Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tea Week: Sweets

The final course in a classic afternoon tea is usually comprised of various baked goods. Cookies, cakes, Victoria sponge (a very traditional jam-filled sponge cake). These are all pretty standard components to this course. Usually a variety of sweets is served at this point in the meal, but once again, I was a bit time restricted, and only serving a handful of people, so I decided to come up with one really fun dessert idea to finish off our meal (we were so full by this point anyway!). Infusing tea into the actual dessert seemed like a great idea, and so a tea-based panna cotta was born. Panna cottas are not British by any means, but instead Italian, meaning cooked cream. They use gelatin to create their custard-like texture, significantly less complicated than making an egg-based custard.

While they are generally formed in ramekins and then unmolded onto serving plates, in this case, I opted to serve them in tea cups. It really rounded out the presentation very nicely. The one mistake I made was that I allowed them to chill as is. An unsightly skin formed on my panna cottas, which I later tried to cover up with confectioners' sugar (we all make mistakes!), so I've made sure to address that in the recipe. I usually press plastic wrap against the surface of other custards I make (such as pastry cream), so I'm not sure why in this case I neglected to do that. I blame losing my mind :) In any case, they were SO delicious, and replacing sugar with honey really made these more reflective of a tea experience, as I personally prefer honey to sugar as a tea sweetener (on the rare occasion I sweeten my tea) 365 days of the year. Plus, I just really love the flavor that honey imparts (not just its sweetening capability) and it provided such a great depth of flavor to these panna cottas. I look forward to replicating this recipe with other types of tea in the future (I make some fun suggestions at the bottom of the recipe).

Earl Grey Panna Cottas
Serves 4 to 8

1 (.25 oz) package unflavored powdered gelatin (about 1 T.)
2 T. cold water
3 cups heavy cream, half-and-half, or combination
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup loose Earl Grey tea leaves

Dissolve gelatin in cold water.

Heat half-and-half in a saucepan to a simmer. Turn off the heat, add the honey and Earl Grey tea, stir and allow tea to steep for about 10 minutes. Strain into the bowl of bloomed gelatin and combine well. Divide mixture among 8 (1/2-cup) ramekins greased with neutral-flavored oil (for unmolding later), 4 (1-cup) ramekins greased with neutral-flavored oil (for unmolding later) or 6 tea cups. Press plastic wrap to the top of each to prevent a skin forming. Cool to room temperature. Chill ramekins at least 4 hours or overnight until set.

Gently peel off the plastic wrap. If using ramekins and would like to unmold panna cottas, dip ramekins one at a time into a bowl of hot water for 3 seconds. Run a thin knife around edge of each ramekin and invert ramekin onto the center of a small plate. If using tea cups, serve panna cottas in the cups on saucers.

*Note* Here are some other ideas for tea-flavored panna cottas. Simply substitute the equivalent amount for the Earl Grey tea leaves. Chamomile, chai, and other fruit-infused black teas would all be great. Matcha green tea would also be lovely, but use only 1 to 2 teaspoons as this is powdered and not whole tea leaves. A little will go a long way.


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