gelling with gelatine

It’s no secret, but I really love a good panna cotta. And while these pages have hosted both a standard sweet vanilla and a more ‘out there’ savoury version in the form of a cauliflower panna cotta, what I haven’t divulged is that gelatine, well, gelatine used to make me nervous.

Apart from the two previously mentioned success stories and of course the childhood classic of red Aeroplane jelly, my forays into the world of gelatine based desserts have had their share of mishaps. From panna cotta so solid it would make a nice base to support a gold logie, to watery slop that oozed out of the inverted mould into a disappointing puddle on the plate, I’ve experienced it all.

Recently when I had my heart set on making panna cotta again, I decided it was time to stop playing gelatine Russian roulette and attempt to master of the art of gelling with gelatine. The first point of call for my research was the bible that is Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion. My hopes rose when I read that even Stephanie herself finds things confusing when it comes to gelatine.

At least I was not alone.

I already shared Stephanie’s view that powdered gelatine is best avoided as it can be difficult to evenly dissolve and leave you with nasty rubbery balls lurking in your silky dessert. The thing that Stephanie opened my eyes to was the difference between different types of leaf gelatine.

Apparently not all leaves are created equal in their gelling power and Stephanie was kind enough to share the results of her kitchen experimentation. She reported that one leaf of titanium or silver strength was enough to set one cup of water to a firm jelly, whereas three leaves of gold strength were needed to give the same result. Bingo.

If you aren’t able to track down leaf gelatine, feel free to substitute in the more readily available powdered form. Stephanie suggests that 2 teaspoons (or 6.6g if you are nerdy enough to have access to an analytical balance) is the equivalent of one leaf of titanium strength leaf gelatine.

It may seem like I’m talking this up a bit too much, but the combo of warm vanilla scented pears with the impossibly creamy silkiness of the marscapone panna cotta is possibly the best dessert I’ve made all year. Even tastier than my recent super rich pear and chocolate tart, and much less problematic.

a simple early winter supper*
fennel, chilli & pork sausage soup
marscarpone panna cotta with pot roasted pears

*note: For the soup recipe click on the link in the menu. The soup serves 2  and the panna cotta serves 6 so you’ll need to adjust the recipes to suit your number of diners.

marscarpone panna cotta with pot roasted pears
serves 6
Inspired by the talented Melbourne chef Andrew McConnell as published in the Good Weekend.

1 leaf titanium strength gelatine
1C thickened cream 35% milk fat
zest ½ lemon
75g (2 1/2oz) vanilla sugar or caster sugar
1/2C milk
100g (3 1/2oz) marscarpone
Pot roasted pears, to serve

Place gelatine in a small bowl and cover with cold water. Meanwhile combine cream, zest and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to simmer, stirring to ensure the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the milk to cool the mixture down. Squeeze out excess water from the gelatine and add to the cream mix. Stir until gelatine has melted through.

Gradually stir marscarpone through the cream mixture and strain to remove the zest. Divide between 6 moulds, ramekins or glasses and allow to cool to room temp. Cover and refrigerate until set, usually at least 4 hours.

To serve, run a knife around the edge of the moulds and invert onto dessert bowls or plates. You may need to shake a little and use the knife to help release the panna cotta. Place warm pears beside and spoon some pear cooking liquid over the pears.

pot roasted pears
serves 8-10

These pears are a real winner. Simple to make they work really well in a chocolate tart or with panna cotta but would also make a delicious and more waistline friendly dessert teamed simply with natural yoghurt.

8 firm pears, (I use beur boscs)
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped and pod finely sliced
50g (2oz) unsalted butter chopped
120g (4 1/2oz) sugar
1C dessert wine (botrytis Semillon or beaumes de venise)*

Preheat oven to 200C (400F). Quarter and core pears. Peel if you wish but I prefer to keep mine skins on. Place pears in a baking dish large enough to hold them in a single layer. Sprinkle with sugar, vanilla seeds and pod, dot with butter and pour over wine.

Cover tightly with foil and bake 20mins. Stir pears and bake another 20mins covered. Stir again and bake uncovered for an additional 30-40 mins or until pears are browned and the wine is reduced and syrupy. Serve hot or at room temp with your choice of cream or vanilla icecream.

*note: If you can’t get your hands on dessert wine, substitute in dry white wine and add an extra 50g (2oz) sugar.

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