custom cakes/cookies

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Kumquat Gelée

The first time I had panna cotta was this summer when in Norway. Expressly for the purpose of tasting reindeer carpaccio, I ate at a restaurant that claimed to have an authentic Norwegian menu. As a bonus for the total local experience, the dessert menu listed a panna cotta topped with cloudberries. Panna cotta, is by no means Nordic, but I was more interested in eating those cloudberries. The guide book made them sound rare and special. As a maker of jam I was intrigued. The name alone connotes loftiness!

The cloudberries, served as a pretty amber-colored glaze on top the panna cotta, were nice. Distictly tart. They made for a good pairing with the creamy panna cotta, resulting overall in a light and refreshing summer-y end to a meal.

For those that don't know, panna cotta is honey-sweetened cream and milk, stabilized with unflavored gelatin. Though cream-based, it's really only a fancy Jell-O of sorts, that's very simple to make. In my version here, I top it with a season-approapriate, citrusy and spiced kumquat gelée, which also has a jello-like consistency due to the addition of gelatin. With the free-floating fruit, it is perhaps somewhat reminiscent of the Jell-O salad ubiquitous at retro potlucks. But I'd like to believe this is a slightly more sophisticated version.

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 attempted the florentine cookies as well, but gave them all away before photos could be taken.

Giada's Vanilla Panna Cotta
serves 6

1 cup whole milk
1 TBS (one packet) unflavored powdered gelatin
3 cups whipping cream (30+% butterfat)
1/3 cup honey
1 TBS granulated sugar
pinch of salt

Pour the milk into a chilled sauce pan and sprinkle gelatin evenly and thinly over the milk. Let stand for 5 minutes to soften the gelatin.
Place the saucepan over medium heat on the stove. Heat this mixture until it is hot, but not boiling, about five minutes, whisking a few times as it heats.
Next, add the cream, honey, sugar, and pinch of salt. Making sure the mixture doesn't boil, continue to heat and stir occasionally until the sugar and honey have dissolved, 5-7 minutes.
Remove from heat, allow it to sit for a few minutes to cool slightly. Then pour into individual glasses or ramekins.

Refrigerate about 6 hours or until firm. When firm enough to support the gelée layer (see recipe below), pour the room temperature gelée over the panna cotta, distributing evenly among all the glasses. Room temperature is important so as not to melt the panna cotta, which would disturb the distinct separation of layers. Chill several more hours to allow the gel to set up firm.

Kumquat Gewurztraminer Gelée
from Jamie Stachowski, Restaurant Kolumbia

1 pint kumquats
1½ tsp powdered gelatin
1¼ cup Gewurztraminer wine, divided
½ cup sugar
½ cup honey
1 small knob peeled ginger root
1 star anise clove
zest of ½ a lemon
1½ tsp lemon juice
a pinch of salt

In a saucepan, cover the whole kumquats with water and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer for 2 minutes, then drain. Repeat process twice until kumquats are very soft, don't worry if some begin to split. This process removes the bitterness. Slice into thin rounds and remove seeds. Set aside.

In a bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over ¼ cup wine. Set aside.

Set a pot over medium heat and mix the sugar with the honey. When the sugar dissolves, turn heat to low and add the ginger, anise clove, and lemon zest. Simmer for a few minutes until aromatic. Stir in the remaining cup of wine, then add sliced kumquats and simmer on low until the flesh is tender, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat. Take ¼ cup of syrup and whisk into gelatin/wine mixture, then stir the gelatin mixture back into pot of kumquats and syrup. Add the lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Stir to evenly distribute kumquats and whole spices. Cool until room temperature and then remove spices.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hiyashi Soba and Vegetable Tempura

Interested in learning to cook Japanese food? Then I suggest watching some of the entertaining how-to videos made by Kumigar. She's an adorable, young Japanese woman, who posts self-produced clips of cooking demos on YouTube. Her enthusiasm for food, both cooking and eating, is quite apparent. It's reassuring to see that sort of honest and unabashed fervor in someone other than myself!

Along the way in preparing the recipes below, I learned a very helpful tip to prevent stove top spillovers. Pots boiling over are something for which I'm notorious, and it's even more of nuisance now that I have a flat-surfaced, glass-top stove. There's no burner pan to collect the run-off drainage. I learned to temper an overflowing boil with a cup of cold water (see cooking intructions for udon below for more details). Of course this takes careful attention on the pot (which is key to preventing all kitchen disasters in the first place).

The February 2011 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by Lisa of Blueberry Girl. She challenged Daring Cooks to make Hiyashi Soba and Tempura. She has various sources for her challenge including,, and

Hiyashi Soba
serves 4

Soba Noodles:

2 quarts water + 3 cups cold water, separate
12 oz dried soba noodles

Heat 2 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Add the noodles a small bundle at a time, stirring gently to separate. When the water returns to a full boil, add 1 cup of cold water. Repeat this twice. When the water returns to a full boil, check the noodles for doneness. You want to cook them until they are firm-tender. Do not overcook them.

Drain the noodles in a colander and rinse well under cold running water until the noodles are cool. This not only stops the cooking process, but also removes the starch from the noodles. This is an essential part of soba noodle making. Once the noodles are cool, drain them and cover them with a damp kitchen towel and set them aside allowing them to cool completely.

Mentsuyu - Traditional dipping sauce:

2 cups Kombu and Katsuobushi dashi or a basic vegetable stock
1/3 cup shoyu soy sauce
1/3 cup mirin

Put mirin in a sauce pan and heat gently. Add soy sauce and dashi soup stock in the pan and bring to a boil. Take off the heat and cool. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Spicy Dipping Sauce:

¾ cup green onions, finely chopped
3 tablespoons shoyu soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
½ teaspoon granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon English mustard powder
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste - roughly 1/3 a teaspoon of each

Shake all the ingredients together in a covered container. Once the salt has dissolved, stir in 2 tablespoons of water and season again if needed.

serves 4

1 egg yolk from a large egg
1 cup iced water
½ cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for dredging
½ cup cornstarch
½ teaspoon baking powder
oil, for deep frying preferably vegetable
ice water bath, for the tempura batter

Very cold vegetables that I used include:

Sweet potato, peeled, thinly sliced, blanched
Fingerling potato, peeled, thinly sliced, blanched
Broccoli florets, blanched
Cauliflower florets, blanched
Fresh mushrooms
Onions sliced

Place the iced water into a mixing bowl. Lightly beat the egg yolk and gradually pour into the iced water, stirring and blending well. Add flours and baking powder all at once, stroke a few times with chopsticks until the ingredients are loosely combined. The batter should be runny and lumpy. Place the bowl of batter in an ice water bath to keep it cold while you are frying the tempura. The batter as well as the vegetables have to be very cold. The temperature shock between the hot oil and the cold veggies help create a crispy tempura.

Heat the oil in a large pan or a wok. For vegetables, the oil should be 320°F.

Dip the prepared vegetables in a shallow bowl of flour to lightly coat them and then dip them into the batter. Slide them into the hot oil, deep frying only a couple of pieces at a time so that the temperature of the oil does not drop.

Place finished tempura pieces on a wire rack so that excess oil can drip off.

Serve immediately for the best flavor, but they can also be eaten cold.