Friday, May 8, 2015

Simple, Sexy Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta means 'cooked cream' in Italian. It is a molded, chilled dessert popular throughout Italy. According to Gordon Ramsey, '...it has a silky, smooth texture that makes it one of the worlds sexiest desserts.'  

The original Italian dessert was made by blending thick cream, egg white and honey, sometimes thickened with fish bones. It was then baked in a bain-marie (water bath) in a low oven. After years, Panna Cotta evolved into what is now, a gelatin dessert; sweetened, flavored, garnished with fruit, a drizzle of honey or a sauce and served chilled. It can be flavored with anything from vanilla to coffee, chocolate and liqueurs.

It should take no longer than 5 minutes to put together. Adding the sugar early, will prevent the milk and cream from boiling over. Traditionally it is set in molds then turned out onto a plate. To keep it simple, pour into fancy jars or glasses but leave room at the top for the garnish or glaze.

When set, the desired texture is not too firm but still slightly bouncy. A bit springy on top when tested gently with your finger. The first bite should be rich, creamy, incredibly smooth and melt in your mouth with no trace of grittiness or lumps. If your panna cotta is still liquid, it may not have been left long enough to set or you accidentally boiled the mixture. Boiling destroys gelatin's thickening power. 

Some of the best properties of Panna Cotta are; it demands to be made in advance, it is easy, quick, practically fool-proof and it still delivers the WOW factor! It is accommodating to many dietary adjustments, being gluten-free and adaptable to dairy free and vegan diets as well. You can use milk, cream, coconut milk, soy milk, almond milk, really any creamy liquid, to make panna cotta. But keep in mind, the less fat the softer it will be. Alternate dairy products may require extra gelatin to unmold or can be served in a glass.   

Lavender Panna Cotta with Blueberry Sauce  ~ Yield: 8 servings
Try infusing the cream with fresh mint or lemon verbena instead of lavender, then serve with fresh berries sweetened with a splash of kirsch. 

Panna Cotta:
Pressed for time? Serve in mini jam jars
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups half and half cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons 'Hidcote' dried lavender *
2 packets powdered plain gelatin 
        (about 4-1/2 tsp.) 
6 Tbsp. cold water
Fresh mint, for garnish 
Grapeseed oil or any neutral-tasting oil 

Blueberry Sauce:
2 cups fresh blueberries
1/4 cup sugar
1-1/2 Tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice

Preparation - Panna Cotta: Lightly oil 8 ramekins or custard cups with a neutral tasting oil and set aside. Measure cold water into a medium sized bowl, sprinkle gelatin on the water and let stand for 10 minutes so the gelatin can 'bloom'. 
Meanwhile, heat the heavy cream, half and half cream, sugar and dried lavender in a saucepan over medium-high heat while stirring constantly. Bring to a boil, turn off the heat, then whisk in bloomed gelatin until completely dissolved. Immediately remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes to infuse the lavender.  
Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a pitcher to make pouring easier. Carefully pour the mixture into 8 greased ramekins or custard cups. If you are pressed for time; pour into mini (4 oz) jam jars or wine goblets so you can serve them in the glasses without unmolding. When cooled, cover well with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the panna cotta for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight.
Preparation - Blueberry Sauce: Place 1 cup blueberries in a small saucepan with sugar and lemon juice. Cook on medium-high heat while stirring until the berries release their juice. Set aside and add the remaining blueberries and mix. If necessary dilute with a tiny splash of water.
To serve: to unmold each panna cotta, carefully run a sharp knife around the edge. Then dip the mold into a bowl of warm water for a few seconds, invert onto a plate and give it a shake to release. Garnish each with blueberry sauce and a mint leaf. (If serving the panna cotta in a mini jam jar or wine goblet, place a spoon of Blueberry Sauce on top and garnish with a mint leaf.)

*For more information on 'Culinary Lavender', go to the Helpful Tips page of my website  www.gourmetbysallyrae.com

Coconut Panna Cotta with Fresh Mango  ~ Yield: 4 servings
This version has the advantage of being both gluten and dairy-free. I prefer the 'Ataulfo' mango for its rich, sweet, buttery, non-fibrous flesh. For more information visit my Blog Post on Ataulfo Mangoes.

Increase the 'wow' factor - unmold onto a plate
400 ml. can full fat coconut milk
1-1/2 tsp. plain gelatin
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 large, ripe 'Ataulfo' mango
Fresh mint, for garnish 
Grapeseed oil or any neutral-tasting oil

Lightly oil 4 ramekins or custard cups with a neutral tasting oil and set aside.
In a small saucepan, whisk the coconut milk until smooth. Sprinkle the gelatin on top and whisk until incorporated. Let stand for 10 minutes so the gelatin can 'bloom'.
Set the saucepan over medium-high heat. Warm the coconut milk, stirring constantly, until it starts to steam and the gelatin appears to be fully dissolved. Do not bring to a boil... you just want the milk to heat to the point where the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in maple syrup and vanilla.
Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a 4-cup measure to make portioning easier. Carefully pour the mixture into 4 greased ramekins or custard cups. If you are pressed for time; pour into wine goblets so you can serve them in the glasses without unmolding. When cooled, cover well with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the panna cotta for at least 5 hours or preferably overnight.
To serve: remove stone and peel the mango. Cut into small dice and/or slices and set aside. To unmold each panna cotta, carefully run a sharp knife around the edge. Then dip the mold into a bowl of warm water for a few seconds, invert onto a plate and give it a shake to release. Garnish with fresh mango and a small sprig of mint. (If serving the panna cotta in a wine goblet, place a good amount of diced mango on top and garnish with a mint leaf.)

Till next week... Bon App├ętit!  

www.gourmetbysallyrae.com
Photos by Sally Rae

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