I made this one on one of those days – one glance out of the window and the only thing that came to mind was „ick“. Again. It’s been grey on grey for weeks, so I really needed some sort of a happy place – a happy plate to be more accurate.
Compotes are typical autumn/winter treats in my book, especially since it’s so easy to combine them with other components to make them more summery or wintery, depending on the proximity of the seasons (or my mood). That day I was starving for a couple of sun rays, for any sign of spring nosing its way in, so I decided to combine a hot Tyrian Cherry Compote representing the warm-and-fuzzy parts of winter with a cold and light Yoghurt Panna Cotta as my sunny element. Adding indulgence to gluttony I made a Cherry Almond Brittle for good measure.
The Yoghurt Panna Cotta
My non-Tyrian component of this desert needs to cool for at least 3 hours, so start with this. It’s a calorie-, sugar- and fat-reduced version of a classic italian cream desert. I’m not waving the „guilt-free-desert“ flag here, the compote is just rich enough for my taste.
For about 4 servings you’ll need:
230 ml 1,5% Natural Yoghurt
230 ml 1,5% Milk (0,3% skimmed milk works as well – you might loose some taste though. Ive also done this with Coconut Milk but I’ve got to say it competes too much with the yoghurt flavor)
1 ½ Tsp Powdered Gelatine
100 ml Lukewarm Water
Opt: 1/2 a Vanilla Pod or 1 Tsp of Lemon Zest
1) Let the gelatine soak in the warm water.
2) Meanwhile heat the milk in a small pot on medium heat
3) Once the milk is warmed up, stir the gelatine/water mix into a paste – check the instructions on your gelatine packet if in doubt about the amount of time its supposed to soak. Just don’t let the milk get too hot in the meantime.
4) Stir the paste into the milk. The original recipe I found and tested a couple of years back stated you should „stir the gel in quickly“ so, never having dealt with powdered gelatine before, I merrily grabbed my whisk and „quickly“ beat the sticky stuff into submission with it. For all I could tell at that point in the process, I won, it didn’t split. What I actually ended up doing was beating the mixture into a mousse which, thanks to the gelatine, stiffened up, bubbles and all. The end result was a rather unpleasant hard, cold foam similar to that bubbled up chocolate gone stale. I wouldn’t recommend eating either. That experience in mind I’d suggest using a wooden spoon to avoid stirring in too much air.
5) Let the gelatined milk cool down to room temperature – about 20 to 30 minutes depending on how high you went before. Don’t move ahead if the milk is still hot, the mixture would split.
6) Stir in the yoghurt and, if you’re using either, the optional ingredients, until the mix is well combined. Mind the bubbles. If it splits anyways put your stick blender to use for about half a minute and try again.
7) Decide on how to present your desert, and pick the kind of container that fits your purpose. I.E if you want to turn them out on a dish like i did, use ramekins or coffee cups. If you want to serve them in martini glasses or whatever… Fill the mixture in 4 containers of your choice and let them set in the fridge for at least 3 hours.
This was my initial inspiration:
This is what I made of it:
For 4 servings you’ll need:
75-100g Caster Sugar*
115g Light Muscovado Sugar
50ml Dry Red Port
1/2 Vanilla Bean
1 Pinch of Salt
Opt: A splinter of a Cinnamon Stick
500g Pitted fresh cherries or frozen cherries – Cherry season was already over, and I didn’t fancy robbing a bank in order to buy off-season cherries for ridiculous amounts of quid, so I went with frozen cherries. It worked surprisingly well! I expected them to fall apart in the pot, like most frozen berries/fruit tend to, but all I needed was more sugar to compensate for the not-perfectly-ripe state they were frozen in.
* Usually compotes are at their best when the fruits being used are slightly overripe, perfectly edible but no show-pieces anymore. At that point their own sugar content is at it’s highest and only a little additional sugar is needed. The cherries I used this time were extremely sour, so I needed more sugar than usual. I used normal caster sugar instead of doubling the amount of muscovado because it would have turned out too heavy due to its caramel note.
1) Slice the Vanilla pod in half and use the back of your knife to scrape out the seeds. Keep the pod for later. You can use vanilla extract if you can’t get your hands on fresh pods, but I personally prefer the fresh seeds, especially in compotes (since you can pop the scraped pod into the cooking liquid to intensify the flavor) and in deserts in which you can actually see the little seeds – like my Yoghurt Panna Cotta above. If you go with the extract, use it at the end, the aroma would cook off if you would put it in at the beginning.
2) Mix the seeds with the sugars until they’re well combined. Put a pan or pot with a thick base over medium heat, put in the water and evenly sprinkle the bottom with the sugar mix. Cover the pot with a (preferably) glass lid. You want to keep an eye on the color of the caramel and the melting process as a whole so you can swirl the pot if you see little white islands swimming in the otherwise molten sugar. Don’t stir it with a spoon at this stage – it would crystallize the sugar instead of melting it – just move the pot to move the liquid inside.
3) Once your caramel has a nice golden brown color, turn the temperature to low, deglaze it with the port and add your cherries and the empty vanilla pod (have a taste first, if the vanilla is strong enough for you, leave it out). Use a wooden spoon (it’s gentler to the soft fruit than a metal spoon, less likely to squish them more than necessary) to carefully fold the caramel around the cherries which will soon be starting to give off their juices. With frozen cherries this takes about one to three minutes.
