Monday, May 17, 2010

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Strawberries

Farmer's Market Strawberries are so delicious right now. I brought home a few baskets and made Jam, White Cupcakes with Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting (that sorry, I didn't get a chance to photograph) and these light, simply flavored Vanilla Bean Panna Cottas for a dinner party that I had been invited to and offered to bring some dessert. I wanted to use the strawberries with very little done to them because they were so sweet and so beautiful just on their own. Naturally, when I think of Strawberries, I think of then came the idea to make Panna Cotta; which in Italian means "cooked cream". It is a cream base flavored or infused with any flavor, in this case, vanilla bean and gently set with gelatin. It can be put into individual cups, as I did here, it can be unmolded and set on a plate to wobble with subtle sexiness or it can be layered with another flavor of panna cotta or gel-which is juice or liquid set by gelatin. To give you an example, I had a Coconut Panna Cotta layered with Roasted Pineapple Gel and Pineapple-Rum Ice. All of the flavors together made a delicious Pina Colada inspired dessert.

To achieve this, all that has to be followed is a simple formula of gelatin to liquid. For this dessert, I set 4 cups of dairy, a mixture of milk and heavy cream to 1 envelope of gelatin bought from the regular grocery store. I infused the dairy with vanilla bean for 30 minutes, added the bloomed gelatin, strained the mixture and poured it into different glasses. At the restaurant, I have access to at least 30of the same plates, glasses and molds but at home, I have to get creative. I wanted each person to have the same amount of panna cotta, but with a slightly different look so that when they were presented on the platter it would give the guests another element to the dessert instead of just flavor and texture-because all I wanted to do was serve a simple berries and cream dessert...with some style. In addition to the panna cotta and berries was a strawberry coulis (coo-lee), or pureed strawberries, sweetened and strained to remove the seeds. You can do this with any berry, or a mixture of berries. I added some fresh orange juice to the coulis to add brightness and to thin in out a little.

After an incredible meal, this dessert was appreciated as I had intended it to be, as a simple, strawberries and cream dessert with the delicate flavor of vanilla paired with the naturally sweet, tart, and fresh strawberry.

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta
1 cups Milk
3 cups Heavy Cream
1/3 cup Sugar
1 Tbsp. Orange Blossom Honey
1/4 Vanilla Bean
1/4 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1/4 tsp. Salt
1 Tbsp Powdered Gelatin

1. Heat cream, vanilla bean, sugar and honey until hot. Remove from heat, cover and steep for 30 minutes.
2. After 30 minutes, sprinkle the powdered gelatin over 1 cup of cold milk and let it soak or "bloom" for 5 minutes.
3. Making sure the cream is about 100-115 degrees, pour the milk and gelatin and stir until all of the gelatin is melted. If the mixture is too hot, the gelatin will not set properly.
4. Strain the mixture and add the vanilla extract and salt. Pour into a bowl set over an ice bath and stir occasionally, including the sides, to cool it down. This will allow the panna cotta to set faster and to let the vanilla beans stay suspended in the cream.
5. Make sure the mixture is smooth and pour into glasses, cups, or dishes. Let the panna cottas sit in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Strawberry Coulis
1. Wash, trim and hull strawberries and puree with simple syrup (equal parts sugar to water, brought to a boil and cooled to room temperature) to taste.
2. Strain through a fine, mesh strainer and add 2 Tbsp of fresh orange juice and a squeeze of lemon juice.

To assemble, pour strawberry coulis over the panna cotta and garnish with fresh strawberries.