Come November, about 75% of the people I know well enough to mark their birthdays on my calendar are about to celebrate another chapter of their lives during the next handful of weeks. Whenever there’s related festive gatherings of 3 or more people – and the promise of food – involved in the shindig, I’ve noticed a peculiar drop in the upkeep of the Birthday Cake tradition. Not in general, mind you, just the children of winter seem to have lost interest in the concept for no evident reason.
Of course this makes the question of what to bring to the party extremely easy for me to answer – if I know the person in question has a sweet tooth for chocolate, I’ll whip up a variety of chocolates and truffles for them. If I’m aware of the opposite, I simply conjure up a large tray of little desserts like this one that will make everyone involved happy. Prepping large amounts of little jars like these, whether they contain a bunch of fruit, a mousse, a panna cotta, a tiramisu or any variation/combination of these treats, a bit in advance is an exceptionally quick and easy way to keep a dinner crowd’s attention away from the fact that the host might have forgotten all about the sweet course (again). Here’s my Be-a-Hero-for-an-Evening quick-fix for 8-12 (depending on the size of your jars) ravenous partygoers:
The Gingerbread Panna Cotta
425ml Low Fat Milk
5 Disposable (or reusable) Teabags filled with 1 Tbsp of Gingerbread Spices each
Alternative for a slightly different yet fantastic match for the Blood Orange Curd should your kitchen suffer from a tragic lack of Gingerbread Spices: 5 Bags of Chai Tea – I use the Yogi Tea Classic for this one.
Tweak in case of Chai Tea’ness: consider using almond milk instead of regular milk to add even more oomph to the spices~
1 Stick of Cinnamon
Opt: One 2-3cm long piece of Liquorice, lightly bashed – sadly I’m not aware of any other way to get that aroma than by using actual liquorice wood or root. I always buy a bundle of liquorice sticks at spice trader’s stalls on medieval festivals or markets, but if you’re not a frequent visitor to those, you can get them easily online.
1 Star Anise
2 ~½cm thick Slices of Ginger
2 Cardamom Pods
½ Tonka Bean, finely ground
½ Tsp Ground Allspice
½ Vanilla Pod, seeds and pod separated – both will go for a swim, though
¼ Tsp Nutmeg
3 Leaves of Gelatine
75g Fine Baking Sugar
1 Pinch of Salt
1) Pour the milk into a small pot with a fitting lid and set it onto medium heat.
2) Add the teabags and spices and, while stirring occasionally, allow the liquid to work up a low boil.
3) Take the pot off the heat and pop on a lid. Allow the “tea” to infuse for 20-30 mins.
4) Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into another pot – this one should be large enough to hold the whole bunch – making sure to squeeze every last drop of deliciously spiced milk out of the whole spices and the teabags.
5) Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for 5 mins.
6) Place the newly filled pot on low heat and add the sugar.
7) Gently stir the lot as it’s warming through to help the sugar dissolve.
8) Stir in the softened gelatine leaves after squeezing out any and all excess water – make sure the milk doesn’t work up a boil in the meantime, the gelatine will loose its binding-properties if it would be exposed to too much heat at this point.
9) Take the pot off the heat as soon as the leaves have dissolved completely.
10) Pour in the cream along with a pinch of salt give the mixture a good stir until everything is well combined.
11) Strain the mixture into a jug – by making the mixture go through a very fine sieve once more you’re making absolutely sure no milk/spice or gelatine lumps make their way into the desserts.
12) Line up the jars, ramekins or bowls you’ve picked for the occasion on an easily maneuverable and stable tray (make sure it fits into your fridge beforehand!).
13) Pour the mixture into the jars up to about 2/3 of the way up.
14) Pop the tray into the fridge and allow them to set for 4-6 hours.
The Blood Orange & Vanilla Curd
5 Egg Yolks
100g Fine Baking Sugar
50g Light Muscovado
Alt: 50g Fine Baking Sugar if you want the color to pop
250ml Freshly Squeezed Blood Orange Juice
Zest of 1 Blood Orange
Alt: Tangerines/Mandarin Oranges both work nicely as a replacement
1 Splash of Lemon Juice
1 Pinch of Salt
¼ Large Vanilla Pod, seeds only
3-4 Drops of Vanilla Extract
Alt: Again, if you’re gunning for visual effects, use vanilla sugar instead of the real… yet dark and dotty stuff
100g Butter, chilled and diced into 1cm cubes
1) Set a heavy-based pot onto medium heat and add the sugar.
2) Once it starts to melt around the edges, pour in the blood orange and lemon juice and add the zest, egg yolks and salt.
3) Pick up a whisk and whisk the lot as it heats up until it starts to thicken up into a soft and creamy glaze – get ready for a bit of a workout, this will take about 10 mins.
4) You’ll know you’ve golden once the curd settles around the back of a spoon dipped into it in a thick and glossy coat.
5) Take the pot off the heat and flake in the butter in small bits – keep whisking the lot after each addition until the current flake of butter has dissolved completely. Don’t rush the curd, or it will curdle on you~
6) Add the vanilla seeds and extract along with the last piece of butter.
7) Allow the mixture to cool down to room temperature, then retrieve your panna cottas and spoon a thin’ish layer of curd onto each serving – the ratio is totally up to you, a quick test-spoon holding both components might help you decide.
8) Pour the excess curd into another, preferably sterilized, sealable jar.
9) Pop the finished desserts back into the fridge for at least another 2 hours before serving.
10) By the way, the curd on its own will keep fresh and delicious for roundabout 2 weeks if kept chilled and sealed.