Lychee Panna Cotta & Florentine Cookies - Daring Bakers Challenge

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 Giada De Laurentiis' recipe and Nestle Florentine Cookies.

I've made Panna Cotta before and honestly if you've never had Panna cotta, one bite will have you hooked. This creamy Italian dessert is traditionally made with unflavored gelatin which is the setting agent. I chose to use Agar- Agar or 'China Grass' as its known back in India. Agar-Agar is the vegetarian substitute for Gelatin. The basic challenge recipe is for Vanilla Panna Cotta, I added lychee juice to make a Lychee Panna Cotta with a colored Lychee Gelee.

Recipe Source: Giada De Laurentiis' Panna Cotta. It's well reviewed, simple and delicious.

Mandatory Items: Panna Cotta and Florentine Cookies

Variations allowed: If the vanilla does not appeal to you, I am also giving you a recipe for chocolate Panna Cotta. You have a choice between the two. However, the vanilla can be modified, I generally add vanilla bean, you could also add a bit of matcha (powdered green tea), or fruit. Speaking of fruit, I'm going to give you one recipe for strawberry, and another for coffee gelée, essentially homemade Jell-o. Gelée can be poured on the bottom, top, or layered in with your Panna Cotta (though it takes a few extra steps to do this). So make the vanilla or chocolate recipe, but feel free to play with this it. I just want you to start with a base recipe. What you top it with, or garnish with is also up to you. Have fun, and get creative. In regards to the cookie, if you want to add nuts, or use a different chocolate, go for it.

Preparation time:
• 20-25 minutes to prepare the Panna Cotta - at least 6 hours to chill
• 20-25 minutes to prepare the cookies 6-8 minutes to bake

Equipment required:
• Small mixing bowl
• Two medium sized heavy bottom pot or saucepan
• Wooden spoon and/or whisk
• Glasses or ramekins - something to pour and serve your Panna Cotta in
• Measuring cups
• Measuring spoons
• Silpat or wax paper or parchment paper
• Baking sheet
• Small bowl

Lychee Panna Cotta with Lychee Gelee
Adapted from Giada's Vanilla Panna Cotta

For the Panna Cotta:

1 cup (240 ml) whole milk
2 tbsp Agar-Agar flakes (if you have bar, chop it and then measure)
8 tbsp Hot water
3 cups (720 ml) whipping cream (30+% butterfat)
1/3 cup (80 ml) honey
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (15 gm) (½ oz) granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1 can Lychees in syrup

For the Lychee Gelee:

1 cup Lychee Juice
3 tbsp Agar-Agar flakes
12 tbsp Hot Water
Yellow Food color


1. Dissolve the agar-agar in the hot water, takes about 5-6 minutes. Then bring this to a boil on medium heat until the agar-agar completely dissolves. While the agar-agar dissolves, prepare the cream mixture as it is important that all ingredients are warm before adding the agar-agar.
2. Reserve 6 lychees from the can and puree the rest with the syrup in a food processor until smooth. Pour into a fine mesh strainer to extract the lychee juice. Discard pulp. You should have about two cups of lychee juice. Save one cup for later use in the gelee.
3. Combine the milk,cream, lychee juice, honey, sugar, and pinch of salt. Bring upto heat,making sure the mixture doesn't boil, continue to heat and stir occasionally until the sugar and honey have dissolved 5-7 minutes. Now stir in the dissolved agar-agar.
4. Remove from heat, allow it to sit for a few minutes to cool slightly. Then pour into the glass or ramekin.
5. Refrigerate at least 2-3 hours before layering with the lychee gelee.
6. For the Gelee, dissolve agar-agar in the hot water. Bring upto heat until agar-agar dissolves completely. Warm the lychee juice before adding it to the agar-agar. Add yellow food color. Allow to cool for 3-4 minutes before spooning into panna cotta glasses. Allow to set for 4 hours. Garnish with reserves lychees cut into pieces.

Nestle Florentine Cookies
Recipe from the cookbook “Nestle Classic Recipes”, and their website.

These cookies are incredibly sweet; I cut back on the sugar by half.

2/3 cup (160 ml) (150 gm) (5.3 oz) unsalted butter
2 cups (480 ml) (160 gm) (5 2/3 oz) quick oats
1 cup (240 ml) (230 gm) (8 oz) granulated sugar
2/3 cup (160 ml) (95 gm) (3⅓ oz) plain (all purpose) flour
1/4 cup (60 ml) dark corn syrup
1/4 cup (60 ml) whole milk
1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1½ cups (360 ml) (250 gm) (9 oz) dark or milk chocolate

Preheat oven to moderately hot 375°F (190°C) (gas mark 5). Prepare your baking sheet with silpat or parchment paper.

