Creamy Calories – Panna Cotta al Pistacchio

One of the side effects of learning Italian is that it brings new meanings to Italian dishes that I have eaten before. Take panna cotta for example which I always found a nice and fresh dessert. Well, when I realised that it actually translates as “cooked cream”, suddenly the image of its freshness evaporated as fast as my dreams of winning the Great Finnish Bake Off.

On the other hand, now that any illusions regarding the lightness of panna cotta have been cleared up, why not go full monty (I have no idea if you are supposed to use this phrase this way but it sounds funny; in case not, I apologise…) and throw calorie counting out of the window of my Helsinki apartment all the way to Stockholm. In fact, this recipe (from the March edition of La Cucina Italiana) with pistachios and white chocolate probably includes the annual energy intake of your average Hollywood star. However, I did reduce the amount of cream of this recipe though by substituting some of it with milk and I think you could quite safely use 450 g milk and 150 g double cream (instead of 150 g milk and 450 g double cream).

There were a couple of practical challenges when making this dish. Firstly, I did not manage to find any pistachio paste in Helsinki. Fortunately the cooking site Giallo Zafferano came to my rescue with a separate recipe for the paste. Secondly, as I am still in the planning phase of buying new batteries to my kitchen scale, I failed to estimate the amount of gelatine correctly. Hence, I ended up with a dessert which was served as a custard rather than a cool, pretty and sophisticated “loaf” as in the picture of the magazine. It was quite delicious nevertheless!

Pistachio panna cotta

Serves 6

450 g double cream

150 g full fat milk

150 g (caster) sugar

120 g white chocolate

80 g pistachio paste

9 g gelatine sheets

crumbled pistachios

Soak the gelatine in cold water. Heat the milk, 300 g of the cream (or alternatively just 450 g milk in total) and the sugar in a pan but do not bring the mixture to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat. Squeese the excess water from the gelatine sheets. Add the gelatine and pistachio paste to the pan. Stir well and let the mixture cool down and filter it.

Whip 150 g cream. Add it to the mixture, stir gently and pour it into a rectangular cake/ bread loaf pan (to achieve that loaf-like shape). Put the panna cotta into the fridge for at least 3 hours.

For the chocolate topping: melt 100 g of the white chocolate in a bain marie. Remove from the heat and add 20 g of the chocolate. Spread the warm melted chocolate on a parchment paper. Sprinkle the crumbled pistachios on top. Once the chocolate has cooled down and “re-frozen”, cut different shapes of it to decorate the panna cotta.

Pistachio paste

120 g unsalted pistachios

60 g sugar

14 g water

Shell the pistachios and gently roast them on a pan to remove the brown thin peel of them (as much as possible). Blend the pistachios into a small crumble. Heat the water and sugar in a pan and bring them to a boil of 121C degrees. Pour the hot mixture onto the crumbled pistachio and blend again until you have reached smooth(ish) paste.

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Piegones – Torta della Nonna

Sometimes I never cease to amaze myself. I had one of those moments last weekend.

In the field of baking, my success rate is about 50 percent when I try new recipes. In addition, although I tend to be fairly optimistic by nature, I have learned in life that if you hand Mr. Murphy a chance on a silver platter (or should I say a baking tray), he will usually grab it. So, I really don’t know what I was thinking when I offered to make this pie called torta della nonna to my Dad for his birthday. Obviously I had never tried it before. And obviously I still have no confidence issues in baking although some firemen might beg to differ.

It all started quite beautifully. I was even quite proud of the smooth pastry I managed to make. Then something got lost in translation or possibly in the recipe. What I or my recipe (from “Oggi Cucino Io 4”) missed was the mention of the custard properly thickening before pouring it onto the pastry.

At this point, I called my parents to start considering alternative sources for birthday treats this year:

Image

Yet, being that optimist (or maybe in this case stubborn), I still refused to give up, cleaned up the mess and transferred what was left of the pie into the oven. What came out wasn’t an entire disaster. It had very little to do with torta della nonna, so maybe I will name this one torta di Anna instead. Torta di Anna had two layers of crust each followed by a layer of the custard. As there was no top crust available to add almonds on (as advised in my recipe), I roasted some afterwards and placed them on the ready pie. My mother told me that with the added help of some strawberry preservative, it was even nicer.

I am quite sure though that if I had managed to follow the nonna‘s advice as intended, this would have been a bigger success. Have a try yourself and let me know how it goes! Finally here is one example what it was supposed to look like…

Torta della Nonna

Serves 8-10

For the pastry:

300 g flour

100 g sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

150 g butter

1 egg yolk

1 egg

salt

For the custard:

5 eggs

120 g sugar

75 g flour

5 dl milk

1 vanilla pod

1 slice of lemon peel

salt

To decorate

almonds

icing sugar

Prepare the pastry for the crust: Sieve the flour into a bowl and mix it with the sugar, salt and baking powder. Add the cold butter (sliced into small chunks) and rub it into the dry ingredients until you have obtained a granular even mixture. Add the egg yolk and the eggs and continue working on the pastry for a few more minutes. Divide the ready pastry into two different-sized parts (one slightly larger than the other). Roll each out to circles about 3 mm thick and place them on two sheets of parchment paper. Move the parchment papers with the pastry into a fridge.

Prepare the custard: Whisk 2 egg yolks (keep the egg whites for later use) and 3 entire eggs with the sugar and a pinch of salt until smooth. Add the flour and stir well. In a kettle, bring the milk to a boil with the vanilla pod and lemon peel. Take the kettle of the heat and pour the milk into the egg and sugar mixture continuously stirring. Move the mixture back to the hot stove and cook for one minute still continuously mixing (as mentioned, at this point the sauce should (hopefully) thicken but yet please be careful not to exceed the time any more than necessary as you may also end up with scrambled eggs instead of a lovely custard…). Remove your custard from the stove and let it cool down stirring occasionally.

Move the larger part of the pastry together with its parchment paper into a pie dish to line its base and sides. Pour the custard onto first part of the pastry. Slightly fold the sides of the pastry to cover the custard, and brush the sides with the egg whites (mixed with a small quantity of water). Add the top layer of the pastry to the pie and fold its sides behind the bottom layer of the pastry. Decorate with the almonds. Bake in the oven at 180C for 45 minutes whilst ensuring that the pie won’t burn on top. Cool down for at least 15 minutes and dust the pie with some icing sugar before serving.