Tuesday, March 1, 2011

COFFEE PANNA COTTA with Bittersweet Mocha Sauce

And Cappuccino Chocolate Chunk Biscotti


The blazing sun streams through the hazy oval of window and stretches across the book open on the small square of table in front of me as we dip down towards earth. The land below me rises upwards, offering me a carpet of geometric, well-defined, sharp-angled patches of cream, almond, caramel and toffee only broken here and there by the occasional vibrant, lush rectangle of jade or lime. A maddening deep, dark squiggle cuts a swath through the landscape like a drizzle of bittersweet chocolate, hinting of the Dark Continent. Mountains push up from the ground in craggy relief like some smart kid’s junior high science project giving form to the flatness that stretches out before me.

The plane dips once again, leaning in closer to the horizon as my eyes search for the ocean, the same ocean that kisses the scorching sand that reaches out to form the beach where I grew up somewhere far, far away, the other side of the world. The same ocean that batters the rocks off the Brittany coast where we spend holidays, the same waters that offer us plump crabs and tiny black bigorneaux that we scoop up and eat by the dozens back home in France. But catching sight of that deep blue body of water here seems unreal, as surreal as the backdrop of mountains everywhere I turn, mountains that are always there, unexpectedly, behind houses, beaches, vineyards, everywhere as if painted against the sky in some monstrous photographic studio and we are meant to turn around and smile at the camera. The image is jarring and makes my entire week seem an illusion, everyone acting a well-scripted part on some stage, the curtains parting as each change of scenery is wheeled into place, the lights raised or lowered, the wind machine snapped on or off, but all the while that wall of painted mountains looms over us.

I clutch anxiously at my good luck pendant hanging loosely on a thin silver chain around my neck and whisper my little prayer. This is all I have to hang on to, what gets me through these long hours above the ground, I who am terrified to fly yet so desperately want to travel. And here I am, back in Africa. I don’t often think of my other trip to this continent all those years ago, before I married, when I brazenly fled to Nigeria to be with someone I thought maybe I loved. I knew as soon as I landed that I loved another but spent enough time in that curious place, exploring that darkly dangerous country to feel a wide-eyed awe and mysterious fascination with all that is unknown, exotic, treacherous. But this new experience, this return to Africa, well, I knew that I would be in careful, safe, loving hands. And from all that I had heard, this Africa was rich in culture and fine food, gorgeous summer weather, sandy beaches and extremely happy friends.

Colleen and Donald, my wonderful, generous hosts, met this exhausted, bedraggled, woozy excuse for a food blogger at the airport, tucked me into the front seat (Wrong side, Donald!) and zipped off into a brilliantly sunny Cape Town summer day. Palm trees flew by me, beautiful palm trees waving gently in the breeze reminding me of Florida yet not, the car only slowing down as we approached their part of the city when suddenly a gorgeous vista opened up on my left: False Bay, a tiny cove-like beach and port upon whose rocks the Indian Ocean waves were crashing furiously. The Indian Ocean! Who would have ever thought that I would actually see the Indian Ocean with my very own eyes? Table Mountain loomed above on my right, growing ever closer as we pulled into their driveway, standing majestically, protectively behind their warm, friendly home.
Colleen & Donald, a stellar comedy team, fabulous entertainment
and the two most generous people I have ever met. Thank you both!

The two days leading up to the Indaba, the South African Food & Wine Bloggers’ Conference, was filled with activity as I tried to catch my breath. I spent one day with Colleen and family furiously filling goodie bags, organizing stacks of cookbooks and magazines, arranging boxes of wine that kept arriving at the door, oooohing and ahhhing over all the amazing goodies that filled her house from wall to wall, floor to ceiling, threatening to take over the Grove home completely, mercilessly. Colleen sat morning, noon and night at her computer, cell phone pressed to one ear, sucking on a never-ending bottle of water, her only sustenance, and trying to keep her nerves under control while tying up last-minute details. Her wonderful husband, ever cheerful even under pressure and the most trying of times, organized, ran errands, drove all over Cape Town in search of the last boxes of goodies and gifts, and proved himself totally indispensable, as passionate about this event as any dedicated food or wine blogger. And through it all, there were always perfectly mixed mugs of café au lait magically appearing for me on the kitchen counter.

Saturday I spent with Jeanne, Nick and family and friends out on Franschhoek in the Winelands, lunching at a lovely restaurant overlooking vineyards with the ever-present backdrop of mountains. The evening was spent at Nick’s mom’s home where he put together a wonderful braai for us and a couple of friends. We talked late into the night, the music from some distant concert enveloping us in the darkness, our own laughter filling in the spaces in between.

