As a kid, I never had much of a sweet tooth – I hardly ever ordered dessert when we went out for dinner, and mum even says she used to find Easter eggs from two years ago when she cleaned my room! I’d have happily traded away a chocolate bar for a packet of chips any day of the week.
These days, however, desserts have well and truly got my attention, and I'm sure it’s got something to do with how much the dessert game has evolved over the last decade. In days gone by, the standard dessert menu would have featured some sort of gooey chocolate cake, a crème brulee, a cheesecake, a flourless option, and perhaps a pudding or soufflé. Add a drizzle of coulis and a dab of whipped cream, and that was it. There wasn’t too much differentiation going on, and you just hoped that what you ordered was going to be better than the place down the road.
But it’s a different world now. Desserts are as salty as they are sweet, the textures and visuals deliberately toy with your mind, and flavours like yuzu, matcha, popcorn and maple bacon reign supreme. Every restaurant’s doing something so unique and imaginative that reading through a modern dessert menu is like browsing eHarmony profiles – you don't know what's going to appear before your eyes until you see it!
It’s through this evolution that my repressed sweet tooth has broken free, and now I can’t help but order one or two desserts to see what mind-blowing creation the chef has come up with. I’ve even started to appreciate the old school classics, with my newest addiction being anything that’s got the words ‘panna cotta’ somewhere in the lengthy description.
I've recently taken my panna cotta addiction to the kitchen, and after a bit of experimenting, I’ve come up with the ultimate foolproof panna cotta recipe. It’s full of wintery flavours like cinnamon and orange, and perfect for dinner parties as you can prep it all in advance. If you want to get all fancy and show off to your friends (or dog), pimp it up with some candied orange zest and a cheat’s chocolate crumb. Enjoy!
Cinnamon and Orange Panna Cotta with Chocolate Crumb and Candied Orange Zest
Makes 6 servings
600mL thickened cream
1 cup milk
1 Tbsp powdered gelatine
1/3 cup honey
1 Tbsp caster sugar + 2/3 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp cinnamon powder
6 Arnotts Chocolate Ripple cookies (yep... that's the cheat's chocolate crumb!)
Method - Panna Cotta
Pour the milk into a small saucepan and sprinkle over the gelatin, letting it sit for 4 minutes to soften.
Heat the milk over low heat for about 5 minutes, or until the gelatin dissolves.
Add the honey and 1Tbsp of caster sugar to the warm milk and stir until dissolved.
Remove from the heat and add the cream, vanilla extract and cinnamon powder to the saucepan. Add the zest of 1 orange and about 2 Tbsp of orange juice (i.e. one good squeeze) and whisk together until evenly mixed.
Pour panna cotta mixture into six moulds. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours to allow it to set.
Method - Candied Orange Zest
To make the candied orange zest, take the other orange and use a vegetable peeler to work your way around the orange and remove long strips of the zest. Cut off any of the bitter white pith from the zest, and and cut the zest into thin strips.
Combine the 2/3 cup of caster sugar and 2/3 cup water in a small saucepan, and place over medium heat until dissolved and resembling a syrup.
Add the orange zest to the syrup and cook for about 20 minutes to allow the zest to soften. If the syrup gets too sticky, add a splash of water to the pan.
When the orange zest is cooked, remove from the syrup and allow to cool. Toss the orange zest with a bit of extra sugar to coat it.
Crush the Chocolate Ripple cookies (either in a bowl or just with your hands) and divide among 6 bowls. The crumb shouldn't be too fine - leave a few chunky bits in there.
Remove the panna cottas from their moulds (run a knife between the panna cotta and the mould if you like - and be patient!)
Take the orange that you made the candied orange zest from, and segment into small cubes.
Garnish the plate with the orange segments and your candied orange zest.
Try to act cool when everyone starts ooh-ing an ahh-ing over your awesome dessert.
Note: if you don't have panna cotta/dariole moulds, you can use ramekins, small bowls or even glasses. Instead of plating up in a bowl, just sprinkle the chocolate crumb over the top of the panna cotta and garnish with the orange zest and orange segments.