1. Melt butter in a medium saucepan, then remove from the heat.
2. To the melted butter add oats, sugar, flour, corn syrup, milk, vanilla, and salt. Mix well. Drop a tablespoon full, three inches (75 mm) apart, onto your prepared baking sheet. Flatten slightly with the back of your tablespoon, or use a spatula.
3. Bake in preheated oven for 6-8 minutes, until cookies are golden brown. Cool completely on the baking sheets.
4. While the cookies are cooling melt your chocolate until smooth either in the microwave (1 1/2 minutes), or stovetop (in a double boiler, or a bowl that fits atop a saucepan filled with a bit of water, being sure the water doesn't touch the bottom of the bowl).
5. Peel the cookies from the silpat or parchment and place face down on a wire rack set over a sheet of wax/parchment paper (to keep counters clean).
6. Spread a tablespoon of chocolate on the bottom/flat side of your cookie, sandwiching another (flat end) cookie atop the chocolate.

This recipe will make about 2 1/2 - 3 dozen sandwiched Florentine cookies. You can also choose not to sandwich yours, in which case, drizzle the tops with chocolate (over your wax paper).

Toasted Cumin & Coconut Rice

Warm days are finally here and the sun is more than welcome after the cold,long winter.

Cumin seeds are a commonly used Indian spice, with an aromatic distinct taste. When toasted, the flavor is enhanced and adds a lot more punch to a dish. This is a simple rice dish flavored with only four ingredients but with a whole lot to tingle your taste buds.

You will need:

1 tbsp Cumin seeds
Dry red chillies 8-10
4 tbsp Peanuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup dry coconut, finely grated

3 tbsp Oil
1 tsp Mustard seeds ½ tsp Urad Dal
½ tsp Chana Dal
Few curry leaves

1 large green bell pepper, cut into 1- inch strips 2 tsp Lemon juice
2 cups cooked Rice, cooled Salt to taste

Toast the cumin seeds, dry red chillies and peanuts in a skillet until fragrant. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Grind to a fine powder, add coconut and pulse a few times until combined. Heat oil in a pan. Add the mustard seeds and when it begins to splutter add the urad and chana dals, sauté for a few seconds and then add the curry leaves and bell pepper strips. Cook on medium heat until the bell pepper is done.

Now add the prepared coconut and spice blend. Combine well and sauté for 2-3 minutes until fragrant and the raw smell of coconut disappears. Now add the cooked rice, salt and lemon juice. Combine well, cook for a minute until the rice is heated through. Turn off heat, cover and allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.

The toasted cumin adds great flavor and aroma to this dish. Don't use cumin powder, does no justice to the dish.If you don’t have bell peppers, you can eggplants instead.

Creamy Egg Curry

It's hard to believe we are already a month and a half into the new year. I've been busy baking cakes and not had much time to cook anything new. Last evening, I was looking through my recipes and found this creamy egg curry, a recipe mom had given me eons (read two years) ago and it was lost in the pages of my ever growing recipe diary. I had even written down mom's note saying how good it tasted...I had to test it too.

No disappointments here, the curry came together quickly and to go with it I made a Peas Pulao which is light on seasonings. It was a perfect pair with the creamy and flavor packed Egg curry.

Creamy Egg Curry:
You will need:

4 Eggs, hard boiled and shelled
1 tbsp Oil
1 onion, chopped
6 curry leaves, finely chopped
1/2 tbsp Ginger Garlic paste
3 Tomatoes, chopped
2 tsp Red chilli powder
1/4 tsp Turmeric

2 tsp Oil
1/2 tsp Cumin seeds
1/4 cup Milk
1 tbsp Heavy cream
1/2 tsp Sugar
Salt to taste
2 tbsp chopped cilantro

Note: Of late I've been using the Everest Tikhalal Chilli powder. It packs in a lot of heat as well as color, which I love. This can be easily bought at your Asian/Indian grocers.

Heat oil in a pan. Add the onions and curry leaves. Saute till onions are translucent. Add the ginger garlic paste and saute until fragrant. Add the chopped tomatoes, turmeric and red chilli powder. Cook until tomatoes are soft and done. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Blend into a smooth paste using little water.

Heat 2 tsp Oil in the same pan. Add cumin seeds and when it begins to splutter, add the prepared paste, sugar and salt to taste. Saute until the paste thickens, then add a cup of water, milk and heavy cream. Bring to a boil on medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Slice boiled eggs in half and place in gravy. Top with chopped cilantro.

Peas Pulao:

You will need:

1 cup Basmati Rice
1.5 cups Water
2 tbsp Oil
3 Cloves
2 pods of whole Cardamom
2 dry Bay leaves
1-inch pc Cinnamon
1 large Onion, thinly sliced
4 Green chillies, slit lengthwise
1 tbsp Ginger Garlic paste
3/4 cup Frozen Peas
1/2 tsp Lemon juice
Salt to taste

Heat oil in a pressure cooker. Add the cloves, cardamom, bay leaves and cinnamon; saute for a few seconds. Add the sliced onions and green chillies. Cook until onions are done, then add the ginger garlic paste and saute until fragrant. Add the frozen peas, water and salt. Cover with lid and turn heat to high. When the steam begins to rise, turn down heat, and carefully remove lid.

Add the washed, drained rice. Stir and add the lemon juice. Replace lid and turn heat to high. When steam begins to rise again, place weight and turn down heat to low. Cook for 7-8 minutes and turn off heat. Mix well before serving.

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