I ate a large amount of sweets while out west. Homemade ice cream sandwiches from State Bird Provisions, root beer floats and chocolate ginger cookies at Ad Hoc, and bacon chocolate bars from Animal. I was a gluttonous pig feasting on sweets and I have no shame in admitting that (I can also justify it with the fact that we walked and hiked a great deal which is why I actually came home in better shape than when I left. I love when that happens.) Of all the desserts we ate the standout one was the yogurt panna cotta with wild blueberry compote and caramelized nuts from Baco Mercat. (I labeled this one of my top 10 dishes!) The flavors were superb – tart, tangy, and sweet. The texture was equally excellent - creamy and crunchy. They boy and I were both smitten with the dish probably because it tasted like a pie and pudding mash-up (and who doesn’t love a good dessert mash-up). Upon returning home, it was on the top of the list of things to make but with a more seasonal spin. Rhubarb seemed appropriately tart and a perfect counterpart to crunchy maple caramelized walnuts. This is one of those super fancy looking desserts that cause people to ohh and ahh over it but really it couldn’t be easier. While it’s perfect for a fancy dinner party, I prefer serving it just because since it elevates the everyday into something special (it also makes for a lovely if slightly indulgent breakfast).
Yogurt Panna Cotta
Recipe via Smitten Kitchen
Makes 1 9-inch round panna cotta or 6 4-inch ramekins with about 2/3-cup servings
Let’s talk about sugar for a second. I went with ½ cup since I thought with the tart rhubarb the sugar would be necessary, but I would personally prefer it a little tarter. My suggestion is 1/3 of a cup, I think that would be ideal, but ¼ cup would also work well with a sweeter compote (or even with the rhubarb if you prefer tart!) Expect more compote recipes as the season progresses. Maybe this will be the summer of compote!
Neutral oil such as canola or safflower
4 tablespoons (60ml) water
2 ½ teaspoons (1 packet or ¼ ounce or 7 grams) unflavored gelatin
2 cups (460 grams) plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
2 cups (475 ml) milk, heavy cream, or some combination of the two (want about ½ cup of cream)
¼ - ½ cup (50 – 100 grams) sugar (see my comments above)
2 tablespoons (30ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice from about ½ lemon
If you plan to unmold the panna cotta later, lightly coat the inside of a 9-inch round cake pan or smaller dessert cups with the oil. (No need to if you will scoop it from its cups.)
Place water in a small bowl. Stir in gelatin and set aside until the gelatin softens, about 15 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk all of yogurt and 1 cup of milk, cream or a mixture thereof. In a small saucepan, bring remaining milk or cream and sugar to a simmer. Stir in water-gelatin mixture (it will dissolve immediately) and remove from heat. Whisk this mixture into the yogurt mixture, then stir in lemon juice at the end. Pour mixture into cake pan or smaller cups and chill in fridge for at least 2 hours for small cups and up to 8 for a large pan. It’s best to do this the night before you need it, to be safe.
To unmold the cake pan, fill a larger baking dish with 1-inch boiling water. Dip panna cotta cake pan in it for 10 seconds, then flip it out onto a flat round platter. (A curved one will cause the panna cotta to appear sunken in the middle.)
To unmold smaller dishes, bring a small saucepan of water to a simmer and dip the bottom of a small panna cotta cup in one for five seconds, then invert it onto a plate. Repeat with remaining cups.
To serve – Top with rhubarb compote (recipe below) and 2 tablespoons chopped maple candied walnuts (recipe also below).
Roasted Rhubarb Compote
Recipe adapted from Chow
Makes about 2 cups (for each ramekin to get 1/3 cup)
1 pound rhubarb
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (juice of 1 lemon)
½ cup granulated sugar
Heat the oven to 350 degrees and arrange a rack in the middle. Rinse rhubarb under cold water, trim ends, and remove any leaves. Slice each stalk in half lengthwise, then cut each half crosswise into 1-inch pieces.
Combine rhubarb, lemon juice, and sugar in an 8-by-8-inch glass baking dish; toss together until rhubarb is well coated with sugar.
Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake until the rhubarb has released a lot of juice and the mixture is bubbling, about 35 minutes.
Remove the foil and continue baking until the juices are slightly thickened, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
Maple Candied Walnuts
Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
¼ cup pure maple syrup
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup walnuts (3 ounces)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in maple syrup, cinnamon, ginger, and ½ teaspoons salt. Bring to a simmer (mixture should be frothy), about 3 minutes. Add walnuts, and toss to coat using a rubber spatula. Cook, stirring, until sauce is syrupy and bubbly, about 3 minutes.
Transfer walnut mixture to a parchment-lined baking sheet and spread into a single layer. Bake until walnuts are caramelized, about 10 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack. Stir, and let stand until cool and hardened, about 30 minutes.