Latte Panna Cottas with Chocolate Hazelnut Chews

The recipe for these little coffee desserts was given to me by the wife of a British diplomat. By the time we met, Mary and her husband had had several postings, including one to a remote African country where entertaining was something of a challenge. Finding the ingredients for a Western-style dinner party and explaining to the local staff exactly what she wanted had not been easy for Mary. Sometimes things were simply lost in translation.

Every time they entertained the food was inevitably served cold or at best lukewarm. Mary’s house boy Robert said that the cook was not to blame. The distance to the dining room was the problem. By the time the food had made that long journey along the hall from the kitchen, of course it was cold.

Mary persuaded the Embassy to fund the installation of a serving hatch, so the food could be passed directly from the kitchen to the dining room and hopefully arrive on everyone’s plates before it got cold.

In due course the hatch was installed. When the next dinner party was arranged Mary instructed Robert that from now on everything was to come through the new hatch. He seemed somewhat reluctant, but Mary said that it had cost a lot of money and her husband would be very cross if he didn’t use it. Robert was a likeable fellow in his twenties who tried hard to please.

When the guests sat down the cold starters were already on the table. Mary sat with her back to the serving hatch, while her husband sat at the other end of the long table. In due course the plates from the starter were cleared away. Polite diplomatic conversation continued as they waited for the main course.

Some of the guests began to giggle. Mary wondered if there was some joke that she had missed. People seemed to be looking at something behind her. She turned around to see Robert climbing through the hatch, a large serving dish balanced precariously in his free hand.

Mary wanted everything to come through the hatch and so it did.
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Panna Cottas:
250ml milk
300ml cream
¼ to ½ cup sugar (to taste)
2 shots Espresso coffee (see note below)
1 Tbs gelatine
4 Tbs water
Chocolate Hazelnut Chews:
4 large egg whites
3 pinches salt
1½ cups icing sugar
1 cup cocoa powder
150g blanched hazelnuts, roughly chopped in food processor
Extra whole blanched hazelnuts
To serve:
Grated dark chocolate
Pouring cream (optional)

Place milk, cream, sugar and coffee in a saucepan and bring to the boil, then remove from the heat. Meanwhile place gelatine and water in a small bowl then zap in the microwave briefly to dissolve. Mix gelatine mixture into coffee mixture then divide among 6 small ramekins, coffee cups or glasses. Chill for several hours or overnight.

For the Hazelnut Chews, preheat oven to 180°C. With electric beaters whip egg whites and salt until soft peaks, then gradually beat in the sugar until you have a thick, glossy meringue. Beat in the cocoa then fold in the chopped nuts. Line a biscuit tray with baking paper and place tablespoons of mixture onto the tray with a little space for spreading, though they won’t spread much. Top each biscuit with a whole hazelnut then bake for 15-20 mins. Mine were done in 15 mins and to be chewy you don’t want them overcooked. Makes about 15.

Serve panna cottas sprinkled with a little grated chocolate, with the hazelnut chews and pouring cream in a jug.

Serves 6

Note: if preferred use 125ml hot water and 1 Tbs instant coffee granules

Plum Puddings with Vanilla Ice Cream

Cooking classes were part of the weekly schedule at the all girls Grammar school I attended in the UK. In the first lesson, when I was 11, we made cheese on toast which we polished off immediately and in the second we made cauliflower cheese. After that they all blur into one. Each week I headed off on the school bus with the ingredients packed into my school bag and returned home with what was often destined to be the family’s evening meal, sitting precariously on my knees.

When I left school 7 years later I had covered all the basics – pastries, breads, sauces and cakes, roasting, steaming, braising and more. We also learnt about nutrition, planning meals for people on special diets such as the elderly or diabetics, writing shopping lists and sticking to a very tight work schedule. Finishing on time with the table set, the food ready to serve and all the washing up done was a requirement when we had practical examinations. I often wonder what happened to my somewhat unpredictable classmate Janet Richardson. She could produce a great meal or a clean kitchen, but not both. Her work station looked as if a bomb had hit it when we were told that time was up.

I now realise how lucky we were to have this training. A surprising number of kids leave home these days with few cooking skills. This means they spend a fortune eating out or survive on takeaways. Small wonder that obesity is on the increase. When a friend of one of our offspring got married he and his new wife wandered around a supermarket for half an hour studying the shelves and came out with a jar of peanut butter, a loaf of bread, a packet of spaghetti and a jar of Paul Newman’s spaghetti sauce. Neither of them felt confident to buy anything else which needed cooking.

