Have you ever had that experience where, in a fit of inspired gusto, you concoct a combination of flavors in your mind, for a dish sweet or savory, absolutely convinced that it will be a surefire winner? Then you sieve through a Google Reader‘s screen worth of recipes, waiting for the right one to jump out at you, picking and choosing different elements to fit your concept of the dessert you conjured up. All goes well until you actually get to work, only to realize that the most challenging recipe facing you was actually the one that you expected to complete in a jiffy, while the seemingly complicated version executed without a hitch. Ah, the joys of the kitchen.
Well, that’s the story of today’s post. Courtesy of not one, but two, requests from two friends (who also happen to be entrepreneurial and inspiring businesswomen), S and E, the Panna Cotta is an elegant Italian dessert that holds court when presented at the table, like an Italian princess who knows what she’s worth but doesn’t need to flaunt it. Less celebrated than its cousin, the tiramisu, panna cotta is no less captivating with its silky smooth texture achieved from mixing together the Holy Trinity of custards: milk, cream and sugar. Usually scented with a vanilla pod, modern versions include the use of Asian flavors such as pandan, saffron and cardamom and coconut. Feeling creative, I decided to infuse the dish with ginger, and to pair it with a side of crisp honey tuiles, inspired by Dorie Greenspan’s translucent maple tuiles, for a textural contrast.
The panna cotta, which I adapted from David Lebovitz’s adaptation of Judy Witts’ recipe, was a real cinch to make. Unlike most recipes, this version does not use a single ounce of milk, calling instead for a full 4 cups of heavy cream. I substituted the vanilla pod for a 4-inch piece of ginger which I peeled, sliced half of it into thin rounds and grated the rest for 1½ teaspoons of ginger juice. I added this to the cream and sugar mixture, brought it to a gentle boil then strained and mixed in the gelatin before putting them to rest in the refrigerator. Easy as pie. To impart a quaint, delicate look for this post, I opted to serve the panna cotta in these cute mugs instead of unmolding them onto plates.
While the panna cotta was a breeze, the tuiles took far longer and were more challenging than I had expected. The recipe sounded simple enough: mix butter, sugar, syrup (or honey, in this case) and flour, chill for 3 hours, roll out into small rounds, bake and shape. Perhaps it was because I substituted honey for maple syrup which changed the consistency of the dough and its behavior in the oven, my first two attempts produced trays smothered in a surface of burnt honey and butter. For the last (and successful) attempt, I kept an eagle’s eye on the time the tuiles spent in the oven and spaced each tuile-mound as far apart as possible on the baking sheet. Even so, there were a few that had started to form alliances on the sheet, producing mega-tuiles, which we happily shaped into contortions, like this:
Overall, the flavors were as complementary as I had anticipated, with the tuiles serving as the perfect foil for the lush and creamy panna cotta with its ginger undertones. It’s the perfect substitute for a custard/cream-based cold dessert in the absence of an ice-cream maker and can be savored after a few hours in the refrigerator.
Honey Tuiles (adapted from Baking: From My Home To Yours)
Makes 24 cookies
These can be served either as flat rounds or curved, to resemble the rooftop tiles (tuiles) of country homes in France. I tweaked the proportions of honey and butter in this version, which turned out a tad oily. I’d reduce the amount of butter by a tablespoon (14 grams) for my next attempt, but do give it a try and let me know how your experience went!
½ stick/ 57 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
4 ounces/ 115 grams honey
5½ teaspoons/ 25 grams brown sugar, packed
3 tablespoons/ 16 grams all-purpose flour, sifted
A few hours ahead, or the day before you plan to bake the tuiles, combine the butter, honey and sugar in a medium bowl with a rubber spatula or a hand mixer until you get a light-colored paste. Gently stir in the flour and mix only until all the flour is absorbed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, pressing against the surface of the batter, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or up to a week.
When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400F/ 200C. Line two baking sheets with Silpat or any silicon liner, and if you plan to curve the cookies, have at hand a rolling pin or a small bottle.
With two teaspoons, scoop the paste onto the baking sheets into mounds 2 inches apart. Each mound should be no bigger than small cherries or hazelnuts.
Bake for about 5 to 7 minutes, checking in on the trays at the 5-minute mark. The tuiles are ready when they turn golden and are slightly honey-combed. Remove the sheets from the oven, let them rest for about 30 seconds, then lift the cookies from the sheet using a metal spatula and immediately place them on the rolling pin or bottle to cool in a curved shape, or just cool them on a wire rack.
If the tuiles stick stubbornly to the sheet, slide the trays back into the oven for a minute or so to warm them. Be sure that any trays used for subsequent batches are clean and cool.
The tuiles can be kept in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to a week, but cannot be frozen.