Sunday, February 27, 2011

Daring Bakers February 2011 - Coconut Panna Cotta with Pomegranate-Strawberry Gelee

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 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.

Coconut Panna Cotta with Pomegranate-Strawberry Gelee
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!

Troubles
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.

Florentine Cookies
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!

16 comments:

jessicajlee said...

Hi! It looks really good! I used agar as well (in powder form) and it took a fair bit of it for a good set (about 1 tbsp. per pint of liquid).

Renata said...

Hi Jenny, thanks for visiting my blog and for warning me about the spam and ads, I have absolutely no idea where they're coming from. I'll try to find out what's going on.
So sorry that your agar agar didn't work, I have never used it. Your Florentines are amazing, so thin and crispy looking.

Renata said...

Oh, forgot to answer your question, yes, the sweet squash with coconut panna cotta tasted good, despite the richness. It is a typical combination of flavors for desserts in Brazil.

Audax said...

Jenny so sorry to hear that the agar agar flakes didn't work at all, I use agar agar powder always and it seems to work much better though it still needs to be boiled for a couple of mins. I noticed a fair few people using agar agar flakes couldn't get it to gel the panna cotta. At least the cookies worked out so perfectly for they look so lacy and crisp well done. I think I will have to do some agar agar work especially flakes to work it out for myself.

Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

fulltimefoodie said...

The pomegranate and strawberry sounds like a great combination. And yes, I've had the same problems with agar agar flakes. Regardless, great job!

Jeanne said...

Well, I tried the agar powder and didn't have any luck either. The package never said anything about boiling the liquid, though, so I think that's the key! After reading about how much all the other DBs loved the panna cotta, I think that we should keep on trying until we get it right. :)

UFRV said...

I'm so sorry you had such bad luck with agar-agar, but the cookies look awesome! I bet you will master it next time!

Todd M said...

Looks like a lot of people are having trouble the agar. I had trouble with my gelatin too so it is not always easy even if you aren't alternative. The florentines look really good though.

Ms. Hobby said...

It looks really yummy!

Eat the Love said...

Oh man. I've only used the agar agar powder stuff which is ridiculously expensive, never the flakes. I've always wondered about them, but the ones I see at the Asian supermarket are always garishly colored with artificial dyes, so I haven't bother to get them.

Your florentines look fantastic though! Thin lacy and crispy sweet!

Linda Judd said...

What a trooper you are! Three tries on the panna cotta! I have a feeling you'll find that agar agar powder one day and give it a fourth and successful try.

Your Florentines are beautiful, and the experience you got trying the panna cotta make this whole challenge a success for you, I think.

Balise said...

Too bad the agar-agar didn't work as well as you'd wish. Your biscuits look awesome though :)

shaz said...

Wow, you really persevered with the challenge. We ate agar-agar all the time as kids, and when you get the ratios right, the whole things gels up really quickly, at room temperature even. But it really depends on what type you can find. Still, the first pic looks perfect :) And your cookies are sensational. I used golden syrup too.

traditional sweets said...

They look very desirable and delicious. And i think you have found the perfect combination of taste and ingredients. I'm looking forward to see more delicacies. Thank you!

Aparna said...

Your Florentines look perfect. Admire yoour perseverance with the agar. The powder should work better.
I used agar flakes too. After boiling, if you still find flakes in your liquid, just strain them out and then press them through the sieve.
Better luck next time.

Anonymous said...

is it possible to use pectin for Panna Cotta?
If i did, it would be a coconut milk, Panna Cotta made with pectin.... I think might have to top with those gourmet looking florentines! :)