Photo by Bao Minh Nguyen
A few uncommon products, such as salted plum powder, canned lychees, and agar-agar, are easily found online and make this creamy dessert truly exceptional.
- 2–4 servings
- Salted plum sauce:
- 1 cup water
- 2 teaspoons salted plum powder
- 6 1/3 teaspoons lime juice
- 2/3 teaspoon agar-agar
- Panna cotta:
- 1 1/3 teaspoons gelatin powder, or 2 bronze gelatin sheets/leaves (see note)
- 1/3 cup plus 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 (20-ounce) can lychees or 20 ounces fresh lychees, peeled
- 3 2/3 tablespoons milk
- 1/4 cup sugar
- Edible flowers, for garnish (optional)
- Pomegranate seeds, for garnish (optional)
- For the Salted Plum Sauce:
- Because agar-agar is seaweed-based and fairly delicate to work with, this recipe might be one you can’t multitask until you get a good feel for it. Handle with care, and let’s hope you don’t have to frustratingly do it over and over again.
- Heat water and salted plum powder in pot over medium heat. When it starts to steam (not boil!), add lime juice and agar-agar. Whisk until agar-agar dissolves. Continue to whisk for 1 minute, or until the mixture thickens. Remove from heat and pour in a container, then let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate to settle. Once it settles, add to a blender and puree until it forms a thicker saucy consistency. Store in fridge until you’re ready to bust that bad boy out!
- For the Panna Cotta:
- If using gelatin sheets, add to a bowl of ice-cold water and submerge. Soak (aka let the gelatin bloom) for 5–7 minutes, or until the sheets soften. To prevent sheets from breaking down, drain water immediately after the 5–7 minutes and gently wring out remaining water from the sheets, just like you were wringing out a towel.
- If using powdered gelatin, place gelatin in a bowl and add 1/3 cup heavy cream. Let it sit. Let it bloom.
- If using a fun mold to shape and pop out your panna cotta, brush a light layer of cooking oil on the bottom and sides.
- Next, drain syrup from can of lychee (or save for a lychee-flavored cocktail or anything else that could use an “infused” sugary syrup, yuuuuummers!). Add lychees to a blender and puree until smooth. Set aside.
- This next step is very delicate because gelatin in any form is fairly unstable, so this may take some trial and error, based on a balance of your heat and your feel for that heat. You’ll know what I mean if you mess up. If you don’t, you’re a natural-born talent!
- Heat a pot with milk, sugar, and remaining heavy cream on medium-low heat until sugar dissolves and liquid is warm enough to touch. Like the Salted Plum Sauce, the milk, sugar, and heavy cream should steam but not boil. If you have a thermometer, DO NOT go over 145°F.
- Next, add gelatin (sheets or powdered in heavy cream), then whisk until gelatin dissolves. This will take a few minutes.
- Remove from heat, then immediately add lychee puree while the cream is still warm. Mix gently with a spatula.
- Ladle into ramekins, small bowls, your preferred fancy or not-so-fancy container, or into your pre-oil-brushed mold.
- Refrigerate, carefully. Gelatin is fairly docile and irritably unstable. As it cools, however, panna cotta should solidify within an hour.
- If after 2 hours it still hasn’t settled, don’t fret��you can still recover. Recombine the cream in a pot and warm to right below boiling. Add a tad bit more (bloomed) gelatin, then remove from heat. Repour into molds. Be careful not to add too much gelatin, which will result in a stiff, less creamy panna cotta, more of a superstiff Jell-O than panna cotta.
- Garnish with a thin layer of Salted Plum Sauce on top of your final plating—do fancy dots or a paintbrush swipe if you would like—and edible flowers (if you somehow got these) and pomegranate seeds (if in season and available). Bon appetit, y’all.
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