This one makes me very happy.
Have you ever known someone who is a panna cotta fanatic? Having a slight aversion to gelatin-based things, I’ve never really understood it. But people who love panna cotta, they REALLY love panna cotta. John is one of those people. So it seems like I would make it all the time. It’s super easy, just a little advance planning needed for it to set up in the fridge. But how many times have I made it? Once. Last summer. I tend towards puddings and mousses, but I’m not really sure why. After this panna cotta, I think that is going to change. It’s winter here in Seattle, so I’m exploring the flavors available. As much as I loved my little pop tarts and poached apples, I’m feeling the need to branch out from the abundance of apples here. And what’s a beautiful flavor available all year round? Honey. Sticky sweet honey. And thus, I wanted a milk and honey dessert. A panna cotta dessert. I actually did 2 batches, one with milk and another with buttermilk. As much as a liked the tang of the buttermilk, I was really feeling the contrast between the pure vanilla milk flavor and the acidic honey.
I wanted textures in this dish, so I poured some honey into the bottom of my dishes, so that when I dug my spoon in later, I would get a nice bit of liquid with the panna cotta.
I started making the panna cotta by steeping my cream with a vanilla bean and some sugar.
Then I softened the gelatin and mixed that in with the steeped cream mixture. I strained that into some milk and placed the container in the fridge to chill. I did this so that I could stir the vanilla seeds around as it started to thicken, to keep them from falling to the bottom before the panna cotta set. Once it was chilled and starting to thicken, I poured it onto the honey.
I let the panna cotta finish setting up in the fridge, maybe 4 hours or so, before making a honey gelée. I poured that on top of the panna cottas and let them chill for a couple more hours.
Once the gelée was set, I sprinkled on some chunky sea salt. And then me and John went to town on these guys. And they were delicious. The salt cut through the sweetness, and the different layers and textures made me very happy indeed. And needless to say, John was pretty pleased as well.
Honey Panna Cotta Recipe:
3/4 cup honey
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp gelatin
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 tsp powdered gelatin
1/4 tsp salt
- Put 2 TBSP of honey in bottom of 6 dishes and put in fridge.
- For the Panna Cotta, combine sugar, vanilla, and heavy cream in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and let steep for 20 minutes.
- Pour 1/4 cup water in a small bowl. Sprinkle on powdered gelatin and let sit for a few minutes to soften. Add this to the heavy cream mixture and stir well to dissolve.
- Add the milk and stir well. Strain mixture into a container with a spout.
- Put container in fridge until cool, stirring every 10 minutes or so so redistribute the vanilla seeds.
- Pour mixture over honeyed containers and cool in the fridge until set.
- For the gelée, pour 1/2 cup of water in a small bowl. Sprinkle on powdered gelatin and let sit for a few minutes to soften.
- Pour honey in saucepan over medium heat. Add gelatin mixture and stir to dissolve. Add salt. Place in fridge to cool, stirring to make sure it doesn’t set.
- When cool, pour over panna cotta. Place in fridge and let chill until set.
- Before serving sprinkle with chunky sea salt.
For the record, I am so tired of listening to myself talk about how tired I am. Lately it is so hard finding the inspiration to get into the kitchen and cook. Which is weird, because it is prime baking weather: dark, grey, wet. I should be tearing the kitchen apart. But instead (when not tearing up Delancey’s kitchen), I find myself slouched in front of the TV watching reruns of 90210. But a couple of days ago, I was hit hard (thanks Huong!) with an idea: homemade pop tarts. Bite-sized fruit-filled flakey happiness. OK, I know traditional pop tarts aren’t flakey, but if I’m gonna recreate, why not improve? Since it’s apple season galore in Washington, I decided to go with that as a filling.
I made a pie dough using the smear technique, making butter chunks a little smaller than usual. My goal was to have a flakey dough, but to keep the flakes a little tight. I also wanted to keep the apple filling really bright, so I decided to put the cinnamon (because you can’t have apple pop tarts without cinnamon) in the dough.
While my dough rested in the fridge, I started working on the apple filling. I diced the apples up pretty small in hopes of having a flatter pop tart.
Then I sauteed them in butter, sugar and vanilla. After they started to take on a bit of color I poured in some apple cider. I cooked them on medium high heat, until the cider reduced to a glaze. I poured the cooked apples on a tray and placed them in the fridge to cool.
