I’m not really a dessert person, but I do love everything about a panna cotta. The texture, the lightness, the creaminess. It has it all! They’re also deceptively simple to make yourself. Once you’ve mastered how much gelatin to add you’re quite literally set! The panna cotta’s should have a light firmness, like jelly – and a definite wobble – your spoon should slide through with ease. Gelatin sheets differ in strength but bizarrely most brands don’t give you any indication of how much to use, so it’s a bit of trial and error. I have found that titanium strength sheets are the most consistent. Once you find a good brand, stick with it and write your formula down somewhere! My formula is roughly one 5g titanium gelatin sheet per cup (240ml) of liquid. Anyway, back to dessert – this dish has a great combo of flavours and textures. The creamy, light sweetness of the panna cotta marries well with the bitter nuttiness of the praline and the tart, sweet syrup ties the two together in each perfectly harmonious mouthful. Special!!
For the Panna Cotta
1 1/2 cups full fat milk
1 1/2 cups cream
2-3 tablespoons caster sugar
1 vanilla bean
3 x 5g gelatin sheets (titanium strength)
For the praline
1/2 cup whole, shelled pistachio nuts
1 cup caster sugar
pinch sea salt
For the syrup
1 small bottle of Botrytis dessert wine (or any sweet white wine).
1 teaspoon sugar
For the panna cotta
Cut the vanilla bean lengthways in half. Using a teaspoon or knife, scrape out the beans from both sides. Add to a saucepan along with the milk, cream and sugar and turn on the heat. (Don’t throw out the bean, add this to a jar of sugar, for fabulous vanilla sugar, great over fruit or in tea.)
Soak the gelatine sheets in cold water while the milk heats.
When the milk is hot, remove from the heat. Squeeze out the gelatine sheets and add to the milk until dissolved. Pour the milk through a strainer, and then decant the liquid into small ramekins or panna cotta moulds. (makes 4-6 depending on size). Cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least 4 hours for the panna cottas to set.
For the praline
Arrange a lightly greased piece of greaseproof paper on a baking tray then arrange the nuts in one layer quite close together.
Heat a small frying pan over a moderate/high heat. Pour in the sugar and shake into one layer. Keep over the heat until the sugar melts. DO NOT STIR! The sugar will eventually turn a deep golden brown. Be careful to no burn the sugar. When it’s deep amber colour, remove from the heat and quickly and carefully drizzle over the nuts. Don’t be tempted to touch the mixture – it’s molten hot! Add a pinch of sea salt to the top and leave this to cool completely. It’ll harden.
When cooled, snap the praline into small pieces. Set four pieces aside and put the remaining pieces into a food processor. Pulse blend until you have a crumble, like coarse breadcrumbs.
For the Syrup
Place the wine and sugar in a small frying pan and over a moderate/high heat reduce by 2/3 – about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and decant into a small jug. Refrigerate to cool and thicken the syrup.
With a knife, gently ease the top edges of the panna cottas from their mould. Dip the ramekins into a shallow bowl of hot water that goes up about half way. Leave for 5 seconds then turn out onto a waiting plate or bowl. Drizzle over some syrup then add a spoonful of the praline crumble. Finally add the small piece of praline and serve.