Thursday, April 21, 2011

Coffee Power Panna Cotta

I have an Earth Day story to share today. Back in 1992, I attended an Earth Day event at which I learned about the environmental damage caused by large animal feedlots and how consumption of beef and pork was rising sharply around the world. I wanted to do something and put my money where my mouth was literally I suppose, so it was then and there that I decided to stop eating red meat. And, what does that have to do with panna cotta? Well, even though I had stopped eating red meat, I continued to use gelatin which is made from collagen extracted from cattle and pigs, and gelatin is needed for dishes like panna cotta. I had read about other gelling agents, but hadn't tried any other alternatives until now. For Earth Day, and to learn something new, I decided to experiment with agar agar powder which is a natural substance derived from red algae.

Also, in celebration of Earth Day, I had just received a basket full of samples from the Central Market Organics line. I've shopped at Central Market since the first-ever store opened in Austin, and I bring home items from the Organics line every week. I was thrilled to receive this basket of samples which included organic rice milk, organic coffee, organic peanut butter dots breakfast cereal, and organic agave syrup, in addition to organic almond milk, strawberry preserves, oatmeal, and tea. My plan for this panna cotta came together when I saw the rice milk, coffee, and peanut butter dots. Maybe I should explain the peanut butter part of that. I've been hooked on the mix of flavors of coffee and peanut butter since my first peanut butter espresso milkshake years ago. Add a banana, and it's even better. And, since I remembered seeing a dessert in the book Delicious Days which involved a layer of gelled Kahlua on top of a coffee-flavored panna cotta, my idea was to re-create that in a completely vegetarian incarnation and top it with crushed peanut butter dots cereal for added flavor and texture.

After reading up on using agar agar, I realized this might require some testing and tweaking. I found a recipe online for a vegan panna cotta made with coconut milk and soy yogurt. I didn't want to add coconut to the mix of flavors I had in mind, so I tried this recipe with rice milk instead. After pulling ideas from the Delicious Days recipe, I simmered rice milk, agave syrup, seeds from a vanilla bean, and crushed coffee beans with agar agar powder. The mixture was simmered and strained into a bowl, and soy yogurt was whisked into it. It's necessary to cook agar agar for it to dissolve, but it will set up at room temperature if necessary. Also, it sets up very firm, so less is better. The general ratio is two teaspoons of agar agar powder to two cups of liquid, but I found the result of that to be too rigid. I wanted the panna cotta to have a little wobble. I also found my first experiment to be a little too virtuous. There was no richness, and the coffee and vanilla flavors seemed flat in the finished dessert. So, I decided this wasn't going to be vegan but just vegetarian. I tried again with the same initial process of simmering rice milk with agave syrup, vanilla seeds, crushed coffee beans, and a little less agar agar powder. Then, I poured that through a sieve into a bowl and whisked in cream. One taste before it was even set and I knew this was going to be a winner. I poured the mixture into ramekins and placed them in the refrigerator for an hour. The next step, also taken from the Delicious Days recipe, was to simmer some Kahlua with agar agar powder and then pour that over the set panna cotta in the ramekins. After they had chilled and the Kahlua layer had set, I turned out the desserts onto plates and sprinkled crushed organic peanut butter dots cereal on top.

Working with agar agar does take a little getting used to, but it's completely flavorless and dissolves once simmered. Depending on the texture you want, it might require some testing. I'm happy to have learned to use a vegetarian alternative to gelatin though, and I can't wait to try it in homemade marshmallows. As for the flavor of the final dessert, I was delighted. The coffee and vanilla with a little richness from cream was divine especially with the sweet liqueur of the gelled Kahlua layer. I always like a mix of textures too, so the crunch of the organic peanut butter cereal worked well and reminded me of those incredible milkshakes. I hope you find a delicious way to celebrate Earth Day too.

Vegetarian Coffee Power Panna Cotta
(adapted from Enlightened Cooking and Delicious Days)

1 1/4 cup organic rice milk
1/4 cup organic agave syrup
1 1/2 teaspoon agar agar powder
seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
3 tablespoons coffee beans, crushed so that they can be sieved out without leaving graininess behind
1 c cream

1/2 cup Kahlua
3/8 teaspoon agar agar powder (I realize that's an odd measurement, but 1/2 teaspoon is a little too much.)
1/4 cup crushed organic peanut butter dots cereal

