I have no idea what in the world took me so long to post this recipe, since I made it FOUR MONTHS ago. Can you believe I’ve been holding out on you that long? I made it just before we left Thailand to return to America for the summer, and it was so good I made it again the same week. While we were in The States, the summer fruit recipes like the blackberry & thyme crumb bars or peach & bourbon shortcake cake took priority because they were highly seasonal.
So this recipe did not take the backseat because I wasn’t absolutely ecstatic about it, but because it wasn't exclusive to any season. Because I say we can eat panna cotta whenever we want! You with me?
The inspiration for this post initially came from a fellow blogger, Stepanie Eburah (@seburah) who posted a recipe last winter for bay leaf panna cotta with pomegranate that just sounded so simple and delicious to me. If you’ve followed my blog for some time, you know i’m a fan of any desserts that involve a floral or herbal component. The subtleties of the bay leaf in an otherwise very traditional, creamy dessert intrigued me.
So it got me thinking about what local ingredient I could incorporate instead, and the answer was obvious. The Kaffir lime leaf IS the bay leaf of Thailand. They use it in just about everything— curries, soups, stir fry, even slivered and thrown into fried rice. They are not the same as regular lime leaves; they have a very unique flavor and fragrance to them.
If you’ve never made panna cotta before, all you need to know is it’s actually extremely easy and quite difficult to mess up. It reminds me of a thick creme brûlée but without the burnt sugar lid and the finicky preparation. There’s no baking required for this one! Just a little stovetop heat, a little gelatin sprinkled in, and waiting by the fridge while it sets. It feels very fancy to eat and serve but you can whip it up with very little hands-on time and its a fabulous make ahead recipe.
I personally love desserts that have a combination of textures, as well as a salty element. Enter: ginger-pine nut brittle. Its optional, but in my opinion offered the perfect crunchy addition to the creamy softness of the panna cotta. The zing of fresh ginger is balanced by the rich, toasty aroma of the pine nuts and the sprinkle of sea salt and kefir lime leaf on top brings the whole thing home.
FOR THE PANNA COTTA
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split down the middle*
2 tsp unflavored gelatin
3 Tbs water
10-12 Kaffir lime leaves **
You can either serve the panna cotta in the cup or un-mold them onto a plate for serving. Choose four small bowls or tea cups with those options in mind. I served mine in the cup, but if you plan to invert yours onto a plate, lightly brush oil on the insides of your vessel to make removal easier.
Next heat the half & half, cream, sugar, and vanilla bean (or extract) over medium-low heat in a small saucepan. Tear the kaffir lime leaves away from their center stem to release the aroma and drop into the cream mixture.
Cook until it starts to simmer, stirring to make sure the sugar has completely dissolved. Remove from heat, covered by a lid if possible, and let sit for 30 minutes to steep.
Meanwhile, put the water in a medium sized mixing bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over it and let it sit for 10 minutes.
After the cream mixture has steeped for at least a half hour, remove the lime leaves and vanilla bean, scraping out the seeds from the vanilla and adding them back into the mixture. Reheat the cream mixture again until it is hot, then pour over the gelatin in the bowl, whisking to dissolve it.
Pour the mixture through a fine mesh sieve (to catch any possible clumps) and then evenly into your prepared cups. Put them all into the fridge to solidify for 2 to 3 hours before serving.
Once it is set, you can either just top with the brittle (see recipe below) and eat it out of the cup as is, or you can invert it by putting a plate over the cup and flipping it over to serve the panna cotta.
*If you don’t have vanilla beans, you could also use 1 tsp of vanilla bean paste or 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
**Kaffir lime leaves can be found at your local asian grocery, sometimes fresh, and almost always frozen. Fresh is best, frozen is fine, but I don’t recommend using dried leaves. One “leaf” is actually two connected leaves, a larger and smaller. When counting leaves for the recipe, count the two leaves on one stem as one leaf.
FOR THE BRITTLE
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbs butter
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 tsp fresh, finely grated ginger
1 tsp flaky salt
1 kefir lime leaf, finely chopped (optional)
Put the sugar in a small, heavy bottomed saucepan on medium high heat until the sugar begins to melt. Lower to medium heat and stir until the sugar is completely melted, then stop stirring and wait for the sugar to turn a caramel color, about 7 or 8 mins.
Carefully stir in the butter until it’s completely incorporated. Remove the saucepan from heat. Stir in the pine nuts as well as half of both the salt & chopped lime leaf.
Line a small sheet pan with parchment and pour out the mixture, spreading it out to a thin, even thickness with a silicone spatula. Sprinkle the rest of the salt and lime leaf on top while it’s still warm.
Allow to cool completely at room temp (about an hour) and then break the brittle up into smaller pieces. If you want a more “crumbled” topping for your panna cotta, place a few of the shards in a ziplock and smash it up!
This recipe is more than you will need for your panna cotta, but you will have no problem eating the rest.
Brittle recipe adapted from this recipe via Food52.