Sunday, February 27, 2011

Panna Cotta - Daring Baker February 2011

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.

I have never made panna cotta before, but I made up for lost time this month by making 3 versions. And while all of them were good, none of them came out quite right. Gelatin is a challenging ingredient.

I started with the basic recipe for vanilla panna cotta provided by the host, but decided to add vanilla (crazy huh) and use leatherwood honey. Leatherwood honey has a strong flavour that is not to everyone's taste, but I thought it worked very well here. I served it with a simple blackberry coulis and the Florentine biscuits.

Sadly my Florentines were a flop. As a number of posters in the forum mentioned the recipe was too sweet, I reduced the sugar by half. This is very out of character for me and was a mistake. Instead of being crispy and crunchy, my biscuits were dry and bland. But all together the panna cotta, coulis and biscuit were perfectly nice and got lots of compliments from friends at a dinner party. Disclaimer: the friends were drunk and we had just been for a late night skinny dip.

The next version was a coconut milk panna cotta, adapted from a recipe in Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson, to which I added kaffir lime leaves. I served this one with toasted coconut and beautiful tropical fruit , according to Heidi's suggestion. I admit that on the day I took the photo I ate this for breakfast and it was so good. The different flavours and textures together were amazing.

But I was not satisfied. In both versions the texture was overly firm. Too jelly-like, not enough jiggle. And though you can't really tell from the pictures, in both attempts the mixture had separated into two distinct layers as it cooled. So I did some googling and found a great post on the blog Tasting Menu. The author suggested heating the gelatin with only a small portion of the cream and favoured leaf gelatin over powdered.

The only leaf gelatin I could find was titanium strength and several sources said that is standard in the US. The recipe called for 4 sheets and I was halving it, so I used 2. And guess what - too firm again. Really seriously yummy again, but still not right. It is probably a good thing that the month is nearly over and the challenge is due, or I might be tempted to try just one more.

Thank you very much to the host Mallory for this terrific challenge. When I first saw it I thought panna cotta was a little dull and that it would be easy, but I was wrong on both counts.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Reece's Icecream

Ever since I was little I have loved peanut butter and chocolate together. These days it could be considered an almost sophisticated flavour combination, something in the realm of salted butter caramel or Lindt with sea salt. But for me it has always been about that most unsophisticated American chocolate bar, the Reece's Peanut Butter Cup. I discovered them on family trips to the States and would bring big bags back home with me. I remember being very excited when they started selling them in Australia.

My love for PB&C later collided with my love for icecream, when I was introduced to the Baskin-Robbins Peanut Butter N' Chocolate flavour. I can recall that moment exactly. I was in Port Macquarie to watch the Ironman triathlon and couldn't believe I had gone so long without knowing this icecream existed.

Now that I have an icecream maker I can make my own chocolate and peanut icecream - or Reece's Icecream, as I like to call it. The photo is not great as you can't see the big salty homemade-peanut-buttery chunks. But trust me, they are there. And they make this icecream completely irresistible.

I adapted the idea for the peanut butter chunks from a David Lebovitz recipe which is mentioned in many blogs, but is not on his site. I used homemade peanut butter but anything would work. I went super simple for the icecream because I am lazy and cheap, but you could use any chocolate icecream recipe as a base.

Reece's Icecream

1 cup cream
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 Tbs icing sugar
3 Tbs peanut butter

1. Mix the peanut butter and icing sugar until well-combined. Use a melon baller or small spoon to form little nuggets of peanut butter, about the size of a small marble. Place nuggets in a container in the freezer.
2. Gently heat the milk and cream, bring to a simmer but do not boil. Whisk in the cocoa and sugar and keep whisking until the mixture is completely smooth. Remove from heat and cool.
3. Depending on the ambient temperature and the power of your icecream maker, it can help to chill your mixture before you churn it - up to you.
4. Churn your ice-cream, adding the frozen peanut butter chunks for the last few minutes.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Soba noodles and tempura - Daring Cook February 2011

The February 2001 Daring Cook challenge was hosted by Lisa of Blueberry Girl. She challenged the Daring Cooks to make Hiyashi Soba and Tempura. She had various sources for her challenge including including, and

Horray for a challenge where the host lives in the same hemisphere as me! After cassoulet last month and some very hot weather in Australia, I was more than ready for a challenge recipe that did not require the oven to be turned on and even included an ice bath.

I liked the idea of making my own soba noodles and looked around for a recipe. The internet is so cool. Within seconds I was watching a soba master preparing the noodles in a wonderfully traditional way. This involved 100 per cent buckwheat flour, a giant rolling stick and a special cutter. But a soba master I am not, so I decided to use an 80:20 buckwheat:wheat ratio and a pasta maker to cut the noodles. I did try some that were hand-cut but they came out very much like wet cardboard.

The other component of the challenge was tempura. I had never made it before and was nervous but it was fantastic! I followed the challenge recipe exactly, including ice water, extra ice in the batter and an ice bath. I don't have a deep fryer so I used a wok and a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature.

I "tempura-ed" zucchini and sweet potato - both lightly steamed in the microwave, and firm tofu - well pressed and carefully dried. I took heed of the advice to flour the pieces before dipping them in the matter and that did help the batter to stick. I was also glad of the advice not to let the batter color too much as I think this helped it not taste overly oily.

I served the noodles cold with the traditional Mentsuyu dipping sauce. I topped them with sliced spring onion and some sushi sprinkles.

Thank you to Lisa for the excellent challenge. I had fun making my noodles, I was very proud of my tempura and the meal was super yummy.