20 Dec 2016
This is a simple dessert I came up with for a night of entertaining - I wanted to use a simple panna cotta (sweetened cream set with gelatin) as the foundation for showcasing the flavor of fresh strawberries. One of the best ways I've seen of really bringing out a particular flavor is presenting it in several different textures, so on top of the panna cotta we'll layer on top a strawberry coulis (a fancy name for pureed and strained fruit), crushed freeze dried strawberries for some crunch, and finally some slices of fresh strawberry. A wine glass makes for great presentation, but you could equally use ramekins or any other mold.
While traditionally panna cotta is set with gelatin, I happened to have some agar agar powder on hand, so I adapted a recipe using that instead. It's extracted from seaweed and called kanten in Japanese; you can find it at a Japanese grocery. It comes in both powdered and flake form; the powdered form is relatively concentrated and you'll need proportionally less agar powder than flakes or gelatin sheets in your recipes, although I have yet to find a reliable conversion rate. I used a scant teaspoon making panna cotta for 4 servings and was very satisfied with the results.
The panna cotta we're making here is not intensely sweet on its own - I wanted to use it mostly as a base for the strawberry flavor. You should feel free to experiment with the cream/sugar ratios to achieve the quantity and sweetness that you want.
Final note: We're using xanthan gum, a hydrocolloid which first made its appearance in "An 8-course tasting menu at home", to thicken the strawberry coulis. You can skip it, or perhaps substitute with cornstarch/water slurry while simmering the strawberries. Xanthan gum is nice in that it does not need to be dissolved in water, and does not need heat to thicken properly - you can find it in the baking section of any supermarket.
For 4 servings.
3.5 Tbsp hot water
1 scant tsp agar agar powder
1 1/3 cup heavy cream
2.5 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of 1 satsuma orange or other citrus fruit (optional)
1/2 lb fresh strawberries
1/4 cup water
1 3/4 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
1/8 tsp xanthan gum
Fresh strawberries, for garnish
1/2 cup freeze dried strawberries
Mint leaves (optional)