This is my idea of the perfect dessert. It is elegant. It is understated. It is not too sweet. It isn’t dependent on the season and yet all kinds of seasonal fruit goes with it and that makes it versatile. From strawberries in June, plums in September, precisely cut little blood orange sections in December to rhubarb compote in March, they all marry beautifully with panna cotta. Plain, it is the essence of pure clean cream. It is ideal for dinner parties of up to 12 people because you must make it in advance so there is no last minute horsing around. Utterly creamy, it is the most beautiful pale ivory color, I am trying to think of a dessert I like better and I can’t. (Well, there is that roasted tangerine tart thing…and the pear custard with chocolate…oh and the fresh strawberry ice cream with brown sugar cookies. Nevermind.) Anyway. Panna Cotta is one of my supreme favorites and I can’t believe I haven’t written about it until now.
With rhubarb and strawberry compote
The first time I had panna cotta was in a dark cistern of a restaurant in Florence, following a wide soup plate of ribollita. A frutti di bosco puree swirled around the base. That one was good enough to start a bit of an obsession. For the next several years, if I saw panna cotta on the menu, I always ordered it for dessert. Sometimes it was dreamy, barely set, just sweetened cream, served with fruit or a tuile, or sometimes, weirdly, with chocolate. Occasionally there was too much gelatin and that was a disaster! Like rubber. Finally, in a little restaurant in the Mission in San Francisco, after a plate of very tender charred squid and a bowl of boar bolognese and tagliatelle, I had a panna cotta epiphany. Here on a little white plate, was the epitome of the the dessert. It’s highest manifestation. I’m only sort of kidding.
In a puddle of clear caramelized sugar, just burnt enough to be intriguing, a pale quiver of cream. Sections of blood orange were scattered at the edge; their membranes carefully sliced away. Luckily, SFGate published a recipe for the dessert soon after or I would still be pining for it here in Seattle.
I made this panna cotta on Monday for a dinner party I gave my dad as a present. I served it with a blueberry compote scented with lemon. (If you like to cook, it makes a great gift to give someone an entire dinner party. Loads of fun.)
Delfina Buttermilk Panna Cotta
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- a little water + 1/4 cup of water
- 1 envelope gelatin (about 1 tablespoon)
- 3 cups whipping cream
- 1 1/4 cups + 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 cup buttermilk
- Juice of 2 lemons
Caramel - the color of an old penny
- To make the caramel: In a small heavy bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar and lemon juice.
- Add just enough water to moisten to a sandy texture.
- Using a pastry brush dipped in water, brush any sugar off the sides of the pot. This will help you avoid crystalizing the sugar. Don’t worry too much about this, I have accidentally crystalized sugar in other recipes, but never in this one.
- Cook over medium- high heat until the sugar caramelizes. The color should be as deep a copper as an old penny. Getting the color right will ensure rich flavor. Just don’t burn it!
- Remove from heat and stand back while you add the 1/4 cup water. Don’t get spattered! The hot caramel will sputter like crazy when you add the water.
- When the sputtering stops, pour the caramel into a dozen little ramekins. Mine are 6 ounce and I got them at IKEA .Carefully tilt the cups to coat with caramel. Set aside.
- To make the custard: Empty the package of gelatin into a small bowl. Stir in 4 tbsp of water and stir. Set aside.
- Add the cream and sugar to a medium heavy bottomed saucepan and whisk. Heat until there are bubbles all around the edges but remove from the heat before it reaches a rolling boil. Stir in the softened gelatin and whisk until it dissolves completely. Add the buttermilk and lemon juice and whisk briefly until combined. Remove from heat and let cool.
- Pour the custard into the ramekins, over the caramel. Refrigerate overnight.
- To unmold: Fill a small baking dish with very hot tap water. Working methodically, slip a small sharp paring knife around the inside of the molds to loosen the custards and set in the hot water for a about 10 seconds. Invert ramekin over a serving plate and whack it gently. It should slide gently onto the plate, surrounded by a pool of caramel.
- Spoon a little blueberry compote around the edge.
- 2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen if you must
- 1/3-1/2 c. sugar (sometimes frozen berries are very tart)
- grated zest from 1 lemon
- 2 tbsp water (if using fresh berries)
- 1 tsp. cornstarch
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- Stir the blueberries, sugar, lemon zest and water (if using) in a small saucepan. Heat until liquidy and the blueberries soften.
- In a small bowl, add the cornstarch to the lemon juice and stir until smooth. Scrape into the blueberry mixture. Stir and heat just until the berries reach a boil.
- Cool a little bit before serving. The contrast between the warm berries and the cool panna cotta is pleasing.
