Let me start by trying to describe my unholy, unhealthy obsession with custards. I love custards. I love them with a passion equal only to pork, and we have already discussed my love of the pig. Whenever I pick up a dessert menu, the first thing I look for is a custard. I have no idea what it is about them – there are certainly desserts that taste as good and in some ways better – but the combination of the taste and the texture just really work for me. Zabaglione, crème brulee, flan, you just can’t go wrong.
I could get into the history of it – custard has been around since the Middle Ages (which, by the way, happens to be the coolest period of time in history) and possibly longer – but the truth of it is, panna cotta isn’t really a custard. At least, not technically. It has more in common with Jell-O in terms of chemical structure, and there’s not a drop of egg involved. But, when made right, it has a texture and flavor to rival any crème anglaise.
I chose to balance mine – a vanilla panna cotta – with a dense, rich bittersweet flourless chocolate cake, baked in a sheet pan and cut into triangles with a child’s shapesorter block, because I’m MacGuyver in the kitchen, guys. To cut down the richness and add a hint of tart, I had Paris Hilton serve it.
Just kidding. I whipped together a sauce with the juice of two blood oranges. Recipes below!
from Mark Bittman
You will need:
3 cups cream, or 1 1/2 cups cream and 1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 package (1/4 ounce) unflavored gelatin
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar
Pour 1 cup of the cream in a medium saucepan and sprinkle gelatin over, let sit for five minutes. After, cook over low heat, stirring, until gelatin dissolves completely. (I had to turn my heat up a little thanks to an electric range and altitude, and it took me a while to get it to dissolve completely.)
Add the rest of the cream and the sugar to your gelatin mixture and heat gently, just until the sugar dissolves. Add the vanilla and stir to combine. Pour mixture into 4 large or 6 small custard cups and chill until set, about 4 hours. If you want you can serve right in the cup, or you can unmold as I did. Use a knife and dip the container in hot water for a few seconds to help release.
Flourless Chocolate Cake
adapted from A Mingling of Tastes
You will need:
2/3 c plus 2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
9 oz quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
I used Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips, and the flavor was just exactly where I wanted it to be. Bittersweet can have an edge to it that I, as a chocolate lover, really enjoy but my husband, who is a milk chocolate fan, doesn’t so much. This meets nicely in the middle.
Preheat the oven to 350 F and line an edged baking sheet with buttered parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine the sugar, cocoa and salt. In a separate bowl or container, whisk the vanilla with the eggs and then add to the sugar mixture, stirring to combine.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the chocolate and, stirring constantly, melt completely. Remove from heat and add to sugar mixture, whisking until combined – it should be thick and pretty smooth.
Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth into corners. You want it to be as even a thickness as you can. Bake for about 25 minutes – the top will be crusty, like a brownie, and the inside will be dense and thick. I let mine cool overnight before cutting and recommend the same to you. (the original, delicious sounding recipe at the source is a thicker, traditional cake baked in a 9” springform, if you aren’t interested in cutting out shapes.)
Blood Orange Sauce
Fruit sauces are really easy to make. I happened to have blood oranges on hand – exactly two, in fact, so I made a blood orange sauce. It consists of bringing 2 Tbsp of sugar and the juice of two oranges to a boil and simmer until it reaches your desired thickness.