Our recent grocery haul included two litres of buttermilk. Besides being a key component of pancakes, I often use it for muffins, buns, and other baked goods. A photo in a recent magazine article about panna cotta sounded so good and simple, that I immediately added gelatin to my next shopping trip, just to make this dessert.
The recipe comes from the current May 2020 issue of Cook’s Illustrated. This is probably one of the easiest desserts to make, but the authors still found a few tricks to improve it. By mixing the powdered gelatin into the sugar, you can skip the step of blooming the gelatin, since each granule is dispersed and can readily absorb the water from the cream. Heating the grapefruit zest in the dairy mixture ensures that all the flavourful oils are extracted.
I knew the garnish wasn’t optional: I absolutely love caramelized nuts. But the technique used in this recipe was new to me. You dump water, sugar, sliced almonds and oil into a saucepan, and bring everything to a vigorous simmer. It took a lot longer than 10 minutes for my almonds to start to get a caramel coating, maybe twice as long, as I was timid with the heat. What’s weird, is that at the end, you end up with greasy, but well-caramelized almonds submerged in oil. After straining the nuts out, I fished the caramel chunks out, but saved the oil to re-use for cooking.
Overall, this variation is a knockout. The bitterness of the grapefruit really stands out, but it’s tempered by the smooth, creamy panna cotta, and the caramel-coated almonds were a perfect contrast. The other variations (vanilla with berries and honey, and Thai basil with peppered strawberries) sound great too.