On New Year's Eve, it's an awful lot easier to entertain at home when you have a little one who's not all that interested in staying up to midnight. This New Year's Eve I wanted to have a dessert that was simple and elegant. That I could prepare in advance. And that was something I hadn't done recently. How about panna cotta?
Panna cotta isn't something that one encounters frequently in home cooking, which is really a shame. It's basically a light pudding of cream, solidified with gelatin, and generally served with a fruit compote of some sort. Much like a custard, but even milder. In this case, the panna cotta is made a touch richer-flavoured by adding buttermilk and blackberries:
¾ lb blackberries (about 3 cups)Wash the blackberries, and place them in a blender.
1 ¼ cups well-shaken buttermilk
2 ¾ teaspoons unflavored gelatin (from two ¼-oz envelopes)
¼ cup water
1 ½ cups heavy cream
⅔ cup sugar
2 tablespoons blackberry syrup, store-bought or homemade
Add the buttermilk to the blender.
Run the purée through a sieve to remove the seeds and any chunks. The essence of a nice panna cotta is its texture, if you let any chunks through, you'll ruin that.
Meanwhile, mix the water and gelatin to hydrate the gelatin. While it's hydrating, heat the cream and sugar over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. When the sugar dissolves, turn off the heat, add the gelatin mixture to the cream mixture. Stir until the gelatin dissolves completely. If it doesn't dissolve after a couple of minutes, put it back on low heat to help the gelatin dissolve. Really, this is the only part of the process that is fussy. If you put gelatin chunks into the panna cotta, the texture will be not nice, so keep stirring until every teeny little chunk of gelatin is dissolved. Mix in the blackberry syrup (blackberry syrup can be made by mixing ¼ cup blackberry jam with 1 tablespoon water and nuking it until it dissolves - use 2 tbsp of this mix).
Pour the mixture into a panna cotta mold, cover and set in the fridge to solidify (this takes 6-8 hours).
Shortly before serving, make the compote:
½ cup waterMix the cassis, water and sugar, and simmer over medium heat until it reduces to one-third of a cup. Take off the heat, mix in the lemon juice and gently put one dash of cinnamon in there. You want a ridiculously small amount of cinnamon. You don't want anyone to say, "There's cinnamon in here!". You want them to wonder, and not be able to identify it until you tell them. Pour this mix over the blackberries.
½ cup crème de cassis
2 tablespoons sugar
1 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ lb blackberries (about 2 cups)
dash of cinnamon
Unmolding the panna cotta is easy if you know how. Run a knife around the outside of the panna cotta. Then put the hottest water you can get out of your tap into a bowl, and hold the bottom of the panna cotta dish in the bowl. You'll be remelting the gelatin here, so just let it sit for a count of 8. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. You go longer than that, and you'll start to make it look ugly, and you don't want an ugly dessert. Pull it out of the hot water, place a serving plate upside down on top of the mold, and flip it over. Shake it a couple times sharply, and lift the mold up. The panna cotta should slide out gently. Spoon some compote over the panna cotta and serve.
Smooth. Creamy. The buttermilk is a nice touch of bitterness to complement the fruit. And an elegant finish to a meal. Delish.