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 Nestlé Florentine Cookies. I, of course, long a panna cotta lover, chose to make a wonderful Café au Lait version of this luscious, creamy dessert with the addition of a fabulous Bittersweet Mocha Sauce drizzled over the Panna Cotta which created the perfect dark edge to the lovely, light coffee flavor of the panna cotta. As the Florentine Cookie recipe called for corn syrup which I have never been able to find in France I decided to add a crunchy side to the Panna Cotta with very Italian Chocolate Chip Cappuccino Biscotti. Here is to a wonderful week in Cape Town drinking perfect Café au Lait as well as many cups of bittersweet coffee swallowed one after the other on the plane down and back up as well as several to kick start my old routine once I returned to Terra Firma and home.

I was honored to be interviewed by the very cool people at Chudleigh’s, the apple farm and bakery outside of Toronto. Hop over to their Chudleigh’s Blossom Blog to read my interview!

Don’t miss the latest developments over at From Plate to Page! We recently announced and introduced our newest sponsor: Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board who is generously partnering with us at From Plate to Page so we can make this the best hands-on workshop for food bloggers, writers, stylists and photographers ever! And our latest guest post is from fabulous food stylist and creative director Robin Zachary who lets you into her… Prop Closet.

And one more thing: I want to thank each and every one of you who took your time to go to the Blogger’s Choice site and vote for Life’s a Feast. Yes, I am nominated for a Blogger’s Choice Award in the category of Best Food Blog. If you enjoy my blog and haven’t yet voted, I do hope that I can count on your vote! And know how very much I appreciate it!

Stay tuned for Return to Africa – Part II.

COFFEE PANNA COTTA with Bittersweet Mocha Sauce

1 cup (250 ml) whole milk
1 tablespoon (8 g) unflavored powdered gelatin
3 cups (750 ml) whipping cream (whole fat heavy cream)
1/3 cup (80 ml) honey
1 tablespoon (15 gm) granulated sugar
pinch of salt
2 tsps instant espresso powder or more to taste

Prepare 6 to 8 ramekins or individual bowls or demitasse cups. If you want to be able to turn the Panna Cotta out of the bowl or ramekin, run the bowl under cold running water, pour and shake the water out but do not dry.

Pour the milk into a medium-sized saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over the milk. Whisk quickly and lightly just so it is all wet and then allow to sit for 5 minutes. This softens the gelatin. Place the saucepan over medium heat and, whisking gently, allow the milk to heat until it is hot but not boiling, 5 more minutes. The yellow shiny splotches of gelatin floating on the surface will disappear when the gelatin is completely melted/dissolved.

Add the cream, honey, sugar, pinch of salt and 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder to the hot milk and continue to heat, stirring, until the honey, sugar and espresso have dissolved. Taste and add more espresso powder if you desire a stronger coffee flavor.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow to cool for several minutes. Whisk to combine well before pouring into the glasses, bowls, cups or ramekins. I always find it much easier to pour the liquid into a glass or Pyrex measuring cup with a spout and pour from that instead of directly from the saucepan.

Cover each bowl or ramekin with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or, ideally, overnight.

A half hour or so before serving, prepare the Bittersweet Mocha Sauce. Once the Sauce has been made and chilled, serve the Panna Cotta, each drizzled with the Sauce and a Cappuccino Biscotto or two.


2 ounces (60 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, or more to taste
¾ cup (200 ml) heavy whipping cream
2 tsps instant espresso powder
1 Tbs to ¼ cup (50 g) granulated sugar to taste

Coarsely chop the chocolate and place it in a small saucepan with the heavy cream, the espresso powder and 1 tablespoon sugar. Heat very gently over medium-low heat, whisking or stirring, until the chocolate, sugar and espresso have all melted and dissolved. Taste, adding sugar until desired sweetness. Remove from the heat, allow to cool for a few minutes, stir again and pour into a glass measuring cup, bowl or jar and refrigerate until just cool enough to serve over the chilled Panna Cotta.

Makes 25 to 30 biscotti

2 cups (280 g) flour
¾ cup (150 g) granulated white sugar
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
Rounded ½ tsp ground cinnamon, optional
1 rounded tsp instant espresso powder or instant coffee powder
Rounded ½ cup (3 ½ oz, 100 g) mini chocolate chips or coarsely chopped chocolate
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
Cinnamon-sugar for dusting, optional

Preheat oven to 300°F (150°C) and place the rack in the center of the oven. Line a baking/cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and the vanilla extract.

