Fig leaf panna cotta with cherries
Christmas looks different depending on where in the world you happen to be celebrating it. Here, we are lucky enough to have a summer festive season and can enjoy fresh fruits and seafoods rather than relying on heavy braises and roasts. In December, berries and stone fruits start to become cheaper and more readily available, so I love to serve these with another one of my favourite seasonal flavours – the fig.
Figs are fickle. I have found that, depending on weather and various other conditions, the fruit itself has only a relatively short window of being ripe. But the one thing we do have access to for an extended period is the leaf. And the leaf actually tastes more figgy than the fig itself. Fig leaves have multiple benefits in this recipe. The sap in the stem actually helps to set the cream and the slightly “green” flavour helps to replicate that floral element of vanilla. It’s a fantastic flavour to use in syrups and it can match with many other fruits, including peaches and even quince.
Surely everyone has had panna cotta at some point in their life. The most common version of this milk/cream-based dessert is usually sweetened and flavoured with vanilla and then set with gelatine. It’s almost impossible not to want to jiggle it.
This version uses only egg white to set the cream. Personally, I find eating more than a spoonful or so of cream to be a bit overwhelming, so I tend to only make panna cotta when there is also a glut of fruit around. The other influence in this recipe is the quality of the cream, so it is worth finding the good stuff. The higher the fat content, the more it sets. And do feel free to drop the quantity of egg white if you happen upon some hardcore jersey cream or similar.
As with all things over the festive period, being prepared is the key. The thing I love most about this panna cotta is that it’s handy to just have as a stand-by in the fridge for an impromptu December get-together.
Time: 1 hour preparation + 2 hours cooking
- 550ml cream
- 150ml milk
- 120g caster sugar
- 5g salt
- 3-4 young fig leaves (lighter green)
- 4 egg whites
- 500g cherries
- 150g sugar
- 100ml water
- zest of 1 lemon
- Bring the cream and milk, along with the sugar and salt, to above 80 degrees in a heavy-based pot before removing from the heat.
- Crush three fig leaves in your hands and then submerge in the cream mixture. Set aside to cool.
- Once cool, strain the liquid into a blender jug and add the egg whites. Pulse and let it settle.
- When all the bubbles on top have disappeared, pour the mixture into moulds no deeper than five centimetres and place them into a water bath with aluminium foil or a lid on top.
- Bake at 160ºC for 70 minutes and then let them set in the refrigerator for at least two hours.
- Meanwhile, split the cherries by running a knife around the circumference much as you would a peach or nectarine. Twist apart and flick the pit out using the tip of the knife. Add the cherry halves and pits to a pan with the cut sides facing up. This allows the juice to be captured in the pit hollows and not spill into the pan and burn.
- Roast the cherries in an oven at 190ºC for five minutes. Bring the sugar and water to the boil with the lemon zest. Add another fig leaf to this syrup (if you like) and then tip it over the roasted cherries to let them steep in the liquid.
- Once set, spoon the panna cotta out of the moulds, as it is more like the consistency of double cream and less stable than the type made with gelatine. I serve the panna cotta in a 1:1 ratio with the fruit. If you don’t wish to use cherries, any red fruits work well in this recipe.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on December 2, 2023 as "Set for Christmas".
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