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.
If it weren't for the DB's challenge, I don't think I would have ever tried making panna cotta. How come?, you may ask. You are Italian, you should love panna cotta. Let me explain. Panna cotta is a dessert typical of Piemonte, a region quite far from Umbria, where I grew up — panna cotta-less, as it happens. The first time I tasted panna cotta was after I moved to Milan: I was underwhelmed, so our relationship did not develop. But I think it is important to go past first impressions and so I welcomed Mallory's choice for the challenge. The recipes she suggested for the challenge are available here.
I wanted to find a lighter recipe than the one suggested. After some roaming on the web, I landed on a recipe from Epicurious that satisfied my requirements: small quantities, less cream (panna), just a little gelatin (gelatina) and sugar, and matcha. As I recounted in a recent post, I bought some good quality matcha, so using it to make panna cotta sounded perfect.
I made the recipe twice, using the observations made during the first attempt to get a prettier result the second time. The original recipe is on this page and these are the changes I made:
- 2 tablespoons of vanilla sugar (I then omitted the vanilla extract)
- 1 1/4 teaspoons matcha
[decreasing the sugar and increasing the matcha are changes suggested by a reviewer]
Sprinkle gelatin over water, making sure the grains absorb water (based on this recommendation by David Lebovitz). Heat the liquid to a fairly high temperature (though below boiling point). I used the traditional bamboo whisk, called chasen (shown in the photo above) to mix well matcha and half and half. I divided the liquid into three portions and instead of pouring it into custard cups, I used my vintage ice cream glasses, so later I didn't need to unmold the panna cotta to serve it. After the panna cotta set, I could see from the outside a bit of the matcha deposited on the bottom of the glasses. However, that did not seem to affect the flavor of the dessert.
To accompany the panna cotta and fulfill the challenge's requirements, I got tempted to make fiorentini closer to the tradition, as shown in this post (in Italian), but then decided to try the given recipe to see how the quick oats (fiocchi d'avena) would taste in this context. I divided the quantities by four, because I wanted a small number of cookies and then halved the sugar to bring the sweetness to an acceptable level. This is the list of ingredients I used:
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter (1.5 oz or 40 g)
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) quick oats
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar (50 g)
- 25 g (a scant ounce) all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon (30 ml) agave nectar (there is no corn syrup in my pantry — and never will be)
- 1 tablespoon (30 ml) milk
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- a mini-pinch of salt
- a small quantity of 70% cacao chocolate (cioccolato), chopped finely
I followed the instructions in the given recipe and obtained nine cookies, which I let cool on the baking sheet. When ready, I melted the chocolate and drizzled it on top of the cookies, then let it set.
I decided to call the cookies I made biscottini (literally, small biscotti), because they are approaching the realm of pasticcini. In Italian, the word biscotto has a different meaning from that in the US, as explained in this post. Pasticcini (singular pasticcino) are either small pastries (of which you can see an example in this photo) or rich cookies usually served as an accompaniment to tea (pasticcini da tè, of which you can see an example on this page).
I have since seen recipes for panna cotta that use agar or egg whites instead of gelatin and I am planning to try those next.
A special thank you goes to our host for her choice and her efforts. It was a nice challenge. I hope you will take the time to go around and look at the creative output of my talented fellow Daring Bakers.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the panna cotta al tè verde matcha e biscottini audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]