Oh panna cotta! Where have you been hiding for the last 2 years? Why has it taken so long to discover you?
I’ve been a little obsessed with a cookbook put out by a fabulous restaurant in Portland, Toro Bravo. I haven’t even eaten there personally, but I’ve heard a lot about it. One of my life goals is to eat there. It’s 2 hours away, and often a 2 hour wait. It’s an attainable life goal; I like to have a few like that.
I’m reading this amazing, honest, detailed and hilarious cookbook, which has all of 7 dessert recipes, and start reading about panna cotta. John Gorham, owner, chef and author (who is free with cussing), tells about tasting the best ever panna cotta made by a pastry chef he worked with. The pastry chef replied:
This is the simplest recipe known to man. You can’t fuck it up. You can’t make it not amazing. It has four ingredients and takes five minutes and is foolproof so long as you pay attention.
I’ve made custard. I’ve made ice cream. I’ve heated and stirred and cooled cream-based desserts. Panna cotta means “cooked cream.” I just assumed that something so Italian and so revered had to be difficult. The secret is out, and I’m making panna cotta. It was our Thanksgiving dessert.
The beautiful thing about panna cotta is that it doesn’t require sugar to make food-science magic. For ice cream, you need sugar to lower the freezing point. In baked goods, sugar plays a role in texture. In jams it makes the pectin gel. But all panna cotta really needs is cream and gelatin, and it gives back a soft luscious creamy dessert that can be flavored any way you want it.
The Toro Bravo recipe calls for gelatin sheets, which he claims are the key to success but require attention to detail. Contrary to the pastry chef’s opinion, it is “fuckupable” (his word, I’m just quoting here). I couldn’t find gelatin sheets at our fancy grocery store and I’m an old hand at powdered gelatin, so I found a recipe from another of my favorite chef-bloggers, David Lebovitz (and his recipe). He uses powered gelatin, and that’s good enough for me.
I’m up to 6 ingredients here. You have to use water with the powered gelatin, so that adds 1. I also included a bit of that whey protein I’m trying to use up. This recipe has so much fat that adding enough berries to get it to a 3.5:1 ratio was a heck of a lot of carbs at a time for Nora. The whey protein is undetectable in the panna cotta, but provides some needed protein to lower the ratio.
I used blueberries because Nora loves them and they are beautiful, but you can use any berries you like. Just adjust the amount of berries to get the correct nutritional breakdown. Blueberries are the highest-carb berry that we use, so if I substituted strawberry or raspberry it would be even more berrylicious!
Blueberry Panna Cotta
(makes 8 servings)
250 g Organic Valley heavy whipping cream
180 g Frozen blueberries
3 g Vanilla extract
2 g Gelatine powder
40 g Cold water
4 g Ultimate Nutrition whey protein powder
Warm and cream, vanilla and blueberries together in a small saucepan until the blueberries start to give up their juice and all is warm. Blend and mash them together so that they are well distributed.
When making a batch recipe, I’m concerned that one of the servings will be carb-heavy and often add the carb component separately to each serving. You can certainly warm the blueberries separately and divide them evenly on top of the cooled panna cotta, which I would recommend if your kid is very sensitive or just starting the diet. You need to be sure that every serving is what it says it is. I’m now comfortable doing this for Nora, but I was not always and I’m still careful.
Measure the cold water into a medium sized bowl, so that the water is broad but not very deep. Evenly sprinkle the gelatin powder over the surface of the water and let it sit, undisturbed, for 5 to 10 minutes.
If you want to be able to turn your panna cotta out on to a plate to serve, lightly grease 8 small cups with coconut oil. I just served ours in the cups. We used wine glasses for our fancy Thankgiving dessert, but I did the rest in ramekins and small tea cups.
Pour the warm cream mixture into the water and gelatin and stir well, so that the gelatin can dissolve completely and evenly. You won’t be able to tell, so stir a little longer than you normally would just to be sure.
Divide evenly into the 8 prepared cups, about 60 g each. Depending on how long you warmed the cream, you might have lost a bit of water. You could measure them at 59 g each to be safe and not come up short. If you incorporated the blueberries into the cream, make sure you get about the same number of chunks in each cup (this will depend on how big your blueberries are. If you are really uptight, count them and divide by 8!)
Chill for at least 2 hours to set until firm. If you make David Lebovitz’s recipe for the rest of the family, I think he skimps a bit on the gelatin, or ours just had to sit much longer to get a firm gel. Add a bit more gelatin than he suggests if you want to be able to eat it sooner rather than later.
One last tip: If your cream is clumpy and separated, you will probably get a thin layer of grainy butter at the top of your panna cotta. It’s doesn’t ruin it, but you should know. Keep the lumps out if you can.