In both my jobs, I work freelance, which means that on Sunday night, the upcoming week on the calendar looks one way and by Tuesday night all the little blocks are filled, scratches and arrows everywhere. By Wednesday morning one side of the fridge (B. has an aversion for magnets and other knickknacks on the front) is completely covered with "production sheets" such as menus, sitting charts,plating,order forms, invoices,…. One could say that my fridge is my office. Where am I going with this?
On Sunday night I looked at the calendar and thought this week would be nothing as busy as the week before, which left me a little uncomfortable. I get paid by the event, the gig, the class, the training, which means that a slow week gives me some rest but does not help the pocket book. I admit, I needed a break, it helps regenerate the creative juices and there are a ton of household things awaiting my attention. I am also trying for some extra greens as I have a certain VIB (Very Important Blogger) coming to visit in a few weeks and I want to be free to spend on foods and shopping while she is here. I looked at the schedule and said out loud "now is when I need that one easy high paying dinner party…Oh a girl can dream!" That sort of things never happen to me usually, well, maybe once or twice, like when Andie McDowell had dinner at the restaurant and left the staff a huge tip for the "exquisite" (her words) meal she had…and that was years ago! Let me tell you, men and women alike in the restaurant were in awe of her beauty…gosh that hair!!
Anyway,back to this Coconut Pana Cotta-Warm Lemon Poppy Seed Cake and Yuzu Mandarin Sauce. Quite a long title I know, and not something I would make for us during the week unless I were working on a project, which I was by Monday night. I got a call from one of my favorite clients who decided to celebrate his and his wife 25th wedding anniversary with a dinner for 30 under the theme "East Meets West", as he is American and she is Vietnamese, and would I want to take care of the desserts? I love working at their house, big, equipped to the ceiling, modern yet cozy and rarely used because they eat out more than anything. They are also very generous and fun which made me look at the sky, say "Thank you Big Guy" and promptly accept.
Two minutes afterwards, I started getting a little anxious: I don’t know that much about Asian desserts, I read a lot of Asian blogs, I know Asian flavors but I had to incorporate Eastern ones with it, and hopefully do it tastefully. Instead of marrying one dessert of each continent on a plate and hope for the best, I drew my inspiration from flavors and textures. What you see in this pictures is what will be served Friday night and after the initial test run with B., the client, and the other chef working the main, I think we are on track. If I could put my hands on fairy floss, I would use it to decorate the top of the panna cotta but no such luck here.
You can make all the elements separately and eat them as such, and although it seems like a lot to do for desserts, they come together quickly and you can spread your work over a couple of days if you want. The pana cotta is a cinch to make and I let the coconut milk infuse with a bag of white tea for extra flavor and one chopped lemongrass stalk. The lemon poppy seed cake is made with a mix of all purpose flour and semolina which gives it a nice crunchy bite. The sauce is puckery and sweet at the same time with extra poppy seeds which soaks into the warm cake making sure you get a soft bite and not a mouth full of cake against the panna cotta. Yuzu juice is not difficult to find online and goes a long way but you can substitute a mix of lemon and lime juice for it. If you want to read more about Yuzu, go check the article Kalyn wrote for Blogher a couple of days ago. The panna cotta rests on a peach chip since I had leftover peach puree from the peach ganache for the macarons I made the other day. For the technique to make fruit chips, read this post where I made raspberry one the exact same way.
Coconut Pana Cotta-Warm Lemon Poppyseed Cake and Yuzu Mandarin Sauce:
For the Pana Cotta:
2 cups coconut milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup sugar
zests of 1 lemon and one lime
2 stalks lemongrass, roughly chopped
1 teabag white tea
4 teaspoons powdered gelatin bloomed in 1/4 cup water (means to pour the water over the gelatin and let it sit while you prepare the panna cotta)
Combine all the ingredients, except the gelatin, in a saucepan over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and let the cream to steep for 20 minutes. Pass the mixture through a sieve or a chinois, heat the gelatin in the microwave for 15 seconds and quickly stir it in the cream mixture. Divide it evenly among small dishes (I used brioches molds). Refrigerate and allow to set at least 3 hours or overnight. To unmold, dip the bottoms in hot water for a minute and invert to unmold onto a piece or parchment paper, they will be easier to scoop.
For the Lemon Poppy seed Cake:
1 cup semolina flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 Tb baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup egg whites (about 3-4)
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup lemon juice
grated zest of one lemon
1 Tb poppy seeds
1/2 cup butter, melted
Preheat oven to 300F. In a bowl, combine all the ingredients for the cake, except the butter. Mix with a whisk until smooth. Add the butter and nix until it all comes together. Pour the batter into 8 small buttered molds, or 3 inch metal tart shells. I used scalloped silicone cake forms. Bake for 20 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes back clean. To reheat before serving, pop them in the microwave or back at 300F for 5 minutes.
For the Yuzu Mandarin Sauce
1/2 cup Yuzu juice
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp poppy seeds
1 Tb butter
1 cup mandarin section (although I used fresh, you can sub. canned if you wish. Grapefruit or tangerine sections work nicely too)
Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for 10-15 seconds and remove from the heat. Add the mandarin sections. Use at once. Make it at the last minute and serve it hot with the dessert so that you get a wide spectrum of temperature.
Pour some sauce at the bottom of each plate, place a warm cake in the center, top with a peach chip, top with a pana cotta and decorate with a mandarin section if desired.
See, it looks a lot more labor intensive than it really is, which works great for me when I make 30 for my client’s "intimate dinner" (!) or 8 for us and a few friends. Ok, so next post will be cupcakes…just because I don’t want to scare you away!!