There’s a reason many restaurants feature panna cotta on the dessert menu. It seems fancy and a little exotic, maybe because of the name, maybe because of its glassy, porcelain-like surface often flecked with vanilla bean or spice. It is a canvas for so many flavors, from coffee to pumpkin to just about any fruit you can think of. And it’s easy to make. Like really easy. I have to remind myself how much cream is involved. The truth is, panna cotta ranks high on my list of favorite desserts. It is rich and creamy without being overly sweet or heavy. I got an idea for a version flavored with jasmine tea and couldn’t wait to do some experimentation.
In the past few years I have had great success infusing jam with various teas: golden plum with Earl Grey, peach with sarsaparilla root (not exactly tea, but steeped the same way) and nectarine with green tea are some of my best efforts. I was eating yogurt with the last of my plum-Earl Grey jam when I had the idea to try steeping tea in milk to flavor pudding or panna cotta. I took a quick tour of my tea drawer, thinking about which I drink with milk, and found jasmine pearl. Jasmine pearl is a celebration tea, one I savor and enjoy every time, from first sniff to last sip; even the appearance, as the delicate bulbs of tea uncurl in warm water, is lovely. Although I usually drink it plain, jasmine pearl tea has a delicate but persistent floral flavor that works well with milk, and I imagined it would be really good with various fruit flavors, too. I was right. Jasmine tea is assertive enough that you can identify the tea in the finished product but it is still a light, almost hint of a flavor. It doesn’t get soapy or bitter. If you’re looking for a punch of tea flavor, this might not be the right dessert for that. Instead, what you’ll find in this panna cotta is velvety smooth, creamy goodness with a touch of jasmine tea and vanilla. It’s heavenly.
For the garnish, as with other panna cottas, the sky is the limit: you could do caramel sauce or a dark chocolate sauce, but my vote is for plain, perfectly ripe fruit. The champagne mango you see pictured is my top choice when it is in season, as it is now; the sweetness and floral, honeyed notes it has naturally are ideal matches for the creaminess of the panna cotta. Out of mango season, try strawberries or raspberries, and is it peach season yet? Oh boy. Peaches and jasmine tea are destined to be together. I’m already planning to make this again with the first ripe peaches of the year. The truth is, you can have this jasmine tea panna cotta plain and it will be pretty darn good. I can’t wait for you to try it.
Jasmine Tea Panna Cotta (adapted from the kitchn; serves 4)
- 1 1/2 c. whole milk
- 1 packet (2 1/4 tsp.) gelatin
- 1/3 c. sugar
- 1 1/2 c. cream
- 1 vanilla bean, split (optional)
- 1 T. loose jasmine pearl tea* (or 3 tea bags)
Put the milk in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the top. Allow it to sit undisturbed for 10 mins. so the gelatin “blooms”; it will look like the gelatin is forming a skin on the surface of the milk, and that’s desirable.
In a medium non-reactive saucepan, combine the milk and gelatin mixture with sugar and heat very carefully over low to medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the gelatin and sugar dissolve. Do not boil. It is ready when you tilt the pan and don’t see any granules on the bottom. Though it’s not always an option, if you’re able, use your finger to feel the consistency of the milk mixture; it should be perfectly silky and smooth, no gritty feeling.
Remove from the heat and add the cream and split vanilla bean, if using, to the pan and stir. If you are using loose tea, put it in a reusable tea bag or tea ball (not metal; it will flavor the milk in a bad way). Submerge the tea bag(s) or ball and cover the pan loosely with a tea towel. Steep for 40 mins. at room temperature, checking the mixture occasionally to stir/squeeze the tea. (I use a cotton bag similar to this and am able to press it with a wooden spoon every 10 mins. to release more flavor into the mixture. I found this to be the most reliable method for getting a consistent jasmine tea taste.) After 40 mins., remove the tea bags or ball, squeezing the tea dry with the back of a wooden spoon to release as much flavor as possible, scrape the vanilla bean into the mixture and stir one last time. Divide the panna cotta mixture into four ramekins (tea cups work, too, and are charming), cover lightly and refrigerate until set. This takes about 4 hours, but it is wise to plan a little extra time.
When you are ready to serve, remove the panna cotta from the refrigerator and run a thin-bladed knife around the outside of each ramekin. Submerge the base of each ramekin in warm water for a minute or two and then invert onto your serving plate and shake or tap gently until the panna cotta releases. (Alternately, you can serve in the ramekin without trying to get it out.) Garnish with fruit or sauce of your choice and serve immediately. Leftover panna cotta will keep, well-covered, in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.
*I think any jasmine tea you enjoy would work well, though I do prefer the smooth taste of jasmine pearl. I find loose tea to be stronger, most of the time, than tea bags but either will work for this recipe.