When I see blood plums in the shops I get the urge to make a recipe by Stephanie Alexander which she calls Mieze’s Plum Cake. It makes quite a big cake, so here I’ve fiddled around with the quantities to end up with about half the original recipe (but not exactly) and used it to make 8 individual puddings.

At school we were taught that once self-raising flour has come into contact with liquids the dish needs to go into the oven immediately, because the baking powder starts to work. However, I left these little plum puddings on the side, ready to bake, for an hour or two before they went in the oven and they were perfect. I didn’t want to be mixing cakes once our guests had arrived.

Plum Puddings with Vanilla Ice Cream

Cake:
4 large blood plums (dark red or purple inside)
125g butter at room temp
½ cup sugar
1 cup walnut or pecan halves
2 eggs
1 cup self-raising flour, sieved
2 Tbs milk
pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla essence
Topping:
1 egg
2 Tbs butter
2 Tbs sugar
1 Tbs flour
½ tsp ground cinnamon
To serve:
Icing sugar
Vanilla ice cream

Butter 8 individual pudding dishes and arrange on a baking tray. Or you can use large non-stick muffin tins, buttered well. Pre-heat oven to 180°C. For cake place butter and sugar in food processor and mix until light and fluffy. Add the nuts and eggs and process until the nuts are coarsely chopped, stopping to scrape down the sides. Add flour, milk and vanilla and process just enough to combine, stopping again to scrape down the sides. Divide mixture evenly between the dishes or muffin tins.

Cut plums in half and remove stones. Place one plum half in each cake, cut side up. Press down on the plum so the cake comes up level with it. Place topping ingredients in food processor (no need to wash it out) whiz till smooth, then divide among the cakes and spread over. Bake cakes for 25 mins or until well risen and golden. If you have made them in muffin tins, cool for a minute or two then carefully remove from the tins but if they are in dishes serve them as they are. Dust with icing sugar and serve with vanilla ice cream.

Serves 8

ANZAC Apple and Rhubarb Crumble

Each year on the 25th of April, Australians and New Zealanders remember those who lost their lives fighting for their country.

Over the ANZAC Day long weekend we had a house full, so I decided to make a fruit crumble because everyone loves them. The latest edition of Australian Gourmet Traveller featured a recipe called Apple ANZAC Pie which used the same ingredients you use to make ANZAC Biscuits, so I adapted it slightly to make an ANZAC Crumble.

ANZAC biscuits were sent by Australian and New Zealand wives to soldiers who were fighting abroad. They were popular because they kept well during naval transportation.

Rhubarb grows like a weed in our garden so I often mix it with apples. If preferred just leave it out and increase the number of apples by 2 or 3. The fresh ginger was a great addition to the fruit layer, but some of the smaller kids didn’t like it. If preferred just leave it out. And if you’re concerned that it will be too sweet, leave out the brown sugar.

The verdict on this recipe was that it’s the best crumble ever. Actually the topping isn’t very crumbly, it’s more like a fruit cobbler. Sorry it wasn’t published in time for ANZAC day, but I’m confident it will go down well any time of year.

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Fruit layer:
5 large Granny Smith apples or cooking apples
About 10 sticks of rhubarb, washed and cut into 2-3cm lengths
¼ cup sugar
1 Tbs grated fresh ginger (optional)
6 Tbs water
Topping:
185g butter
¼ cup each treacle and golden syrup
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 cups plain flour
1 cup rolled oats
¼ cup brown sugar
1 cup desiccated coconut (preferably coarse flakes)
To serve:
Vanilla ice cream or cream

Peel and slice apples and place in a saucepan with the rhubarb, sugar, ginger and water. Cook for 8-10 minutes until slightly softened then spread into a greased 25cm pie dish.

In a large bowl melt butter, treacle and golden syrup in the microwave then mix in the bicarbonate of soda, flour, oats, sugar and coconut. Spoon all over the apple and rhubarb mixture, using a fork to cover any gaps. Refrigerate until serving time.

Pre-heat oven to 180°C then bake the crumble for 25-30 mins or until crisp and golden. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or cream.

Serves 12

Notes: if you don’t have any treacle, double the amount of golden syrup. If you don’t have either use honey or maple syrup instead.

Sticky Ginger Cake

When staying in Newcastle with our daughter Catherine I offered to make a ginger cake. The recipe I’ve been making for decades uses ground ginger because fresh ginger wasn’t available back then. It came from my Dad’s cousin by marriage who was known as Auntie Vina.