In a large mixing bowl, blend the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and coffee powder/granules and whisk together or beat with an electric mixer on low for 20 or 30 seconds to combine well. Stir in the chocolate chips or chunks.

Whisk the eggs until blended and whisk in the vanilla. Pour this over the dry ingredients and, using a fork or wooden spoon, stir until all of the dry ingredients are moistened and begin to pull together and form a dough. Scrape out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead very briefly until you have a smooth, well-blended dough. Do not add in too much flour, just enough that this sticky dough can be handled.

Divide the dough in half. With floured hands on the lightly floured work surface, form each ball of dough into a log about 10 inches (25 cm) long and 2 inches (5 cm) wide. Carefully transfer the logs onto the prepared baking sheet spacing them about 3 inches (7.5 cm) apart to allow for spreading.

I sprinkle the surface with granulated sugar and ground cinnamon which gives the final, crispy outside of the biscotti a sweet, cinnamony touch.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until firm to the touch. They should have puffed up and spread out a bit. Remove from the oven – do not turn the oven off – and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
Transfer the logs, one at a time, to a wooden cutting board. With a good, serrated knife, cut each log crosswise on the diagonal into ¾ inch (2 cm)-wide slices. Cut slowly and carefully to avoid the biscotti breaking or crumbling.

Arrange the slices on the lined baking sheet cut sides up (you can place them close together as they will no longer spread) and bake for 10 minutes. Open the oven and flip all of the slices over, slide back into the oven and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool.

These can easily be stored for days and days in an airtight, preferably metal cookie tin.


doggybloggy said...

as usual - one beautiful photo after another and as usual another stunning creation - as usual.

Happy Cook said...

Loved reading aobut your trip to S.Africa and I am looking forward to part 2. And the pannacotta looks so so yumm.

sanjeeta kk said...

What a lovely Panna cotta! Need time to go through all the wonderful links you have provided in the post, Jamie. Beautiful pictures.

Jess said...

That looks really yummy!

Ciao Chow Linda said...

what a great trip and that dessert - oh that dessert. That coffee panna cotta, so unctuous, so luscious with that chocolate sauce dribbling down - has got to be my favorite way to eat panna cotta.

Jennifurla said...




The Mom Chef said...

This one of those "holy cow" desserts. It looks absolutely amazing. The last picture with the spoonful gone showed how creamy and wonderful it was. I'm jealous of whoever ate that bite!

Your travel pictures were beautiful too. Thank you for allowing us to take the trip along with you like this.

Barbara Bakes said...

Sounds like a little bit of paradise. So nice that you could go a little early to relax before the conference. I'll look forward to part 2. Your panna cotta looks perfect - smooth, creamy and delicious!

ABowlOfMush said...

Sounds like a beautiful trip to S.A!

The panna cotta looks gorgeous!

A Thought For Food said...

I'm not going to lie. All of those shots of that beautiful scenery makes me very jealous.

Lovely post, Jamie!

Cherine said...

Gorgeous scenery!
I'd love to visit South Africa!
Your panna cotta looks delightful!!

Colleen said...

What a beautiful post....written in the inimitable Jamie style. If I didn't live here I would be tempted to take a trip :) And you know we love you dont you? Thank you for the beautiful things you said about us. We were missing you before you boarded your plane!! Your panna cotta looks utterly divine. I want that bite waiting for some jumping tastebuds. I bought some of that milk I told you about and I am going to make some soon as well. Hugs xx

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Wow, that must have been a wonderful trip! Like you, I am terrified of flying, yet I'd love to travel....

Those panna cotta are splendid! So perfect and extremely well presented. Terrific, as always.



Meeta K. Wolff said...

Lovely lovely post. What a brilliant time you had in SA - next year I'll be right there with you babes. The panna cotta is simply perfect - these very grown up flavors work wonderfully.

Priya said...

Such a delightful dessert, fabulous..

Sarah Trivuncic said...

That chocolate sauce looks utterly divine and I really love your antique spoons too. South Africa looks beautiful, the skies are so clear!

Pavithra said...

Oh my what a flavors .... great work on the challenge and nice reading abt your trip looking forward to see more pictures...

Lizzy said...


DebbieK said...

Pure poetry Jamie...must admit, never would imagine a world traveller like yourself would have a fear of flying. Photos were gorgeous though I'd love to have seen more of YOU than your gorgeous red toes. Can't wait to read the next installment!

sarah said...

Jamie, thanks for the tip about rinsing the ramekins. The only problem I had with my panna cotta was that I could not get one of them to turn out neatly. Next time I will know what to do! Your trip sounds very enjoyable.

