July 21, 2012

Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Red Berries in Hibiscus Syrup

This afternoon, I met pastry chef Gale Gand at a cooking demonstration & book signing. She is shorter than I imagined. She talks a lot and is very funny & down-to-earth.

She told stories of cooking in her Chicago restaurant Tru, being on the Food Network, working with other famous chefs, feeding her family, teaching cooking classes at Elawa Farm in Lake Forest, IL, writing cookbooks, making root beer, sharing family recipes like her mother-in-law's ricotta doughnuts & her grandmother's pear streusel coffee cake, and preparing dinners for celebrities & dignitaries like the president of China. She showed off her madeleine pan that once belonged to Julia Child and her two James Beard awards.

I ate at Tru about 10 years ago. It was the first really fancy meal I'd eaten. I ordered an 8-course tasting menu; it was the first time I'd tried foie gras, caviar, venison, French cheese, saffron. It was the best, and most expensive, dining experience I've ever had. And, it was worth every penny. Looking back, I think it was that one meal that turned me on to good food & wanting to learn more cooking.

At today's class, Gale shared her stories and cooking tips (like fold whipped cream into risotto to lighten it) while she demonstrated a simple brunch menu (to promote her brunch cookbook) that consisted of a sparkling mango & lime cocktail, eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce, chocolate madeleines, and buttermilk panna cotta with red berries in hibiscus syrup. 

I loved the eggs (which I plan to make for breakfast tomorrow with some duck eggs that I bought at the farmers market this morning), but my favorite dish was the panna cotta...tart from the buttermilk and sweet from the berries. Cold. Creamy. Perfect.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Red Berries in Hibiscus Syrup
Recipe by Gale Gand

For the panna cotta:

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
10 tablespoons sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split
2 teaspoons gelatin
4 teaspoons cold water
2 cups buttermilk
  • In a saucepan, heat the cream, sugar & vanilla bean together until boiling.
  • Meanwhile, sponge the gelatin by slowly sprinkling it over the cold water & let sit until all the moisture is absorbed.
  • Stir the softened gelatin into the hot milk & mix well. Then, stir in the buttermilk.
  • Remove the vanilla bean by straining the liquid into a small pitcher.
  • Pour into small serving bowls, dessert glasses, or ramekins. Chill until set, a few hours. To speed up the chilling time, put the panna cotta into the freezer for about 45 minutes, then transfer to the refrigerator until ready to serve.

For the berries in hibiscus syrup:

1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/4 cup hibiscus tea leaves
1/2 cup strawberries, hulled & cut into bite-sized chunks
1/2 cup raspberries *
  • In a saucepan, place the sugar & water and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat & add the hibiscus tea leaves. Let steep for 4 minutes. Strain & let cool.
  • Add the strawberries & raspberries to the syrup & let macerate for at least one hour or overnight. Keep chilled until ready to serve.
* Gale mentioned that she uses organic raspberries & doesn't wash them, as the running water tends to destroy the fragile berries.

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