If you've ever been to an Asian bakery, you may have seen cakes and rice desserts that glow with a pale grassy hue. No, definitely not lime. And if not green tea flavored, they are mostly likely pandan-leaf flavored. The pandan leaf is a common food flavoring in many Southeast Asian dishes, mostly for desserts, some stews, and steamed rice. It imparts a delicate nutty taste, almost like fresh-cut grass, incredibly fragrant.
The leaves are long, deep green, and blade-like:
In many savory dishes, they are tied into knots for flavoring broths. And much easier to work with:
In desserts, bakers' favorite use of pandan is in sponge and chiffon cakes. These cakes, one of my favorites, are ethereally light and faint green. Another popular set of desserts in which pandan is a dominant flavor are kuihs. These are small sweet bite-size snacks made of rice or tapioca flour, usually flavored with coconut and pandan.
I wanted to use this traditional Asian ingredient in an Italian dessert, panna cotta. The result is a light, delicate, creamy pudding. I paired this with a coconut crème anglaise, which beautifully rounded out the nutty flavors of the pandan.
Pandan Panna Cotta with Coconut Crème Anglaise
serves 4-6, depending on the size of the mold
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
4 tsp gelatin powder
5-6 Tbsp sugar
4-5 drops green food coloring
1/2 tsp pandan essence
5 stalks pandan leaf
2 egg yolks
2/3 cup coconut milk
scant 1/3 cup sugar
1. For Panna Cotta: In a food processor, blend milk with pandan leaves for 30 seconds. Strain the mixture. Add food coloring to the milk and stir well.
2. Put milk in a saucepan. Sprinkle gelatin over top, and let sit for 10 minutes to allow it to soften. Gently heat milk to 140F. Turn off heat and whisk in the heavy cream and pandan essence. Make sure there are no lumps from the gelatin. Pour into molds and refrigerate for 4 hours to let set up.
3. For Coconut creme anglaise: In a small saucepan, heat the coconut milk to a gentle boil, and turn the heat off. In a separate bowl, whisk together the yolks and sugar until it becomes shiny, about 1 minute. Pour the hot coconut milk slowly into the yolk mixture, continuously whisking. Pour it all back into the saucepan, and cook over low heat until the cream coats the back of your spatula or spoon.
4. Pour the cream into a bowl, and immediately cover the surface with plastic wrap so that no skin forms. Let cool to room temperature.
5. Plating: Quickly dip the panna cotta molds into hot water. You may also need to run a knife around the edge to loosen. Invert the mold onto a plate. Drizzle with coconut crème anglaise.