I wanted to make a panna cotta for a large buffet-style dessert spread. Not knowing how warm it would be on the day of the party, I decided to use agar agar to thicken it. Agar agar will remain a lovely texture at temperatures that would liquify gelatin. I love the delicate, floral, lemony flavor of lemongrass so decided to use it in the panna cotta. I served it with a rhubarb raspberry compote (adapted from an Epicurious recipe for Rhubarb and Ginger Brioche Bread Pudding.) It was a success, and one of the first desserts to disappear at the party.
While panna cotta may seem like a crazy picnic option, the agar agar will hold up at warmer temperatures (you can literally heat it up in a 350º oven for several minutes to warm it, and it will stay firm.) Use a ramekin or a disposable plastic wine glass for a nice presentation. You can serve it plain, but it's especially good with a drizzle of berry coulis or a dollop of macerated berries or rhubarb sauce. It is a fresh, light, and unexpected dessert to serve at your next picnic, barbecue, or dinner party. —hardlikearmour
8 4-oz servings
1 cup whole milk
3 cups heavy cream, divided
2 stalks lemongrass, thinly sliced
zest from one medium to large lemon or 1 bruised kaffir lime leaf
Combine milk, 2 cups heavy cream, lemongrass, and lemon zest or lime leaf in a medium saucepan. Heat on low for 20 to 30 minutes to infuse the lemongrass flavor into the liquid. Stir occasionally.
Meanwhile combine remaining cup of heavy cream and agar agar powder in a glass measure. Allow mixture to rest while the lemongrass mixture is heating.
Add agar agar mixture, sugar, and salt to the lemongrass mixture. Increase the heat to medium-high and heat to 170º F, stirring frequently. Remove from heat, and when temperature has reduced to 120º F pass the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a 4-cup glass measure or small pitcher. Pour the panna cotta into individual ramekins. Allow to cool to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and chill until ready to serve.
Serve as is, or top with berry coulis, macerated berries, or rhubarb sauce.
I am an amateur baker and cake decorator. I enjoy cooking, as well as eating and feeding others. I live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with my husband and our menagerie. I enjoy outdoor activities including hiking, mushroom hunting, tide pooling, beach combing, and snowboarding.