Before I started a blog, I hardly ever read food blogs. In fact, I wasn't even that interested in cooking or baking until I created one. But the blog venture pulled me in, and once I discovered TasteSpotting, I became obsessed with gorgeous photos of food and trying out recipes. One particular blog I kept coming across was Smitten Kitchen, run by a New Yorker named Deb. She had the most beautiful photos and all the dishes were relatively simple. More importantly, her writing style was so funny and relaxed. I bookmarked a few of her recipes at first, but as the years past, I realized I had bookmarked nearly everything. She inspired me to try cooking savory dishes instead of just sticking to dessert and she's the only blogger from whom I get consistently great results in my dishes.
So when she announced she was going to write a cookbook, I was ecstatic. I just knew she wasn't going to be one of those people who just reposted all her blog posts into a book and that she would make it special (I wasn't wrong!). When I found out she was going to do a book tour, I was thrilled. Then when I saw her list of cities she was going to be traveling through, I realized neither St Louis nor Atlanta were on the list. Luckily, I had my bestie, HLi living in one of the cities she was going to be in, and he offered to get a book signed and mailed out to me. I have the best friends! I was sooooo happy to get this:
Of course, as fate would have it, she added on a second book tour to visit the cities she didn't get to see on the first trip, and both Atlanta and St Louis made the cut! She was in St Louis for a luncheon where she was cooking items from her cookbook, but I couldn't really justify the cost, nor did I have time to fit it in. But I figured, I got a signature and a cookbook, life is good.
And then, Stef from Cupcake Project contacted me about a small meet-and-greet for food bloggers to meet, the one and only, Deb!
So on Friday night, I left super early to avoid traffic and arrived at a lovely StL bookstore called Left Bank Books to meet one of my idols. I really didn't know what to expect, ya know? Sometimes you feel like you really know someone through their writings or the image they portray, and then you meet them in person and they're often nothing like you imagined in your head. It's happened so often, I didn't want to get my hopes up. I wondered if she would be as quippy and friendly in person as she seemed online. I figured she was probably exhausted from all the traveling and meeting people and wondered if she'd be in a good mood.
Well, folks, it was awesome. And I love Deb now more than ever. When she walked into our group, she sat down and opened with "Hi! I'm Deb"--it was adorable. We had a great chat about each of our own blogs and who we are, and got to ask her questions about her book deal and her life in general. She was extremely sweet and fun, humble and funny. She asked us just as many questions as we asked her and the vibe was very comfortable, as if we'd been friends forever. She reminded me so much of my friend Kaylen--radiant, confident, and just all-around a great person to hang with.
Of course, I was awkward and shy and didn't say too much--my usual reaction to being in the same room with someone I'm in awe of/truly admire. I'm working on it. To help curb my awkwardness, I brought my red wine chocolate cherry cake balls and an assortment of macarons, which disappeared quickly. She loved them and told me so several times throughout the night, which left me smiling all the way home. My food idol loved my food, no greater compliment than that!
The next night, my friends, Kaylen and Pete had their second ramen night. Pete is on a ramen kick and the first time, he made the entire Momofuku ramen from scratch. It was incredible.
This time, he tried a slightly less challenging (but no less fantastic) recipe. I took on the task of making the dessert for both nights. The first time I made a simple swiss roll cake (slathered with raspberry jam) that I propped up and frosted so that when you cut it, it looked like there are vertical slices. To keep it Japanese, I added a bit of matcha powder to my mascarpone whipped cream.
On this particular night, I opted for something with black sesame. I'd been wanting to try making panna cotta for so long and this was my chance. I know panna cotta is traditionally Italian, but I also know the Japanese love putting Asian twists on European desserts, so I went for it.
I added some ginger honey tuiles for a crunch to complement the smooth richness of the panna cotta.
I also set these in mason jars so that I could transport them to K&P's place more easily. The panna cotta turned out very luscious and soft. I didn't want to add too much gelatin because I don't like when things are too firmed up by it, but this didn't seem to set very much, so I might just add another half teaspoon next time (I've included the change in the following recipe). The black sesame added a wonderful nuttiness, and I made lots of extra tuile all of which were finished by the end of the night.
When reading recipes for panna cotta, I came across one by David Lebovitz. Although I didn't use his recipe, I found a gem in his comment section that amused me:
"If someone serves [panna cotta] to me, I know that they only spent 5 minutes making dessert. Not very impressive."
I'd just like to say, yes, panna cotta is easy, but it's not that easy. Also, it still looks and tastes impressive--she should be happy someone made her anything at all! Some people truly baffle me.
I'd always been scared of tuiles because the idea of having about 10 seconds to shape something that is just pulled out of the oven sounded very daunting. But I'm glad I faced my fears because it wasn't too bad at all. It was actually pretty fun! It takes some patience to figure out how many to put on one sheet because they spread a lot, and to adjust the correct oven temps. I made several batches before I got the hang of it. But oh, they're delectable--light, airy, and crispy with a gorgeous lacy appearance.
I don't think I would ever make panna cotta without tuiles; it would be a bit like creme brulee without a crunchy top (don't even speak of it).
Adapted from here
Makes about 50 (depending on size)
1/2 stick butter, room temp
2 ounces honey
2 ounce ginger syrup (or replace with honey)
5 1/2 teaspoons (25g) brown sugar
3 tablespoons (16g) all-purpose flour
Make batter a day ahead.
Combine butter, honey, and sugar, and beat together until it becomes a light-colored paste.
Gently stir in the flour and mix only until the flour is absorbed.
Press plastic wrap against the surface of the batter and chill for up to a week.
When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with silicon liner or parchment paper and keep any bottle or rolling pin used to curve the cookies on hand.
Drop balls of the paste no bigger than cherries or hazelnuts onto the baking sheets, leaving at least 2 inches in between.
Bake for about 5-7 minutes (check at the 5-minute mark). Once they're golden and spread out, they're done.
Remove from the oven and let them rest for about 30 seconds, and then lift when with a metal spatula and place them on the rolling pin or bottle to cool in a curved shape or on a plate or wire rack.
Use your fingers to pinch the centers for the bow-tie look.
If the tuiles harden too quickly, stick them back in the oven for a minute or so to warm them.
They can be kept in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to a week but never frozen.
Black Sesame Panna Cotta
Adapted from here
Makes 5 servings (in mason jars)
2 3/4 tsp gelatin
6 tsp cold water
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
2 1/2 tablespoons black sesame powder
1 slice/coin of ginger.
Fill a small bowl with the water. Sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let it sit.
Combine the cream, milk, sugar, ginger, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring it to just a simmer over medium heat. It should be steaming hot but not boiling. Stir with a whisk to make sure the sugar is dissolved.
Remove from heat and stir in the gelatin until it fully dissolves.
Stir in the sesame powder and let mixture cool to room temperature.
Strain the mixture (or just remove and discard the ginger) into individual glass dishes or ramekins. Cover with plastic wrap and let it chill overnight.
You may serve the panna cotta directly in the jars or dip the jars briefly in hot water to loosen and invert onto a plate.
Decorate with the tuiles.