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We’re so excited to share with you this recipe for the most unctuous, and perfectly textured butterscotch and vanilla panna cotta. It’s ridiculously easy and quick to prepare, and sure to herald a few oohs and ahhs. After a series of tests (and far too much tasting) we reckon we’ve nailed it. Do let us know how you get on in the comments section!
Before we get into today’s recipe, I have a confession. This is an adaptation of a BBC Food recipe. Yes, yes, I know it’s shameful. The golden rule is to never trust a generic recipe found on those web pages, especially those ranking highest from SEO. They all too often disappoint: (too) frequently poorly measured, omitting key steps in the method or even worse, displaying amounts in ‘cups’. However, on this occasion, this recipe does not fail. It’s something I have been in search of ever since my first encounter with this perfectly set bite of joy.
It was in Rome and I was maybe 10 years old. We had come to Italy to watch Ireland’s annual demolition of the Azzurri in the Six Nations rugby tournament - an excuse really to spend a weekend eating good food in the winter sun. At the time, Italy was only barely more competitive than today. In any case, it didn’t seem as if the Italian fans were disgruntled by Ireland’s onslaught. My cousins (who are Roman) were more preoccupied with where we would eat afterwards. As the final whistle signalled Ireland’s victory, we made our way to a favourited pizzeria only the locals new.
In Rome, in case you weren’t aware, pizzas come thinner than paper, light and crisp, so much so that one might not be sufficient. However, while the pizza was indeed memorable, I have never forgotten that first spoonful of panna cotta to the point that now every set cream I taste is compared to that perfect first bite!
In Italian, ‘panna’ means cream, and ‘cotta’ means cooked. With the addition of gelatin, sugar and vanilla, the dessert transforms into the most perfect dessert. What’s more, it takes 10 minutes to prepare + setting time.
A texture thing.
Typical panna cotta calls for double cream. Double cream has a higher fat content than single cream. We wanted to experiment with both, and to our surprise, what gave the best results was single cream. The texture is ridiculously satisfying and unctuous, without being overly cloying. It also has the most perfect wobble!
I feel that gelatin gets a bad rap. I recently heard that the gelling agent derives from whale blubber. Let me confirm there is no truth to this. WWF wouldn’t be receptive to that. Gelatin is made by boiling the bones, tendons and skin of pigs and cows (sometimes fish too) and extracting collagen (a natural gelification substance). It sounds unappetising but the process is similar to how you would achieve bone stock.
Professionals typically use sheets over powder. Powder has a tendency to leave granules and sometimes a cloudy appearance. Gelatin sheets are easy to use and are prepared by ‘blooming’ in very cold water. This hydrates the sheets. After 5 minutes or so, you remove the sheets, give them a squeeze to extract the water and drop them into your hot liquid to dissolve. It’s important not to boil the liquid once you have added the gelatin as this might prevent gelification. Gelatin can be found in supermarkets these days (if you are reading in Ireland, Dunnes Stores stock them). Otherwise good cooking shops should stock them too.
So, why caramel?
When the perfect consistency of a panna cotta is achieved, I’m under the assumption that no accompaniment is required. What would elevate it? Traditionally speaking, a raspberry coulis is an appropriate ally, the acidity cutting through the richness of the cream. But I find it somewhat detracts from the purity of the dessert, like a red sea engulfing the pristine cream. So, by caramelising the sugar, not only do you achieve an appetising butterscotch-like colour and flavour, but a hint of bitterness too, providing the exact amount of balance required. Add a sprinkling of crushed sea salt and you are onto a winner.
SALTED CARAMEL PANNA COTTA RECIPE
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