Auntie Vina and Uncle Hector lived at Hill House, a busy dairy farm on the moors of County Durham, where I spent many summers as a child. The farm hands all came into the farmhouse for meals, so Auntie Vina and her daughter in law Little Mary spent a lot of time cooking. She taught me all her basic cake recipes, such as sponge cake, chocolate cake, ginger cake and fruit cake, which I still use today.

Times have changed and most recipes using ginger now call for the fresh kind. I decided to do some research online, looking for ginger cakes which use fresh ginger, or a combination of ground and fresh. I then adapted Auntie Vina’s recipe, using some of the new ideas I had found online. This is the result which we served as a dessert with Mangoes in Ginger Wine.

Sticky Ginger Cake

250g unsalted butter
½ cup water
¾ cup treacle (or molasses)
¾ cup golden syrup (or honey)
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
3 cups self-raising flour
½ tsp salt
3 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
½ cup milk
2-3 Tbs finely grated fresh ginger (to taste)

Preheat oven to 165°C. Butter and line a 22cm baking pan – round or square. I chose a ring tin – always a bit risky because being fluted you can’t line it, but fortunately the cake came out in one piece.

Place butter, water, treacle, golden syrup and brown sugar in a mixing bowl then heat in the microwave (covered to stop it spattering everywhere) for a minute or two until melted. Alternatively heat in a saucepan over moderate heat.

When cooled a bit, beat in the eggs with electric beaters or a hand whisk. Add the sifted flour, salt and spices, the milk and lastly fold in the fresh ginger. Scrape into cake tin and bake for 40-60 mins. Cooking times vary depending on your oven and the cake tin you use. If you overcook the cake it won’t be sticky, so as soon as the top is firm and springy to the touch it’s ready. Remove from the oven and when cool remove from the tin.

Serve as a dessert with whipped cream with a little rum or brandy added and some stewed fruit. Or serve with Mangoes in Ginger Wine as shown in the photo.

Or serve as a cake dusted with icing sugar or drizzled with lemon icing (1 cup sifted icing sugar mixed with 2 Tbs lemon juice).

Serves between 12 and 20 depending on serving size

Note: if you don’t have self-raising flour use plain flour and 2 tsp baking powder

Chocolate & Vanilla Cheesecake with Raspberries

I’ve always been a cheesecake fan, but I don’t like all cheesecakes, especially ones which are dry. This one is rich and creamy and not too sweet.

Chocolate, vanilla and raspberries go together extremely well, but if you prefer leave the cocoa powder out and just have a simple biscuit base. Vanilla paste is nicer than essence because it has the little black vanilla seeds in it.

Chocolate & Vanilla Cheesecake with Raspberries

Crust:
170g plain sweet biscuits (digestives, Nice, any will do)
3 Tbs cocoa powder
¼ cup sugar
125g unsalted butter, melted
Filling:
500g ricotta cheese
250g cream cheese at room temp
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla essence or paste
Finely grated rind one lemon
Pinch salt
Topping:
2 cups sour cream
1 Tbs sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence or paste
Raspberries:
500g frozen raspberries
1 Tbs sugar (or to taste)

Place biscuits in food processor and process to fine crumbs. Add cocoa and sugar and blitz for 30 secs. Meanwhile in a mixing bowl melt the butter in microwave. Add biscuit crumbs and mix well.

Preheat oven to 150°C. Butter or oil a 22cm springform pan. Press biscuit crumbs over the base and about three quarters up the sides of the pan. Use your hands to coat the sides and a small glass to press down the bottom – try to avoid it being too thick where the sides meet the bottom. Place in the fridge or freezer.

Rinse out food processor. Place all ingredients for filling in food processor and mix until smooth, stopping to scrape down sides and checking there aren’t any large lumps of cream cheese left. Scrape into the biscuit lined pan, then bake for 40-50 mins or until cheesecake is set around the edges but still a bit wobbly in the middle. Mix all ingredients for topping and spread over the top. Put back in the oven for 8-10 mins until just set, then remove and cool. Run a knife around the edge to loosen and  when cold refrigerate overnight, covered.

Serve cheesecake with the raspberries which have been left to thaw in a bowl with the sugar, then gently stirred.

Serves 12-16

Variations: use gingersnap biscuits instead of plain ones and omit cocoa. Serve with fresh or frozen berries such as raspberries, strawberries, blueberries or slices of fresh mango.