Nina Timm said...

I cannot wait for part 2. Brilliant writing Jamie, but I expected nothing less from a uber talented writer/blogger like you!

Jamie said...

@doggybloggy - Thanks, Christo. Love seeing you here in my little world and your words mean a lot to me!

@Sanjeeta kk - Thanks so much!

@Happy Cook - :-)

@Colleen - Miss you loads! Thanks again for a memorable, fabulous week! xx to both you and Donnywonny!

@Meeta - You were so missed and next year we'll all do it together and take SA by storm! xx

@Nina Timm - Thanks so much, honey! Your words are amazing encouragement!

Jamie said...

@Sarah - Actually, mine stuck too! But I think that was partly because I used unusually shaped ramekins and couldn't run a knife neatly around the sides to loosen them.

Sandra said...

I love panna cotta my dear sweetie friend! But this version is so cool
un bacio da Torino (waiting for you!)

Lana said...

I love traveling so much and you indulged my desires by taking me vicariously on this adventure. I can imagine the mountains looming in the distance. Oh, the excitement of being on the other side of the world! Thanks for sharing your impressions. Your hosts seem like a great couple. Looking forward to the next installment!
And I have to get some heavy cream to make the panna cotta - it looks ridiculously good!

Sally - My Custard Pie said...

Isn't it a stunning place? I went in 1997 and would love to return (and I flew from Saudi Arabia so you can imagine what I thought of Franshoek!)

It's way too long since I made panna cotta - I love it - and this is a gorgeous recipe (beautiful pics).

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

That first languorous drip photo is so arresting Jamie! :) And how utterly fabulous to be in South Africa, a country I've always wanted to visit!

Lael Hazan @educatedpalate said...

Thank you for giving us a virtual tour of your time in South Africa. I adore the picture of your toes :) I also look forward to part two.

As usual your recipes WORK! The flavor combinations are great and your photos show the panna cotta at its' most sensuous.

Coconut and Vanilla said...

Wow, the pics are stunning! I immediately want to dig into that panna cotta...

tasteofbeirut said...

I have been told that it is a beautiful country and you are confirming this; the panna cotta sounds perfect and goes well with such great scenery!

shaz said...

Oops, blogger ate my comment. Let's try again: Love the story, can't wait for part two. I held my breath all the way through your evocative description of Cape Town. The panna cotta looks just perfect.

Lisa said...

Jamie, I love living vicariously through your travels and home. One, I always wanted to travel the world, and hope to do so one day, and two..always wanted to live in France, if only for a bit, just to experience the lifestyle and food, and learn the language.

Your panna cotta is mouth watering, gorgeous, stupnedous - one I'd expect to see on the cover of a gourmet magazine. Yes, we need a visit so we can 'at the VERY least' gorge on each other's delicacies (well..mine would look a lot better with natural light..breaks my heart when I can't get a good shot of a pretty dessert).

Oh, BTW..just voted for your blog :) You should win hands down *hugs*

Ria Mathew said...

Oh Jamie, you made me all nostalgic now! Indian ocean...I'm from that coast too :-/ Missing home!

Btw, you pannacotta looks fab so does the biscotti!I am going to try your recipe real soon!

Jamie said...

@Lisa - Thanks for the vote! *hugs* And really, dear Lisa, you could take horridly dark pics of your desserts and they still would be so much more beautiful, elegant and professional looking than my homey things. But wouldn't it be marvelous to bake together (and eat, of course) for a week or two together? Yep!

@Ria - Oh darling you must try this panna cotta and biscotti if you love coffee (or café au lait or cappuccino).

Ann said...

You are in Africa?! Lovely, lived there for 21 years and miss it every day. Love the grown up panna cotta too1 Enjoy your stay!

A Canadian Foodie said...

I need to know more - so much more. Did you know your hosts before you went? Was your purpose the conference? How did you come to decide to go to this one?

Jamie said...

@A Canadian Foodie - Ah, quite a long story. I've known Colleen, conference organizer and my hostess, for quite a number of months on twitter. And I have spoken already at 2 conferences with Jeanne. Colleen invited me to speak at the conference. Only went when I convinced husband to take a week off work and make it a vacation. A week before the trip he had to cancel as something work related and urgent came up. Sad. So I went anyway.

Anonymous said...

wow, you're amazing, traveling across the world and still making time for the baking challenge. Wonderful pictures!

Junglefrog said...

Looks like you had fun there Jamie! And that pannacotta of yours looks as amazing as the sceneries! Great flavors combined!

5 Star Foodie said...

Thanks for sharing the story of your trip and gorgeous pictures! The panna cotta looks so delicious, love that mocha sauce, excellent!

