Monday, March 18, 2019

Matcha panna cotta made better

We first enjoyed this at a Japanese restaurant with a distinctly fusion-y bent. There was Thai hidden in some of the dishes, as well as Chinese, as well as other delicious influences, and I liked them all, but what really bowled me over was this dessert. And I just could not find a recipe for it.

Part of my problem was its name: it was called matcha custard. And this didn’t taste like it had eggs in it. But then a flash of inspiration struck, and some Japanese panna cotta recipes sent me on more or less the right path. (By the way, matcha is green Japanese tea powder.)

However, these ended up too sweet. Nobody else was combining silky plain panna cotta with a gentle layer of beautiful matcha syrup. Chinese and Japanese versions of European desserts always take the sweetness down many notches, which is part of what makes them so refreshing and so very easy to devour.

Fresh panna cotta
Everybody else seemed to be putting the matcha in the pudding, too, and I didn’t want that. They all called for cream and half-and-half, but the one I tasted was not that rich or cloying. It was a puzzle.

What I really, really wanted was a lovely contrast between white and green, between bitter and sweet, between liquid and trembly panna cotta. It took a bit of trial and error, but I think I’ve got it. Let me know if you agree.

Panna cotta with matcha syrup
Cháfěnjiàng năidòng  搽粉漿奶凍
Italian via Japanese by way of Taiwan... maybe
Serves 5 to 6

Panna cotta:
¼ cup | 60 ml cool water
1 envelope (about 1 tablespoon) unflavored gelatin 
2½ cups | 590 ml whole milk
2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract

¼ cup | 50 g white sugar
1 to 1½ tablespoons fine matcha powder (see Note)
¼ cup | 60 ml boiling water
Small pinch of sea salt

1. Place the water in a small pan and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Give the gelatin about a minute to bloom, and then heat the mixture over low heat until all of the gelatin has melted. Stir it once or twice before removing it from the heat.

2. Pour the milk into a large saucepan and add the sugar and salt. Heat this over medium-high heat, stirring it once in a while, until bubbles form around the edge of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in both the gelatin and vanilla. 
Don't boil the milk - you just want bubbles

3. Set out five or six ½-cup | 80 ml bowls—tall, rather than wide, are especially nice here. (Pretty jam jars work well, too.) Strain the milk mixture among the bowls, and then let the milk come to room temperature. Cover the bowls with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

4. To make the sauce, place the sugar and matcha in a small saucepan. Whisk in the boiling water until no more lumps remain. Stir in the salt. Bring to a bare simmer and then cool to room temperature. When the custards are set, strain the syrup over them, so that each bowl has a lovely green pool on top. Serve the chilled custards with small spoons.


Use very finely ground matcha tea for this. You don't need a lot, but it should be good quality, since it's the main flavoring agent here.

I strain both the milk mixture and the syrup through a fine sieve. This gives both the panna cotta and the syrup a lovely, silky texture. It's a small bother, but totally worth it.

You can turn this into eight desserts, if you wish. Just use smaller cups. But I'm greedy.