Panna cotta is one of those chilled, wobbly, creamy desserts that a lot of people seem to love. Okay, I am not one of those people…cooked cream sounds like it should be right up my alley, but the secret to this eggless Italian pudding is usually gelatin, something that I avoid whenever possible. I want to love it though, and I am continuing my quest for a vegetarian gelatin substitute anyway, so I decided to try out powdered agar-agar in this week’s layered Vanilla-Mango Panna Cotta recipe. The only other time I’ve experimented with agar-agar at home was with this mirror thing several years back, and it did not go so well. I still didn’t really know what I was doing here, but I did a little more research and decided to use 1 tsp of agar powder in place of the 2 1/4 tsp gelatin in the recipe.
I first blended my frozen mango with lime juice and honey and spooned that puree into glasses. I then cooked my vanilla sweetened cream and milk with my agar powder for a few minutes to activate the agar-agar and poured that on top of the puree. Then I put the everything into the fridge to set and crossed my fingers. And when I opened the fridge an hour later, it was really firm…like, nothing delicate about it…not what I was hoping for.
Besides the mirror thing, my only other agar-agar experience is an entry-level molecular gastromy technique that we used at the fancy-pants restaurant I worked for in Sydney called a “fluid gel.” We’d boil fruit juice with enough agar powder to make it set hard (practically so hard it could bounce) when cooled. Then we’d blitz it in a high-speed blender until it turned into a gel the consistency of toothpaste (remember Close-Up?) that we could use to make dots and squiggles for plate decoration.
I thought about my fluid gel days with a hint of nostalgia and decided to scrape my not-panna cotta (notta-cotta?), mango puree and all, into the blender and I whizzed it up into a very creamy and luxurious soft pudding. I had a bit of extra mango puree that was meant to go with my morning yogurt, but plans change, so I divided it up into my glasses and topped it with my vanilla-mango pudding and some blueberries. I couldn’t call it panna cotta in the end, but it was cold, creamy and tasty anyway.
This week’s recipe will probably evoke some strong feelings…feelings of dislike, that is. Tapicoa is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea (or pudding). I don’t really even know why I like it, since it’s certainly not something I grew up eating, and I’ve never make it at home until now. But I think the gummy little bubbles are fun to eat and I was looking forward to making this Coconut Tapioca recipe.
This is a simple recipe but it wasn’t problem-free for me. First, I mistakenly bought small pearl tapioca, rather than the large pearl called for in the instructions…this is because often I shop first and then read directions. I used Dorie’s ingredients and method, but tried to cover my goof by following the soaking and cooking time instructions on my package (which are waaay less for small pearl than for large). The first day the tapioca was a nice creamy consistency, but after a night in the fridge, it was pretty much a solid glob. I didn’t want to toss it so I folded through some softly whipped cream to lighten it up. It was much better that way, but If I make this again with small pearl tapioca (and I probably will since I have a ton left in the bag), I’ll either cook it with some extra liquid added or I’ll incorporate egg yolk like other “true” custard recipes I’ve seen.
Despite the snags, I had a good time playing around with toppings for my tapioca. In the picture above, I sprinkled on a little brown coconut sugar and added mandarin slices. The next day, I used chocolate sauce, toasted almonds and coconut flakes. Berries or tropical fruit would also be natural combos with this.
Tags: baking, dessert, pudding
My husband has been out of town for the last few days at a work conference. This was the first time in many years that I have not had to endure the Super Bowl (although apparently I missed a good rendition of the anthem). I spent Sunday night with four hours of “Emma” on Masterpiece Theater instead (dorky, but so good!) and this big fat slice of Bourbon Bread Pudding. Hellooooo alone time!
Dorie has taught me how to make bread pudding at home. You need lots of the good stuff (cream and egg yolks) for it to come out lush and soft. Now, here’s where I admit to you that I did cut back on the cream by a third (and upped the milk by a third in its place)…but not to worry, there was still plenty of cream and yolks in there. And I used challah bread, which is pretty rich in itself. You can see that I added almonds and dried cherries to mine. You can’t see that I quadrupled the bourbon, but trust me on that. My custard base tasted like eggnog! This was a mighty fine bread pudding, not to mention a most amiable television companion.