Archive for February, 2011

This months Bakers Challenge was hosted by  Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She requested two recipes actually, one for the cool and creamy Panna cotta, the other, a sweet,crunchy florentine cookie. I served this for dessert a few weeks ago and it was a great light ending for the linguine and clam sauce dinner.

Panna Cotta is an Italian eggless custard dessert. The literal translation is “cooked cream”. Except the cream isn’t really cooked. It’s really just warmed to dissolve the sugar and gelatin.  It is very similar to Blancmange, with the major difference being that one is thickened with gelatin and the latter with corn starch. I haven’t made Panna cotta since last New  Years Eve so I very was glad to be able to revisit this dessert. It is quite simple to make, the variations are endless, and it has  great “mouth feel”.  I think I will be making this quite often from now on. For this challenge I made a cappuccino style Panna cotta. It was constructed of three layers; a coffee jelly, a cinnamon Panna cotta, and a vanilla bean sour cream Panna cotta. Panna Cotta is typically unmolded but I chose not to do it  for this version. If you want to unmold your Panna cotta just dip the bottom of your mold into warm water for a minute run a sharp knife around the edge, then flip it over into your serving dish. It sounds scarier than it is, trust me.

The cookie chosen is a florentine. I make these at Christmas time and never posted the recipe so I am happy to finally get around to that. I made two different kinds, the traditional version with candied orange peel and almonds (my favorite!) and also a dried cherry hazelnut, also a winner. I think dried fruit and nuts taste great together so I imagine any combination would be terrific. I was thinking maybe dried blueberry and brazil nut with a drizzle of white chocolate. Maybe next time…

Bake on!

This requires time for each layer to set up so either make the day before start it in the morning. The actual work time for each layer is less than 10 minutes.
Coffee jelly layer

3 scant tsp gelatin powder (I used Knox)
2 Tablespoons warm water
2 cups strong brewed coffee (you could also use espresso)
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Place the gelatin and warm water in a small dish; stir to combine. Set is aside to soften while you prepare the rest. Place the coffee and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Bring it up to boil, turn off the heat and take if off the element. Stir in the softened gelatin and stir until all of the gelatin is dissolved, about 3 minutes. Let the mixture cool for about 15 minutes then divide it up 6 serving dishes. I used small glasses but use whatever you have on hand. Place  these onto a baking tray and transfer into the fridge. Let set up at least one hour before the next layer.

Cinnamon Panna Cotta Layer

1 3/4 tsp gelatin
3 Tablespoons warm water
1 1/4 cup heavy cream (33-36%)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
pinch ground cinnamon
3 Tablespoons dark brown sugar

Heat the cream, cinnamon sticks, pinch ground cinnamon and brown sugar over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar (do not let it boil). Turn off the heat and let it steep for 20 minutes.
Place the gelatin and warm water into a small dish; stir to combine. Let it soften for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, gently heat the cream back up.  Off the heat, stir in the gelatin until it is completely dissolved, about 3 minutes. Remove the cinnamon sticks . Pour into Pyrex measuring cup or other lipped dish for easier pouring. Take the coffee jelly our of the fridge and equally pour the Panna cotta over the coffee jellies (it’s about 1/4 c (2 oz) per dish). Place the dishes back into the fridge to set up


Vanilla Bean Sour Cream Panna Cotta Layer

1 cup 1/2 & 1/2 cream (10%)
1 vanilla bean (or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract)
1/3 cup sour cream (14%)
1 1/2  tsp gelatin
3 tablespoons warm water

Place the water and gelatin in a small dish to soften; set aside. Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla pod and place into a medium saucepan along with the pod. Add the cream and sugar and  heat  over medium- low heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Take off the heat; remove the vanilla pod (rinse it off and toss into your sugar bowl). Add the sour cream and whisk until it is smooth and creamy. Sir in the softened gelatin and stir for a few minutes to make sure that the gelatin is completely dissolved and incorporated.
Take the jellies out of the fridge and gently pour the vanilla sour cream Panna cotta over the cinnamon layer, dividing equally amongst the serving dishes. Place back into the fridge and let set up for 2 hours before serving.

Dried Cherry & Hazelnut Florentines

Makes 36 cookies

Preheat your oven to 350F

1/2 cup heavy cream (33-36%)                                                    
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups finely chopped almonds
1/2 cup diced candied orange peel

Bittersweet chocolate to drizzle (optional)

Place the nuts and fruit in a mixing bowl. In a small saucepan, add the  cream and sugar and bring to a boil. Cook for 1 minute. Take it off the heat and pour over the nuts and fruit. Add the flour and stir.
Drop by teaspoons onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Flatten the cookies slightly using a wet spatula or the back of a spoon. Bake for 8 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes before removing from the baking sheet to a cooling rack. Let cool completely.  Melt some chocolate and place in a disposable pastry bag or a small ziploc bag with a corner snipped off. Drizzle of the cookies. Place in the fridge for a few minutes to set the chocolate.These cookies will last about 5 days (if you don’t eat them all) but they do not freeze well.

