You have hopefully seen my previous post about the Food Wine Conference that is coming up soon that I’m looking forward to going to, not just to eat some fantastic food but to pick up some tips to help me improve this blog and meet many of the people I have got to know virtually along the way so far. You may also remember the dessert gnocchi I made to enter the Idaho Potato-sponsored competition for the conference. Well another generous sponsor is sponsoring a recipe contest as well and this time it’s Florida Dairy Farmers looking for milk and other dairy-based recipes. This tricolor dessert trio is my entry into the competition and whether it wins or not, it’s one delicious dessert you really need to try, that’s a bit of fun too.
As you can imagine, as soon as I saw the competition advertised, I put my thinking cap on to come up with something. I went through a couple of ideas before settling on the idea of a tricolor dessert trio, in particular one that can be made into a flag shape. I thought of something along these lines last year but never quite got round to it over the summer, but with Memorial day and various other events coming, it seemed perfect timing to make one now. Most cultures have some kind of dessert that is dairy-based – creme brulee, crema catalana, panna cotta, cheesecake, custard, flan…the list goes on. I thought it might be fun to make a tricolor dessert based on three different dairy desserts from different cultures, since after all the US (like most places) is home to people of so many backgrounds.
There are only so many things that can give you a blue-ish color and so I decided to try a blackberry panna cotta. Red has a few more options, in particular other berries, but I decided a beetroot halwa – a variation of the more typical gajar halwa made from carrots, a common Indian dessert – would be fun and more flexible to make into a flag. I ended up with a mix between chioggia and regular red beetroot to give the pink color you see but you could use just regular red, it will just come out darker, more of a purple-pink I think. (I did try a carrot and raspberry version but it didn’t work – still tasted pretty good but didn’t go pink and curdled slightly; I then started with just chioggia beets thinking they were a good color but the color weirdly disappeared as they cooked so I added some red beet, as is the final result here. I know, the things you do to follow an idea!). White obviously has a lot of options but given the other flavors and textures, I opted for a lemon cheesecake cream – basically a bit like an uncooked cheesecake topping.
All three desserts would be great on their own but they also work really well together, being different textures and flavors that complement each other. My son was a big fan of the blackberry panna cotta, which has a lovely blackberry undertone to its smooth creaminess. I always like halwa so that’s one of my favorites (I should note this is a less sweet version than is typical – adjust it if you prefer sweeter), with the cardamon flavor coming through nicely, and the lemony cheesecake cream rounds it off. Of course, you don’t have to make a flag with them all, and it does make for a pretty big plateful if you do, although it looks fun I think. (And by the way for fellow Brits, you could also make this in to a Union Jack by dividing the panna cotta into four and putting the stripes of halwa and cheesecake cream through the middle.) For a less patriotic-looking dessert, you could just serve the panna cotta with the other two as side garnishes (and I’d say make less of them if you do, around half of each), but it’s certainly worth making all three if you can as the colors and flavors are delicious. This may all seem a bit extravagant, but that can be just the thing now and then, and these desserts can all be made ahead of time so it’s still a great dish for entertaining. So when you’re feeling all red, white and blue, or even if you’re not but want something a bit different, give this tricolor dessert trio a try.
Tricolor dessert trio
For the panna cotta
- 2/3 cup milk 160ml
- 2 1/2 tsp gelatin
- 6 oz blackberries 170g
- 1 cup cream 240ml, suggest heavy/double
- 2 tbsp honey
For the halwa
- 1 cup milk 240ml
- 6 oz chioggia beetroot 170g
- 1.5 oz red beetroot 42g
- 2 cardamon pods
- 3 tsp sugar
For the cheesecake cream
- 6 tbsp cream cheese
- 1/4 cup Greek yogurt 4 tbsp
- 1/4 cup cream 4tbsp, suggest heavy/double
- 4 tsp honey or 2tsp honey plus 2tsp sugar to be a little less colored
- 1 lemon zest ie from 1 lemon
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 1/4 cup cream 60ml, approx, whipped
For the panna cotta
- Put the milk in a small pan and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Leave approx 5min to 'bloom' - you will see it form a layer on top then this thins out as it dissolves.
- Meanwhile lightly oil 4 ramekins/custard dishes (4-6oz size). Push the blackberries through a small sieve to hold back the seeds and thicker pulp giving you the blackberry juice - set aside.
- Gently warm the milk and ensure the gelatin dissolves, around 3-4min - test by putting a spoon in and seeing if you can see any lumps, there should be none.
- Remove from the heat and add the cream, blackberries and honey and whisk to combine.
- Pour into the ramekins/custard dishes and chill for at least 2hrs, but ideally 4+ or overnight if you want to remove from dishes as suggested.
- To remove from the dish, sit the dish in a bowl of hot water for a minute then ease the top edge away with a knife before inverting on a plate (if the plate is damp, you can slide it to reposition if you need to).
For the halwa
- Place the milk, finely grated beetroot and cardamon in a pan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for around 1hr until liquid almost all gone, stirring now and then to avoid a skin on top and burning on the bottom.
- When liquid is almost gone, add sugar, increase heat slightly and cook for another 5-8min stirring constantly so the sugar dissolves and the liquid is basically gone. Remove form heat and allow to cool.
For the cheesecake cream
- Blend all ingredients (cream cheese, yogurt, cream, honey, lemon zest and juice) for the cream together either by hand or in a blender/mixer.
To make the flag
- Remove the panna cotta from the mould and unless you had a square mould, trim down four sides to give you a square shape. Place in top left of plate.
- Use a large nozzle or no nozzle in a piping bag and fill with the cheesecake cream and draw your white stripes onto the plate. Carefully spoon the halwa in between the white stripes to form your red stripes, holding back any excess liquid to save making it all run.
- Use a small nozzle to pipe stars with the whipped cream on top of the panna cotta.
- Note - all components of the dessert can be kept refrigerated for a day or two. It's best not to make up the flag until nearer when you need it in case the cream and/or halwa run a little and so the flag won't be as 'crisp'.
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