Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Cocoa Panna Cotta - My Way

When an idea that's like a marble rolling around in a steel drum won't be quieted, sometimes you just gotta get it out of your head and into the saucepan. So to speak.

I can't remember now where I read this, but someone, somewhere said that you cannot successfully caramelize Splenda-Sugar Blend. Pah!, I say. Yes you can.

And to prove it I've made a variation of the Cocoa Caramel Panna Cotta from my previous post, not only using the Splenda-sugar for the caramel, but also substituting fat-free 1/2 & 1/2 and regular 1/2 & 1/2 for much of the heavy cream.

In doing so, I've made it way lower in carbs and lower in fat while still retaining its creamy, silky texture. In fact, I like this version better than the last: It doesn't have any of the coating-the-roof-of-your-mouth feel that using all heavy cream can sometimes impart; and it sets up prettier, creating a layered effect of dark to light chocolate color.

Yes, Virginia, even though you might be eating lighter fare after the indulgences of the holidays, you CAN, at least once in a while, indulge in dessert.

Lower Fat - Lower Carb Cocoa Panna Cotta
Adapted from The Essence of Chocolate, by Robert Steinberg and John Scharffenberger
2 1/2 teaspoons gelatin
1/4 cup water, divided
1/4 cup Splenda-Sugar Blend
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Ghirardelli)
1 1/2 cups regular 1/2 & 1/2
1/2 cup fat-free 1/2 & 1/2
1 cup heavy cream

Lightly spray six 4-ounce souffle cups with Pam. Using a paper towel, evenly distribute the Pam over the bottoms and up the sides of each cup, leaving a thin film. Set aside.
Place 2 tablespoons of the water in a small bowl and sprinkle with the gelatin. Stir and set aside. This will become very firm.
Combine the cream and both 1/2 & 1/2s into a glass measuring cup and microwave until lukewarm. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, place the remaining 2 tablespoons of water and the Splenda-Sugar Blend over medium heat. Cook for about 10 minutes or until the liquid is a deep amber color, brushing the sides of the saucepan with a wet pastry brush if crystals form.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and quickly stir in the cocoa powder, stirring until fully blended.
Return the pan to the heat and slowly add the warm cream mixture, stirring constantly. The caramel will harden at first but will finally dissolve as the mixture heats up. Keep stirring until there are no hard bits left in the pan.
Remove the pan from the heat again and add the gelatin, stirring until it has dissolved, then strain the entire mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a pourable container.
Divide evenly among the prepared souffle cups and transfer to the refrigerator, covering the tops with plastic wrap so a skin doesn't form.
Refrigerate until set and slightly jiggly, at least 4 hours. Overnight is ideal.

I rather ruined the top photo by thinking I had to run a knife around the souffle cup to un-mold the panna cotta. But with the addition of the film of Pam (thank you for your support Jann), all you really need to do is flip cup and plate, give it a good shake, and the panna cotta will freely fall out, making for a smoother edge than you see in my photo.

Cook's Notes:
I opted out of preparing the custard sauce, adding a dollop of homemade creme fraiche as a garnish instead.
This dessert is so lovely in both taste and texture, it can stand on its own. A small shaving of good bittersweet chocolate around the plate is all it would need to give it a fine presentation.
Because gelatin is used to firm up the panna cotta, I see no reason why whole or 2% milk couldn't be substituted for the heavy cream, lowering the fat and calories even further. Give it a try!
Finally, you may have noticed that in my previous post I did not write out the recipe, providing a link and an explanation instead, but have written it for this post, creating what may seem to be a contradiction. Because I changed the recipe ingredients and the explanation of preparation significantly enough, I felt comfortable in giving credit to Mr. Scharffenberger and Mr. Steinberg for their wonderful recipe that I then adapted to suit my tastes. And because I now have their book, I'm not lifting anything from Mr. Leite's site.
And that's about all I'm going to say on this subject. :)