Sunday, February 27, 2011

It Has Been A Creamy Dreamy Crunchy Sweet February


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.


As a little girl, whenever I used to visit my grandmother in the winter, she would take me to a specific Deli in New Jersey which was known for its fabulous selection of cookies.  My usual pick was the Florentine, so I was very excited when I first read this month's challenge because it has been years since my last bite! 


While my attention was focused on the Florentines, the Panna Cotta was also a pleasant surprise.  This dessert is rich yet still very light and so smooth.  It pairs very well with the sweet and crunchy Florentine. 

Chocolate Panna Cotta
adapted from Bon Appetit

Ingredients

1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon unflavored powdered gelatin
2 cups whipping cream
½ cup sugar
¾ cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
½ teaspoon coconut extract

Directions

Pour milk into a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over the top (no need to stir at this point), set aside for 2-5 minutes.  Place a medium saucepan over medium heat, stir in cream, sugar and vanilla. Bring to a low boil.  Add chocolate and whisk until melted. Whisk the milk/gelatin mixture into chocolate cream mixture. Whisk until gelatin has dissolved.

Transfer to ramekins, or nice glasses for serving.  Cover and chill at least 8 hours, or overnight.


Florentine Cookies

adapted from the cookbook “Nestle Classic Recipes”, and their website

Ingredients

2/3 cup unsalted butter
2 cups quick oats
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup flour
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
1/4 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1½ cups milk chocolate

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Prepare your baking sheet with parchment paper.  Melt butter in a medium saucepan, and then remove from the heat.  To the melted butter add oats, sugar, flour, corn syrup, milk, vanilla, and salt. Mix well.

Drop a teaspoon full, three inches apart, onto your prepared baking sheet. Flatten slightly with the back of your spoon, or use a spatula.  Bake in preheated oven for 6-8 minutes, until cookies are golden brown. Cool completely on the baking sheets.  If you would like to shape your cookies then take a cookie cutter or a small glass and make an imprint in the cookie about 2 minutes after removing from the oven.  Once completely cooled you can then break away the ragged edges and save those delicious extra bits to serve as a garnish for another dessert!

While the cookies are cooling melt your chocolate until smooth either in the microwave or stovetop.  Take the cookies from baking sheet and place face down on a wire rack set over a sheet of wax/parchment paper (to keep counters clean).  Spread a tablespoon of chocolate on the bottom/flat side of your cookie, sandwiching another (flat end) cookie atop the chocolate.

This recipe will make about 2 1/2 - 3 dozen sandwiched Florentine cookies.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Chocolate Marshmallow Bark


I hope everyone enjoyed their Valentine's Day and either made or received delicious treats!  While I was engaged in making the treats, I did receive a great surprise in the middle of a very hectic Valentine's workday when I received an email that I won a Food Network blogger contest for my post on Oreo Truffles!  Thank you Food Network for the amazing gift package including cookbooks, DVD's, and other foodie goodies.  I cannot wait to get into the kitchen and try out my new tools.


If you went all out for Valentine's Day and made a very complicated dessert, maybe you're now looking for something super simple yet still super sweet.  If that's the case then I have the perfect recipe for you.  This Chocolate Marshmallow Bark couldn't be any easier even if you tried!  And the taste may send you right over the edge.   Each bite that consists of smooth and creamy marshmallow contrasted by bittersweet chocolate makes for the most amazing combination!


You'll be puzzled as to how something so rich can be created from only 3 ingredients; but I swear it's for real.  Go ahead and give it a try!  

Chocolate Marshmallow Bark
adapted from Weight Watchers
(4 PointsPlus per serving)

Ingredients

8 oz. bittersweet or dark chocolate
2 tsp butter
3 cups mini-marshmallow

Directions

Line a 9- X 9-inch pan with aluminum foil. 

In a double boiler, melt the chocolate and butter over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until thoroughly combined.  Remove from the heat and stir in marshmallows. 

Scrape the chocolate mixture into the prepared pan using a spatula; smooth into a somewhat even layer.  Refrigerate until the chocolate sets, at least 1 hour.  Keep refrigerated until ready to eat. Cut into 12 pieces and serve. Yields 1 piece per serving (4 PointsPlus per serving).


The bark becomes very soft pretty quickly, so be sure to eat right out of the fridge or you'll find your hands coated in chocolate. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Oreo Truffles


I initially came across the Oreo Truffle a few years ago while I was visiting my family in Florida for a weekend.  My mother was looking for an easy dessert to whip up for our dinner that evening when my aunt suggested Oreo Truffles.  After hearing her describe these truffles I thought of a few things: 

1)      There is no way that mixing cream cheese and Oreos could taste good!

2)      How in the world is this in the category of ‘easy’?

Well, I’ll be the first to admit – these truffles aren’t gross or difficult to make.  In reality, these truffles are absolutely delicious and super simple!


I must not have paid close attention when my mother and aunt went to work in the kitchen that evening in Florida because I encountered a few minor challenges during my first solo attempt at making these truffles:

1)      I started mixing the cream cheese and crushed Oreos with a wooden spoon and it took forever.

