I’m always trying to think of desserts that are delicious and enticing, without being belly busters. Those s’mores tartlets that I did? Yeah, that’s a belly buster. I’m really trying my best to watch my waistline without necessarily going on any kind of diet, per se. I mean, I can lose all the weight I want if I just eat tuna and raw veggies and supplement my hunger with protein shakes, but that’s just no way to live. And I certainly wouldn’t have any content for a food blog.
As mentioned in my last post, we went to the farmer’s market in Haleiwa last Sunday. We’ll probably go again tomorrow. I like to wander around and look at what the stands have to offer. I like to be inspired by what I see. I picked up a particularly interesting looking bunch of fruit, called a rambutan. I mistakenly called them “ramatan” in yesterday’s post, and my wife pointed it out. I overheard a local say it was similar to a lychee, so I grabbed a bunch and paid for them
On the way home from the market, Laura and I were trying to brainstorm what we might do with them. If they truly are similar to a lychee, they will have a fairly delicate flavor, so we would’t want to make a heavy dessert with them. I thought of short breads and puff pastries, custards, and all sorts of other things came to our minds. Laura tossed the idea in the air of doing a panna cotta.
It’s light enough. Pretty easy to make, and kind of under rated. Use the rambutan as some sort of garnish, and add another component that was crispy or crunchy, and you got yourself a dessert!
It sounded pretty good in my head at the time. So we went ahead with the idea.
What is panna cotta? It’s an Italian originated dessert that (I think) translates to “cooked cream”. It can be considered somewhat of a cousin to custard, as it has a similar texture, but it doesn’t contain egg as a thickener. Instead it uses gelatin to set. One might consider it a glorified milk jell-o. But, when prepared properly and served, not by itself, but as one of many components to a dessert, it can be quite delicious.
Now, admittedly, this dessert was not done in a day. It could be, if you really wanted it to be, but the panna cotta can really benefit from taking a whole day to set, especially if you are putting them in molds to be removed later, like what I did. However, it doesn’t need to be done that way, and it can be poured into a ramekin like a custard and served that way. It’s up to you.
In the end, it wasn’t my favorite dessert. Not because it didn’t taste good or because the flavors didn’t go well. I just felt it was lacking a bit, and the presentation didn’t do it for me. If I ordered this in a restaurant, I would have been disappointed.
Since hind sight is 20/20, I’ll make some suggestions in the end that could make this a worthwhile dessert.
A little note on the usage of vanilla beans. Both the panna cotta and the vanilla rambutan recipes require a vanilla bean. However, I only used one vanilla bean for both recipes. Most recipes that call for a vanilla bean will require you to scrape out the seeds from the inside of the bean. However, vanilla beans have a tremendous amount of flavor, and I find that scraping the inside is only necessary if you really, really want a lot of vanilla flavor. If you don’t scrape the bean, it can be reused again. After I strained the panna cotta, I rinsed the vanilla bean, coated it in sugar, and let it dry. Then I put it in a zip lock bag and saved it for the next recipe. From there, you can scrape out the bean for the rambutan if you like. I, however, did not, and instead put it back into the zip lock bag, and poured a cup of sugar in the bag. After two weeks, I will have a cup of vanilla infused sugar. It’s up to you.
vanilla used to be one of the most sought after spices in the world
Rambutan is a silly name
lychee is also a silly name
coconut curl sounded better than lace cookie
Now you can assemble your dessert! If you used silicon molds for the panna cotta, they can be very carefully removed. I used a skewer to start the process and plopped them out. They didn’t come out perfectly, but I wasn’t really expecting them to because my “molds” are actually silicon cupcake pans.
So, plating this dessert up, I realized that everything was white, except for the cookie. Against a stark white plate, it just looked washed out. I tried using another plate that had a border on it to create some contrast, but it was only a slight improvement.
I thought the dessert tasted great, though. The vanilla syrup was a little sweet, however, and if too much is added, it could actually overpower the panna cotta. The delicate flavors of the rambutan were very nice with the coconut and honey in the panna cotta, and the coconut curl added a nice texture.
If I were to change this dessert, I wouldn’t necessarily take anything away. I would use the syrup in moderation, and add more fruit. Adding a nice, bright sauce to the plate, such as a pineapple coulis and some bright fruit to garnish, like sliced mango, would liven up the plate as well as bring a nice acidic component to cut the sweetness of the vanilla syrup and the creaminess of the panna cotta. So, if you’re brave enough to try a dessert that I, myself, don’t think is a success, give these suggestions a try and let me know how it turned out!
The thing about cooking and baking, is that things sometimes just don’t turn out as we expect. This is no different, even for somebody who supposedly knows what they’re doing or those who are working kitchen professionals. This applies to all aspects of life. Mistakes and accidents happen, but if they happen more than once, they are no longer mistakes or accidents. This is how we learn and grow, and it’s how I become a better me.
Oh, and you’re likely to have leftover vanilla syrup. If you’re a home mixologist and like to create cocktails, I’m sure you’ll find it handy. My wife, however, has been thoroughly enjoying it in her coffee every morning.