'The true cook is the perfect blend, the only perfect blend, of artist and philosopher. He knows his worth: he holds in his palm the happiness of mankind, the welfare of generations yet unborn.'

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Panna cotta

I love milk. This is quite unusual among Asians, many of whom are lactose intolerant. I have a Japanese friend called Hitomi who hates milk so much (even though she isn't lactose intolerant) that she has a phobia of any liquid that is white - soya milk, rice milk, cream, almond milk (even congee, so I am told). If I become lactose intolerant one day, food would lose half of its lustre for me. It actually has serious repercussions: it means no ice cream, no shortbread, no milk tea, no French pastry and of course no milk! How am I to live?

 The fat rises to the top over time because it hasn't been homogenised.
I was fortunate to have lived many years in England where you could find some of the best dairy in the world. The world-renowned Jersey cows produce 'gold-top' milk that is so sweet and 'true', along with some grassy notes which I absolutely adore. When I moved to Ohio, a friend told me that I could invest in a herd share for the lovely cows at Highland Haven Farm. For 25 dollars a month, I can get raw dairy from them every week - this means that the milk is unhomogenised and unpasteurised. Milk in its most natural state (well, except it is chilled...). My stomach did feel slightly funny the first fortnight I started consuming it, but since then I've had no problem digesting the stuff at all. Apparently the pasteurisation process that we find in commercial milk actually kills off a significant amount of good bacteria in the milk. Raw milk consumers argue that that raw milk preserves all the nutrients and pasteurisation actually does more harm than good. 

While the milk I'm getting is not quite comparable to the best Channel Island or Jersey milk, it's still infinitely better than any commercial milk you could buy. For a start, the flavour has so much more character - it tastes different every week! It's not so surprising after all - it is easy to forget that milk actually comes from a cow, not a factory. Cows don't feel the same every week (neither do we), and it is only natural that the milk that comes out of them should taste different too.

Since cream is nothing but the fat that rises to the top of the milk over time, in a dessert as bare and simple as panna cotta, the quality of the cream you use is crucial. Most renditions of panna cotta - which means 'cooked cream' in Italian - call for vanilla as flavouring. This is particularly necessary when the cream you use is the generic kind you find in shops. You can of course flavour it with tea, coffee, citrus peels, etc. This week I have some lovely golden cream from the farm, so I decided to make a plain panna cotta to capture the flavour of this golden elixir.

Panna cotta

Maybe only slightly less famous than Tiramisu, panna cotta is one of Italy's few great desserts. It is basically cream barely sweetened with sugar and set with gelatin. Whether you use all cream or a mixture of milk and cream is entirely up to you. Even for a dairy addict like me, an all-cream panna cotta is too cloying. I didn't use too much gelatin either so that the mixture would set but still be wobbly. These are the amounts I used this time:

400ml double/heavy cream
280ml whole milk
40g sugar
1 packet of gelatin powder (2 1/4 tsps)

Pour the milk and cream to a large saucepan. Add sugar and sprinkle gelatin on top. Put on stove top,turn on medium heat and cook (stirring all the time!) until it is very hot, but not quite boiling. (If the mixture is boiled the setting property of the gelatin will be partially destroyed - or so I am told!) The gelatin and sugar should be dissolved by now. Pass the mixture through a fine sieve to remove any undissolved bits of gelatin (should there be any). Stir from time to time until it is at room temperature, and pour into individual containers and leave in the fridge to set for at least 4 hours.

For something so rich, it is always better to serve in smaller portions. To unmould, place the ramekins in a bigger bowl with hot water for like 10 seconds so that the edges melt slightly before inverting to a plate to serve. I detest berries, but apparently macerated berries are great accompaniments to panna cotta. I could see how that would work.


  1. it is so beautiful!!!
    All the milk here seems water down :(
    i would very much like to try the raw milk!!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Raw milk is so much better then the mount you buy at the store I am glad I found a local farmer That I can get some from Does anybody know what you should usually pay for a 1/2 gallon Of raw milk