-Place rice milk, agave syrup, 1 1/2 teaspoons agar agar powder, vanilla seeds, and crushed coffee beans in a medium saucepan and stir to combine. Let sit for a few minutes before bringing to a simmer. Simmer while stirring occasionially for about eight minutes.
-Pour rice milk mixture through a sieve into a heat-proof measuring pitcher. Add cream and whisk to combine. Divide evenly between four six ounce ramekins and place ramekins in the refrigerator for one hour.
-For the Kahlua gelee layer, place Kahlua and 3/8 teaspoon agar agar powder in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer while stirring. Simmer and stir until agar agar has dissolved. Carefully pour or spoon Kahlua on top of set panna cotta in ramekins. Let ramekins chill again for at least one hour.
-To serve, place hot tap water in a wide bowl. Dip bottoms of ramekins into hot water for about 15 seconds. Then, use a pairing knife to loosen edges of panna cotta all around the ramekin. Invert ramekin over a plate and use the knife to pull out the panna cotta if necessary. Top with crushed peanut butter dots cereal.



27 comments:

  1. Looks wonderful! In had a carrageen moss pudding at the Darina Allen Cookbook Club that was very much like a panna cotta. The texture was creamy and luxurious and melted in your mouth. Another gelatine replacement to try.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Your panna cotta is gorgeous and that flavor combination sounds amazing! I've never worked with agar agar either but you've convinced me to try it. I've always shuddered a bit over gelatin even though I'm an inveterate meat eater. It just has an unsavory factor- much like shortening:-)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Just perfect! I am a sucker for anything coffee-flavored.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

    ReplyDelete
  4. My dad is vegetraina nd they have used plant based gelatin to duplicate their favourites. I think we had jello at least once a week all the time I was growing up. As for your pannacotta it sounds delish!!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I've seen quite a few recipes using agar-agar as a gelling agent, and wish I could try them, but I have a hard time overcoming the fact that I use it all the time in the lab, and... my mind cannot dissociate one use from the other... :-(

    I am sure one of the cool things about it in cooking is how fast it gels, and it happens at a higher temperature than gelatin, so in theory you could have dessert ready in 30 minutes or even less.

    oh, well... maybe one day I'll be brave and "steal" a bit from the lab ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Another beauty you've created here Lisa. Nothing like a good pana cotta & this one looks seriously good :)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Your name just about says it all, though it should have been called Delicious Coffee Power Panna Cotta. Your photos are lovely as well. I hope you have a great a day. Blessings...Mary

    ReplyDelete
  8. Love this post and congrats on landing a shout out on Woman's Health!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Well done Lisa! I've only used agar agar once, to make a vegan mushroom pate. I've been wanting to try it for sweets, especially for marshmallows which my boys are obsessed with and I don't let them eat, and I appreciate the research here!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Agar agar reminds me of childhood. In Asia, agar agar is more common than gelatin. Coffee power - give some to me!

    ReplyDelete
  11. I love how you've connected this to Earth Day. I've never used agar agar before, but my sister-in-law is vegan and always talks about it. This is a great recipe to start with :) PS: I have a fun giveaway going on right now...stop by and check it out!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Love this post! I don't think I've ever used gelatin OR agar agar but if I ever make panna cotta in the future, it's going to be agar agar all the way! This looks delicious!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Coffee panna cotta is brilliant! Love this recipe!!!

    ReplyDelete
  14. This panna cotta is so pretty! And that layer of kahlua must add the perfect punch of coffee flavor and sweetness.

    I've been using agar agar for a couple of years now and actually prefer it to gelatine. It seems to be a bit easier to work with.

    ReplyDelete
  15. This is a recipe I must try! I love that you've used rice milk and agar agar. This sounds delicious!

    ReplyDelete
  16. This looks rich and delicious!! I love creamy coffee desserts :)

    ReplyDelete
  17. Lisa, I have that cookbook and every single time I take it off the shelf I go stare at that coffee panna cotta with the gelled coffee layer on top! Yowza! Your panna cotta is absolutely perfect and I seriously must make some myself. I should be using agar agar more often. Oh and peanut butter and coffee? Never imagined but now I am more than intrigued!

    ReplyDelete
  18. Ive always been so intimidated by panna cotta, yours looks amazing!

    ReplyDelete
  19. I am so envious! You are so lucky to get goodie baskets from Central Market. I've always wanted to visit one of those stores, as I've heard how incredible they are, with such a vast selection of produce and specialty items.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Beautiful beautiful! Love the flavours!

    ReplyDelete
  21. from what i've seen, heard, and read, agar agar is an ideal ingredient, especially for the more eco-conscious among us. what a tasty treat you've made!

    ReplyDelete
  22. Well done you for putting so much time, effort and investigation into this one! They look INCREDIBLE! love the sprinkles on top. Yum!

    ReplyDelete
  23. I've heard many things on agar agar but I've never tried it myself. I know where to get it so maybe it is worth trying it out. Your pannacotta looks gorgeous!

    ReplyDelete

Blogging tips