February 27, 2011

DB Maple Florentine Cookies and Coconut Panna Cotta

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.

Another month gone by and I continued my wheat free experiment.  I also spent most of this past month going fairly low carb and nearly zero sugar so I needed to make quite a few alterations to this month's recipes.  For the panna cotta, I used coconut milk and gelatin without any sweetener at all.  The raspberry gelee on top, made from frozen berries, got just a scant teaspoon of honey to cut the tartness.  They were delicious together and plenty sweet enough for me. 

I ended up spending more time on the Florentine cookie recipe.  I remembered how one of my Christmas cookie experiments with maple sugar produced a lacy cookie so I thought I could adapt this recipe to lessen the refined sugar.  I cut the amount of sugar, replaced it with maple sugar and replaced the wheat flour with gluten-free flours.  My first batch ended up too chewy but were so well received by Alex that I made a second batch to work on a better texture.  I'm quite happy with this lower sugar, maple flavored version. 

Maple Florentine Cookies
My dairy-free, gluten-free, less refined sugar version of these Nestle Florentine Cookies.  If possible weigh your ingredients, the cup measurements are not as exact.
Makes ~2 dozen cookie sandwiches

2/3 cup (150g) coconut oil
2 cups (160g) oatmeal, I used regular oats
2/3 cup (110g) maple sugar
~1/4 cup (35g) almond meal
~1/4 cup (30g) tapioca starch
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons milk, I used unsweetened almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon xanthan gum
pinch of fine sea salt
1 cup (170g) dark chocolate

-Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F and line a couple of cookie sheets with parchement paper.
-Melt the coconut oil in a large saucepan.  Remove from heat and stir in all the ingredients, mix very well.
-Spoon or scoop on tablespoons of the dough three inches apart.
-Bake for 6-8 minutes until golden brown.  Cool fully on the paper before moving. You can carefully slide the paper with the cooling cookies off your baking sheets onto your counter. Then you can cool the baking pans off with cold water and use another piece of paper to keep the production going.  Or take your time. 
-Repeat to use all the dough.
-Melt your chocolate (double boiler or microwave) and spread a small amount between each cookie before sandwiching.  Baked tops shoudl be facing outside.

-For the unaltered challenge recipes see our host Mallory's site, A Sofa in the Kitchen.
-Mallory used Giada De Laurentiis' Panna Cotta recipe and the Florentine recipe came from Nestle Classic Recipes which can also be found on the Nestle Kitchen website.
-I get my maple sugar from our local co-op which carries U.P. Sugar Shack sugar.  You can also purchase maple sugar online at Marx Foods
-Ready to take on a monthly baking challenge?  Visit the Daring Kitchen and don't forget to look at the Daring Baker Blogroll for other cookie/gel combos.

My first batch of Florentines was made with rice and tapioca flours.  They came with some gluten-free chocolate cutout cookies (raspberry frosted) to a Valentine's Day get together.  Unfortunately, I committed the cardinal sin of forgetting that there were kids there with diets even more restricted than Alex's.  I know from experience that it sucks when there are treats he can't have but just didn't think it through. 

February 20, 2011

Kitchen Gadgets

This month my fellow Michigan Lady Food Bloggers are talkin' gadgets.  Per the request of Tricia over at Jonski Blogski, we are all going to wax poetically about our favorites. So here are mine:

Black & Decker EK700 9-Inch Electric Carving Knife, White
Great for slicing up a whole loaf of bread or carving beef, ham or turkey.  Or maybe I just remember my grandmother using one and so I had to have one. 

IKEA Produkt Milk Frother cofee/tea
Super cheap and fun for kids to use, this little guy gives them something electric to play with and is way safer and faster to clean than the blender or an electric hand mixer.  Good for mixing hot/cold chocolate milk or beating a few eggs for scrambled eggs/French toast/etc.

Salter 6055SSDR Stainless-Steel Electronic Kitchen Scale

I love when recipes I'm working with start off with weights instead of just volumetric measurements.  It makes it so much easier to convert to smaller batches and it's wonderful not to have a million measuring cups and spoons get dirty.  My big challenge is that I need to pick a side and stick with either metric or imperial measurements.  Metric can be more precise (since my scale doesn't do more than 1/8th of an ounces) but imperial is more instinctive, it's hard to choose.

Stainless Steel Flat Whisk - 8 Inch

Easier to clean than a traditional balloon whisk this little guy gets in corners and doubles as a spatula for items that won't fall through.  The two I have are in constant rotation.

*To see the other gadget recommendations visit our group blog, Michigan Lady Food Bloggers, at the end of this month.

Dog Hill Ducks lay eggs!

Yesterday we caught the dogs tearing apart a large greenish egg shell.  At first we thought they might have found eggs laid last fall that had been hidden in the woods. Then Perfect, our new border collie, brought us another slightly frozen egg.  We searched around the yard for a nest we thought might have been uncovered by the melting snow but found nothing.  This morning John took a leap of faith and went out to check in the duck house and discovered these two beauties!  We all tasted them and declared them to be the most delicious eggs ever. Just look at the huge, golden yolks!  I made sure to reward the ducks with some fresh greens for their trouble. 

