Do I need to tell you that not all of my panna cotta unmolded successfully?
The title of this recipe, "Cooked Cream" with Fresh Berries, caught my eye because this summer I've been on an ongoing quest for fruit desserts which require little or no cooking. It's from Lidia's Italian Table and since I've yet to be disappointed in any Lidia Bastianich recipe I've tried, I had high hopes for this one.
It's not really a fruit dessert, it's a panna cotta which is served surrounded by fresh berries or other fruit, but panna cotta doesn't require oven time and needs only minimal stovetop time so it fits with the overall theme of Whatever You Do, Don't Heat Up the Kitchen, which is always a big theme of mine in the summer but particularly this summer.
Panna cotta is one of those things whose existence I only became aware of in the last few years and which I have tasted only once in a restaurant; at the time it underwhelmed me. But being one who tries to keep an open mind, particularly when quantities of butterfat are involved, I decided to give it another try. This recipe also intrigued me because of the inclusion of a caramel topping like a creme caramel. I love the dark, faintly bitter, and altogether seductive taste of caramel sauce.
Panna Cotta con frutta di Bosco
1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin
2 tablespoons plus 3 tablespoons water
1 cup milk
1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 vanilla bean split lengthwise
2 cups heavy cream
3 cups of berries (a combination of raspberries, stawberries, and red or black currants is suggested)
1. Sprinkle the gelatin over 2 tablespoons of water in a small bowl and let stand until the gelatin is softened, about 5 minutes
2. In a medium saucepan, bring the milk, 1/2 cup of sugar, and the split vanilla bean to a boil. Immediately remove from the heat. Scrape the gelatin mixture into the milk and stir until dissolved. Remove the vanilla bean and with a paring knife, scrape the seeds into the milk. Strain the milk mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium size bowl and let cool to room temperature.
3. Have six 8-oz ceramic ramekins close at hand. In a small, heavy saucepan, combine the remaining 1/3 cup sugar and 3 tablespoons of water. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally until the sugar is melted and the syrup is boiling. Once it begins to boil don't stir because you may cause crystals to form. Cook, swirling the pan occasionally to prevent the syrup from hardening on the sides of the pan, until the syrup begins to turn a very pale golden brown. Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking and swirling until the syrup is a medium amber color. Pour the caramel into the ramekins, dividing it evenly.
4. Beat the heavy cream until it holds stiff peaks when the beaters are lifted. Add the whipped cream to the milk mixture and fold the two together with a rubber spatula. Divide the whipped cream between the caramel lined ramekins and place in the refrigerator. Chill until firm, at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.
5. To serve, invert the ramekins onto serving plates. Wait a moment until the caramel sauce begins to seep onto the plate, then lift the ramekins. Decorate with fruit and mint sprigs and serve immediately.
I used smaller ramekins, because I can't imagine eating 8 ounces of this, especially after a meal. It's incredibly rich and even I, someone who is not nearly as worried as I ought to be about butterfat, find myself appalled at the idea of eating 8 ounces of something like this in a single sitting. Besides, I don't have any 8-ounce ramekins, so I used a combination of 4-ounce and 5 1/2-oz ramekins. In terms of a serving size I'd say the 4-oz ramekin is better, and next time I may even try using 2 1/2-oz ramekins. Because I used more ramekins than the original recipe called for, I ended up making a double batch of the caramel.
Removing the panna cotta from the ramekins has been a completely mixed bag. After experimentation, what seems to work best is to first run a paring knife around the perimeter of the panna cotta, then put the ramekin in a shallow pan of hot water about 1/4 inch deep for about 10 seconds, invert on a plate, wait for the caramel sauce to begin to seep out, and then lift the ramekin. If all goes well, you have a lovely looking little panna cotta. If it doesn’t go so well you have a somewhat mangled but still delicious tasting panna cotta.
The panna cotta while rich, is not heavy but rather, cloud-like, ethereal, even billowy. The fruit is a good counterpoint to the richness, and the caramel is an intriguing background note.
One final note: Be especially careful when making and pouring the caramel. It's extremely hot and if you spill any on yourself you are going to get a particularly bad burn. But that's the only negative note. Other than that this is pretty wonderful stuff.