I said sure, and then of course got sidetracked with other things, but I did manage to pick up the few ingredients I needed, just so I'd have them on hand.
Panna cotta is, simply, cooked cream. Basically, it's cream, sugar, and gelatin, and some sort of flavoring. The gelatin provides structure, so you can pour the cooked cream into little molds and after a few hours in the fridge you have a pretty little dessert. (In custards, it's the eggs that provide the structure.)
Anyway, strawberry panna cotta.
I bought frozen strawberries because they're out of season here (RI) and now (late October), but if I was making this in June, I'd definitely go with fresh. Much prettier garnish possiblities, as well. But right now? I just don't want to buy berries shipped from the other side of the country.
I actually made two batches of strawberry panna cotta. The only real difference between the two was the amount of sugar; in the second batch, I cut the amount of sugar in half. I wanted to to do a little taste test with my family to see which version each of them preferred. And I was glad the request was for a strawberry panna cotta – everyone in here likes strawberry.
So. First thing I did was thaw the strawberries and puree them. Then I put them in a fine mesh strainer and pressed the juice out. I wanted a cup, or 8 oz, of strawberry juice. (4 oz for each batch.)
Here's what you'll need, for either version:
4 oz (1/2 cup) strawberry juice (and feel free to sub in other juice or cold coffee, as long as you have 4 ounces)
8 oz (1 cup) heavy cream
EITHER 1/4 OR 1/8 cup (4 or 2 Tablespoons) sugar
1 package of gelatin
Pour half of the cream, minus 2 Tablespoons, in a small pot, and put the other half, plus the 2 tablespoons taken from the first half, in the fridge for now.
Add the strawberry juice and the sugar to the pot with the cream, and heat until almost boiling.
While the cream mixture is cooling, bloom the gelatin. To do this, put two tablespoons of cold water in a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin onto the water, stir togethether briefly, and let it stand for five minutes.
Once the cream mixture has cooled, add the bloomed gelatin to it and mix well.
Remove 8 tablespoons and put back in the fridge for later (this is so you can pipe some pretty little rosettes arount the panna cotta when it's time to serve)
and continue whipping the rest until you have firm peaks. Fold this whipped cream into the cooked cream and gelatin mixture by slicing down with a rubber spatula into the middle of the bowl, all the way to the bottom, and gently scooping it up the side of the bowl and out. Go back down in the center and come up the side again, all the while turning the bowl with your other hand.
I noticed that some of the panna cotta melted a bit and puddled unattractively on top of the pureed strawberries I was using as a base sauce. Here's where that extra whipped cream comes in reeeeeaalllll handy. First, put the plate with the unmolded panna cotta back in the fridge so it firms up again. Then whip your extra whipped cream into stiff peaks and spoon into a piping bag with a start tip. Then just pipe little rosettes around the perimeter of the panna cotta and cover up the panna cotta drips and KNOW ONE WILL EVER KNOW!
FYI, this recipe serves 2, but I used smaller molds and got lots of little servings – that way everyone could have a couple of small panna cotta shapes each to taste test.
Alex licked the bowl after I poured the second batch into the little molds, and he said it was pretty tasty – like melted strawberry ice cream. A good omen.
We all preferred the flavor of the first batch – the one with 1/4 cup of sugar. It wasn't overly sweet – the tartness of the strawberries helped to balance out the sugar – but for whatever reason, that batch had a more pronounced strawberry flavor.
Not sure if it it's because we subconsciously associate sweetness with good flavor or what, but that's how it played out.
Other than that, the texture was the same, both batches set up nicely and unmolded the same.
So I'd say, if you want to give this a try, maybe split the difference and use 3 tablespoons of sugar (if you're looking for something not-so-sweet) for your first batch and see how you like it. Then, in subsequent batches, you can increase or decrease the sugar amount as it suits you.
Hope this was helpful, ogz5!