A few weeks ago my long-time assistant, Emily Bell, suggested that I offer readers a chance to end their Thanksgiving feasts with silky smooth pumpkin panna cotta in place of the traditional pumpkin pie. She had a favorite recipe for this Italian specialty–typically a mixture of cream, milk, and sugar bound with gelatin–and quickly convinced me that we could rework it, adding pumpkin puree and spices. My mouth was watering just thinking of this confection, so I wasted no time heading into the kitchen.
It took several tries before the flavors were balanced and the texture perfectly creamy, but finally we had a winner. I proposed that we add as garnishes dollops of softly whipped cream and crushed pecan brittle. The snowy white cap of cream contrasted nicely with the dusty orange hue of the “cooked creams,” while the glistening pecan brittle with its crunch was a great foil for the smoothness of this dessert.
For Thanksgiving cooks, this is a great make-ahead finale. You can prepare the panna cotta two days ahead and the brittle three or more days in advance. These little creams, assembled in individual ramekins, are lovely unmolded, but if you’re short on time, they are equally good presented in their dishes. A single recipe serves eight, but can be doubled if needed. (Oh, and your gluten-free guests will be thrilled.) For me these “pumpkin cottas” bring together a recipe from old Europe and a staple of American cuisine to form the perfect holiday recipe.
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Pumpkin Panna Cotta with Pecan Brittle
Canola oil for oiling the ramekins
1 envelope gelatin
1/2 cup water
1 cup heavy or whipping cream plus 1/3 cup for the garnish
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup sour cream
1 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp kosher salt
Pecan Brittle (Recipe follows)
1. Oil eight 1/2-cup ramekins with canola oil.
2. Stir the gelatin and water together in a small bowl. Let stand until the gelatin has softened, 5 to 10 minutes.
3. In a medium saucepan over medium high heat, stir together 1 cup of the cream, milk, and sugar. Stir until sugar has dissolved and bring mixture to a very gentle simmer. Add the gelatin mixture and stir until completely dissolved, a minute or less. Do not let the mixture come to a boil.
4. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sour cream, pumpkin puree, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and kosher salt. Transfer to a large 4-cup measuring cup with a spout and pour into the ramekins. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and cover them with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until set, 6 hours or overnight. (Panna cotta can be made 2 days ahead. Keep covered and refrigerated.)
5. To serve, unmold the ramekins by running a sharp knife around the inside edge of each ramekin. Fill a cake pan or pie plate with very hot water and the dip the bottom of each ramekin in the water for about 10 seconds. Invert each ramekin onto the center of a dessert plate and gently lift off the dish. If panna cotta doesn’t unmold, repeat dipping bottoms of ramekins in hot water. Whip the remaining 1/3 cup cream in a small bowl until just barely firm. Spoon a generous dollop of cream on top of each panna cotta and garnish with some pecan brittle. Serves 8
3/4 cup sugar
6 tbsp water
1/2 tsp sea salt such as fleur de sel
1/2 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
1. Line a baking sheet with foil and grease it with canola oil. Place the sugar, water, and salt in a medium, heavy saucepan set over medium high heat. Stir just until the sugar has dissolved completely into the liquid. Cook, tipping pan gently from time to time to incorporate any sugar on the sides of the pan, until the mixture starts to caramelize and turns a rich tea brown, 4 to 6 minutes. Watch carefully.
2. Remove saucepan from heat and, using a wooden spoon, carefully stir in the pecans. Spread the mixture on the baking sheet and cool completely. Then, using a sharp large knife, break the brittle into either large or small chunks. (Brittle can be prepared 3 days ahead; store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.)
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2014