Thursday, January 11, 2007

White chocolate panna cotta

You never know where you'll come across an interesting recipe. My friend Carolyn Hart, in her delightful Cooks' Books, finds dishes for her standard repertoire from sources ranging from supermarket recipe cards to the Zane Grey Cookbook. I have found one in the Raceform Update.

The Update has a column called "Eyecatchers", which is supposed to tell you about horses worth following. But when a racing writer called Lee Mottershead does his stint, he indulges himself, before giving his opinions on horses to back ante-post for Cheltenham, with some preliminary chat about recipes. Last week, he wrote about panna cotta. His recipe included 750 ml milk and cream, a vanilla pod, 60 g caster sugar, 200 g white chocolate, and three gelatine leaves.

I have written about panna cotta before. In that recipe, you whip some of the cream and fold it into the rest of the mixture. It concentrates the creaminess, I suppose; but what I find unsatisfactory about the process is that the cream tends to remain in globules unless you beat it in. Waiting for the mixture to cool and thicken a little before adding the whipped cream is a pain, because you do not know how long the thickening will take, or whether you'll be free at the appropriate moment. Lee Mottershead's recipe involved no whipping.

However, I did not have 600 ml cream. So I went out and bought just one, 100 g bar of Green & Black's white chocolate. I did not have a vanilla pod either, so I thought that I needed to bother only with heating enough milk and cream to dissolve the sugar and the gelatine. (In Lee Mottershead's recipe, you simmer the milk, cream, vanilla and sugar, then dissolve the chocolate in the mixture, then add the gelatine.) Only as I write this does it occur to me that the recipe is called panna cotta (cooked cream) for a reason; and that simmering the milk and cream for a while would achieve the concentration that whipping performed in my earlier recipe.

Anyway, let's continue with what I did, because it turned out alright. When I got round to measuring the cream, I found that I had more than I had thought: 450 ml. I topped that up with 150 ml milk. So my recipe would have a lower concentration of chocolate than Lee Mottershead recommended.

450 ml double cream
150 ml milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tbsp caster sugar
100 g white chocolate
3 leaves gelatine

Warm the cream, milk, vanilla essence and sugar in a small saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Meanwhile, soak the gelatine in cold water for about 4 minutes, until it goes slithery. Squeeze it gently. Take the pan off the heat, and stir in the gelatine, which should dissolve easily.

Break up the chocolate, and melt it in a bowl above a saucepan of simmering water. Pour the cream mixture over it, stirring to incorporate the chocolate. You should have enough panna cotta to fill six ramekins.

This panna cotta did not have the usual wobbly, gelatinous quality. The best description I can give is entirely unimaginative: it was a thick, chocolatey cream. I am glad I did not have any more chocolate: the mixture would have been too cloying. But, next time, I shall simmer and reduce the cream and milk.

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