I read an article once that said the best way to tell if a restaurant has a pastry chef is to see if panna cotta is on the menu.
Deemed a very basic, boring dessert to chefs it can be somewhat challenging to the home cook.
It all comes down to getting the famous “wobble” and unfortunately many panna cottas I’ve eaten, at dinner parties and restaurants alike, have been rubbery and flavourless.
One trick is to ensure you use double cream rather than thickened cream. Thickened cream already has gelatine in it so you’re effectively double dipping.
You also need to choose whether you want to use gelatine leaf or powder. I much prefer leaf because powder can sometimes clump together but my mother swears by it.
Ratios are also challenging – I have used 500ml cream, 150ml milk and four gelatine leaves. But it may be trial and error to find a recipe that works well for you and creates the best texture.
Panna cotta is also a perfect flavour carrier so don’t stop at making the standard custard alone. Infuse flavours like vanilla, tea or ginger into the cream or add white or milk chocolate or coffee.
Chefs these days are choosing to set panna cottas into bowls and then pile up different flavours and textures such as fresh or poached fruits, fresh herbs, jellies, nuts, crumbs and honeycomb.
This goes totally against the old-school test of whether you can turn our panna cotta out onto a dish.
For my dessert, I’ve matched a white chocolate panna cotta with honey-roasted figs and walnut biscuit crumb.
White chocolate panna cotta
500ml double cream
100g white chocolate
4 sheets of gelatine
25g caster sugar
Soak the gelatine leaves in warm water for five minutes until softened.
In the meantime, heat the cream and the milk in a saucepan until simmering. Add the white chocolate and sugar and stir until melted.
Take off the heat. Squeeze the gelatine dry then add to the mix and stir until melted.
Set aside and leave to cool.
Pour into four ramekins and set in the fridge for 5 hours.
When ready to serve, place the ramekins in a bowl of hot water to loosen up the custard. Tip out onto a serving dish and garnish as desired.
To make the figs, you just need to drizzle a teaspoon of honey over each fig and cook at 180C for around 6-8 minutes.
To make the crumb, combine 25g crushed walnuts, 2 tbsp flour, 2 tbsp brown sugar and 30g butter in a blender, then press onto a baking tray and cook for 10 minutes at 180C.