Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Basil and Peach Panna Cotta

I decided to base this creation on something specifically related to January. A quick search enlightened me to January's special holidays, one of which is 'national Peach Melba day', which takes place on the 13th. 

Today, on the other hand, is 'male watcher's day'! Today every woman has the right to toot and holler at male passers-by until their lungs collapse. It's a bit of a double standard, really. Imagine creating a 'woman watcher's day'. Sounds a bit perverted, right? More than that, it's bound to create a considerable amount of uproar in light of the decades of feminist struggle against the prying eyes of the 'male gaze', in Mulvey's words. Just think of how much the mention of James Bond gets under the skin of hardcore feminists. I know it's just a bit of tomfoolery and a 'chance to get even', but if we don't tolerate the subjugation of women even as a joke, why is the reverse acceptable?

Basil Leaves

Tangent over, let's resume talk of Peach Melba. Although I've never made Peach Melba, I have an affinity to the dessert as it was named after the singer Nellie Melba, who went to the same school as me - Presbyterian Ladies College (albeit a century and a half earlier). That's right, 'Ladies College'. We were ladies, no ordinary schoolkids. We ate our sandwiches with a knife and fork. The word 'like' was banned from the classroom. We wore bloomers. Obviously I'm just joking. Not about the bloomers though; we acutally had to wear those ridiculously short pants for sport. Even as a kid I knew that wasn't right.

Now that your mind is on what I deem girls' underwear, it seems a good time to finally introduce this dessert. Peach Melba is a popular Australian dessert consists of peaches, vanilla ice-cream and raspberry sauce. Incredibly simple, so in my unrelenting quest to make things more complicated for myself, I decided to step it up a notch a few notches.

Mini Raspberry Macaroons

A few too many notches, at that. In trying to think of creative ways to showcase the raspberry and peach elements of the dessert, I went a bit overboard. The panna cotta, infused with the fresh scent of basil, is the showstopper here. The raspberry 'leather' and mini raspberry macaroons pictured are delicious in their own ways, but superfluous in the context of this dish. Nevertheless, I only include recipes here which I believe are worthy of my readers, and both recipes make the cut so watch this space for the recipes.

In recent years, panna cotta has established itself as the nouvelle crème brulée. The gelatine-set cream has an ever-so-slight wobble which gives way to a melt-in-the-mouth scented cream. Traditional panna cotta recipes use a base of double cream, full fat milk and sugar. Years ago I came across an American panna cotta recipe using half-and-half instead of the full fat milk. Evaporated milk is a good substitute for half and half, and one can provides exactly the amount needed, meaning that you won't have to find a way to use up the rest of your full-fat milk. When working out the best liquid-gelatine ratio, Russ Parsons from the Seattle Times comes to the rescue, suggesting 3/4 of a teaspoon per cup of liquid. As for the flavour, basil compliments both peach and raspberry well. I decided that infusing the basil leaves into the cream, then blending and sieving them would impart maximum flavour without compromising the soft texture of the set cream.

Basil and Peach Panna Cotta

NB: Don't allow the jelly-ness to fool you into thinking it is a light dessert; quite the opposite - it's almost a hundred percent cream! So this really is one to make sparingly.

In terms of the other elements I decided it was best to keep the peach melba theme running through the dessert by separating the elements, so here the panna cotta is topped with peach jelly. Unfortunately, winter isn't the season for peaches, so the flavour couldn't appear in its full glory. I compensated by adding more sugar, but it's not quite the same. Rest assured, it will be a delight in the summer.

Basil and Peach Panna Cotta

My suggestion is to keep it simple; make the basil panna cotta, and top it with the peach jelly or serve alongside grilled peaches when in season. Serve with berries or raspberry sauce.

Serves 6


3/4tsp gelatine per cup liquid so here use 2.25 tsp or a bit under 1 tbsp (3 tsp is best)
2 tablespoons cold water
2 cups double cream
1 cup evaporated milk
1 large bunch basil (50g)
70g sugar

1. Lightly oil 6 ramekins/glasses in which to serve the dessert. In a large saucepan over a medium heat, bring cream, evaporated milk, and sugar to a simmer, stirring. Add the basil leaves. Turn off the heat, cover and allow the mixture to sit for five minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a mug, sprinkle gelatine over three tablespoons of cold water and let stand about 1 minute to soften. Mix it together with a fork, heat it in the microwave on medium for 20 seconds. Stir with the fork, and repeat for another 20 seconds. Check that all the gelatine crystals have dissolved.

3. Blend the cream mixture with a blending stick. Stir in gelatine mixture then strain this mixture into a pourable container. Divide cream mixture among the ramekins or glasses and cool to room temperature. Chill ramekins for at least 4 hours.

4. Dip ramekins, 1 at a time, into a bowl of hot water 3 seconds. Run a thin knife around edge of each ramekin, invert ramekin onto center of a small plate and shake to release.


3 medium peaches
1/4 cup sugar
100ml water
1.5 tsp gelatine (or 3 gelatine leaves; 2 leaves = 1 tsp gelatine)

1. Peel the peaches. Blend with 100ml water and the sugar until smooth*. Heat the peach mixutre on a stove until warm.

2. Sprinkle gelatine over 3 tablespoons cold water, and let it stand for 1 minute to soften. Stir with a fork. When the gelatine has soaked up the liquid, microwave the mixture on medium heat for fourty seconds, stirring half way through. It is crucial that the gelatine doesn't boil. Make sure the gelatine has dissolved completely; there should be no remaining granules and the liquid should have turned transparent. Mix this with the blended peaches, divide among the ramekins/glasses. Refrigerate until set, at least 3 hours.

*If the peaches are not blending well, chop them up and put them in a pan. Add a splash of water and heat for a few minutes to soften up, then blend again.


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1 comment:

  1. Wow that's so yummy..looks very delicious...first time here ..happy to follow you


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