Leftover blueberry compote with yogurt and toasted almonds makes an excellent breakfast
I did have panna cotta last week at a sushi place here in Seattle. (Take note – this might be the best sushi I’ve ever had!) Anyway for dessert, they served Panna Cotta with a clear yuzu sauce. Fantastic.
The holidays are over. It is raining listlessly. Through the window in my office I can see the looming black shape of the evergreen in the yard, the grey stick mass of the leafless maple tree and the leaden cocoon of the winter sky. In the living room, the Christmas tree is strung with a series of dusty, white, spider webs connecting the Santa Claus at the top to the light on the ceiling. Tree limbs droop with the weight of the ornaments and there are more and more needles on the carpet. (I’m taking the tree down tomorrow, I swear!) Outside, it is not particularly cold and certainly not warm, but it is soggy. Thick new moss grows on everything, greenly blanketing paths and the steps – even tree branches. What an excellent time of year to play around in the kitchen!
It was about this time last year that I wrote about grapefruit in salad. The winter weather must drive me to anything at all reminiscent of sunlight. Anyway, I made this salad over the holidays again and again and sent the recipe around to anyone who asked for it. (It’s a reworked and vastly improved version of the failed salad) I must have eaten it twenty times in the last month and I’m still not sick of it!
The candied walnuts were very last minute. There were none left at the grocery store (probably because I started a run on them!) so I had to find a recipe. I made the walnuts for the first time this Christmas Eve. Crisp, spicy and so one-more-handful-ish, I made a batch minutes before leaving for my aunt’s house: a sweet little extra Christmas gift. How perfectly handy – to have a recipe like that.
for 4-6 people
- 2 bunches of watercress
- a wedge of blue Castello or Cambozola, cold – to make cutting easier
- a handful of candied walnuts (see recipe below)
- 2 pink grapefruits or 3-4 blood oranges
- 1 tbsp currants
- 1 shallot – thinly sliced into rings
- 2 tbsp Champagne vinegar
- 1 tsp red wine vinegar
- 6 tbsp olive oil
- salt and pepper
- Combine 1 tbsp hot water and red vinegar in a very small bowl with 1 tbsp currants.
- In another very small bowl, toss champagne vinegar with the sliced shallot.
- Wash and dry the leaves of watercress and mound on a large platter.
- Cut the Blue Castello into small pieces, removing any rind, and strew over leaves.
- With a very sharp knife cut the top and bottom off the grapefruit. Cut off all the rind and pith. Over a medium sized bowl, carefully slice between the membranes to remove the fruit in sections, catching any juice and the fruit in the bowl.
- Arrange the sectioned grapefruit over the salad.
- Toss the walnuts over the top.
- Lift the shallots out of the vinegar carefully, reserving the vinegar for the dressing. Pulling the rings apart, scatter the shallots over the salad.
- Drain the currants, and toss over the salad.
- Add 1-2 tbsp grapefruit juice to the small bowl with the champagne vinegar. Whisk in olive oil, 1/2 tsp sea salt, and a few grindings black pepper. Dress the salad – you may not need all the dressing.
(can be quadrupled!)
- 1 cup large walnut pieces (mostly halves)
- 2 tbsp maple syrup
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp kosher sea salt
- several grindings of pepper
- an optional pinch of cayenne (I liked it; my kids, not so much)
- Preheat the oven to 325.
- Toss all ingredients together in a medium sized bowl.
- Lightly spray a rimmed cookie sheet with vegetable oil.
- Spread the coated nuts over the cookie sheet.
- Toast for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.
- Remove from oven and cool stirring every few minutes so they don’t stick too badly to the pan.
You might think you’re mad at me when you see how the maple syrup and sugar seem welded to the cookie sheet. Don’t worry. Pour a cup or two of very hot or boiling water over it and in a few minutes it will wash right off.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend that making this tart is a snap or anything. It’s not. Pate Sucrée is a pain and I’m never sure if I’ve got it right. That being said, even when the pastry comes out funny looking, it never seems to make a difference – the custard holds everything together beautifully. And to miss out on this Peach Tart at the height of the peach season in a state known for their “Holy Sh-t” peaches, well, that would just be wrong. So pull up your socks and get to work. This one is absolutely worth it.
In this tart, the peaches crisp up under a delicate cloak of sugar and underneath are smooth and sweetly-tart. If you make the tart the day you plan to eat it (you must – this is not a dessert to make ahead of time) the custard will be so softly, almost breathtakingly set, and still you’ll be able to make beautiful neat slices. The creamy filling is on the verge of cascading over the crisp crust, just barely holding together, voluptuous and satiny. I scented the custard with St. Germaine, that elderflower liqueur I’m always going on about. The elderflower only enhanced the perfume of the peach, there was no alcoholic tang – nothing aggressive or distracting. This tart shouldn’t have a grown-up edge. The peach is the star here and the ripe fruit flavor sings.
