Saturday, February 28, 2009

Lavender-Shallot Panna Cotta with Caramelized Oranges


I just heard about the wonderful Festa Italiana being hosted by Maryann of Finding la Dolce Vita and Marie of Proud Italian Cook, and thought I would send my two recipes for savory panna cotta and biscotti their way.

This month's Royal Foodie Joust, presided over as always by The Leftover Queen has been a lot of fun. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the three magic ingredients for the March Joust are shallots, orange citrus, and edible flowers. As soon as I saw the words "edible flowers," I instantly remembered a delicious-beyond-words lavender ice cream I made a few years ago. I knew then that my dish would have to have lavender in it. I love the taste and smell of lavender: it's so clean and pure!

I also knew that this was the perfect excuse to order some breathtaking candied flowers from Meadowsweets, a NY business that grows and hand-crystallizes their own flowers year round.

I saw the most beautiful wedding cake in Gourmet magazine years ago that was decorated with Meadowsweets flowers, and have been dying for an excuse to use them ever since! Also, it is apparently impossible to get decent fresh edible flowers here in NC. When DS and I went shopping, we did find a package with the herbs, but they were not only wilted, but covered with fuzzy blue mold. (Ewww!)

So it was with great excitement and anticipation that I placed my first order with Meadowsweets, for johnny-jump-ups (miniature pansies) and candied lavender. I knew the colors would be gorgeous with what I was planning. Toni, the very nice person at Meadowsweets, thought my idea sounded wonderful, and I promised to email the recipe and photos. I was equally excited when my flowers came. Is this not a cool box?
And look how pretty these candied flowers are!

(They're resting on a bed of shredded paper and covered in white tulle)
My idea was for a savory panna cotta flavored with lavender and shallots, with an orangey, caramel-y sauce. Recently WF was "sampling" a delicious triple-creme cheese with a wonderful fig and nut conserve poured on top and served with crackers: the perfect combination of savory, creamy-smooth, rich, sweet, salty and crunchy. That's exactly what I wanted for this dish, which is intended to serve as an appetizer/first course. (Of course, DC and I ate it for lunch, but after taking photos, we couldn't let it go to waste, now, could we?) To go along with my panna cotta, I developed a recipe for Black Pepper, Lemon, and Walnut Biscotti, to give some crunch and spice to the smooth, rich, eggless custard.

When I went shopping for provisions, I was so lucky! WF had just gotten in a shipment of hypnotically fragrant Meyer lemons, a rare treat on this side of the country! I adore them. They are actually a cross between an orange and a lemon, and they have a wonderful, citrusy flavor that is all their own. Smelling them, I recall a time when I was deeply poverty-stricken and living in CA, pretty much subsisting on the avocados and meyer lemons from the trees in my boyfriend's back yard. (Ah, the folly of youth! :) ) Another lucky find was some ripe, fresh Cara Cara oranges. I LOVE the flavor, and most of all, the color of Cara Caras, with their deep pink tones. There was also fresh thyme, fresh chives, and some marvelous Cypress Grove artisanal chevre (fresh goat cheese) called Purple Haze, which just happens to be flavored with lavender and fennel pollen. In fact, when I told the folks at the cheese counter what I was planning for the Purple Haze, they oohed and ahhed and begged me to give them the recipe. Now I was committed (or is that fit to be committed? I forget which ;) ) for sure!

Here is my original recipe for

Lavender-Shallot Panna Cotta with Caramelized Oranges and Burnt Orange Sauce

2 T dried lavender flowers
1 c. heavy cream
2 t. unflavored gelatin powder
5 T freshly-squeezed lemon juice, preferably meyer lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon (preferably meyer lemon)
1 c. whole milk
4 oz. fresh chevre (goat cheese), softened (such as Cypress Grove Purple Haze)
2 T + 1 T finely minced shallot
1 T minced chives

For the Lavender-Thyme Burnt-Orange sauce and Caramelized Oranges:
2 large oranges (I used Cara Caras)
3/4 c. freshly-squeezed orange juice (from about 2 lg. oranges)
Grated zest from 2 lg. oranges
1/3 c. fresh lemon juice, from about 1 1/2 lemons (I used Meyer lemons)
1 t. dried lavender flowers
1 vanilla bean
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
Fresh ground black pepper
pinch of salt
2 T water
1 1/2 t. light corn syrup
1/2 c. sugar

First, let's make the Panna Cotta.

Spray 4 4oz. custard cups with nonstick spray and set aside.

