Saturday, March 16, 2013

Let's Experiment: Flan-Style Panna Cotta

This one is a brainchild from a sleepless night (thank you caffeine) in college. What is it exactly? From the first look, it's flan or creme caramel (cousin of the quintessential French dessert, creme brulee), but it's not. It's the Italian pudding, panna cotta, masquerading as flan. The flan style panna cotta is really quick to make, is done on the stove-top and sets in the fridge, and requires only five ingredients - half and half, sugar, vanilla, gelatin and a pinch of salt.

So first off, how are panna cotta and flan different? Flan is thickened with a mixture of whole eggs and egg yolks, while panna cotta receives its structural integrity from gelatin. Because panna cotta uses gelatin, it doesn't need to be baked, and unlike flan, panna cotta doesn't come with a ready made sauce (caramel is first poured into the ramekins for flan before baking and this later becomes a caramel sauce).

So let's get started!

 Flan-Style Panna Cotta
Milk, sugar, vanilla extract and gelatin
- 6 4-oz ramekins
- 1 saute pan
- 1 saucepan
- measuring cups
- measuring spoons
- wooden or silicone spatula
- whisk
- 3 cups half and half
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 packet (2.5 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin
- pinch of salt

1) Add 3/4 cups sugar to a dry saucepan and set the heat to medium-low.
2) When the edges of the sugar begin to melt and brown, use a spatula to gently mix and redistribute the unmelted sugar. Continue to do this until all of the sugar has dissolved and the resulting caramel has reached the desired color.
3) At this stage, quickly pour the caramel into each ramekin and gently swirl the ramekin to ensure even coverage. Set the ramekins aside to cool.
4) Bloom the gelatin by sprinkling it on top of the 1/2 cup of half and half and stir to combine. Allow it to rest until the gelatin has hydrated.
5) In a deep saucepan, combine the remaining sugar and half and half along with a pinch of salt and heat on medium, making sure to stir often.
6) Once the mixture reaches a boil, add in the bloomed gelatin, whisk and continue boiling until the gelatin has dissolved (~1-2 minutes).
7) Allow the pudding to cool to room temp and then pour into the prepared ramekins. Cover the ramekins with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, but preferably overnight, to set.
8) To serve, retrieve the pudding from the refrigerator and using a thin bladed knife, insert the blade where the panna cotta meets the ramekin and turn the ramekin while keeping the knife stationary. Place an inverted plate over the ramekin, grab both the ramekin and plate and invert to release.

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