Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Vanilla bean panna cotta

I’m definitely not one to celebrate Valentines’ day. The idea of celebrating my relationship on demand together with millions of others is a rather unappealing thought.

It wasn’t always the case, though. When I was a teenager/very young adult, it was one of the most anticipated days of the year. I got to celebrate it with my boyfriend and expected a card and flowers from him; I expected him to profess his undying love to me and when he did, I was the happiest girl alive.

I still am, because I am with my other half, the man I get to share my life with, the man I am lucky enough to call my partner in crime and without whom I wouldn’t be the woman I am today. And one of the ways I profess my love to him, every single day, is by cooking.

He loves food, and he loves desserts. Unlike me, he is not a hard-core chocoholic, at times he prefers the flavor of vanilla over chocolate, so if I were to make him a dessert for Valentine’s it would be this panna cotta.

It’s easy to make, quick as well, and is very special, if done right. Because you definitely don’t want rubbery or liquid panna cotta on your dessert plate, that’s for sure. It’s all about the recipe, and if you follow this one, you’ll succeed.

A creamy, rich, smooth, wobbly panna cotta, full of pure vanilla flavor from a real vanilla bean and not cloyingly sweet.

It would be perfect served with a raspberry sauce (coulis) that’s slightly sharp and fruity to cut through the richness of the panna cotta, or topped with some fresh raspberries or any other slightly acidic fruit like red currants, but you would definitely love it as is too.

Vanilla bean panna cotta

The vanilla flavor in this panna cotta is outstanding, basically because I use a vanilla bean. If you don’t have that, the next best thing is vanilla bean paste. Please don’t use vanilla extract, it’s not the same. Plus the little black specs of vanilla seeds on the off-white of the set cream give a nice visual contrast to the dessert.

Yield: 2 servings

1½ gelatin leaf
250 g cream, full-fat
20 g caster sugar
1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise and seeds scraped (or 1 heaped tsp vanilla bean paste)

for serving (optional)
- Raspberry sauce (coulis) (recipe here)
- Fresh raspberries, red currants or other fruits

Special equipment: hand whisk, fine sieve, dariole molds or ramekins, plastic wrap

Add gelatin leaves to a bowl and cover them with cold tap water. Soak them for 15 minutes until they soften.

In the meantime, in a small saucepan, add the cream, sugar, split vanilla bean and seeds (or vanilla bean paste) and place over a medium-high heat. Stir with a spatula to dissolve the sugar and bring to the boil. Immediately remove the pan from the heat.
Discard the vanilla bean.
Remove the leaves from the water, squeezing them well with your hands and add them to the saucepan. Whisk well to dissolve the gelatin in the cream. Pass the mixture through a fine sieve and into a jug.

Pour the panna cotta mixture into 2 dariole molds or ramekins, dividing the mixture evenly between them.
In my case, I used little brioche molds that were a little tricky to unmold. Some people lightly grease the ramekins before pouring in the panna cotta mixture but I don’t like the grease on my panna cotta and I wouldn't suggest you do this either.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap so it adheres to the cream and leave in the fridge to cool and set, for about 5 hours.

Unmolding the panna cotta: Panna cotta won’t stick to a smooth surface, it adheres to it by suction, so if you create a small air pocket, by running a knife around the mold or pushing the set cream slightly away from the side of the ramekin, it will do the trick. So, once you have taken the ramekins out of the fridge, do what’s described above, and also dip it briefly in hot water to loosen it. Be careful not to get any water inside the ramekin though. Dip the ramekin in the hot water up to ¾ up the sides, holding it by the rim. Then, turn the panna cotta onto individual plates, giving it a firm shake, and serve immediately.

Note: If you make the raspberry coulis, don’t pour it over the panna cotta but around it, as it will look more appealing.


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