Christmas panna cotta

White chocolate panna cotta

Christmas pudding is lovely, but it can be a bit heavy on a hot day, especially after a big lunch. What you really want is something cool and light – just a taste of something sweet rather than another meal. So this Christmas I made my family this white chocolate panna cotta with berries (and gold leaf, just cause I could!). It’s actually pretty similar to the dessert I made the previous Christmas, which was a rosewater cream dish with lychees and berries, so I wasn’t really over extending myself. It’s too hard to refrigerate and transport 15-odd individual panna cottas (not to mention the fact that I don’t have 15 matching glasses and it would make it awkward for people who wanted seconds), so I just made a giant one. I think it looks more impressive anyway, and it involves less washing, which is always a plus.

I modified this recipe from Ben O’Donoghue’s recipe in the December 2010/January 2011 edition of delicious. magazine. I made one and a half of the recipe, which hurt my brain a bit, but it was all eaten, which is always good for my self esteem. Last year I made a giant dessert rather than individual ones and learned that I needed to use more gelatine to get it to set (duh, obvious now I think about it), so I added extra this year. I also cut out some of the cream and replaced it with milk, and it was meant to have lemon zest in it but I forgot to buy one so I used orange. I think the orange was actually better, so perhaps my inner genius chef instinctively knew that and decided not to buy a lemon on purpose…

Because I was worried some people didn’t like white chocolate (they did, so I didn’t need to worry), I served it with dark (like, REALLY dark) chocolate truffles. I also had some beautiful cherries, so I put them out too. Why not – it was Christmas after all. My mum said it was ‘divine’. I think she meant it, because she said it about four times on the day and then told me again a few days later. The photo is from my aunt – in all the excitement, I forgot to take one myself.

White chocolate panna cotta
This served 12 people, with enough for seconds

600 ml full-cream milk
1.4 L thickened cream
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
2 vanilla beans, split, seeds scraped
5 gelatine leaves
375 g white chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup icing sugar

Berry sauce
I used a bunch of different berries – blue, black, straw… rasp… the original recipe just has strawberries. I don’t think it matters.

500 g strawberries, hulled, quartered
250 g blueberries
125 g blackberries
250 g raspberries
3 tbs icing sugar
3 tbs balsamic vinegar (I used cherry balsamic, just cause I had it and it seemed appropriate)

Place 450 ml of milk and 900 ml cream in a saucepan with the orange zest and vanilla pods and seeds. Place the pan over medium head and bring to almost boiling. Actually, I let it boil by accident, and it seemed ok. Oops. Reduce heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes until reduced by about a quarter and then remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, soak gelatine in the remaining 150 ml milk for about 5 minutes to soften. Squeeze the gelatine leaves to remove the excess liquid, and then stir leaves and chocolate into the cream mixture until they dissolve. Strain through a sieve into a bowl and chill over ice, stirring occasionally until thickened but not set. This step took me ages, and it only slightly thickened. I think the main thing is for the mixture to be cool.

Using electric beaters, lightly whip the remaining 500ml cream and icing sugar until soft peaks form. Mix the whipped cream into the cooled cream and chocolate mixture. Pour mixture into the bowl you want to serve it (or you can just leave it in the same bowl), cover and refrigerate. I think the individual serves set quite quickly, like in four hours or so, but the big one takes a while. I made it on Christmas eve and left it overnight, because it was easier to make it in advance.

I made the berry sauce on Christmas morning, cause I wanted to put it all together to serve it rather than have the sauce separate, but I didn’t want the berries to sink into the unset panna cotta. I just picked out about a punnet or so of mixed raspberries, strawberries and blackberries for the sauce. Blend them in a food processor with the icing sugar and vinegar until smooth. Then mix the remaining berries and the sauce together, and gently scoop it on top of the panna cotta. I decorated it with gold leaf, but it doesn’t really need anything decorating. That many berries will always look impressive. Best served with champagne (well, sparkling) and family and friends who will give you compliments and scrape the bowl clean.

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