Panna cottas; 


They’re my dinner party friend in the fridge. As long as there’s leaf gelatine to hand and some plastic cups about, these creamy wobbly mounds are the easiest dessert going around. 
 
The plastic cups are a trick I picked up a while ago. There’s nothing more disappointing that a panna cotta that won’t release itself from its container.

It’s like that guest that just clings on, not realising the party is coming to a close. 

A swipe of a flavourless vegetable oil around the inside of the container helps get them on their way. So does gently pulling at the base of the set pudding with the tip of your finger, coaxing it away from the edge of the cup.
 

But when all else fails, if you’ve made the panna cottas in a plastic cup, you can always do this.


Puncturing the base with the tip of a knife lets in enough air to break the vacuum seal. The panna cotta will  then slowly plop its way down onto the plate.

While vanilla is classic, lately I’ve been feeling a little experimental, and a little frugal (all those vanilla pods can add up).
 
The milk and cream which make up the bulk of the pudding is essentially a blank canvas, on to which can impose any flavour you like.
 

This is a combination that came to me one afternoon.
 

You see, whenever I’m feeling just a little overwhelmed I turn to a cheeky cup of weak Earl Grey, a few dates and almonds. In fact, I think on the morning of my wedding that was all I ate.

It’s a happy little trio. The bergamot in the Earl Grey brings a calming and romantic lilt. The dates bring  a bit of exotic sweetness, and the almonds contribute some protein and crunch.
 

It turns out this is a combination that also plays nicely with panna cottas. The milk and cream gets stained with Earl Grey tea bags until it’s a pale biscuit. 

All that’s needed then is little bit of sugar and some gelatine. After that’s been combined they will sit quite happily in their plastic cases in the fridge for a few hours. The dates get stewed in some water.  When they’ve collapsed into a relaxed muddle they get spiked with some sea salt and a good dash of sherry- either Pedro Ximenex or Fino. 
 

The panna cottas get unmoulded over of a smear of the date puree. 



Then it’s just about  sprinkling about some shards of roasted almonds (flaked are fine, but whole almonds would be even better).
 

And so, there it is. The 2011 model of panna cotta has been unleashed. Coming soon to a dinner party near you. 



Earl Grey Panna Cottas
with date and sherry puree and roasted almonds
 

Serves 4

Equipment
Four plastic cups, (swipe the insides with a little bit of vegetable oil on a paper towel). 1 saucepan.
 

Shopping/foraging

 
 

For the panna cotta
3  gelatine leaves
250ml/9fl oz milk 
250ml/9fl oz  double cream
2 Earl Grey tea bags

25g/1oz  white sugar

1 cup of almonds, toasted or roasted

Fort the date puree

1 cup of dates
Half a cup of water
3 tablespoons of sherry
Half a tablespoon of sea salt flakes
 

Here’s how we roll
 

Panna cotta
1. Soak the gelatine leaves in a little cold water until they’re slippery and slimy.
 

2. Bring the milk, cream, tea bags and sugar in a pan and bring it up to a simmer. Remove the tea bags when the milk and cream have turned fawn coloured.
 

3. Give the gelatine leaves a good squeeze, then add to the warm milk sugar and cream. Stir until the gelatine has dissolved.
 

4. Pour the mixture into the six plastic cups. Let them cool and then place them in the fridge for 4-6 hours to set properly.

Date puree

1. Remove the seeds from the dates.
 

2. Place the seeded dates in a pan with half a cup of water.

Bring it to a simmer, stirring occasionally so that the dates break down into a sludgy puree.
 

3. Add the sherry. If there are  children eating the dessert, keep heating the puree until the alcohol burns off. If there are adults just, then let the puree cool. The booze adds a good kick.
 

To plate up
 

1.Upend the plastic cups, one to each plate. Puncture the top of the cups with the tip of a knife. This will allow air in and the suction seal to break, releasing the panna cottas.
 

2. Spoon the date puree around the base.
 

3.Sprinkle the roasted almond shards over the top and around the base.