Holiday desserts, no oven required

A little reduced balsamic vinegar gives a zing to subtle bay leaf panna cotta.

A little reduced balsamic vinegar gives a zing to subtle bay leaf panna cotta.

For those of you joining us from SELF.com, welcome! For those of my regular readers who have no idea what I’m talking about, check out this story at SELF.com, where some of my ideas for no-bake holiday desserts appear, along with those of other food bloggers.

My two options are old-school—pudding—and fancy-pants—panna cotta. Both are so easy and quick that the raves they earn feel disproportionate, like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. If you can operate a whisk, you have the skills to make homemade pudding; if you’ve ever made Jell-O, then you are ready to attempt panna cotta.

But every dessert deserves a little dressing up for the holidays; and so the pudding is spiked with fresh ginger, the panna cotta infused with fresh bay leaf. The former is comforting and sophisticated; the latter so unexpected and bewitching, and inspired by other bay leaf desserts I have loved, from the bay leaf donuts at Casa Mono in New York City to the bay leaf flan at The Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis. Both take under 20 minutes of hands-on time. I hope you’ll be inspired to try one yourself.

Bay leaf panna cotta

Serves 8

1 cup whole milk

3 fresh bay leaves

2 cups heavy cream

3/4 tablespoon (1 envelope) unflavored gelatin

½ cup granulated sugar

Pinch salt

Garnish: Syrupy aged balsamic vinegar (or a faked version—just reduce some in a saucepan until thickened slightly)

Heat milk with bay leaves until just about to simmer. Cover and remove from heat; let steep 30 minutes, then strain out and discard leaves.

Lightly oil ramekins. Pour 1 cup of the heavy cream in a bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Stir with a fork and let soak 5 minutes. Stir again.

Combine steeped milk, sugar, and salt in cleaned saucepan. Whisk over medium-high heat until the sugar has dissolved, then let the mixture come to a low simmer. Immediately remove from heat. Add the gelatin-cream mixture and whisk until dissolved. Add remaining cup cream and whisk.

Divide mixture among 8 3-oz ramekins and cover each with a piece of plastic wrap pressed directly against the mixture’s surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until firm, about 6 hours.

Just before serving, dip ramekins into a bowl of hot water for about 3 seconds, then run the tip of a small offset spatula or thin knife around the rim. Invert onto serving plates, coaxing panna cotta out with the spatula. Drizzle with reduced balsamic vinegar, if desired.

Chopped crystallized ginger brings out the pudding's gingery zap.

Chopped crystallized ginger brings out the pudding’s gingery zip.

Ginger pudding

Serves 6

3 cups 2% milk

3-oz piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thinly

3 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Pinch salt

1 large egg

Garnish: chopped crystallized ginger

Heat milk and ginger in a medium saucepan until just about to boil; cover and steep, 30 minutes. Strain out ginger and discard.

In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and some of the warm milk until well-blended. Whisk together sugar and salt in cleaned saucepan, then whisk in the milk and the cornstarch-milk mixture. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly, and lower to a simmer. Simmer until pudding is thick, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat.

Beat egg in a medium heatproof bowl, then drizzle pudding into egg, whisking constantly. Cover pudding with a piece of plastic wrap pressed right against its surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until cool, 3 hours.

Divide pudding among 6 bowls, then top with crystallized ginger.

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