4) If you’re suddenly facing a pot filled with cherry juice, spoon out whatever amount you think exeeds your expectation of a compote and let the rest reduce down to a syrupy fluid over medium heat. Since I used frozen cherries which break up faster than fresh ones, I did it the other way around. I carefully spooned out the cherries, tipped a few glugs of the cherry soup into another bowl for safety (in case the syrup would get too thick or there would not be enough of it) and reduced the remaining juice into syrup, took the pot off the stove, let it cool for 3 minutes, then put the cherries back in to soak and gloss over. The leftover juice made for a yumtastic granita!
5) Have a taste of the cherries. Depending on how ripe they were to begin with you might need to keep them simmering for a bit longer. Once the syrup is taken care of the rest is about personal preference – just remember that, since they’ll remain in the still warm syrup, they will cook a bit more until the compote is cooled off.
The Cherry Almond Brittle
I tweaked another Tyrian recipe to fit my purpose in today’s dish.
If you’re gunning for a sugar rush, be my guest, cover candy corn in more sugar. You might even want to use candied almonds and dust it with icing sugar in the end to max out the sugar potential – I know it has successfully been done before.
I actually use the following recipe quite often during the winter months, most of the time using dried apples and roasted walnuts. I suppose it works with almost every kind of nut or dried fruit, even gummibears or similar kinds of candy. I’m just not fond enough of over-the-top-candy-overload to go experimenting past the nut/dried fruit combo.
So here’s what you’ll need:
100g Caster Sugar
50g Almond Slices
50g Dried Cherries
Pinch of Vanilla Salt (simply make this yourself when you have a leftover vanilla pod – stick it into an airtight container with coarse sea salt or even Feur de Sel. It adds depth to savoury dishes and really tweaks up your sweet dishes if you use just a few grains on top of your creation)
Alternatively: A Pinch of Fleur de Sel
A word of warning
Molten sugar/hot caramel is one of the most dangerous substances in the kitchen. Caster sugar starts melting at roughly 135°C, starts changing color at aroumd 165°C and turns liquid between 180°C and 190°C. About the same temperatures apply when its cooling down again, so even if it starts getting/looks solid its still over 100°C. This is made worse by the simple fact that its sugar. Its sticky. A minute drop on your hand burns a hell of a lot more than the same amount of oil spitting out of a pan. Handle it with caution.
1) Spread the almonds evenly on the bottom of a large pan and toast them over medium heat. Keep an eye on them – If you’re as lucky with roasting nuts as I am they’ll go from pale to burned in one turn-away-from-the-stove-to-sneeze-moment. Once they’re golden set them aside to cool off.
2) For the caramel the same rules apply as in the compote recipe above, but you have to pay even more attention to the color since you’re not adding any liquids this time.
Unless you have top-shelf quality ceramic cookware you should pick the stove plate/burners that matches the base of your pot in size to make sure the caramel melts evenly, otherwise you’ll end up with a half-burned, half-crystallized mess you might as well throw out with the pan in question. Believe me… been there, done that. Again you’re looking for a golden color in your molten sugar.
3) Line a large, flat dish or baking tray with baking paper.
4) Have your cherries, almonds and vanilla salt at the ready.
5) Now you can go down three different roads, you’ll need to be very fast either way. The sugar will start to stiffen up as soon as it touches cold air, but it will still be viciously hot.
Option one: dump the almonds and the dried cherries into the molten sugar and then pour the mix onto a tray lined with baking parchment, spread out as thinly as possible and sprinkle it with the salt as you go. You won’t need much, just a few flakes for a burst of flavor here and there. You might want to summon a minion to help you with this – it will either be tipping the pan or using an oiled rubber spatula to spread out the mix. If the minion fails at its job you can quickly cover the mass with a second baking sheet and try to roll it out with a rolling pin. This will break up the nuts a little, look a bit messy, but the taste will still be yumtastic. This is how I do it when the looks are not that important.
Option two: Arrange the fruits and nuts on your lined tray roughly the way you’d like them to be in the end. Pour the molten sugar over it as carefully and as quickly as you can, sprinkle it with salt. I go down this path when I plan on using the shards as decoration for other deserts. I don’t arrange the „fillings“ too closely, so I end up with pretty, glassy shards with a couple of nuts and fruits frozen in them.
Option three/the ponzy way: Angel’s Hair. If you’re doing this/something like this for the first time you will probably
a) make a mess
b) burn yourself with hot sugar
c) need a minion which you will
d) also burn with hot sugar
You wouldn’t believe how far those sugar strands can fly and how hot they still are once they reach the end of their path. If you’re more patient or practised than I am, have at it – the end result is well worth it. It looks gorgeous and adds a completely different texture to your dish.
Ready your baking paper, warm a steel ball whisk between your hands (or a normal whisk with the round parts cut off – you need the tips for the sugar to drip off of). Dip it into the sugar, hover over the paper and move it in a sweeping motion across the area you want covered in sugar threads. Have your minion follow your movement with the fillings in hand, sprinkling the threads as long as they’re still sticky. Rinse and repeat until you have your fillings contained in a stiff sugar net.
6) Once it’s cooled down break it into shards or use a heated knife to cut it. Beware of flying bits, use your minion as a shield if necessary.
7) Combine the three components on a plate, pile them up in a glass or eat them all seperately – most importantly: Enjoy the treats!