Saturday, October 27, 2012

Coconut Milk Panna Cotta (Two Ways)

I have spent the last year pushing a lot of boundaries. I decided to try a lot of things that I have never done before, and not let myself back out when I got scared or tired. I made the decision to leave graduate school and take on the challenge of running a vegan bakery. I learned to shoot a bow and arrow. I went rock climbing for the first and second time already. I'm also trying to push myself in realm of sweets. I keep trying to become a more proficient decorator. I still haven't played as much with fondant or gum paste or sugar as much as I would have liked. But I have learned to make amazing vegan caramel and even made a few layered cakes that I was pretty proud of. MoFo was also a first. The first time I committed to very actively baking at home for a solid month and sharing what I learned. I've also tried to make several things I never tried before. I made cobbler and caramel apples even though it was a bit unfamiliar. I tried to be a little more creative and not be as afraid of messing new recipes up. This panna cotta is one of those things.

As someone who made agar plates for microbiology labs repeatedly for a few years, I should be innately comfortable with agar. But cooking with it is a little bit different. I have only been able to find agar flakes, which are a bit different than the powder. The flakes take a little longer to rehydrate, a little longer to dissolve, and you need to add a little more than you would for the powdered version. I twisted this recipe a little to try and use agar flakes. I could tell they weren't dissolving yet, so I kept boiling away. I poured four different glasses at 4 different points in the boiling to see what worked best. It's just my lab training kicking in. I replaced the powder with 2 tablespoons of flakes, and boiled it for 4 minutes before pouring it in the glass. That gave me the most creamy consistency. You don't want to boil it any longer than this or you will end up with rubber (like you will notice if you look at the picture with the spoon). If you still see undissolved flakes, you can easily strain them out through something with a fine mesh. But you will want to soak that strainer immediately, or you will experience ten minutes of hell trying to scrub it all out later. This pomegranate panna cotta that really intrigued me, and while I would have made it pomegranate juice isn't easy on the pocket book. I decided to go a different route and just add a thick layer of seeds to the top of the cup. The tart crunch of the seeds was a really nice contrast to the creamy subtle panna cotta. The second version was topped with a thin layer of cranberry reduction. It's the same reduction that I made for the cranberry white chocolate ice cream. It's tart and bright. And while I like the appearance of the second jello layer, I prefer the way the reduction will easily move around the cup as you take bites. It's a shame to only get a few small bites with tartness at the top of the dish. I also tried to add vanilla bean paste to add a nice swirl of flecks throughout the panna cotta, the majority of the flecks fell to the bottom. A girl's gotta try.

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