet minichips by EnjoyLife.  I’ll save the discussion of our household food allergies for another day, but suffice it to say, I really liked the look of the minichip cookies, but preferred the taste and texture of the larger chip cookies.  The oats and minichips are similar sizes, which makes for a relatively uniform cookie shape, which I find appealing.  But these chips are just not as smooth and don’t melt as well as the larger, full of soy lecithin chips, so I’ve preferred snacking on the large chip version.  And when I say snacking, I really mean breakfasting, lunching, and dinnering.  Oatmeal is good for you, right?

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