For mother’s day this year, I’m posting a dessert I prepared in the kitchen with mom by my side. Happy Mother’s Day Mom and to all of the other moms and grandmas out there.
I recently took a trip home to spend some time with my family. It might not surprise you to learn that i get my penchant for baking from my mother. As far back as I can remember, Mom would be in the kitchen cooking and baking quite ambitious and exotic dishes and pulling them off spectacularly. Similar to her, I enjoy tackling the challenge of a complicated dish and the satisfaction of its success. Ever since moving out during college, my journeys home usually include a day or two in the kitchen, working side-by-side with Mom.
On this latest trip, we threw a little dinner party for some friends and family and spent the weekend prepping a four-course meal that was sure to please. Here’s the entire menu, though I’m only going to go into full detail on the dessert recipe:
APPETIZER: Baked Tempura Vegetables with a Soy-Ginger Dipping Sauce
SALAD: Roasted Red Beets with Toasted Almonds, Goat Cheese, and Arugula with a Champagne Vinaigrette
MAIN COURSE: Black Pasta Pinwheels with a Salmon Mousse Filling in a Roasted Red Pepper Cream Sauce
DESSERT: Pistachio Panna Cotta with a Chocolate-Cardamom Sauce, a Mango Sauce, and a Pistachio-Sea Salt Brittle
It took us a few days until we put together the final menu and then the fun really began. I love spending time in the kitchen with Mom and we’ve really developed a great dynamic of being able to work together in a cramped kitchen, each focusing on separate dishes but lending a hand for big or time-sensitive tasks. For this dinner, Mom took charge of the main course, I took the lead on the dessert, and we combined our efforts on the appetizer and salad. With so many dishes to prepare for a 6:30pm dinner, we really had to plan out the timing for each dish to get everything ready on schedule. We broke down each dish into a series of tasks, from making sauces, to chopping or roasting vegetables, to making fresh pasta and dyeing it black. With so much to do, organization was key.
Being nocturnal, I took the night shift and made both of the dessert sauces the night before the big dinner. By the time I woke up, mom was already in the kitchen making the salmon mousse and red pepper sauce for the pasta pinwheels. Once I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and drained my first cup of iced coffee, things took off as we quickly checked off item after item on our to-do list. Smooth progress so far was a good sign, as we didn’t have much time in the schedule to fix any major mistakes.
This dessert is an ambitious, time-intensive recipe. Multiple sauces, a garnish, plus the need to make a nut butter before getting truly started on the panna cotta itself, make this a multi-step (and most likely a multi-day) undertaking. Both sauces and the pistachio butter can be made a couple of days in advance, but I would make the brittle the same day you intend to serve the dessert.
The texture of this panna cotta is not the light, creamy consistency you expect with a ‘cooked cream’ dessert. Instead, the presence of lots of nut solids, the nut butter, and a handful of egg yolks slides this dessert closer to a custard. I’d put it about halfway between a thick custard and a traditional panna cotta, but that doesn’t make it any less scrumptious (or crumazing as my friend Michael would say).
When you read 'panna cotta' you imagine a light silky custard, but this nutty version is really halfway between a panna cotta and a full-blown custard. It's thick, though not overly eggy, with a deep pistachio flavor.
- 8 oz (227 g) pistachios, dry roasted, shelled
- 2 tsp light agave syrup*
- 3 tsp vegetable oil
- 2 cups (473 ml) milk
- 1/3 cup (67 g) sugar
- half of a vanilla bean, split lengthwise
- 7.5 oz (213 g) pistachios, dry roasted, shelled, coarsely chopped, divided
- a pinch of salt
- 6 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup (118 ml) pistachio butter
- 0.1 g powdered gelatin (or 1 1/2 gelatin sheets), bloomed in 3 tbsp warm water
- 10 cardamom pods
- 9 oz (250 ml) heavy cream
- 7 oz (200 g) dark chocolate, finely chopped
- 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/8 tsp ground cardamom
- 1 ripe mango
- 1 cup (200 g) sugar
- 3 oz (85 g) pistachios, dry roasted, shelled, coarsely chopped
- 2 tsp coarse sea salt
- Lightly toast the pistachios (until just warm and fragrant).
- Puree the pistachios in your food processor until the nuts release their oils and a butter forms (about 10 min).
- Add in the agave syrup and vegetable oil, blend until mixed thoroughly.
