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Published April 15, 2014, 04:57 PM

Halgrimson: Panna cotta makes for creamy dessert with flavor options

Since it seems that we will indeed have spring and perhaps summer to follow, I’ve moved into my pre-gardening mode, which means sessions of water aerobics with frequent stops at Nichole’s Fine Pastry to refuel. Going there always lifts my spirits, whether it’s for a croissant and cafe au lait or one of their delicious lunches or for a truly fine pastry to take home.

By: Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, INFORUM

Since it seems that we will indeed have spring and perhaps summer to follow, I’ve moved into my pre-gardening mode, which means sessions of water aerobics with frequent stops at Nichole’s Fine Pastry to refuel. Going there always lifts my spirits, whether it’s for a croissant and cafe au lait or one of their delicious lunches or for a truly fine pastry to take home.

At a recent stop for sustenance at Nichole’s, 13 8th St. S. in Fargo, I had my first taste of panna cotta, an Italian custard made with cream and flavorings, with gelatin added to set it up.

Of course I chose the chocolate version first and then sampled the divine lavender edition and then decided to make it at home.

I found a recipe online and proceeded. It called for some milk along with more than a quart of heavy cream, sugar and gelatin, but only a few tablespoons of good cocoa powder.

When that didn’t combine smoothly or look very chocolaty, I added a good-sized handful of Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips, stirred and strained it into a large soufflé dish to rest before refrigerating. Fortunately, the man in my life didn’t like it, so I got to eat the whole bowl.

When I stopped at Nichole’s to see how many kinds they made, I was told there were at least 20 versions plus maybe 10 more created by someone in the kitchen as the spirit moved him or her.

Panna cotta is a wonderful substance for creativity, as the cream, when it’s cooking, may be infused with herbs such as lavender, rosemary, mint, lemon verbena, scented geraniams or the zest from lemons and oranges, grated ginger root or instant espresso. And a garnish of fresh fruit is always tasty.

As for the way panna cotta is served, I just used a bowl because I don’t like unmolding things and the only oil I have in my kitchen is from olives. I don’t use oil spray in a can.

But if I was going to make it for guests, I’d pour individual servings into stemmed wine glasses, which don’t have to be unmolded.

And I’ll keep sampling the various kinds of panna cotta at Nichole’s.

Chocolate Panna Cotta

Ingredients

1½ cups heavy cream

1¼ teaspoons plain gelatin

¼ cup mascarpone cheese or additional heavy cream

2 tablespoons sugar

pinch of salt

2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips

Directions

Coat four 5-ounce ramekins or 6-ounce custard cups lightly with flavorless oil.

Pour ¼ cup of the cream into a small heatproof bowl, sprinkle gelatin over it and let stand until softened, about 10 minutes. Place bowl in a larger bowl of hot water and stir until the gelatin has dissolved.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan over medium heat, bring remaining 1¼ cups cream, mascarpone, sugar and salt just to a boil. Remove pan from heat, add chocolate and whisk until smooth.

Add gelatin mixture to chocolate mixture and stir until well blended. Pour through a fine strainer into a 4-cup glass measuring cup. Divide mixture evenly among ramekins and cool to room temperature.

Cover panna cotta loosely and refrigerate until set and thoroughly chilled, at least three hours or up to a day.

To serve, dip ramekins one at a time into a bowl of hot water for about 5 seconds, then run a table knife around the edges of the custard and invert onto a chilled serving plate. Serves 4.

Serve alone or with a dusting of finely ground cocoa or shaved chocolate.

Source: www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe


Readers can reach Forum food columnist Andrea Hunter Halgrimson at ahalgrimson@forumcomm.com

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