Vanilla bean panna cotta with raspberry coulis

With all the amazing weather Melbourne has been getting lately (well, up until today, anyway), I thought it was fitting to rustle up a summery dessert on my day off. A little while back, my sister was harping on about the best panna cotta she had ever tasted at Emporio Della Pasta. I’d never tried making panna cotta before and I was looking to one up the crème brulee gods after a recent attempt that went south and failed to set properly. So I figured why not? 🙂

I used a recipe from the ever trusty Taste website and after giving it a quick once-over, I decided it was a hell of a lot more straightforward than the crème brulee recipe I had followed. Plus, panna cotta’s such a versatile dessert, that you can change it up however you like. I chose to go down the classic vanilla bean and berry route, but you can use anything from chocolate to coffee to any of your favourite liqueurs – whatever floats your boat.

Ingredients

1 & ½ cups (375ml) pouring cream

1 & ½ cups (375ml) milk

1 vanilla pod (I used 1 tsp of vanilla bean paste)

½ cup (115g) caster sugar

2 &1/2 tsp gelatine powder

Vegetable oil

Mixed berries, to serve

Method

Pour milk and cream into a saucepan. Split vanilla bean in half, scrape seeds out and add both to the milk and cream mixture. Alternatively, add a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste. Much less fiddly and equally effective! 🙂

Bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat and set aside for 10 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse.

Remove vanilla bean from the saucepan if necessary. Add caster sugar and return to a low heat. Stir mixture until sugar dissolves. A good way to check is to scrape the bottom of the saucepan with a wooden spoon – the sugar tends to collect there otherwise.

Fill a small heatproof bowl or measuring cup with 2 tbs of boiling water and add gelatine powder. Place bowl or cup into a small saucepan filled with boiling water and stir gelatine mixture until it dissolves and forms a gel-like consistency. Cool slightly and then stir into the cream mixture.

Sidebar – if you’ve never used gelatine powder before, whatever you do, don’t take whiff out of curiosity! That stuff is nasty! But don’t worry – it won’t compromise your panna cotta or any other dessert you’re trying to set.

Lightly oil 6 dariole moulds or ramekins – this will make it easier for you to turn the panna cottas out later. Pour cream mixture into moulds or ramekins and refrigerate for a minimum of four hours. I left mine in the fridge overnight to allow for more setting time.

Once the panna cottas have set, run a sharp knife around the edge of the mould or ramekin to break the seal. If you’re having trouble getting them out, place them in a shallow bath of boiling water for 10-20 seconds. Place a serving plate on top of mould or ramekin, flip and tap firmly to release.

Trust me on this – there is nothing more satisfying than the little schloop you hear as you turn your panna cottas out. 😀

I’ve had some frozen raspberries sitting in my freezer for ages, so I decided to make a raspberry coulis to jazz things up a bit. It was so easy to make, I am considering blindfolding myself and tying one hand behind my back the next time I make it. 😉

Ingredients

500g of frozen raspberries

1/3 cup caster sugar

Method

Place raspberries and caster sugar into a saucepan over medium heat. Stir continuously until mixture starts to bubble. Remove from heat and crush raspberries with the back of a wooden spoon to a fine pulp.

Pass raspberry mixture through a sieve until only the seeds are left.

And…that’s pretty much all there is to it. You can store the coulis in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.

To serve

Pour raspberry coulis over panna cotta and top with mixed berries.

I was so stoked with how these turned out! If you’re after a super simple, fail-safe dessert that’s easy on the eye and on the wallet, this is it. Bring on summer! 😀

– Erika x

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Chez Dré

287 Coventry Street (rear)
South Melbourne, VIC
(03) 9690 2688
chezdre.com.au

The only downside to throwing back a cheeky meal or two (or three) is the spasm of guilt you feel afterwards. I’ll work it off at the gym tonight, you tell yourself. And then, of course, you find some pathetic excuse not to go and instead indulge in something outrageous. Like a pint of ice cream. No? OK, maybe that’s just me.

Anyhoo, with the turn of the season and a new spring in my step (oh yes, I did just say that), brunch buddy C and I decided to make the most of yesterday’s blue skies and took a half walk/jog around Albert Park Lake. We ended up making idle chitchat with the swans and laughed our heads off watching a psycho dog jump into the lake after a defenceless seagull and…yep, I’m getting off topic.

After establishing that we were both past the tummy rumble stage and well into ‘will kill for food’ territory, we stopped by South Melbourne first for brunch. Chez Dré has been on my go to list for quite some time now. I’ve read so many glowing reviews about them and can now say that I’ve popped my Chez Dré cherry. Finally!

Like St ALi, Chez Dré is one of those cafes you can easily miss if you’re not trying to hunt it down in the first place. The cobble-stoned pathway ushers you into a bright and trendy space, with an open kitchen floor plan, green leather-upholstered booths and vibrant floral arrangements scattered throughout. There’s also an outdoor seating area, which, when we arrived, was full of hungry lunch-goers enjoying the freakishly awesome Melbourne weather.

C and I made our way to the counter and were told we could sit wherever we wanted. The waiters were super friendly. They happily gave us their brunch recommendations and checked in with us every once in a while. I can only imagine how busy they’d be on weekends because Mondays at Chez Dré are pretty happening. There was just enough activity to distract us from the sound of chewing our own food, but not so much that we had to yell at each other over the din of cutlery and conversation.

On to the menu! The hot chocolate looked pretty good on paper (single origin ‘Madagascar’, 64%), but I’m not sure the real thing lived up to its name. I’m on an unofficial hunt of sorts for Melbourne’s best hot chocolate and Huff’s and Lindt are still my top contenders by far. Unfortunately, Chez Dré didn’t make the cut. Ours were wishy-washy and underwhelming, and a little more lukewarm than hot, which I couldn’t help but make a face at. Disappointing stuff.