- Store in an airtight container (up to 1 week), in the fridge.
- Combine the milk, sugar, vanilla bean, 4.5 oz (128 g) of the chopped pistachios, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Stir the mixture, then cover and remove from the heat. Let the pistachios infuse into the milk mixture for as long as possible (at least 30 minutes, but 1 hour is better).
- Once the mixture is done steeping, strain it into a clean saucepan, and bring it back to a boil. Save the strained pistachios for later. Discard the vanilla bean.
- Place the egg yolks in a medium heatproof bowl.
- Pour the boiling milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly.
- Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan and heat over medium to medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until the custard thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon.
- Blend the custard, the reserved pistachios from steeping, and the pistachio butter together in your blender. Strain this mixture.
- Mix in the melted gelatin and cool the mixture to 70 °F (21 °C).
- Pour the panna cotta into your ramekins*, coat with an even layer of the remaining 3 oz (85 g) chopped pistachios, cover with plastic wrap, press down lightly to embed the nut topping into the top of the panna cotta, and freeze until set (30-90 minutes). Once set, transfer the panna cotta to the refrigerator.
- Put the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl, with a fine mesh strainer placed on top. Set aside.
- Gently open the cardamom pods by lightly squashing them with a rolling pin or chef's knife.
- Bring the cream and the opened cardamom pods to a simmer in a medium saucepan and continue to simmer over a low heat for 5 minutes, stirring regularly to prevent scorching, allowing the spice to infuse into the cream.
- Pour the warm cream through the strainer into the bowl with the chocolate. Let sit for 30 seconds, then mix until the chocolate is completely melted. Discard the strained cardamom pods.
- Add the vanilla and ground cardamom, stir.
- Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. If chilled, warm gently, until a pourable consistency is reached, before serving.
- Cut the mango into thirds along the axis of the flat pit. For firmer mangos, peel the mango thirds and chop into 1/2-inch chunks. For soft, juicy mangos, place one of the outer mango thirds in your hand, skin-side-down. With a paring knife, gently slice parallel lines through the mango flesh until you reach the skin, being careful not to cut through the mango skin or your own! Rotate the mango 90 degrees and carve another set of lines through the mango flesh, perpendicular to the previous set. Press on the center of the mango skin and invert, turning the mango third into a juicy hedgehog. Then slice off the mango hedgehog's spikes into the bowl of your food processor. Repeat with the other outer third of mango. For the center third, slice off the skin, then cut off a few chunks of mango flesh from around the pit.
- Puree the mango chunks in your food processor until smooth.
- Place the mango puree in a saucepan over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes, until thickened slightly.
- Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature before serving. The mango sauce can be stored, in a sealed container, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- On a rimmed baking sheet, place a piece of parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Set aside.
- Add the sugar to a large heavy-duty saucepan, spreading it evenly across the bottom of the pan. Cook the sugar over medium heat until the edges liquefy and begin to caramelize. Using a heatproof spatula, gently drag the liquefied sugar toward the center of the pan, encouraging the sugar to melt evenly.
- Once the sugar is melted, it will caramelize quickly (so don't walk away, even for a second). When it starts to smoke and is a deep amber color, but before it burns, remove the pan from the heat.
- Working quickly, pour long streaks of caramel onto the parchment paper or silicone baking mat, using a spoon to shape the caramel streaks as necessary. Be careful when pouring and handling the caramel as any contact with skin is likely to burn.
- Immediately sprinkle the chopped pistachios and sea salt onto the caramel. The caramel will cool within a few minutes.
- Store in a cool, dry place, but NOT in the refrigerator.
- Place one panna cotta dish at the back of a large plate.
- Remove the plastic wrap and insert a piece of the pistachio sea salt brittle vertically into the back of the panna cotta dish, with the pistachios in the brittle facing the center of the panna cotta.
- Drizzle the chocolate-cardamom sauce in a zigzag pattern across the front of the plate.
- Rotate the plate slightly and then drizzle the mango sauce in a zigzag pattern across the other sauce.
- Serve immediately.
If you can't find agave syrup for the pistachio butter, you can replace it with honey. I prefer the former because it keeps the flavor of the butter focused on the pistachios.
I used 4.5 oz ramekins for the panna cotta.
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Pistachio Panna Cotta recipe adapted from Jiyoun Oh's award-winning Peanut Butter Panna Cotta
Chocolate-Cardamom Sauce recipe adapted from LoveFood.com