Coconut Panna Cotta with Pomegranate-Strawberry Gelee
Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
I am pretty certain I have made florentine cookies before, but I knew I'd never made panna cotta. There is always a subset of bakers who do alternative versions of the recipes, veganizing them, or making them gluten free. I decided this would be the month I would conquer agar agar, a sea vegetable that is often used in place of gelatin in recipes, making it vegetarian where gelatin is not.
Well, it was a great idea. I could not find the agar agar powder anywhere, and figured agar agar flakes were close enough. Well, that's not exactly the case. Agar agar powder can be handled almost exactly the same way as gelatin, sprinkled over water, and so on. The flakes do not dissolve nearly as well. So for my first attempt I made panna cotta based on Giada De Laurentiis's panna cotta recipe, substituting coconut milk for the whole milk and adding a cinnamon stick to the simmering cream. The agar agar flakes just never really dissolved, in either the pomegranate-strawberry gelee or the panna cotta. The fruit mixture had more of a gelled texture, but I imagine that was the pectin naturally in the berries, rather than the agar agar setting anything up. It was a soupy, loose-pudding gloppy mess. The flavor was good, but it was difficult to get past the texture!
Attempts #2 and #3 were even worse. This time I decided to try a chocolate panna cotta recipe from Epicurious.com, cutting back on the sugar as Mallory recommended in the challenge. At this point I had asked for help in the Daring Bakers forums, and Audax, baking genius, had recommended boiling the agar agar flakes in water for 12 minutes or so before adding them to the mixture. I tried this, keeping it at a rolling boil, and a skin of the agar agar would colllect at the sides and top of the mixture. 8 hours later, I had achieved the texture of melted ice cream. I went to the Eden Foods website for more advice, and they recommended the 12-minute trick, also suggesting you could grind the flakes with a coffee grinder before soaking in water. For attempt #3, I soaked the ground up flakes in water for 5 minutes before boiling, and I thought I was getting somewhere, because they soaked up the liquid like gelatin does. I tried combining it with the mixture I'd already made that hadn't set up, but that resulted in the melted ice cream plus gelatinous string mixture you see pictured above. Ugh, I threw it away. I didn't really succeed at my challenge to make this work, but I really want to try finding the powder. It just should not be this difficult. We won't even speak of the coffee gelee I tried to make, which never thickened beyond being very sweet coffee.
At least the Florentine Cookies were good. I didn't have corn syrup in the house, but I did have Golden syrup, so I used that in place of it and it worked just fine. Next time I'd definitely pull back on the sugar a bit, and maybe add some orange zest to the cookie or the chocolate. The recipe the Daring Bakers used was from Nestle, so you can try it too!