I rolled the dough pretty thin (slightly under 1/8″) and sliced it into squares. I piled some apples onto half of the squares.
I cinched the two pieces together with a fork and poked holes in the top. I brushed butter on and popped them into the oven.
I baked them until they were golden brown and let them cool while I made the glaze. Which was hard because they smelled like pure heaven.
I poured on a glaze of powdered sugar and apple cider and let it set up. And then me and John tore into these little flake bombs. He says they remind him more of toaster strudels, but I will admit that I have never experienced one of those. Either way, I am very excited that I finally got my butt back in the kitchen. Because these guys were worth it.
APPLE POP TARTS RECIPE:
9 oz pastry flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
6 oz cold butter, chopped
3 oz water
- Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Dump onto pastry board.
- Place half of the butter on the flour mixture. Using a bench scraper, cut the butter into the flour until it is pea sized chunks.
- Place the other half of the butter onto the flour mixture. Using the bench scraper, cut the rest of the butter into the flour until it is in bean sized chunks.
- Use fingers to flick the water into the flour mixture while tossing it around with the bench scraper. Keep sprinkling until it comes together in a shaggy pile. It should hold together as a dough when pinched.
- Using the heel of your hand, smear the dough on the pastry board. This creates sheets of butter in the flour, which turns into gorgeous flakes in the oven.
- Smash the dough into a disc, wrap it in plastic and place it in the fridge to rest.
3 medium apples, diced into 1/4″ pieces
2 oz butter
1/2 vanilla bean
2 TBSP sugar
1/2 apple cider
- Heat the butter and vanilla bean seeds in a skillet over medium heat. Add the apples and sugar and cook until the apples start to take on a bit of color.
- Add the cider and cook over medium high heat until the cider reduces to a glaze.
- Spread the apples on a sheet pan and place in fridge to cool.
Assemble and bake:
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Roll out the dough and slice into squares.
- Spoon piles of apples onto half of the squares.
- Cinch edges together with a fork and poke holes in top.
- Brush on melted butter and bake until golden brown.
- Mix 3/4 cup powdered sugar with 2 tablespoons of apple cider. Whisk together and pour into cooled pop tarts.
Yep. I’m officially neglecting my blog.
But I’m gonna try harder! After spending a huge portion of my brain thinking up dessert fabulousness for Delancey, I’ve been neglecting ME. I just haven’t been cooking much, at least not much that inspires cataloguing and sharing with the people of the interweb. So today I decided to merge worlds. In Washington pear season is pretty much over now (is it this short in California?) and it’s apples as far as the eye can see. I’ve been seeking out a winner apple dessert for weeks and the results have been pretty lukewarm at best. I’ve been looking for something uncomplicated, a way to celebrate the apple without covering it up with other flavors. Today I got it: Caramel Poached Apples.
I started by heating up some locally made apple cider with cinnamon and star anise.
Meanwhile I started sugar boiling for a caramel.
When the sugar caramelized, I added the hot cider mixture. I let that steep with the spices for 20 minutes.
While the cider caramel was steeping, I prepared the apples for poaching. I peeled them and cored them from the bottom, leaving the top stem intact. This was a bit tricky, since I wasn’t using gigantic apples. I ended up digging out its innards with a 1/4 teaspoon.
I placed the apples in the caramel, which I had thinned with more cider, some white wine and lemon juice and flavored with a vanilla bean and a bit more sugar. I poached the apples until they were fork tender, flipping them halfway since I didn’t make enough poaching liquid to cover them (oops!).
But oh my, they were good. Since I’m not big on boozy desserts, I’ve never been huge fan of poached fruit. They always just taste so…soaked in alcohol. But this tasted like heavenly, caramelly goodness all the way through to the apple’s core, well if there was still a core. Now I just need to dream up something crunchy to pair with these little apple caramel bombs.
CARAMEL POACHED APPLES RECIPE (adapted from Sherry Yard):
3 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups apple cider
3/4 cup water
6 TBSP sugar
2 TBSP sliced peeled ginger
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
4 medium apples, peeled and cored
1 1/2 cup apple cider
1 1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup sugar
3 TBSP lemon juice
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
- Put 3 cups sugar and 1 cup water in large pot. Heat on low, stirring until the sugar is melted. Turn heat up to medium and let boil, undisturbed.
