I thought there might be a need for a site that focused on ingredient function, on mixing methods and techniques and on thinking a bit outside the box when it came to baking. There were already so many blogs--many of them wonderful--that shared recipes along with a story and gorgeous, eye-popping photography. I was no photographer. I still am not, so I knew I couldn't run in those circles. I didn't even really want to. I wanted to teach people what they needed to know in order to make their own versions of fun, delicious and even spectacular desserts.
If you look back at my earliest posts, you'll see that they are relatively short. Many don't have recipes but rather give suggestions for ways to use components, and many use Creative Commons licensed photographs rather than my own. But I soon realized that folks want recipes. They like the structure of them.
Recipes are like training wheels that help hold you steady as you travel along the road to intuitive cooking and baking. If you practice your skills regularly enough, eventually you won't need them, or you'll only use them as guidelines as you become more and more confident in your abilities.
When I first posted, I didn't know who I would reach. And now I know. I reach you. Everyone reading this post--whether you come back again and again or whether you have just stumbled upon me for the first time--is my reader. Whether you come for the recipes or for the general techniques, I appreciate all of you. Without you guys, I'd be talking to myself.
As I made this caramelized honey and lavender panna cotta, I tried to write down everything I did and the measurements I used. The truth is, though, that my perfect caramelized honey and lavender panna cotta may be different from your perfect caramelized honey and lavender panna cotta. You might want yours sweeter, or more lavendery, or your honey less caramelized. I knew what I wanted for our tastes, so I made it to our taste. I knew the texture that I wanted, so I took steps to make sure that I'd achieve that texture. I relied on technique and knowledge of ingredient function and to some extent upon ratios and proportions. I did not use a recipe, but I have written a recipe for you as a Valentine's present. I'm sorry it's a little late, but it is no less sincere for being a bit tardy.
Thank you for choosing to spend some time in my corner of the Hinternets when I know you have literally millions of choices. Thank you for participating, for commenting and sharing. Thanks for making some of my desserts and then dropping by to tell me you enjoyed them. Thank you, and Happy Two-Days-After-Valentine's-Day.
And now I give you the Caramelized Honey and Lavender Panna Cotta with Strawberry-Lavender Coulis. The recipe will look really long and scary, but I want to make sure I tell you everything you need to know so you can make this to your own taste. Enjoy, my friends.
- 4 oz light honey. I didn't have any, but orange blossom or Tupelo honey would be ideal
- 16 oz (2 cups) heavy cream
- 2 teaspoons dried lavender
- 16 oz (2 cups) whole milk, divided use
- 1 oz (about 2 Tablespoons) granulated sugar
- heavy pinch of salt, to taste. Do not leave it out.
- 3½ to 4 teaspoons plain granulated gelatin
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract or paste
- 1 pint fresh or frozen strawberries
- ½ teaspoon dried lavender
- sugar, to taste (maybe 2 Tablespoons)
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice
- pinch of salt, to taste
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract or paste
- Put the 4 oz honey in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Let boil for just a couple of minutes, until the honey darkens just a bit and it smells a bit more complex than when you first started. The honey will boil up very impressively, so keep an eye--and nose--on it. Once the honey has caramelized, pour it into a glass container and let it sit there at room temperature. It gets really thick, so don't refrigerate it. If it's too thick to spoon out when you need it, you can get it more liquidy by reheating in the microwave on medium power for a few seconds at a time.
- Pour the heavy cream into a 2-ish quart bowl.
- Crush or bruise the dried lavender flowers a bit. I just put them in my palm and then smoosh them with my thumb. Not the thumb on that hand. The other thumb.
- Stir the lavender into the cream and let steep, covered and in the fridge, for about 4 hours or until the cream is as lavender-y as you like it. Feel free to use a bit more lavender than I've called for and/or steep longer if you are a huge lavender fan.
- Strain the cream through a fine mesh strainer, pressing down on the lavender with a spatula to extract as much flavor as possible.
- Have an ice bath ready--put ice and water in a bowl large enough to hold the bowl with the cream in it.
- Set out some little ramekins, espresso cups, and/or bowls--how many will depend on how big they are. I aimed for about 3 oz per serving, and I ended up with 11-12 servings.
- Put 8 oz (1 cup) of the whole milk into a medium saucepan.
- Sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the milk and then stir. Let sit for about 5 minutes to bloom the gelatin.
- After 5 minutes, add 3 oz of caramelized honey (you may have a bit leftover. Put it in your tea), the sugar and the salt.
- Heat over medium heat until the milk is hot but not boiling and everything has dissolved nicely.
- Remove from the heat and then stir in the remaining cold milk.
- Stir in the vanilla and then set aside.
- Whip the cream until thickened and the whisk leaves tracks. No need to get it to reach any sort of peaks. You just want it thick.
- While whisking slowly, pour in the milk/gelatin mixture and whisk to combine thoroughly.
- Put the bowl in the ice bath and whisk frequently but not constantly until the mixture reaches about 50-52F. At this point, it will be thick enough to suspend the little specks of vanilla and not have them all sink to the bottom. This is important if you want to unmold the panna cotta later.
- Fill the molds with your thickened panna cotta and chill in the fridge for at least a couple of hours.
- Place all the ingredients in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently.
- Smash the berries with a masher or a fork as they start to release their juices.
- Taste for sweetness and acidity and adjust to your liking by adding a bit more sugar and/or citrus.
- Let simmer gently for maybe ten minutes or so, until slightly thickened.
- Press the puree through a fine mesh strainer to remove all the seeds and let cool to room temperature.
- If you want to unmold the panna cottas onto plates, carefully run a thin spatula or knife around the inside of each mold. Dip the bottoms of the molds into hot water for just a few seconds.
- Place a saucer over the top of each panna cotta, then invert each and give a firm shake. The panna cotta should plop out onto the plate.
- Garnish with the coulis however you like. You can also add thin, vertical slices of strawberry to make wee hearts like I did.
- You could also drizzle with just a touch of honey--not caramelized or it will be too sticky to eat neatly--and maybe a dusting of lavender sugar and lavender flowers if you'd like.
Thank you all again so very much for reading and for being a part of the Pastry Chef Online community, whether here on the blog, on facebook, Google+, twitter, Pinterest and now even Instagram! Please don't consider this a belated Valentine. Consider it an Extended Valentine!
Please do wander over to the Bake Sale on Tuesday. There really are some spectacular items up for bid including 5 grams of saffron (wow!) and a copy of Modernist Cuisine at Home, just to mention two. Also, don't forget to enter for up to three chances to win a copy of Easy as Pie Pops from Page Street Publishing. I will be drawing our winner on Thursday evening, February 20 at 7pm EST.
One last thing, Charissa from Triple Latte Design worked really hard to make a gorgeous and useful visual recipe index to make it easier for you to find what you're looking for on my site. Check it out and let me know what you think!
I love you guys. All year long.
Have a lovely day.