Sunday, 27 February 2011

Daring Bakers Feb. 2011 - Panna Cotta with florentine cookies

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 chose to make a vanilla panna cotta with layers of apple and banana puree, wish I did just by pureeing the fruits with a bit of honey and adding a bit of gelatin to be more consistent as suggested in the recipe. The layers in my panna cotta didn´t come out perfect, but it was delicious.
i was checking the other peoples pictures in the Daring Kitchen forums, and almost everyone turned out with giant florentine cookies. Mine actually came out in a decent size. I just decorated them with dark chocolate instead of making the cookie sandwiches. 

You can check out the base recipes here.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Homemade butter is pure physics

Milk is a wonderful, complex thing. It is basically an emulsion of proteins, lipids (fats), vitamins and some ions like calcium. And what is an emulsion? Well in short is a stable mixture of immiscible components, lets say like the water and the fat in the milk. We all know that water and fat don´t like mixing (just pour some olive oil in water), so what´s the trick here? The fat in the milk is dispersed in small globules that are stabilized by phospholipids. Phospholipids are bipolar compounds that have hydrophilic (likes water) and hydrophobic (hates water) parts. So they can form little pockets to stabilize the fat in the water of the milk, hence forming the nice white emulsion in your caffe latte.

So to make butter you have to separate the butter from the milk (or cream), meaning, you have to break the small pockets holding the fat globules and let them aggregate and separate from the water part of the milk.

For that we have to use a bit of force...
In this case I used a high fat cream. Cream is easier to use than milk for making butter, because the cream is already a step ahead in separation of fat from the milk. So choose something with at least 35% fat.

Then all you have to do is beat the cream like you would do for making whipping cream (but don´t add the sugar...). First you will see a nice whipped cream, then it will start curdling a bit and if you keep going you will see a separation of the fat aggregate and a white turbid solution.

This watery solution is buttermilk. Save it and use it to do, for example, a nice soda bread.
Now all you have to do is wash the butter with cold water (but discard this washing water), until the washing water comes out more or less clean.

You can also season the butter with salt, or even some herbs. In this example I used around 400 ml of 35% fresh cream, and in the end I got 200 ml of buttermilk and around 150 gr of butter. Half of it I just seasoned with a bit of salt, and the other half i added a mixture of herbs, pepper and salt.
With the buttermilk I am doing some nice muffins.... you´ll see them later.

Thursday, 3 February 2011


When I was in Palermo some weeks ago, I tried this wonderful fennel and orange risotto that I didn´t rest until I tried to replicate it at home. It turned out really good, but I was not fast enough for taking pictures... so I will leave the recipe sometime later when I do it again.

Anyways, there were some leftovers. Honestly risotto is the type of thing that doesn´t taste the same reheated, at least to me. So I remembered of another typical Sicilian recipe which is the Arancini. These are fried risotto balls with either some cheese or meat inside. Here I show the simplest way of making them, which I got inspiration from in this nice book I bought while in Sicily.

Warning: close your eyes if you are on a diet...

Arancini with cheese

adapted from the book "Treasures of Sicilian cuisine"


Leftovers of risotto (in this case around 4 tablespoons)
1 egg
cheese in little cubes (to taste)
oil to fry

Mix the risotto with the beaten egg. If you see that the mixture is too liquid add some breadcrumbs to thicken a bit. For each arancini use more or less 1 tablespoon of the mixture. Shape it into a ball and in the middle add 1 or 2 cubes of cheese. Round it up, and pass it through the breadcrumbs until it is well covered. Fry it in hot oil until golden.


Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Soda bread pizza and Chemistry lesson #1

For those of you who didn´t notice, this year is the International Year of Chemistry and a lot of activities about it are taking place along the year all over the world. Besides, Mainz is the City of Science (Stadt der Wissenschaft) this year in Germany. So I guess a little celebration or contribution is in order.

Along this year (let´s see if after 1 month I still remember this...) I will occasionally post something related either with chemistry in our daily lives or more specifically with chemistry in the kitchen. And believe me there is a lot to tell! Basically every meal you cook is a small experiment, where without knowing (or maybe you do) you are applying very basic chemical and physical concepts.

So to start Chemistry 101 we have a Soda Bread recipe.

I personally prefer 1000 times yeasted bread. There is a complexity of flavors that you cannot achieve other way than with the help of the little yeast cells (but that will be in another lesson).
But if you are a lazy busy person, then maybe you would like to have a fast solution for a tasty homemade bread.
The Soda Bread is fast done, with no need for proofing time. And why? Because instead of enslaving the yeast cells to produce carbon dioxide for you, you will use the reaction between the sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and the acid from the buttermilk.
Buttermilk is very rich in lactic acid (CH3CH(OH)COOH) when this comes in contact with the sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3) they react forming a lot of carbon dioxide (CO2) which being a gas, is what makes your bread fluffy.
This is a textbook example of a acid-base reaction. So your overall reaction would be something like this:

   base      +               acid                →                salt                 + water + CO2

there is actually a really nice kitchen experiment that you can do to demonstrate this concept, just go ahead and mix a bit of baking powder with vinegar...

But moving on to the recipe, I made this little pizzas with a mixture of white and wholemeal flour. But you can also use any other flour variation you want, and even add some grains to it for a more healthy version.

Soda Bread mini-pizza

Ingredients for bread:

120 gr of white flour
120 gr of wholemeal flour
1 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of baking powder
200 mL of buttermilk

Homemade tomato sauce
grilled red peppers
chopped mushrooms
feta cheese

Pre-heat the oven to 200 °C.
In a bowl mix the flours, salt and baking powder. Add the buttermilk and mix all ingredients well until the flour is fully hydrated. If you feel the dough is too humid and hard to shape, incorporate a bit more of flour until it has the right consistency.
Roll the dough to the shape you want (wither a big pizza, or 2 to 3 mini pizzas), spread the tomato sauce and place the other ingredients on top.
Bake for 25 minutes or until the edges are starting to get golden.