This cookie recipe is from the Gourmet Magazine Cookie Book

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Candied Orange Peel 101


I sometimes take things for granted, like thinking that everyone knows how to make their own candied orange peel, and I end up looking  smug and foolish. “You make your own peel?” “Yes, don’t you?” Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?. The fact of the matter is, candied orange peel is one of the easiest things you can make.  If you google it, you will come up with 170,000 entries! So you can imagine my surprise at the frequency of times that I hear people say that they never have made it, nor do they know how. So, here is to 171,000…

The peel of a citrus fruit is one of its greatest treasures. Lemon,lime, grapefruit and orange  zest are key components in many cookie and cake recipes, or add it to rice, or sprinkle it over feta cheese with some olive oil. You get my drift. Yet when we think of the peel, visions of  multicolored bits from the inside of old fruitcake come to mind. Please don’t let that ruin it for you. Fresh candied peel is absolutely divine. It has all the brightness of the fruit but none of the bitterness of raw peel. I am laughing to myself as I am writing this and thinking of my dear friend Kathy, who hates anything citrus. She, of course, would not like this, but to rest of the citrus loving world, enjoy.

I must admit, I do not have a measured recipe. We never throw away the peel of a citrus fruit around here, so sometimes I might only be using the peel of one orange, sometimes 3 lemons – whatever – but, there is a basic recipe to always follow.

1.  Cut your peel into thin strips

2. Submerge in a pot of cold water.

3. Bring to a boil

4. Strain and repeat steps two and three two more times times. You will have boiled the peel in fresh, cold water a total of three times. Taste a small piece. If it still tastes overly bitter, boil it one more time. A total of three times is usually enough but every once in a while you need to do an extra boil.

5.  Put  equal amounts fresh water and granulated sugar into your pot. The amount will depend on how much peel you are making. When I make the peel of 2 oranges, I use 1 1/2 c water to 1 1/2 c sugar. You really just want to make sure that the peel is fully submerged. Bring it back up to a boil,  lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 45 minutes. Drain* and lay out your peel in a single layer on a cooling rack to dry. After about 2 hours you can gently toss the pieces in some more granulated sugar, if you wish.

You are now done! At this point you can finely chop the peel for bread or cookies, or dip the slices into bittersweet chocolate as a hostess gift the next time you are invited to someones house for dinner. Or, as a gift to yourself.

* You can save the sugar syrup. Cool it , then store in the fridge and use as a simple syrup for various cocktails.

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Peppermint Marshmallows

I wanted to make the perfect Valentines Day treat, but what?? There are a few (that’s an understatement!) cake recipes I want to try but it all seemed to much for today. MMmmmm… how about fluffy marshmallow? Better yet, how about fluffy, cool, peppermint marshmallows? How about dipping those fluffy, cool, peppermint marshmallows in some bittersweet chocolate? Now we are talking!! It’s been  a while since I made marshmallows and I forgot just how darn  easy they are to make. Really. The only trouble is that they can be very messy to make as well. Here are a few pointers:

When beating the marshmallow mixture, resist all temptation to scrape down the sides of the bowl, or the beater for that matter. You will just end of with strings of sticky marshmallow EVERYWHERE.

After it is set, tightly cover the entire top with plastic wrap and then flip it over. This prevents clouds of confectioners sugar from flying all over your kitchen. (this is when you can dust the bottom of it).

These are so delicious and are outrageous in a mug of hot cocoa. Your family and friend will love you for these.

You will need to 9×13 inch pan


about 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons plus 2 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup hot water (about 115°F.)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites*
3/4 teaspoon pure peppermint extract
seeds from 1 vanilla bean (0r 1/2 tsp vanilla extract)

  • *if egg safety is a problem in your area, substitute powdered egg whites reconstituted according to manufacturer’s instructions

Oil bottom and sides of a 13- by 9- by 2-inch rectangular metal baking pan and line bottom and sides with plastic wrap. Dust with about 1/4  cup confectioners sugar.

Ina small bowl sprinkle gelatin over cold water and let stand to soften.

In a 3-quart heavy saucepan cook granulated sugar, corn syrup, hot water, and salt over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to moderate and boil mixture, without stirring, until a candy or digital thermometer registers 240°F., about 8-12 minutes. Remove pan from heat and in gelatin mixture, stirring until gelatin is dissolved.

Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, using very clean beaters beat whites (or reconstituted powdered whites) until they just hold stiff peaks. You can use a standing or hand-held mixer. Transfer the egg whites to another bowl while the sugar is coming up to temperature. Try to time these two as close together as possible so your egg whites don’t sit too long while waiting for the sugar. Don’t bother washing the bowl or whisk, just add the hot sugar mixture.

Pour the sugar/gelatin mixture into a standing or a hand-held electric mixer and beat mixture on high-speed until white, thick, and nearly tripled in volume, about 6 minutes if using standing mixer or about 10 minutes if using hand-held mixer (At this point your beaten egg whites are waiting for you in  a separate bowl).

Beat whites, peppermint  and vanilla into sugar mixture until just combined. Pour mixture into baking pan and sift 1/4 cup confectioners― sugar evenly over top. Chill marshmallow, uncovered, until firm, at least 3 hours, and up to 1 day.

Cover the entire top of pan with plastic wrap and invert pan onto a large cutting board. Grabbing one corner, lift up plastic wrap and peel away the wrap. Dust with about 1/4 cup of confectioners sugar.Trim edges of marshmallow and cut marshmallow into roughly 1-inch cubes. Sift another 1/4 C confectioners’ sugar into a large bowl and add marshmallows in batches, tossing to evenly coat.

Melt some bittersweet chocolate (about 4 ounces) and dip each marshmallow. Allow to cool on a sheet of parchment paper for a few minutes.

Marshmallows keep in an airtight container at  room temperature for 1 week.
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, December 1998

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Raincoast crackers

When we have friends over for dinner I like to serve a light appetizer before dinner while we are having cocktails. Nothing too heavy, I don’t everyone too full for dinner, but something to hold them over while we all get cozy and catch up with each other. They sell a similar cracker to this in the stores but it is so expensive (who can afford $8 for a small box?) that it is much easier and economical to make your own at home. You can really improvise with this recipe. Any combination of nut,seed, and flavoring will work. I really like tart dried cherry and walnut or hazelnut,orange zest and raisin . You make these like a biscotti, meaning they are twice baked.
These go exceptionally well with goat cheese, figs, and a drizzle of honey (and a martini). You get a lot of crackers from this one loaf, so you can always keep half of it in the freezer until a later date; just let it sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes before slicing for the 2nd bake.

I need to add a footnote here. This past week was my husband’s birthday and every year we celebrate with a trip to Chico Hot Springs in Montana. It is our favorite place to vacation. No TV or computers  – hooray!! It is the best family vacation. Ever.I made a batch of these to bring so we could have a light afternoon snack and gave the last of these to Amy, one of the many wonderful staff there, that always make our stay so special. This recipe is for you.

Makes about 72 pieces

Smooth out the top before baking

1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. spelt flour or whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp. packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
2 Tbsp. liquid honey
1 1/2 c. buttermilk
1 c. chopped pecans, toasted
1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
2 Tablespoons sesame seed
2 Tablespoons whole flaxseed
2 Tablespoons pumpkin seed
2 Tablespoon sunflower seed

Preheat your oven to 375 F

– In bowl, whisk together all-purpose flour, spelt flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Stir in butter and honey; stir in buttermilk. Add the remaining ingredients; stir to combine.
– Scrape into greased 9 x 5 inch loaf pan, smoothing top.It will be quite thick and sticky; I find that if you wet your spatula or give it a quick spay with PAM that you can easily smooth the top down.
Bake until a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cool in pan on a cooling rack for 5 minutes. Turn out onto rack; cool completely. Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze until semi-solid, about 2 hours.
– With serrated knife, cut into 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick slices. Cut in half crosswise and arrange on 2 baking sheets.
– Bake in top and bottom thirds of 300F oven, rotating and switching pans and turning crackers over halfway through, until browned and crisp, about 30 minutes. Let cool on pans on rack. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Slice thin before baking a second time

Recipe adapted from one given to me from Andrea

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Vanilla Yogurt Loaf

Simple, moist and perfect. I love anything vanilla. Don’t get me wrong, I crave chocolate as much as the next person, but the allure of vanilla will win me over everyday. This cake might seem plain, but it certainly does not taste plain. The triple threat of vanilla bean, vanilla extract and vanilla yogurt is vanilla heaven. If you use plain vanilla instead just use the seeds from 2 beans as opposed to one. This is ideal to bring to your next meeting and to have with your friends  over a nice cup of afternoon tea. Bake on…

1/2 cup butter, softened                                                                                                   
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cup vanilla yogurt


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9 inch Bundt pan.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter,  sugars and vanilla seeds and extract until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg until smooth. Combine the flour, baking soda, and baking powder; stir into the batter alternately with the yogurt. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.
  3. Bake for 50 minutes in the preheated oven, until a knife inserted into the crown comes out clean.

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