Make the lavender cream: in a small saucepan, place the heavy cream and 2 T of dried lavender flowers. Bring to a boil over medium heat. When the mixture comes to a boil, remove from the heat and allow to steep for 15 minutes. Strain the cream through a fine mesh strainer to remove the lavender buds and set aside. (Discard the lavender.)

Next, sprinkle the gelatin over the 5 T of fresh lemon juice and set aside to soften.

In a small, heavy saucepan, combine the lavender cream, whole milk, 2 T of shallots, and softened goat cheese. Stir over medium low heat until the goat cheese is melted and the mixture is warmed through. Add kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.

Add the gelatin and lemon juice to the pan and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved, about 2 minutes. Taste and add more salt and pepper as needed.

Pour the mixture into a glass measure and allow to cool to lukewarm, about 15 minutes.

Add the lemon zest, the remaining minced shallot, and the chives to the panna cotta base. Mix thoroughly, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Pour the panna cotta mixture into the custard cups and allow to cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for several hours, or overnight.

Now, it's time to make the Caramelized Oranges and the Lavender-Thyme Burnt Orange Sauce for the panna cotta.

I decided that in addition to the caramelized oranges and burnt orange sauce, it might be nice to have some candied orange slices for a garnish as well. They have to be paper thin, so I used my food processor to slice them, mostly successfully. You can see the stack of slices towards the back. I was saving my Cara Caras for the caramelized oranges, so I used a regular Navel here (the mostly whole orange on the right is a Cara Cara I was just starting to peel.)

The orange slices for the candied oranges go into a wide, shallow skillet filled with 1 1/3 c. water and 2/3 c. sugar. You bring the water to a boil, add the orange slices, and let them cook for an hour, then turn and let them cook for another hour.

I think these are almost done

OK, back to the caramelized oranges. It seems really hard to do this, but you have to get all the peel and the white pith off the oranges so they'll look pretty and won't be bitter. (It seems like you are losing so much of your orange, but you must be ruthless.)
The best way I have found to peel the oranges is to use a sharp, serrated knife to first cut off the north and south poles, then cut straight down the sides to get the peel and white stuff off.

After they are all peeled, slice the oranges cross-wise into ½ in. slices. Set the oranges aside in a heat-proof bowl.

Place the fresh orange juice in a glass measure and set it near the stove with a long-handled ladle.

In a heavy saucepan (NOT non-stick), combine the fresh lemon juice, sugar, water, and corn syrup. Stir to combine.

Make a bouquet-garni of the lavender flowers and the fresh thyme.

Add it to the saucepan, along with a vanilla bean, and bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

Allow the vanilla bean and bouquet-garni to steep until large bubbles begin to form on the surface of the syrup. Remove the vanilla bean and the bouquet garni, and reserve.

Continue to boil the syrup until it is a deep amber color.

Immediately pour the juice into the bowl of the ladle and add it to the boiling syrup, being careful not to get burned. Repeat with rhe remaining orange juice.

7. Bring the syrup back to a boil, and add the vanilla bean and bouquet-garni back to the syrup.

Boil until reduced and thickened, about 5 minutes. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
Remove the bouquet garnie and discard.

10. Pour the burnt-orange syrup and vanilla over the sliced oranges.

Cool to room temperature and then cover with plastic wrap and chill for several hours.

Remove the candied oranges from the syrup, and put them on a wax-paper covered cooling rack to dry.

Serve the panna cotta with the caramelized oranges and lavender-thyme burnt orange sauce, with some Black Pepper, Lemon and Walnut Biscotti on the side.

Lavender-Shallot Panna Cotta with Burnt Orange Sauce and Caramelizes Oranges

A silky and savory panna cotta celebrates the flavors of ...

See Lavender-Shallot Panna Cotta with Burnt Orange Sauce and Caramelizes Oranges on Key Ingredient.

Black Pepper, Lemon and Walnut Biscotti

Savory, slightly sweet biscotti made with cracked black pepper, lemon ...

See Black Pepper, Lemon and Walnut Biscotti on Key Ingredient.

Oaxacan Fire Biscuit-Dough Cinnamon Buns with Hazlenut Praline Frosting

I can't decide whether to call these plain old Mexican Chocolate Biscuit-Dough Cinnamon Buns or stick with the Oaxcan Fire thing. Because these are definitely not your grandma's cinnamon buns! Continuing to play with the chocolate-chile comibination, I designed a spicy mix of Special Dark cocoa, dark brown sugar, ancho, chipotle, and cayenne chile powders along with cinnamon and pecans to fill these cinnamon rolls.

