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.