Aparna said...

I must say your panna cotta and the biscotti look and sound gorgeous, Jamie.
Can see you had a wonderful time in SA. You've been to Nigeria? Lived there for 10 years out of the 21 I spent in Africa!!!

RamblingTart said...

What a wonderful to Africa, Jamie. :-) I'm smiling so big picturing you talking up a storm with your dear friends, eating delicious food, and just sitting and staring at the beautiful sights. So happy you got to get away. :-)

tiina { sparkling ink } said...

Jamie, this recipe has me at the title. Such a beautiful dish. I love the new header too! x

Sara{OneTribeGourmet} said...

Jamie, I'm envious of your trip to S.Africa! I so want to visit one day!
And of course your coffee panna cotta looks divine, as usual! xo miss ya! :)

Marisa said...

Your panna cotta looks decadent to say the least and I absolutely love your descriptions of South Africa - makes me love my country even more! Look forward to reading part 2 as well.

Bourbonnatrix said...

Hi! I clicked on your pic from one of the food galleries to get the recipe for your mocha sauce. I made one last week to swirl into some ice cream, but wasn't satisfied with the texture. I'll try yours next, see if that works better! Thanks!

Jamie said...

@Bourbonnatrix - Welcome! I made this rather bittersweet, too much so for my husband who tasted more coffee than anything. I found it was the perfect balance with the sweet, very lightly flavored panna cotta. With a sweet ice cream it would be fabulous! Feel free to add less espresso powder and more chocolate for a different balance and taste.

Flo said...

from reading this it looks to me like you had a wonderful time in S.Africa,loved the desert recipe it is amazing looking forward to what comes next ..

UrMomCooks said...

Love love reading about your adventures and the pics are so enjoyable!!! Looking forward to the next installment and checking out all the great links you listed... And that biscotti is calling my name and asking to be tucked into my lunchbag!!!

LittleAsianGirl BigAppetite said...

holy cow that panna cotta looks AMAAAZING!!

Mary said...

It sounds like a fabulous trip, Jamie. The panna cotta is other-worldly in its goodness. I suspect just one bite would do away with the need of an airplane to fly. It looks delicious. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

Fresh Local and Best said...

You have so many friends from around the world Jamie! What a fabulous trip, and an exciting location to meet up with a bunch of other food bloggers. Creamy coffee panna cotta sounds so good right now! I love coffee desserts!

Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen said...

I probably would have been right there with you holding on to my good luck charm as well! I've been flying pretty much since I was born but I can never really get fully comfortable with the idea, but like you I like to travel when I can so I get on that plane time and time again. It's usually quite worth it.

I love the new banner by the way, the handwritten script at the bottom has a fun messy feel to it that matches the drippy icing on the chocolate cake cake next to it.

My Carolina Kitchen said...

What a fabulous trip Jamie and what wonderful photos. That part of the world sounds so exotic to me. Also congratulations for the nomination. That's fantastic and well deserved. Can I say I knew you when?

You can count on my vote.

Jamie said...

@My Carolina Kitchen - LOL! Yes you can say you knew me when and now as well! And thanks so much for the vote, friend! xo

@Sylvie - I love the banner, too, thanks! He surprised me with his talent. He captured just what I wanted. But I chose the cake ;-)

Eliana said...

Awesome post and most important - stunning panna cotta. You really knocked this challenge out of the park.

Carolyn Jung said...

Now, that's the way I want to enjoy my coffee tomorrow morning -- in panna cotta form! ;)

asiangrrl said...

Wonderful post about a memorable trip. And, that panna cotta has brought me to my knees. No mas!

Cake Duchess said...

Just gorgeous! Gorgeous feet. Gorgeous panaroma. Gorgeous dessert. I'm very happy:)xx

a moderate life said...

Hi Jamie! Panna Cotta is one of my absolutely favorite desserts and I had no clue how easy it was to make the basic recipe! Once you know how, sumptuous variations like this one you made are only a whim away! Now I want some! All the best, Alex@amoderatelife

PinkPolkaDot said...

What a wonderful post!! The Panna Cotta looks delicious!!

A Spoonful of Yumm said...

yum yum yum ! looks fabulous :)

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Brooks said...

I wanted to vote for your blog, and clicked over only to realize I'm three years too late. You'll always have my vote, Jamie! This sumptuous panna cotta lured me here, but the travelog I found was equally as pleasing. Now I want to go to the Olympia Cafe and deli for a bite.

Rachel Page said...

This pannacotta looks like the ultimate dessert :D


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