I also couldn't decide what to glaze them with. My initial idea was to make some homemade cajeta, which is an amazingly delicious caramel made from goat's milk that is popular in Mexico. However, I realize that while I may be perfectly happy to spend 2 hrs. making cajeta from scratch, most people probably would not. You can purchase it ready-made in a can, but it's hard to find. My next thought was a burnt-orange cream cheese frosting. But something about the caramel idea kept nagging at me in the back of my mind, when I suddenly remembered praline powder I had made once to gild whipped cream. It might be just the thing for adding a nice nutty, caramel flavor to some cream cheese frosting.

I actually ended up making both frostings, (burnt orange and hazelnut pralinee). DC thought the pralinee tasted best with the buns, so I went with that. (The photos with the orange plate have the orange frosting, the ones with the green plate have the pralinee.)

These buns are really pretty easy to make. Although to me nothing is better than yeast-raised cinnamon buns, this biscuit-dough version is almost as good. The dough is really soft, so don't get discouraged if it starts tearing when you try to roll everything up. You can just kind of squeeze things back together, and it will still taste good.

Oaxacan Fire Biscuit-Dough Cinnamon Rolls with Hazelnut Praline Frosting

First, let's make our hazlenut praline powder. This can be done the day (or even weeks, it keeps well if tightly covered) ahead. You will need:
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. hazelnuts (without skins)

If your hazelnuts have skin on them, dip them in boiling water for 1 minute to loosen the skins, then rub briskly with a kitchen towel to remove the skins.

Place the hazelnuts, and sugar in a small, heavy (NOT NONSTICK) saucepan. Cook, stirring, over medium heat until sugar starts to melt.

Keep stirring, until all the sugar is melted. Allow to boil, without stirring, until the sugar turns a beautiful amber color. Immediately remove from the heat.

Pour onto a greased baking pan and allow to cool on a rack until completely cool.

When hardened and cool, break the praline into pieces. Place them in a food processor and pulverize into golden dust. Set aside.


Praline powder: gold dust!

Now, let's work on the rolls. These are SO easy to make: you don't even have to cut in any shortening, since the heavy cream takes the place of both fat and liquid.

Mix together the self-rising flour and the sugar in a medium bowl.

Add the cream and mix to make a soft dough. If the dough seems very wet, sprinkle on a couple of tablespoons of flour. If it's too dry, add a T or so of cream.

Knead in the bowl 3-4 times.

Get a sheet of wazed paper 19-20 in. long, and sprinkle generously with flour. Place the dough on the floured waxed paper.
With a well-floured rolling pin, roll the dough evenly into a rectangle 10 in. wide by 18 in. long, with the long side facing you.

Pick up the dough using the waxed paper and place on a baking sheet, covering with another sheet of waxed paper. Refrigerate for 20 min. to firm up the dough.

Spray a 9" round cake pan with nonstick spray, and preheat the oven to 425F.

Mix the filing: in a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon, ancho, chipotle and cayenne chile powders, and a pinch of salt. Mix well with a whisk.

Meanwhile, make the Hazelnut Praline Cream Cheese Frosting.
Mix the softened cream cheese, buttermilk, vanilla, and powdered sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer, using the whisk attachment.

Add the praline powder, and mix until smooth.

Set the frosting aside.

Once the dough is ready to come out of the fridge, remove it, on the waxed paper, from the baking sheet. Remove the top sheet of waxed paper.
Brush the dough with 1 T of the melted butter
and sprinkle with the cinnamon mixture.
Sprinkle on the toasted pecans.

Using the waxed paper as an aid, pick up the long side nearest you and roll up the dough and the filling into a tight cylinder, jelly-roll style.

Using a sharp, serrated knife, slice the dough into 1" slices. Place the slices cut-side down in the prepared cake pan.
Brush the rolls with the remaining 2 T of melted butter.

Bake for 20 min., or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Cool in the pan on a rack for 15 minutes.

Invert the pan onto a plate, then invert again onto a serving platter.

While still warm, spread with the Hazelnut Praline Cream Cheese Frosting.


Mexican Chocolate Biscuit-Dough Cinnamon Buns with Hazelnut Praline Frosting

Rich, sweet biscuit dough is rolled around a chocolate, chile-cinnamon-pecan ...

See Mexican Chocolate Biscuit-Dough Cinnamon Buns with Hazelnut Praline Frosting on Key Ingredient.

Burnt-Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

Orange caramel frosting perfect for cinnamon buns.

See Burnt-Orange Cream Cheese Frosting on Key Ingredient.

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