I was going to write about biscuits this week. I was going to tell you about the first really great biscuits I made, and share that recipe with you. But then, out of nowhere (perhaps not out of nowhere to meteorologists, I’ll grant you) came one of Britain’s hottest days in April on record. My thoughts – along, it seems, with most of the nation’s – turned sharply to pub beer gardens and parks, to Cornettos and Twisters, to working out where we secreted out sandals during a winter that has felt like it has lasted two years. To even thinking about gingerly uncovering the barbecue. Biscuits were no longer on my mind.
Instead, I began thinking about cool puddings, puddings that act like a balm at the end of those first hot, sticky days, the after sun of the pudding world. What I want when the weather is like this is panna cotta. Creamy and cool, speckled with vanilla, but fresh and just a little tart from the addition of buttermilk.
Panna cotta sounds fancy, like it might be complicated to make, but it’s very straightforward. Stir gelatine into warm, infused cream and pour into moulds, before refrigerating. So simple! The trick is getting the level of gelatine right so that the puddings will set enough to hold their shape, but will shiver and wobble when touched with a spoon. Luckily, I’ve done the hard work for you, and the amount of gelatine in this recipe will achieve just that. Make sure you use the correct grade of gelatine, or you may have different results. Running the dariole moulds carefully under warm water will help you demould them neatly.
Of course, at this time of year, these have to be served with rhubarb: as well as being in the prime of its season – highlighter pink stems crowding the greengrocers before they broaden and turn crimson and green – it is the perfect sweet-sour foil to the sweet creaminess of the panna cotta. This is a simple recipe for poaching, which you can do while waiting for your puddings to set.
Vanilla buttermilk panna cotta with poached rhubarb
Makes: 4 individual puddings
Takes: 10 minutes, plus chilling
Bakes: No time at all
For the panna cotta
400ml double cream
2.5 sheets platinum gelatine
1 vanilla pod
For the poached rhubarb
3 tablespoons caster sugar
1. Place the leaves of gelatine into a dish of iced water, making sure they are fully submerged, and allow to soften (‘bloom’) for 15 minutes.
2. Split the vanilla pod down the middle with a small, sharp knife. Using the back of the knife, scrape out the vanilla seeds and place these, along with the vanilla pod and the cream in a medium-sized pan. Bring to steaming then remove from the heat and leave to cool for a few minutes.
3. Fish the vanilla pod from the cream and discard. Squeeze the water out of the softened gelatine and stir into the warm cream along with the sugar until the gelatine has dissolved. Stir the buttermilk into the mix. Pour the mixture through a sieve into a jug. Bang the jug gently to release any air bubbles.
4. Pour the mixture into four 150ml dariole moulds or small ramekins and place carefully into the fridge for at least four hours.
5. Top and tail the rhubarb and cut it into thumb-length batons. Place the sugar in a saucepan with 70ml of water, and bring to a simmer. Add the rhubarb, cover with a lid and cook for five minutes until the rhubarb is just tender, but retaining its shape. Remove from the heat, and leave to cool.
6. Dip the dariole moulds into warm water for 30 seconds and run a knife carefully round the edge of each pudding. Place a plate on top of the mould and upend. With a little encouragement, they should slip out neatly onto the plate. Serve with a spoonful of the poached rhubarb.