Rhubarb Syrup Crumb Cake

Rhubarb grows like a weed in our garden, so I’m constantly looking for new ways to cook it and giving away what we can’t eat.

This recipe by Annabel Crabb is so good you simply have to try it. I’ve adjusted the method slightly and cut down a bit on the sugar in the rhubarb. The cake would go well with other poached fruit, such as quinces, pears or figs and instead of almonds you could use walnuts or other nuts.

If you don’t like the acidity of sour cream or crème fraîche, serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, but I think sour cream provides a perfect contrast to the sweetness of the cake.Rhubarb Syrup Crumb Cake

Cake:
100g almond meal (or make from whole or slivered blanched almonds)
1 heaped cup stale coarse breadcrumbs (preferably sourdough but any kind will do)
75g whole un-blanched almonds
1 cup caster sugar
4 eggs
¾ cup vegetable oil
½ tsp baking powder
Rhubarb:
400g rhubarb (as red/pink as possible)
½ cup water
3-4 Tbs sugar
To serve:
Sour cream or crème fraîche

Preheat oven to 170°C and grease a 20cm cake tin. If tin is metal line with baking paper, but if it’s silicone just spray with oil.

If you don’t have almond meal make your own: place blanched almonds in food processor and process till fairly fine, then tip into a bowl. Blitz bread in the processor until you have coarse crumbs then tip onto a baking tray. Add whole un-blanched almonds to the processor and chop coarsely, leaving some bits the size of a pea. Add to the breadcrumbs on the baking tray and spread out evenly. Place in the oven for about 5 mins or until golden then remove and cool. Watch carefully as they burn easily.

Place eggs and caster sugar in a large mixing bowl and whip with electric beaters until thick. Continue to whip while gradually adding the oil. With a spatula, fold in the almond meal, toasted breadcrumbs/almonds and baking powder, sifted. Tip into cake tin and bake for 45 mins or until golden, risen and firm to touch. Remove from the oven and when cool remove from tin. If cake has puffed up leaving a big air pocket underneath (mine did) just flatten it down gently with your hand.

Wash and trim rhubarb and cut into 4cm lengths. Place in a bowl with the water, mix to wet them all, then tip into a baking dish with the water and spread out in a single layer. Sprinkle evenly with sugar then bake for 10-15 mins or until tender but still holding its shape.

An hour or so before serving, drain rhubarb and keep the syrup. Pierce cake all over with a skewer and drizzle with the syrup. Serve each slice of cake with a pile of poached rhubarb and some crème fraîche or sour cream.

Serves 10

Useful Tip: don’t throw stale bread away. Make breadcrumbs in the food processor and store them in the freezer to make this cake or to use in a stuffing for roast chicken.

Lemon Slice

Having offered to take a dessert to a family picnic for more than twenty people I decided that a slice, which could be cut into 20 or 30 squares, was the answer.

For some time I’ve been wanting to create a lemon version of Galaktoboureku, the traditional Greek Custard Slice. I thought I would make a lemon-flavoured custard instead of the usual vanilla one, sandwich it between layers of crispy fillo pastry and drizzle it with lemon syrup, rather than a plain syrup which the Greek version uses.

Well here is the result. Matthew enjoyed the leftovers which I called Lemon Slice for his benefit. Any mention of custard would have put him off. For a smaller version just halve the recipe and make it in a standard 22cm cake tin.

Lemon Slice

125g butter, melted
About half a packet of Fillo pastry, thawed if frozen (about 16 sheets)
2½ cups milk
2 cups cream
1 cup sugar
1¼ cups (200g) semolina
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups Lemon Curd (preferably home-made)
Syrup:
Juice of 1 large or 2 smaller lemons
¾ cup sugar
To serve:
Whipped or pouring cream (optional)

Line a buttered 20x30cm roasting pan or deep baking tin with about 8 layers of fillo pastry, brushing each sheet with melted butter and cutting or overlapping the sheets as necessary. If the pan is non-stick you don’t need to line it with baking paper, but if in doubt you’re better off doing so.

Preheat oven to 160°C. Heat milk, cream and sugar until simmering point, then add semolina and cook, stirring, until thickened. Add lemon curd and beaten eggs and mix thoroughly. Pour into the pan and spread evenly. Cover with another 8 layers or so of fillo pastry, brushing each one with melted butter.

Bake for 45 mins or until set and lightly golden. Meanwhile heat lemon juice and sugar in a small saucepan and simmer the syrup for a minute then cool a bit.

