lemon panna cotta
Now that we’ve seen the first inklings of spring, I thought it would be nice to make a not-too-heavy, not-too-sweet dessert to pair with some sunshine and [the hope for] warmer weather. Although you might assume that I used a hydrocolloid to make the gel-like panna cotta and a modified soy protein to create the foam, but this recipe is actually something your great grandmother could have made.  In fact, I used a basic panna cotta recipe from Epicurious as my starting point.  One of the keys to this recipe is to use really great cream and half and half – find the best stuff you can at a farmers market or a discerning grocery store.

Makes: 8 servings
Total kitchen time: 30 mins working + 4 hours refrigerating

Shopping list:
For the panna cotta

  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 32 drops lemon extract

For the candied lemon supremes

  • 1 Meyer lemon, supremed
  • 3 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tbsp. water

For the coconut foam

  • 1 13oz. can light coconut milk
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 drop lavender essential oil (one drop goes a long way, but feel free to adjust to taste)

Garnish

  • Shaved coconut (available in the bulk foods section of finer grocery stores)
  • Edible flowers
  • Shaved white chocolate

 

  1. Add the water to a small saucepan and sprinkle over the gelatin to bloom.  After it has been hydrated for 1 minute or so, heat on low and stir until it forms a fluid.  Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. In a large saucepan, heat the cream, half and half and sugar to a simmer over moderate heat until, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat and stir in lemon extract and gelatin mixture. 
  3. Divide the heated cream base among 8 muffin molds (or ramekins) and transfer to the refrigerator until fully chilled, at least 4 hours. 
  4. To make the candied lemon, combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan.  Add the lemon supremes and cook over low heat for 15 minutes, flipping once.
  5. When you’re ready so serve, beat the coconut milk together with sugar and lavender essential oil in a medium bowl using a whisk or an electric mixer.
  6. To remove the panna cotta from their molds, I like to use my cooking torch.  With the torch on its lowest setting, quickly heat the outside of each metal mold, spending just a few seconds on each one.  The panna cotta should slip right out.  Alternately, heat the molds in a little warm water and run your knife around the inside to loosen. 
  7. Garnish the panna cotta with coconut foam, candied lemon, shaved coconut, shaved white chocolate and edible flowers.
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pacojet-style frozen dessert
If you’ve ever been in an upscale restaurant and ordered a sorbet or ice cream with a consistency that seemed to defy the laws of physics, it was probably made in a Pacojet.  This $4000 machine is a staple in many restaurant and hotel kitchens for its ability to produce exceptionally smooth and creamy desserts and savory dishes.  However, if I’m going to drop four grand on a kitchen machine, it damned well better take voice commands and wear a skimpy outfit.

My method uses dry ice for instant freezing and Xanthan Gum, a popular soy-based gluten substitute, as a thickener for a more velvety texture.  In addition, I’ve added a small amount of Versawhip, which creates a subtle but stable foam, giving the finished product the unexpected lightness usually associated with mousses.  You can substitute the sorbet base of your choice, following the same basic steps.

Makes: about 6 cups
Total kitchen time: 10 minutes

Shopping list:

  • 20 oz. canned pineapple (crushed, slices, or chunks), including juice
  • 6 oz. fresh raspberries
  • 1 oz. (a small shot) St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur (optional)
  • 3 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. Xanthan gum (also available in the baking aisle at better grocery stores. Look for the Bob’s Red Mill label)
  • 1/2 tsp. Versawhip
  • 1 lb. dry ice, crushed into 1/2” or smaller chunks
  1. Combine the pineapple (including juice), raspberries, St. Germain and sugar in the bowl of a large food processor.  Process for one minute or until smooth.
  2. Add the Xanthan gum and Versawhip and process until combined.
  3. With the food processor running, add the dry ice and continue processing another 1-2 minutes, or until the sound of the dry ice cracking has stopped.
  4. Remove from the food processor and serve, or store in the freezer.  Can be made 2 days in advance.

It is true that the Pacojet doesn’t require any added thickeners to achieve its magic consistency.  However, it does require you to freeze your sorbet mix at –20C for 24 hours before churning.  I’d love to do a blind taste test comparison between this method and the Pacojet. As soon as I trip over a pile of cash, I’ll let you know how the test turns out.

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