Not Creme Brûlée – But Close!

We have a new rule in our house: I am not allowed to bake anything if it is over 90°F outside.  I made that mistake the week we moved in.  Apparently Chicago was having itself a nice little heat wave when we decided to make this our home – 100°+ for longer than I’d like to remember.  In the very same overheated week I decided I needed to make our new place feel more like home, and nothing says ‘home’ quite like cookies.  I have a fabulous recipe for chocolate chip cookies (more on that another day), so I dug out my recipe card and got to work.  It was delicious, but sweaty!  My husband – who really loves those cookies by the way – made the decree: “Absolutely NO turning the oven on when it’s over 90°!”  And I get it, we ate those delicious cookies, but were pretty miserable as the heat from the kitchen dissipated over our open floor plan.

So what am I supposed to do with half a quart of cream that is just days away from going bad?  I have a few options I suppose.  My favorite option is to make butter.  It may seem unnecessary to have homemade butter in your refrigerator, but I insure you that it is a little luxury I’m willing to be unnecessary for.  Alas, a few months ago my blender broke, and I don’t feel like dirtying up my entire stand mixer just for butter.  Another option, creme brûlée.  Always a good choice, and I swear to you that someday (hopefully soon) I will put my recipe for this delectable dessert on here.  Today is not that day.  It’s warm out.  Maybe not 90°, but pretty close. The oven shall not be turned on – so decreeth my husband.

Dang – those are my two favorite options.  I could make a whole pile of whipped cream, but what would I put it on?  I could make some kind of creamy soup – but who wants to eat soup when it’s so warm outside?  Research! Must do research! Thank heavens for Pinterest!

I’ve read about it, I’ve eaten it, but I’ve never made it for myself: Panna Cotta.  It’s the perfect solution to my need to use up my heavy cream without turning on the oven.  It’s simple, sweet, and cool.  I modified David Lebovitz’s recipe which you can find here.  I basically made a half recipe of what he had listed, and then put my own spin on it.  Here’s what went down in my  kitchen:

Panna Cotta

2 c heavy cream
1/4 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp orange extract
1 envelope Knox gelatin
3 Tbsp cold water

I like to start by letting the gelatin bloom.  You’re going to need to let it sit for 5-10 minutes anyway, so why not multitask? So go ahead and place your cold water into a medium bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over top.  I happen to have a 4 c glass measuring cup that worked perfectly, and made pouring out the finished servings easier later.

Combine the cream and the sugar over medium heat and stir.  You want to make sure all the sugar dissolves, but also that your cream gets nice and hot.  Yes, this happens on the stove top, but really – there’s so much less heat coming from a burner than actually having the oven on for 45 minutes!  Once everything is nice and hot take the cream off the heat and stir in your vanilla.

Pour your heated cream over your softened gelatin (has it been 5-10 minutes?) and stir.  This is where at the last minute I decided to add the orange extract.  It just smelled so fresh and summery that I couldn’t resist.  Make sure everything is dissolved and then pour into the containers of your choice.

If you plan to serve your panna cotta outside of the dish it’s chilling in you’ll need to lightly oil (preferably with a neutral tasting oil) each dish.  I like less work – and I feel like you can jazz up your presentation if you put these into something you can eat right out of.  Maybe fill a few wine glasses up (4 if halfway and probably only 2 if you go closer to the top).  I have these tiny glasses that look like you would have a very small beer in them. I specifically bought them for a birthday dessert that involved coconut chocolate mousse, and they’ve been a fun way to serve sweet treats from time to time.  Either way, once all the panna cotta is divided up chill in the fridge for at least two hours – I tend to err on the long side when it comes to cooling so I left mine in for four before tasting.

Oooo – fancy!  And more importantly delicious!  Remember when I made those blackberry hand pies? Me too.  They were delicious.  I had just a little bit of pie filling left over, and I’ve been waiting for the perfect pairing.  This was definitely a good idea.  

I also melted down some chocolate chips and tried to top the panna cotta.  It’s delicious – especially with that light orange flavor in the cream itself, but I definitely put the chocolate on too thick.  I couldn’t break it with my spoon!! So chocolate – a great idea, but I would just leave it as chips – mini or otherwise.

Now go, make something delicious!

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