2)      When I shaped the mixture into balls I realized most of the mixture ended up on my hands and not in a nice round "ball" shape.

3)      After being rolled in chocolate and placed on the baking sheet, I discovered that my truffles looked like uneven globs with the truffle center poking through in certain places.


I prepared the truffles for a dinner party I was hosting and was a bit nervous about my guests’ reactions; but once debuted, my guests oohed and aahed and claimed the truffles were the best dessert of mine they had ever tasted.  Yet, I knew I could do better!  I am a true believer in a beautiful presentation to match a magnificent taste, so before I tried the recipe again I sat down and thought about how to overcome my previous challenges.  The solutions I came up with will surely enable even the "worst cook" to make this recipe more beautiful and delicious:

1)       After the slow process of mixing with a wooden spoon during my first attempt, I figured using my hands to mix the Oreos and cream cheese would prove to be much faster.  After a few squishes and flips with my hands during attempt number two, the mixture was ready in no time. 

2)       I realized that during my first attempt the mixture got all over my hands and formed odd shapes instead of rounded balls because the mixture was too warm and too soft.  To avoid this, during attempt number two, I placed the mixture in the fridge for about 30 minutes before shaping into balls.  After rolling about 10-20 I placed the mixture back in the fridge for another 30 minutes to firm up again.  This extra time in the fridge before rolling really helped me form almost perfectly rounded balls.

3)       I figured solving challenge number two would improve the outlook for challenge number three, but I also went a step further.  I realized I was being cautious when rolling the balls in the melted chocolate during attempt number one, so for attempt number two I dropped each ball straight into the chocolate mixture, submerging it completely.  I then used one spoon to remove the ball and simply tapped the spoon a few times to remove the excess chocolate.  I slid the ball onto the baking sheet without worrying about removing all of the excess chocolate on the spoon, letting it slide off onto the truffle or the baking sheet.  This led to a smooth and rounded chocolate coating.   


While these challenges may seem daunting and the solutions may seem tedious, you have my word that this recipe is simple, and of course, worth every bite!  The smooth and creamy center wrapped in a hardened chocolate shell, with beautiful piping on top, is not only gorgeous to look at, but even more scrumptious to taste.  The look on the faces of those who will try these truffles is all you need to prove your effort's worth.  I have since made these truffles several more times, experimenting with various Oreo flavors and chocolate coatings.  So for this Valentine’s Day, I will be making a couple of batches, including the Mint and Vanilla that I made for this post.  These are the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for friends, family, or significant others.


For more Valentine's Day ideas and tips for amateur bakers, tune-in to the Food Network's "Sweet Surprises" episode of Worst Cooks in America, premiering this Sunday, February 13th at 9 PM ET/PT. 

Oreo Truffles
adapted from Kraft Foods

Ingredients

1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1 package Oreo cookies*
16 oz. semi-sweet chocolate**

*You can use any type of Oreo cookies with this recipe- regular, chocolate, mint, or vanilla.  I used one package of vanilla and one package of mint.
**I coated the Vanilla Oreos with white chocolate and the Mint Oreos with semi-sweet chocolate.

Directions

Place the entire package of Oreos in a food processor or blender and pulse until crushed completely.  If you do not have a food processor or blender, you can also place the cookies in a plastic bag and use a rolling pin to crush the cookies.

Pour the crushed cookies into a bowl and mix with the cream cheese until well blended.  You should start by using a spoon, but may need to use your hands to ensure the cream cheese is evenly distributed.  Place the bowl in the fridge for about 30 minutes to firm up.

Shape the mixture into 48 (1 inch) balls and place in the freezer for 30-60 minutes.  While rolling, if you feel the mixture is becoming too soft, simply place the bowl in the fridge until the mixture becomes more firm. 

Shortly before removing the balls from the freezer, melt the chocolate either in a double boiler or in the microwave.  If using the microwave, heat in 30 second intervals and stir in between.  Do this until the chocolate is completely melted.  Take the melted chocolate and set aside for 1 minute.  Now you can dip each ball into the melted chocolate and place on a wax or parchment paper lined baking sheet.  You should have leftover chocolate.  

Place the baking sheet in the fridge for 30-60 minutesShortly before removing the baking sheet from the fridge, take the remaining melted chocolate and if it has hardened you can place it in the microwave for 5-20 seconds.  Wait a few minutes for it to cool and then place in a ziploc bag and cut a small hole in one corner.  Remove the balls from the fridge and pipe the chocolate on top of each ball.

Refrigerate for about 15 minutes and then you're ready to serve!


Below you can see both the Mint and Vanilla Oreo Truffles cut open.


You can see that the Oreo Truffles have a soft and creamy center surrounded by a hard chocolate shell.
 

I piped zigzag lines on top of each truffle, but you can pipe any type of pattern that you'd like.  Because I made two kinds of truffles with two different chocolates, I chose to pipe the opposite chocolate from what I used for the chocolate shell.