Desserts For Family Dinner
My sister had my parents and I over for supper last Saturday, and I wanted to make a light but satisfying dessert since I knew we were having lamb chops as a main course. Since most of my desserts are of the cake or tart variety, I took the opportunity to really break away from what I normally do.
Logs of raw biscotti, ready to go into the oven
As my regular readers know, I am a cookbook, food blog and cooking magazine addict who is always bemoaning the fact that there just isn't enough time to actually create all of the lovely recipes found in the universe. One blog that I am always drooling over is the brilliant and outrageously gorgeous Kuiadore. I can only daydream about ever becoming as artistic and creative as J but I have kept a few of her creations in the back of my mind with the hopes that one day, I would be able to create such loveliness.
Baked and ready for slicing....
One particularly pretty dessert came to mind when I was trying to choose what to make, and the fact that it was on the lighter side made it a shoe-in. I had seen J's Espresso Orange Panna Cotta Parfait with Coffee Gelee many times and had always stared at the perfect layers of rich panna cotta and espresso gelee in awe. I googled the name of the dessert and lucky me- the recipe was available online so I printed it out and made my way to Crate and Barrel to buy some small, clear glasses for the panna cotta. I also picked up a few things to make some Chocolate and Pistachio Biscotti, a recipe from Michelle Myers of SONA and Boule fame, to go with the panna cotta. I'd fallen in love with the green on black look of the dark chocolate biscotti when I first saw the photo in the December 2005 issue of Food and Wine and couldn't wait to try them. Note: I only used 3.5 oz of chopped dark chocolate in the biscotti instead of the 7.5 ounces called for. I honestly think that it works better with the smaller amount- the 7.5 ounces would make it too wet, I believe.
The finished biscotti....all chocolatey and crisp
I found the perfect little European stemless wine glasses, and at less than $2 each, grabbed six of them, extremely satisfied with myself! Yes, I will admit I am the dork who gleefully leaves work and is as happy as a lark at the prospect of shopping for anything kitchen-related. After my successful shopping trip, I gathered all of the ingredients and started. I had to keep in mind that this is the type of recipe that you must focus on- meaning, if you screw up, the whole thing will be ruined, at least looks-wise. While the recipe is quite an easy and simple one, the actual construction is one you must be very careful with.
First layer- espresso panna cotta
I seeped some decaf (since we were having it later at night) espresso in heavy cream, then added the sugar and softened gelatin. I didn't have any cheesecloth so I just put a coffee filter in my fine-sieve strainer and poured the mixture into that, but the thick cream refused to drip out! I tried a few other methods (paper towels, just the strainer) all to no avail....and losing precious tablespoons of the cream every time I had to try another way. I finally used my single-cup coffee drip thing (WHY didn't I think of it sooner?!) which strained out the espresso grounds perfectly. Since I had lost a lot of the cream, I made four servings (which is all I needed) instead of the six called for in the recipe. Of course I did put a couple of tablespoons in a separate cup so that I could taste-test it after it solidified.....ya know- quality control!!
Second layer....espresso gelee.....
After very carefully wrapping the glasses in saran wrap and putting them in the refrigerator, I waited about an hour and then started the second layer of espresso gelee. Growing up, we always had coffee jelly which is a very popular dessert in Japan, and this espresso gelee is basically the same thing. People always react strangely when I tell them about coffee jelly, but it's one of the best desserts ever! Get some coffee jelly, pour some heavy cream and sugar or simple syrup over it and it's like eating a cup of coffee. Anyway, back to the gelee. After I seeped the espresso in water, added the sugar and gelatin, I let it come to room temperature before very carefully pouring (using the back of a spoon) it over the now-solidified espresso panna cotta layer. I put it all back into the refrigerator and waited....but not before sampling the small amount of espresso panna cotta that I had put in a separate glass. Although it was absolutely delicious, it was very, very rich due to the fact that the base is entirely heavy cream. I thought that maybe having two layers made with just cream would be too heavy, and decided to make the last layer with whole milk instead.
Third layer....orange panna cotta....
I went through the same process making the orange panna cotta as I did the other two layers, using whole milk instead of the cream. I seeped orange zest in the warm milk and once again poured the cooled mixture on top of the other layers. After a couple of hours in the fridge, they were ready.
Finished dessert, all in a row.....
And what a beautiful dessert it was- both in looks and flavor. I was happy that I made the top layer with milk since it did balance out the richness of the espresso panna cotta on the bottom. The recipe really is simple, and a great stepping-stone to many other panna cotta flavor combinations. I'd love to try a strawberry/vanilla/chocolate or a green tea/chocolate/almond combo.
The final product, accompanied by the biscotti
Thanks Kuiadore, for the inspiration!
Stay tuned for my sister's lovely lamb dinner which will be featured soon!
Dessert, panna cotta