Last summer, I made a version with nectarines which I thought at the time was the pinnacle of all summer stone fruit desserts- I would never have believed there was a better way. And now this. Sigh. The world is a beautiful place. Full of surprises.
Even though the pastry looks pocked and unevenly browned, this has never posed any noticeable problem
I have to credit In the Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley for this recipe – and SO many others. A truly excellent dessert resource. I never use anything else. Definitely this book is in my top three favorite cookbooks. And that includes all of them. Not just dessert!
Get all the ingredients measured out and in the freezer before you begin. You might even put the tart pan in there too.
- (1) 11″loose bottom fluted tart pan
- 1 7/8 c. all purpose flour
- 3/4 c. confectioners’ sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 12 tbsp very cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled for 10 minutes in the freezer
- 3 large egg yolks, lightly beaten, reserving one of the whites (you might need one more yolk but don’t crack it yet)
Dried beans make great pie weights
- In the food processor, whirl the flour, salt and confectioners’ sugar for a few seconds with the steel blade.
- Toss the cold butter evenly over the top and pulse until the largest pieces of butter are about a 1/4″. Don’t over process.
- Add the lightly beaten egg yolks, and pulse 2 or 3 more times. The mixture should look slightly moist and if you squeeze it, it should hold together in a clump. If it seems very dry and isn’t holding together, add one more lightly beaten egg yolk to the dough, pulsing briefly to distribute. (I had to add one last time – don’t let this make you feel like a failure.)
- Dump the dough into the tart pan and with lightly floured fingers press the dough evenly across the bottom and up the sides of the pan. You will have extra dough. The top of the dough ought to line up with the top edge of the pan and it should be no less than 1/4″ thick. The dough will shrink slightly as it bakes.
- Wrap the tart pan in plastic wrap and freeze for an hour, or let it rest in the refrigerator for 3-24 hours. Do not skip this crucial step. The dough needs to be chilled and well rested before it goes in the oven.
- Set the oven to 375.
- Prick the bottom of the tart shell about 20 times with the tines of a fork. I press my fingers against the dough when I pull the fork out or it crumbles.
- Line the bottom of the tart pan with parchment. Unintentionally, I bought silicone coated parchment last time, and I am glad. You can use regular old parchment or foil, but there is a danger of it sticking to the pastry when you remove it part way through the baking process. Top the parchment or foil with pie weights if you have them or do what I do: keep a stash of dried beans for the purpose.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the edges of the pastry are becoming golden and the pastry bottom is looking cooked and a little dry.
- Carefully remove the parchment or foil and weights, and bake for another 10 minutes, until lightly browned all over.
- Set the oven to 325.
- Cool tart pastry on a rack for 15 minutes.
- Brush the tart with the reserved beaten egg white and bake for 3-5 minutes – just until the pastry looks dry.
Peach Custard Tart
- (1) Pate Sucrée tart crust
- 3-4 ripe peaches
- 3 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar + 2 tbsp for dusting
- 1 1/2 tbsp all-purpose flour (not a typo – you need very little flour here)
- 1 c. heavy cream
- 1 tbsp vanilla + 2 tbsp St. Germaine (or you could just use the seeds from one vanilla bean or barring that, 2 tsp regular old vanilla – this tart will be amazing no matter what)
- Preheat the oven to 325
- Wash and dry the peaches and peel them with a swivel vegetable peeler – the serrated ones for soft fruits work very very well! Halve the peaches by cutting all the way around, using the little natural seam as your guide. Gently twist the two sides to pull them apart and remove the stone in the center. Cut each half into 8 wedges. Arrange the sliced fruit in concentric circles around the tart crust, starting at the outer edge. Be prudent and don’t over fill. Leave room for the custard!
- Set tart pan on a rimmed cookie sheet. This will make it easier to put into the oven without spilling.
- Whisk the egg yolks in a small bowl. Slowly add the 1/2 cup of sugar, whisking as you go. Sift the flour over the eggs and sugar, and whisk again until very smooth. Add the cream and whisk some more – as you can see, smoothness is the idea here. Stir in the vanilla and St. Germaine or whatever flavoring you have chosen. Pour the custard over the peaches in the tart shell. Sprinkle evenly with the 2 tbsp of sugar.
- Bake the tart for 35-45 minutes, or until the custard in the middle is barely set – test by lightly touching the center with your finger. Place the tart pan on a wire rack on the counter until cool – at least 2 1/2 hours.
- Don’t count on having any leftovers for breakfast. You’re sure to be disappointed!
This Peach Tart was so delicious, I was sort of devastated when it was gone so quickly. Then I thought about it for a minute. I will just make another next weekend. Life, and peach season, is too short not to.