Cocoa Panna Cotta

>> Friday, August 23, 2013

When I was in high school, I found out that instead of passing on her high cheekbones and smooth skin genes to me, my mum gave me her genes contributing to high cholesterol. I still remember the day my doctor told me that she's never seen anyone my age with such a high cholesterol level, and presented to me a guide to healthy eating issued by the NSW government.

That was quite a shock to me. Me? Really? Sure, I may be a liiiiiittle on the chubby side, but hey I thought that was just 'baby fat' that'll disappear eventually! As reality sank in and as I read up on the risks associated with having high (bad) cholesterol, I really thought I had to say goodbye to those luscious desserts like crème brûlées, butter-filled pastries like croissants and my favourite deep-fried seafood basket (or anything deep fried, really.)

And I became overly sensitive to whatever was on my plate then. I would push away my favourite fish roe (caviar) sushi at Japanese restaurants and apply strict portion control to any dish that contains traces of butter or cream (e.g. ice-cream!). In my head, I was constantly calculating how many egg yolks I had eaten that week, and dissecting food on my plate so much that you'd probably be put off sitting next to me.

And I started to exercise. There was a period in my life when I'd go to the gym 5 times a week - even on Saturday mornings I would walk 30 minutes to the gym and do 2 hours of fitness classes. Slowly I began to see my cholesterol level come down bit by bit. But no matter how much exercise I did, it was still considerable higher than most people's, due to the genetic component. 

These days, I'm definitely nowhere as meticulous about my diet as before (and don't exercise much these days.) Egg tarts, laksa and fast foods I will enjoy once in a while, but I ensure that along with portion control, my diet is loaded with wholesome cholesterol-lowering foods - like oats, nuts and fatty fish (omega 3 fatty acids) so that my cholesterol level stays under control.

And if you've been following my blog for a while, you'd know that this is not a blog filled with butter-rich recipes or cake with layers of cream in them. You are also less likely to find anything overly rich or sweet. I may indulge once in a while but over the years, I've learnt to substitute for more wholesome alternative ingredients in my cooking and am still learning! 

Panna cottas used to be something that I would not even think about making. The idea of jellifying pure cream used to make me shudder. I would imagine my arteries clogging causing an early stroke and the newspaper article would read, 'Stroke strikes young girl after consuming panna cotta'. 

But after I saw this panna cotta in Donna Hay's magazine this month, I knew I had to make it. My sweet tooth talked me into making it. I have made several minor adjustments to the recipe. Yes, it still contains cream so if you're watching your weight (or cholesterol like me), you should probably share around. It looks luscious and indulgent and indeed it tastes that too! The addition of buttermilk to cut back on the cream does not make much difference to the taste. I was worried that I have added too little sugar, but it turned out perfectly sweet to my palate.

It's great to indulge once in a while and this definitely makes for a simple and no-fuss dinner party dessert! 

Oh and you can omit and cocoa and make a mango version too like I did:

Tweaks: I adapted the recipe from Donna Hay. Instead of the 2 cups of cream called for - I used 1 cup of cream and 1 cup of buttermilk. In place of the white caster sugar I used raw sugar and cut it down to ½ (from 1½ cup - it was sweet enough for me.)

Cocoa Panna Cotta
  •  ¹⁄³ cup (80ml) warm water
  •  3 teaspoons powdered gelatine
  •  1 cups (250ml) single (pouring) cream
  •  1 cup (250ml) buttermilk
  •  ½ cup (110g) caster (superfine) sugar
  •  2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
  •  1 cup (100g) Dutch cocoa
  •  1 cup (250ml) milk
1. Place the water in a small bowl, sprinkle over the gelatine and stir to combine. Set aside for

5 minutes or until the gelatine has been absorbed.

2. Place the cream, sugar, vanilla bean paste and cocoa in a medium saucepan over medium heat and stir to combine. Bring to the boil, stirring frequently, add the gelatine and stir to combine. Remove from the heat and strain into a bowl.

3. Stir through the milk and pour the mixture into 6 x 10cm (180ml) deep fluted tart tins.

4. Refrigerate for 3–4 hours or until set. Turn out onto plates to serve. Makes 6 For best results, make ahead of time and refrigerate overnight.

Tip: To turn the panna cottas out onto serving plates, invert the tin onto the plate and shake lightly to release the panna cotta. (I actually soaked the tin in hot water for a few seconds).

I'd like to know, has your health ever changed the way you cook or eat before?

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