Remove slice from the oven and drizzle the warm lemon syrup evenly over the top. Cool then cut into squares. Serve warm or cold, with or without whipped cream or pouring cream.

Cuts into about 20 or more small squares

Bread & Butter Pudding with Caramelised Bananas

Matthew doesn’t like bananas or custard, especially if they’re served together as Banana Custard. A few years at boarding school in the UK during his impressionable youth is to blame. He describes over-ripe greenish-black banana slices mixed into lumpy, cold, congealed custard. You can just imagine it.

I grew up in the UK with my mother’s version of this traditional British dessert – hot, creamy custard with perfect slices of banana folded through, all topped with lightly toasted coconut flakes. Delicious.

In the early days of our marriage I tried to persuade Matthew that my banana custard was different. He would love it. But no-way-José could I persuade him to try it. I had never been to boarding school, he said, so I had no idea how strongly these culinary disasters were etched on his soul.

For the first six months of married life we lived in a granny flat tacked onto a large house which was owned by an elderly widower. From time to time we invited Tom for dinner and once or twice he invited us back. He wasn’t much of a cook and his repertoire was fairly basic. Roast hogget (somewhere in age between lamb and mutton) with vegetables, cooked in a pressure cooker to within an inch of their lives, by which time they all took on the same greyish hue, followed by a simple dessert.

As I helped Tom to clear away the dishes from the main course I spotted the dessert on the sideboard. Banana Custard. This is going to be fun, I thought.

Now it’s important to point out that Tom had quite clearly used the boarding school recipe book. And for those who don’t know him, I should also point out that Matthew was about five years into what ended up being a successful career in diplomacy.

Tom served three generous helpings of Banana Custard. Matthew glanced at me and rolled his eyes. He could see I was on the verge of uncontrollable laughter. He was not even slightly amused. Well, the diplomat rose to the occasion and you would have been proud of him. He ate the lot, then looked at me with an expression of relief that clearly said “Thank God that’s over.”

I really don’t know what came over me, but I heard myself saying “That was delicious Tom, Banana Custard is Matthew’s absolute favourite.” And with that Tom served Matthew a huge second helping.

By the time he had finished the second bowl Matthew was looking somewhat green around the gills. But he didn’t follow through with his threat to kill me when we got home, divorce proceedings were avoided and we’re still together 40 years later.

This Bread and Butter Pudding with Caramelised Bananas, from one of my favourite UK food writers Nigel Slater, is a 21st century update on Banana Custard. So delicious even Matthew eats it!

Bread & Butter Pudding with Caramelised Bananas

300g brioche or croissants
1 vanilla pod or 1 tsp vanilla extract
6 cardamom pods
½ tsp cinnamon
400ml can coconut milk
400ml milk (or use half milk and half cream)
3 eggs
3 Tbs brown sugar
Pinch salt
A sprinkle of sugar for the topping
For the bananas:
2 Tbs sugar
50g butter
4 large bananas
Zest of one orange
To serve:
Thick cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 180°C. Butter a baking dish (approximately 22cm) or 6-8 individual ones. Lightly toast the sliced brioche or halved croissants until golden-brown. Arrange in dish, overlapping slightly. If using small dishes you will need to cut the brioche or croissants into smaller pieces.

Remove cardamom seeds from the pods and crush with a mortar and pestle or a rolling pin. Slice the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds. With a hand whisk, beat cardamom, vanilla seeds or extract, cinnamon, both milks, eggs and sugar in a large bowl until combined.

Pour custard over brioche and sprinkle a little more sugar over the top. If using individual dishes you can fill them to almost the top, but you may have some custard left over. Dessert can be made ahead to this point and kept in the fridge for several hours. Bake for 25 minutes or until nicely browned and the custard is just set. Cool for 10-15 mins then serve with the bananas.

For the bananas: cut in half length-ways or slice on the diagonal. Heat sugar in a large non-stick frying pan. Swirl it around and when melted and caramel colour add the butter and swirl to combine. Add the bananas and turn to coat them with caramel on both sides. Cook very briefly or they will become too soft. Sprinkle with orange zest and serve immediately with the bread pudding and thick cream if liked.

Serves 6-8

Gluten-free Christmas Pudding

Christmas puddings keep for months and improve with age, so I usually make them in October or November. One for the family and a couple of smaller ones to give to friends. I collect pudding bowls in second hand stores for this purpose.

