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 Florentine Cookies.
If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I like to occasionally foray into Asian cooking - particularly dumplings, both sweet and savory. Part of the fun is sourcing and experimenting with ingredients that are a little bit off the beaten path. While neither matcha nor black sesame are extremely obscure, they're still not something I'm going to find at my local grocery store, and it's fun to surprise my dinner guests with flavors they aren't expecting.
Matcha, if you aren't familiar with it, is a fragrant and vibrantly colored powder made from the highest-quality green tea leaves. The price of even a small can reflects this quality and thus, it is a special and precious ingredient.
I recently had the combination of green tea and raspberry at a Japanese restaurant in Christchurch, New Zealand and was struck by how well they worked together. When I read that this month's challenge was to make panna cotta, I knew immediately what flavors I wanted to use. Panna cotta literally means "cooked cream" in Italian and is essentially milk and cream, sweetened with sugar, and firmed up with gelatin to a pudding-like consistency. This base provides an excellent blank slate for really anything you might want to create. In this case, I cooked the milk with vanilla bean seeds and the scraped-out pod, and then whisked in the green tea powder just before pouring into glasses.
The recipe for the delicate, crisp florentine cookies provided to us was made with oatmeal, but I decided to use an almond-based recipe by Nick Malgieri instead and sprinkled the cookies while they were baking with pinches of black sesame seeds. They lend an earthy quality (and lovely visual contrast) to the sweet cookie that goes very well with the herbal green tea and tart raspberry jelly.
I was very pleased with how this dessert turned out and would definitely make it again. You can find my adapted recipes here (PDF).