Hot chocolate (5.0)

Thankfully, the food was a different story. Maybe it was because we were beyond hungry by this point, but holy guacamole, these guys have brunch down. I had the Moroccan-baked eggs with spicy herb lamb sausage, minted yogurt and baguette (17.5). Google search ‘om nom nom’ and this will be the first picture up there. The eggs were soft and gooey, the sausage had just the right amount of kick and the yoghurt added a refreshing component to the dish. The crusty baguette mopped up the tomato and capsicum salsa beautifully.

Moroccan-baked eggs with spicy herb lamb sausage, minted yogurt and baguette (17.5)

C went with the sautéed mushrooms on sourdough with Yarra Valley Persian feta and a poached egg (17.5). I love anything with mushrooms, and this number ticked all the right boxes. The mushrooms and Persian feta absolutely burst with flavour, and splitting the poached egg was like watching Mount Vesuvius erupt. C and I sat there like morons; heads tilted and mouths agape as the yolk worked its magic.

Sautéed mushrooms on sourdough with Yarra Valley Persian feta and a poached egg (17.5)

Naturally, we couldn’t leave without paying a visit to the dessert bar. Each piece on the marble-top display was a marvel. And they were offering free samples! Score! We tasted bits of the caramel dome, hazelnut macarons and blackcurrant macarons, which were all amazing. I couldn’t wipe the silly grin off my face.

We were eager to get going and soak up some sunshine before the weather pulled a 180 (as it so often does here), so we took a few goodies home. C settled on a coconut and a caramel macaron (3.0 each). Meanwhile, I watched in horror as the waiter behind the counter took the last salted caramel éclair (8.5) to the table behind us. Noooo, I yelled in my head, but I spared C (and everyone else  in our vicinity) the theatrics and bought a chocolate éclair to give to my sister instead. Yum! I also picked up a chocolate tart (8.5); decadent layers of ganache and mousse encased in a crumbly pastry shell and topped with gold leaf. Eating it (actually, guzzling it down would be a more accurate description of how it ended up in my belly) probably rendered our earlier attempt at exercise futile, but hey, can you blame me? 😉

Chocolate tart (8.5), chocolate éclair (8.5)

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French macarons with vanilla bean buttercream

The first time I tried making macarons I failed on so many levels, I lost count. My meringue stubbornly refused to form stiff peaks (even after I yelled profanities at my poor mixer) and it all kind of hurtled downhill from there. The result was a gloppy mess that eventually ended up in the trash. I was so disheartened, I vowed I would never make them again.

A few months later, my sister came across a recipe for salted caramel macarons on Everyday Gourmet and after some coaxing, I agreed to give it another go. I’m so glad I did, because they turned out heaps better the second time around. Maybe it was because we watched the demonstration a bazillion times. Justine Schofield and Kirsten Tibballs deserve medals for making it look so easy.

Anyhow, my cousin’s daughter G is celebrating her sixth birthday next week and I’ve been rostered on for macaron duty. I know how temperamental they can be, in and out of the oven, so I decided to give it a test run beforehand.

G’s pretty fussy when it comes to food; if it’s not vanilla-flavoured or pink, she’s not having it. Kids these days, right? Good thing she’s so cute. I used a recipe from the Style at Home website for French macarons, making a few modifications along the way. I thought I’d post it as a fail-safe guide to making these tricky little buggers. And by fail-safe, I mean if I can make them, anyone else can!

Ingredients

(Yields approximately two dozen macarons)

2/3 cup (85 g) almond meal

1 & ½ cups (150 g) pure icing sugar

3 large egg whites, at room temperature

5 tbsp (65 g) caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

Method

Line a tray with greaseproof paper and draw 2.5 cm circles spaced 1.5 cm apart from each other.

Grind almond meal and icing sugar in a food processor until you have a fine powder. Sieve twice and set aside.

Beat egg whites in a stainless steel bowl on high speed until foamy. Some recipes advise that you age your egg whites for a few days, but I didn’t and they turned out fine.

Gradually add caster sugar and continue beating on high until stiff peaks form. I used a half a teaspoon of cream of tartar to make the mixture glossy. Mix in vanilla extract.

Add half of the almond meal and icing sugar mixture to the meringue. Use a spatula to scoop it up from the bottom of the bowl and gently fold it over to avoid knocking the air out of the egg whites.

Add the rest of the almond meal and icing sugar mixture and continue folding the ingredients together until fully incorporated. If the batter drips slowly off the end of the spatula, it’s ready.

Attach a 1 cm piping tip to a piping bag and fill with macaron batter. Pipe batter into the designated circles (or freestyle, whichever you feel more comfortable with).

Rap the tray against a flat surface so the macarons round out in shape. Allow them to dry for 15-20 minutes, or until the batter does not stick to your finger when you touch them.

Preheat oven to 190 degrees Celsius. I used a fan-forced oven at 170 degrees, but looking back, I’d probably lower it to 160.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until the shells develop a crisp outer layer. Allow them to cool on a wire rack before adding the filling.

I made a vanilla bean buttercream to sandwich them together:

Ingredients

100g unsalted butter

1 cup (90g)  pure icing sugar

1 tsp vanilla bean paste

2 dollops of whipped cream

Method

Place butter in microwave for 15 seconds. Cream softened butter and icing sugar in a mixing bowl.

Add vanilla bean paste and whipped cream. Beat until smooth.

Pipe buttercream onto the flat side of a macaron shell and press firmly against another. And…

…voila! Now that I’ve managed to get the basics under control, I can’t wait to experiment with different colours and flavours. I sampled a peanut butter flavoured macaron not long ago and it was lip-smacking good, so it’s definitely on the list. Until then, happy baking!

– Erika x