In cooler climates you can store them in the pantry, but in Australia I prefer to keep them in a second fridge we have in the garage. Sometimes I make two large puddings and keep one to serve at a “Christmas in July” dinner party. And if that doesn’t happen the second pudding will still be delicious the following Christmas, more than 12 months after it was made!

I decided to adapt my traditional recipe to make it gluten-free. Still perfectly nice for everyone, but suitable for a growing percentage of the population who don’t tolerate gluten. A food processor makes quick work of the breadcrumbs, grated apple, chopped figs and pureed orange. Some people don’t like mixed peel and glacé cherries, so I have included substitutions for these.

The number of puddings you end up with from this recipe depends on the size of the bowls – two big ones, or one big one and two small ones, or four small ones. This year I doubled this recipe and ended up with 8 puddings of various sizes as you can see in the photo.

Gluten-free Christmas Pudding150g currants
200g dried figs, stalks removed then chopped
200g sultanas
200g raisins
60g dried mixed peel or dried apricots, chopped
60g glace cherries or dried sour cherries
60g blanched slivered almonds (or walnuts or macadamias)
2 Granny Smith apples, unpeeled, cored & grated
½ cup psyllium husk
½ tsp salt
1 tsp each ground cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves
350g gluten-free bread made into crumbs in food processor
4 eggs, beaten
200g dark brown sugar
½ cup brandy or rum
1 cup beer
1 Tbs black treacle
250g unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 orange, blitzed in food processor, skin and all
Brandy Butter to serve

Place all the ingredients in a very large bowl and mix well. Choose 2 to 4 pudding bowls, depending on size, grease lightly then fill with pudding mixture. They don’t rise much so bowls can be filled almost to the top.

Cover puddings with buttered baking paper, butter side down, and tie down with string. Steam puddings (see below) for about 5 hours or until evenly browned. Cool then cover with a fresh piece of baking paper or wrap in foil and store in the fridge.

Steaming the puddings: If you have a very large stock-making saucepan you can steam two puddings at the same time, one on top of the other. Place a metal trivet or an upturned saucer in the bottom of the pan, then the first pudding, then an upturned side plate and then the second pudding. Pour hot water in to come halfway up the bottom pudding. Hopefully everything fits and you can put the lid on. If not use two pans, or make half the recipe and just one pudding. Turn on the heat and let the water simmer for 5 hours, topping up from time to time as necessary.

The other way to steam puddings is in the oven. Choose a deep roasting pan into which the puddings all fit. Pre-heat oven to 150°C. Place bowls in roasting pan. Pour in enough hot water to come halfway up the bowls. Cover the entire roasting pan with foil and crimp it under to seal. You may need two pieces if it’s not very wide. Place in the oven for 5 hours. Check after 2  hours and top up the water as necessary.

To serve, steam puddings again for 2-3 hours and serve with Brandy Butter.

Makes 2-4 puddings

Strawberry Panna Cotta

When I was growing up in Kent – otherwise known as the garden of England – we ate everything in season. In early June the local strawberries were ready and there were a few places where you could pick your own. They were cheap and plentiful, so we ate big bowls full, with a dollop of double cream and a sprinkling of sugar, just to add a little crunch. Now, thanks to imports from warmer climes you can buy strawberries pretty much all year round wherever you live in the world. But they never taste the same as when you pick your own and eat them the same day.

Like bacon and eggs, strawberries and cream is a marriage made in heaven. As I was looking for something to serve at a dinner party recently I came across this beautiful dessert on a site called Home Cooking Adventure.

You can make them the day before, so they’re perfect for entertaining.

Strawberry Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta:
400ml milk
400ml cream
½ cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla essence
1 Tbs gelatine
4 Tbs water
Strawberry Sauce:
750g strawberries
2-3 Tbs sugar, to taste
2 Tbs water

Place milk, cream and sugar in a saucepan and bring to the boil, then remove from the heat. Meanwhile place gelatine and water in a small bowl then zap in the microwave briefly to dissolve. Mix gelatine mixture and vanilla into cream then cool a bit and divide among 8 attractive glasses such as Martini glasses. Chill overnight.

Save four nice strawberries then wash and hull the rest. Cut into four and place in a saucepan with sugar and water. Bring to the boil then remove from the heat. Blend until smooth in a blender, then pass through a sieve to remove seeds. Chill overnight.

To serve, divide strawberry sauce among the 8 glasses. Top each with half a strawberry.

Serves 8

Variations: use raspberries instead of strawberries.