Orange Flower Panna Cotta

Panna cotta is Italy’s answer to creme brulee, except that it’s not as rich, nor is it bruleed.  Other than that, it’s exactly the same!  Well, not really….

Panna cotta translates as “cooked cream” in English.  It’s heavy cream that is sweetened and flavored and set with gelatin rather than eggs or egg yolks.  The gelatin is what keeps it from being as rich and heavy as creme brulee.  The amount of gelatin can also be a bit tricky.  Too little and it won’t set up, but with too much you’ll end up with a rubbery texture.  The right amount will give you the most ethereal, light, creamy dreamy texture – little pillows of cream on your palate!

Unfortunately the one area where it can leave a little to be desired is in presentation.  If it’s been poured into a ramekin it is usually unmolded and plated, often with fruit and sauces to dress it up.  Not impossible, but I’ve never been a fan of having to unmold gelatin-based items because it’s very often a challenge to warm up enough to loosen from the mold without heating too much and softening the exterior. Chocolate Lavender Panna Cotta -garnished

I typically prefer to serve panna cotta in a glass, either rocks or martini, and garnish with fresh fruit, or with a sweet aspic, whipped cream and sprinkling of lavender blossoms as I did with a chocolate lavender panna cotta,

Orange Flower Panna Cotta Pair 

or with orange supremes and spun sugar as I did with this recipe for Orange Flower Panna Cotta.  This recipe is from my friend Martha Hopkins who is an aphrodisiac expert and co-author of the acclaimed “New InterCourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook”.

Orange Flower Panna Cotta

Orange flower water is available in some grocery stores with extensive international sections, Indian stores, and mid-eastern grocers and delis.  As an alternative, you can steep a few strips of orange zest in a bit of hot water until infused, about 20 minutes.  It won’t be the same, but it will lend a mild, sweet orange flavor.  I prefer mid-eastern brands such as “Cortas” which tend to be true distillations of orange blossoms.  European brands (usually easier to find in regular grocery stores) tend to be orange oil that’s been diluted and is too strong and doesn’t have the delicate floral quality of true orange flower water.  I have also had luck finding orange flower water in health food stores where it is often located in the cosmetics section since it’s used as a natural perfume. 

Yield:  4-6 servings

2 tablespoons cold water
1 1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup half-and-half
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons orange blossom water

Place the water in a small bowl and sprinkle with the gelatin.  Let sit 10 minutes to soften.
Set a large saucepan over medium-high heat, and add the cream, half-and-half, and sugar.  Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, until the sugar is dissolved.  Remove the pan from the heat and add the gelatin mixture and orange flower water, stirring to dissolve the gelatin completely.  Pour the cream mixture into 4 ramekins or decorative serving glasses, and cool to room temperature.  Cover and chill for at least 6 hours or overnight for the panna cotta to set.

To serve, fill a mixing bowl with hot water.  Dip each ramekin in the hot water for several seconds and run a knife around the edge to loosen the cream from the sides.  Place a serving dish on top of the ramekin and invert.  Or, serve the panna cotta directly in the ramekin or glass and avoid the cumbersome unmolding process altogether.

Alternate Presentation:

Peel and dice a couple of peaches or a mango and toss fruit with an additional tablespoon of orange flower water.  Spoon a mound of the diced fruit on top of, or around panna cotta before serving.

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