February 18, 2011

Dairy-free Citrus Curd

This month's Spice Rack Challenge featured citrus.  At first I racked my brain over the whole idea of dried citrus rind.  What do you use it for, just in place of fresh?  Why would you buy it in the first place when most citrus fruits are so easy to find year round?   Then I gave up pondering and tried making a almond shortbread cookie inspired by these Orange and Dark Chocolate Scones from Joy the Baker.  I liked the texture but hated the flavor, so I pitched them.

I found myself on the last day to post and all I had in the house was a really sad dried up lemon and two slightly beaten up grapefruit, I never did buy or make any dried peel.  Instead of throwing in the towel I decided to make grapefruit curd.  Lemon curd is so insanely good and addictive that I've never bothered to make a curd with other citrus fruit.  For awhile I made homemade dairy-free lemon curd with Earth Balance margarine but then I found out it is even better made with coconut oil.  Lemon curd sweetened with honey and made with coconut oil is my favorite.  But since grapefruits were what I had, I gave grapefruit curd a try.

Well, I may be won over.  The grapefruit curd was excellent on toast.  For the bread I made this coconut flour bread, except I used coconut oil in place of the ghee and maple butter instead of honey.  It tastes like poundcake without all the crazy sugar and was the perfect foil for the sweet curd. (And now that I'm thinking about it, the coconut bread would be great with a little citrus zest added to it.)  The curd was also great on fruit, try dipping strawberries in it!, and of course straight from the jar.  

Dairy-free Citrus Curd
Thanks to Straight Into Bed Carefree and Dried and Martha Stewart
Makes ~1 1/2 cups

3 egg yolks (egg quality really counts)
zest from 1 fruit
4 tablespoons sugar (or honey)
1/4 cup citrus juice
4 tablespoons coconut oil

-Place your yolks, zest, juice and sugar (or honey) in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat while whisking.
-Cook until the mixture thickens and can coat a spoon.
-Turn off heat and whisk in the coconut oil one tablespoon at a time.
-Strain through a fine metal sieve and whisk again if any oil begins to separate out.
-Cool and use.  Store any remaining in a glass container in the refrigerator. 

February 13, 2011

Carob Fruit and Nut Bark

Though I'm still full of my typical end of winter griping about dark days and slippery roads, I am noticing that February has been flying by. Tomorrow is Valentine's Day and I'm still trying to lay off sugar and wheat and grains in general. But that's a topic for another post, which I'm too scatterbrained to write at the moment, so here's a recipe I've been working on.

John and I have been upping the ante with our chocolate lately. I've long been a fan of the dark stuff and look for at least 70% cocoa (the bare minimum) but with my current dietary changes I'm even finding things like these brownies too sweet. So we search for darker chocolate for snacking and that results in eventually even liking unsweetened chocolate, if combined with fruit and nuts. The trouble is that chocolate has caffeine and though my tolerance is way higher than John's a little too much snacking ends with me up all night.

So John suggested carob (yes honey, I'm actually giving you credit) and at first I scoffed. Have you ever had those carob covered nuts from the bulk section? Or a carob bar? They are so insipid and gross with a weird chewy quality but John likes them anyway. I remembered seeing carob powder, also called carob flour, at the co-op so I agreed to give that a try. I had some cocoa butter around to try and make homemade dairy-free white chocolate and thought, "Hey I could make carob chocolate and it wouldn't be an oxymoron!"

For my first attempt I went completely sugar free and it was wonderful! Of course you have to be used to eating very low sugar/high cocoa chocolate but if you are the kind of person who can snack on cocoa nibs than you might really love this and it won't keep you up at night. Plus, carob may have other health benefits and it's much less bitter and therefore requires less sweetness to be delicious. I've played with the recipe further, added a little dried fruit for a smidgen more sweetness and a little coconut oil so that I don't have to worry about tempering the cocoa butter. The variations are endless but I like this Chunky bar homage with raisins and almonds.

Carob Fruit and Nut Bark

This is for super low sugar chocolate lovers. If you can't handle nibbling on cocoa nibs or 90% chocolate then either use a higher percentage of dried fruit or try adding a little stevia. 
Makes about a pound

3 oz (~3/4 cup) cacao butter*
2 oz (7 tablespoons) roasted carob powder*
8 oz (2 cups) almonds, ideally soaked/dehydrated*
3 oz (3/4 cup) raisins*
1/4 ounce (~1 1/2 teaspoons) coconut oil
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt

-Melt the cacao butter in a double boiler add the carob powder and coconut oil and whisk until smooth.  You could also melt the cacao butter in the microwave but it seems to take forever so I prefer a double boiler for this.  Of course a double boiler does not have to mean anything more than a heat proof bowl that fits on a saucepan with a little water in the saucepan.
-Add the almonds and raisins and stir to coat.  Spread on a parchment lined baking sheet and sprinkle with salt.
-Chill in the freezer for 10 minutes and then remove and break apart.

*Ingredient notes:  Cacao butter is the same thing as cocoa butter but be sure not to skimp on this. I've found cheaper stuff that has off flavors and tastes like soap and it's awful!  Carob powder is also called carob flour.  Of course any combination of nuts with/without any combination of dried fruit would be good. 

**Other notes:  I think a variation with some spice would be excellent and there is an interesting Cinnamon Spiced Coconut Bark on Diet, Dessert and Dogs.  Also, I'd love to try some filled chocolates with this carob chocolate mixture and plan on using this recipe for Double Chocolate Hazelnut Candies as inspiration.

***Note to mom: Hey, check out the Russell Stovers Elvis box, that thing has really gotten a lot of reuse!