A Decadently Rich Dessert Memory from Paris

This summer while in Paris I dined in a new restaurant, Le St Joseph, located outside the city in the suburb of La Garenne-Colombes. Chosen by my good friend, and impeccable Paris food critic, John Talbott, the bistro turned out, as they say in the Michelin guide, “to be worth the detour,” or in our case, a 30-minute cab ride.

From the beautiful cream of pea soup garnished with tiny diced feta, golden croutons, and grilled spices to a salad of roasted eggplant, fresh orange segments, and yellow tomatoes, topped with transparent goat cheese chips and toasted pepitas, everything was delicious. I remember best the dessert; a coffee panna cotta covered with a dark chocolate ganache, and a sprinkle of crushed peanuts and cookie crumbs.

Long after I returned stateside, visions of this delectable confection swirled in my mind. Panna cotta (Italian for cooked cream) is a gloriously smooth custard made without eggs, bound with gelatin, and served chilled. The recipe here calls for both whole milk and heavy or whipping cream plus a seasoning of instant espresso powder. It takes only minutes to assemble, but needs several hours to set in the fridge before the chocolate ganache can be spooned on top. In place of peanuts, I used hazelnuts and omitted the cookie crumbs.

This dessert was a big hit when I served it recently at a Sunday night supper, and again at lunch with my assistants. When my husband downed one for a midnight snack, I knew I had a close version of the original!


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Espresso Panna Cottas with Dark Chocolate Ganache

2 tsp powdered gelatin (1/4 oz package of gelatin equals 2 teaspoons)
3/4 cup whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp instant espresso powder
1 1/2 cups heavy or whipping cream

Dark Chocolate Ganache and Hazelnut Garnish
3 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
3 tbsp heavy or whipping cream
2 tbsp toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped (see cooking tip)

1. Have ready four 8- to10- oz old fashioned glasses or use 1-cup ramekins.

2 Place gelatin in a small bowl and cover with 2 tablespoons water to soften, about 5 minutes.

3. In a medium saucepan, whisk together milk and sugar and place over medium-high heat. Whisk until sugar dissolves and bring mixture to a simmer. Remove from heat and whisk in the gelatin until it has completely dissolved, and then the espresso powder until it has also completely dissolved. Stir in the cream until well blended. Transfer mixture to a large (about 4 cup) measuring cup with a spout and pour into the 4 glasses.

4. Place glasses on a baking sheet or tray, cover with plastic wrap, and chill until completely set, 6 hours or overnight.

5. When panna cottas are set, prepare the garnish. In a small bowl set over but not touching a small saucepan of simmering water, whisk the chopped chocolate and cream together until melted and smooth. (You can also melt the chocolate with the cream in a small bowl in the microwave.) Spoon 1/4 of the melted chocolate over the top of one panna cotta and tip the glass back and forth to form an even layer. Sprinkle some hazelnuts over the chocolate. Repeat with remaining panna cottas. (Panna cottas can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate; bring to room temperature 20 minutes before serving to soften the chocolate layer slightly.) Serves 4

Cooking tip: To toast hazelnuts, spread on a rimmed baking sheet and place in a preheated 350 degree F oven until lightly browned and fragrant, about 8 minutes. Watch carefully. Remove and place nuts in a kitchen towel and rub off as much of the skins as possible.

Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2017

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