This past New Year’s Eve, S and I hosted a small dinner party for 6 other friends. Because neither of us wanted to work too hard that night, we hired a super-talented chef, Jimmy Chok, to prepare our meal. Jimmy had also cooked for us the previous New Year’s Eve. (I’ll write more about the fabulous meal Jimmy made for us in an upcoming post.) Because we did want at least one course to come from us, however, S opted to make the evening’s dessert. We spent several days discussing the kinds of things that she could make before settling on a duo of desserts that we felt would go really well together. She also decided that the duo would be called (her version of) “coffee and donuts”.
The “coffee” in this combination is a vanilla panna cotta covered with a layer of espresso gelée. The “donuts” are bite-sized, sugar-coated, fried choux pastries with liquid chocolate fillings. The dessert was the perfect end to a great meal, served right before the fireworks went off (which we could partially see from our dining room window). Our friends especially loved the donuts. We had told them to eat each with one with just one bite, popping the whole thing into their mouths. The oozing chocolate centre was a delicious, bittersweet and sinfully yummy surprise. I, on the other hand, adored the panna cotta and coffee gelée (no suprise that this fat fella prefers the richer, creamier dessert). The panna cotta itself was lovely; it was smooth, satisfying and sweet. The espresso gelée carried the perfect flavor accent for the dish. Together, the two desserts worked really well. Vanilla, coffee, chocolate and citrus are all classic complimentary flavours. The two very different textures from the two desserts were a delightful contrast. And thirdly, the contrast of the warm donuts and the cold panna cotta and espresso gelée was really nice.
While time-consuming to prepare, this dessert is very much worth the effort to make. S used four different cookbooks for the four main components of this combination. You can make the panna cotta with espresso gelée a day ahead and you’ll need to make the donuts a day or even two ahead. Which means that once you make this dessert, you can rest pretty easy the day you plan to serve this. The only fiddly bit is frying the donuts and dipping them in sugar right before serving. The recipes below include her annotations and comments.
“Coffee & Donuts”
Makes approximately 25 “donuts” and 12 small portions of panna cotta with espresso gelée
(Adapted from Gordon Ramsay’s Secrets)
80g bittersweet chocolate (I used a 66% cacao Valrhona and added 1 tablespoon castor sugar because CH prefers sweeter chocolate)
40g unsalted butter, cubed
3 tablespoons double cream (I used whipping cream)
Chop the chocolate into rough pieces and place in a heatproof bowl with the rest of the ganache ingredients. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir until evenly combined (the ganache should look smooth). Remove from the heat, cool, then refrigerate until firm.
Use a small melon baller to scoop approximately 25 balls of ganache. Place them on a tray lined with greaseproof paper and freeze until required.
(Adapted from Oriol Balaguer’s Dessert Cuisine)
200g milk (I used regular whole milk)
100g unsalted butter
100g weak flour, sifted (I used cake flour)
150g eggs (I whisked three large eggs together and used 150g of this)
2 whole pieces of star anise
1 vanilla bean (I used 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla paste instead)
1 cinnamon stick
1 orange zest (I used the zest of 1 orange)
1 lemon zest (I used the zest of 1 lemon)
Note: Balaguer calls for 70% cacao chocolate drops instead of a chocolate ganache in his recipe for chocolate “bunyols”. My “donuts” are really tweaked versions of his “bunyols”. If you prefer, you may opt to use chocolate drops instead of a ganache.
Infuse the milk with the butter, spices and zests (I heated the milk until small bubbles rose to its surface, took it off the heat and let the mixture stand for at least 30 minutes). If you choose to use a vanilla bean, presumably, you should split the vanilla bean, scrape the seeds and add them to the milk along with the other spices and throw the pod in.
Strain the milk. (I added my vanilla paste into the milk at this point.) Bring the milk to a boil, remove it from the heat and add the flour. Stir it with a wooden spoon and return it to a low fire. Continue stirring (using a smearing action) until it starts to pull away from the sides of the pan and begins to look like wet sand (it should also look shiny). Work it slightly in the blender at low speed. (I put it in my KitchenAid and worked it with the paddle attachment. This cooled the paste much faster than when I did it in my food processor.) Add the eggs gradually. Scrape the dough off the sides of the bowl and work it a little more until it is smooth. (If you prefer, follow the techniques in your favourite choux pastry recipe in place of the instructions here.)
Fill a piping bag with the paste. Fill ice cube moulds with the paste. Stop when each mould is only filled to the halfway point. Insert a ball of chocolate ganache (or chocolate drops) into each mould, making sure that it doesn’t push though the dough. Cover with more paste. Smooth down the tops of the dough with the back of a wet spoon. Freeze and unmould. Store in the freezer until they need to be served.
(Adapted from Italian Classics by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated)
1 cup whole milk
2¾ teaspoons flavourless powdered gelatin (reduce to 2 5/8 teaspoons if making a day ahead)
3 cups heavy cream (I used whipping cream)
1 vanilla bean or 2 teaspoons pure extract
6 tablespoons (2½ oz) sugar
Pinch of salt
Pour the milk into a medium saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin evenly on its surface. Let it stand for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with 2 trays of ice cubes and 4 cups of cold water. Measure the cream into a large measuring cup or pitcher. Slit the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the cream; place the pod in the cream and set the mixture aside. Place 12 small glasses on a tray small enough to place in your refrigerator.
Heat the milk and gelatin mixture over high heat, stirring constantly until the gelatin is dissolved and the mixture registers 135 degrees Fahrenheit (around 65 degrees Celsius) on an instant read thermometer (about 1½ minutes). Remove the pan from the heat. Add the sugar and salt; stir until dissolved (about 1 minute).
Stirring constantly, slowly pour the cream with vanilla into the saucepan containing the milk, then transfer the mixture into a medium bowl and set the bowl over the ice water bath. Stir frequently until the mixture thickens to the consistency of egg nog and registers 50 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius) on an instant read thermometer, about 10 minutes. Strain the mixture into a large measuring cup or pitcher, then distribute it evenly among the glasses. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until just set (the mixture should wobble when shaken), about 4 hours.
(Adapted from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course)
1 cup espresso (cold filtered)
1 teaspoon flavourless powdered gelatin
3 tablespoons sugar
Place ¼ cup of the espresso in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin evenly over it. Let the mixture rest for 5 minutes, until the gelatin softens. Bring the remaining espresso to a simmer in a small saucepan. Add the sugar. Stir until all the sugar is dissolved. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add the softened gelatin mixture to the warm sweet espresso. Return the saucepan to low heat, whisking until the gelatin dissolves. Do not let the mixture come to a simmer. Strain through a fine sieve. Let the espresso mixture cool to room temperature. Gently pour it over each portion of panna cotta. Cover with cling wrap and refrigerate until set, about 1 hour.
To serve, fill a small saucepan with sunflower oil (the oil should be approximately 3 cm deep). Heat the oil to 150 degrees Celsius and fry the still frozen “donuts” for 5-6 minutes until they are golden brown and start to float. (You may need to adjust cooking temperature and time.) Drain and coat with castor sugar. Plate alongside glasses of espresso panna cotta and serve.