Entries from January 22nd, 2010

Passion in Panna Cotta: Lychee and Pomegranates

January 22nd, 2010 · 25 Comments · Custards, Fruit, Recipes


The boyfriend has been on a pomegranate kick lately. I'll see him standing at the sink, staring pensively down, hands subtly moving…doing what? Inspecting the sink for scratches? Ruminating over the dirty dishes I haven't cleaned from the last baking project? Trying to secretly get rid of something down the garbage disposal? No, he's patiently taking apart a pomegranate, removing the arils in the sink so he doesn't get ruby red pomegranate juice stains all over the kitchen walls.

There's an elegant poetry in the working of his hands around the plump fruit; the careful opening of the fruit, like the revealing of a heart; the patient, delicate extraction of the arlls; the orderly discarding of the peel and pith in a neat pile, with not a single aril lost. My boyfriend's love of precision and cleanliness makes him an ideal cook – and disassembler of fruit.


So, inspired by all the lovely red fruit about, I decided to make these panna cottas topped with a layer of pomegranate jelly – the look is very berries-in-the-snow, isn't it? I played around with ideas for different flavors for the panna cotta, but found a can of lychees in the cupboard and had my answer. I really like the combination: the lush, floral sweetness of the lychees make a good match for the clean tartness of the pomegranate, and reinforces the tropical sensibilities of the dessert. I love the taste of lychees, although I'm not the biggest fan of their texture; I find I like them best when their flavor is infused into a dessert, like ice cream. Panna cotta also proved a perfect base for the lychees, providing a wonderful backdrop for their honeyed flavor.

Panna cotta has gained a reputation as a finicky dessert, and indeed, rubbery panna cotta is certainly a sad thing. But as with all recipes involving gelatin, it's really a matter of using the correct proportions, and the entire process of actually making the panna cotta is so laughably short, it's astonishing that such a simple recipe could yield such sublime delight- or invoke such fear in the maker.


A couple of my thoughts on panna cotta: since this dessert is all about cream (after all, it means "cooked cream" in Italian), using quality cream is of paramount importance. Although many panna cotta recipes use just cream, others use yogurt, buttermilk, or sour cream, to add flavor while boosting the creamy mouthfeel of the final product. Some panna cotta recipes cut the cream with milk, as I do, for panna cotta on the more ethereal side of the spectrum. But don't ever use only milk, or less than whole milk, or you'll end up with more of a milk jello, which is exactly what you don't want your panna cotta mistaken for!

The silky, just-barely-solid texture of panna cotta is its hallmark; the key lies is proper measurement of the gelatin. I used to find that I erred on the heavy-handed side when I made mine; remember, you're not going for jello! However, on the flip side, you don't want to end up with cream soup either. Sometimes your panna cotta may teeter between just set but not really wanting to hold its shape when unmolded; that's why I find making panna cotta in presentation-worthy glasses a bonus, since you can just serve them straight in the glass without worrying if they'll unmold properly. (It made photographing them a lot easier!)

If you do want to unmold them, though, try spraying the glasses very lightly with a flavorless oil before you pour in the panna cotta, so they will unmold more easily. If they are really stuck, dip the glasses briefly in a bowl of hot water and then flip over onto a plate.

The boyfriend gave these two thumbs up, although he might have been a little miffed that I used some of his precious pomegranates to make them. Don't worry; I got him more to make up for it, although I think this dessert more than justifies a little pilfering?


Lychee Panna Cotta

1 can (14 oz) lychees in syrup

2 teaspoons powdered gelatin

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup whole milk

2 tablespoons sugar

Open the can of lychees and pour the lychees and syrup into a food processor. Process until the mixture is smooth. There will still be little bits of lychee flesh and pulp. Strain into a measuring cup until you get 1 cup of clear liquid.

Place 3 tablespoons of cold water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Let sit while you do the next step.

Combine lychee liquid, cream, milk, and sugar in a medium saucepan. Heat on medium, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved and it just comes to a boil.

Remove lychee mixture from heat and add gelatin. Stir until the gelatin is fully melted and combined.

Divide mixture among glasses and refrigerate until set, at least 2 hours.

Pomegranate Jelly

1 1/2 teaspoons powdered gelatin

1 cup pomegranate juice

1/2 cup sugar

Place 3 tablespoons of cold water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Let sit while you do the next step.

Combine pomegranate juice and sugar in a medium saucepan and heat on medium, stirring until sugar is dissolved.

Add gelatin and stir until it is fully melted and combined.

Remove from heat and let cool for about 10 minutes.

Pour pomegranate mixture over the panna cottas and refrigerate until set, about 2 hours.

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A Bright Start to the New Year: Chocolate Passionfruit Tarts

January 11th, 2010 · 31 Comments · Chocolate, Fruit, Recipes, Tarts


With such a chilly start to the new year, I need all the sunshine I can get to keep me from immobilizing into a blanket-wrapped mound in front of the fireplace. (I know; when I moved into my new place last year, I viewed the gas fireplace as an unnecessary but aesthetically-pleasing bonus. And, ok, so temperatures, while definitely low, are not pile-on-the-firewood cold. But when it’s dreary, cement-block gray outside and the twilight-blue shadows sprawl over the hills entirely too early, one feels a defiant contentment in having a rustling, flickering, ruddy fire to chase away the chill.)


Surely, subconsciously, that might have influenced my decision to make these chocolate passionfruit mousse tarts. They practically glow neon against my white plates, and their intensely tropical-tart flavor makes me feel like I’m somewhere warm and vacation-y instead of trying to dodge the doldrums of winter.

The tarts start with a chocolate pâte sucrée crust, crisp and not too sweet (despite the name). I spread a thin layer of bittersweet chocolate ganache on the bottom, which made a perfect cushion for a top layer of passionfruit mousse. The mousse, a simple concoction of passionfruit puree, sugar, butter, eggs, and a smidge of gelatin, has the additional benefit of making the entire kitchen smell like a tropical fruit grove, which, if you’ve got the fire a-blazing or perhaps the heater turned up, could make for a passably enticing illusion indeed.

The shards of chocolate poking jauntily out of the passionfruit depths are just a bit of gilding the lily – and after all, I’ve still a lot of chocolate from that candy book-writing adventure! A bite of this tart is just the sharp, sweet perk-up for a gloomy day, like a errant beam of sun slicing palely through gunmetal clouds. Bundle up, or go jump in the snow, whichever is your wont – happy January!




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