- Meanwhile put 1 1/2 cups apple cider, 3/4 cup water, sugar, ginger, cinnamon stick, star anise in a small pot and bring to boil. Set aside.
- Once the boiling sugar turns amber, slowly add in the hot cider mixture. Cover and let steep for 20 minutes. Strain out spices.
- Add the 1 1/2 cup apple cider, white wine, 1/4 cup sugar, lemon juice and vanilla bean to the caramel. Add the apples to the poaching liquid. Place a sheet of parchment on top and weigh down with a plate. Heat on medium low, bringing to just under a boil. Poach until fork tender.
- Remove apples from liquid and eat immediately, or place back in liquid once it has cooled (to keep the apples from overcooking).
- Goes great with whipped cream.
This year I didn’t do much holiday baking. I flew home on Christmas Eve, and there wasn’t much time for hanging in the kitchen. But for some reason, I kept finding time for making toffee. As in, I became slightly obsessed with making toffee. I couldn’t stop it, I’d make a batch, and then everyone would devour it, forcing me to make another. I don’t normally repeat cook (short attention span), but I was just feeling it I guess. The thing is, by making batch after batch of toffee, I started to figure some things out that I hadn’t noticed last year. The most important thing being: actually use a thermometer. This may seem common sense to other candy makers out there, but it was a revelation for me. More on that in a bit.
I started by putting melted butter, sugar, salt and water in a pot and cooking (stirring constantly) over medium to medium low heat. This was another thing I learned around batch #3: Too high of heat makes it cook unevenly, scorching in spots, and also affects the texture negatively. I’m not sure why, my only assumption is that a lower heat allows the water to evaporate out before it reaches the right temperature. Once the mixture reached 260 degrees I added some of the nuts (I used pecans on this batch) and continued cooking.
When it reached 305 degrees, I poured it onto a sheet pan that I had oiled. The 305 being the most important part of that step. Thermometers. Who knew? I tend to be a little loosey-goosey with temperatures, preferring to rely on colors, smells, and textures to guide me. In the case of toffee, that’s not to say that I don’t PUT a thermometer in the pot while the candy is cooking. It’s just that when it reaches the appropriate temperature, I keep cooking it. Why? Because I like alot of caramelization. I tend to go dark on a lot of things, which you would know if you’ve eaten any of my pies, crisps, toast, cookies or caramel sauces. I love that just-before-burnt flavor. But toffee, it turns out, does not want to be caramelized. At around 305 degrees, the candy is at just the right place to spread out in a thick mass. Further cooking does result in a darker and slightly more bitter toffee (yumm), but it also gives you a thin toffee with a not so awesome texture. As in, it sticks in your teeth and is just not pleasant to chew (and pick out of your teeth for the rest of the day).
After it cooled completely, I broke it into chunks.
The traditional way to make it is to score it while it’s still warm and then break it into neat pieces before dipping them into melted chocolate. I’ve found that a) I don’t really care about the neat shapes, because I want to eat the toffee PRONTO and b) since I use good chocolate, there ends up being way too intense of chocolate flavor for the amount of toffee. So my process is to just melt some chocolate down and plop it on the individual chunks. Before it re-solidifies I sprinkle on chopped nuts and let it finish cooling. Another lesson I learned on this toffee marathon: It gets better after several hours. This is a hard one, because it’s torture to resist the toffee’s call while it’s resting. But it’s worth it. When it’s fresh it’s kind of brittle, and the sugar flavor is most prominent. After a few hours, the texture softens and the butter flavor comes through.
ENGLISH TOFFEE RECIPE (adapted from “Truffles, Candies & Confections” by Carole Bloom):
2 TBSP canola oil
10oz unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup almonds or pecans, finely chopped
3oz chocolate, finely chopped
- Coat a baking sheet with the canola oil and set aside.
- Melt the butter in a 3-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat. Add the sugar, the water and the salt; increase the heat to medium and cook until the mixture registers 260°F on a sugar thermometer (about 10 minutes), stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula.
- Add 1/2 cup of the nuts and continue cooking until the mixture becomes golden and registers 305°F on the thermometer (about 8 minutes) stirring constantly. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully pour the mixture onto the oiled sheet pan. Let cool completely.
- Break the toffee into chunks.
- Melt (and temper if you’re up for it) the chocolate. Spread the melted chocolate on the toffee chunks.
- Sprinkle the remaining almonds onto the toffee and let sit until the chocolate is set.