Thursday, April 23, 2020

Summer Special: Mango Panna Cotta


No, I'm not going to talk about the invisible global enemy in this post. I'm fed up of hearing/reading about it. Instead, I'm going to talk about something that sparks joy 😊

In case you haven't noticed (and I wouldn't be surprised if that happened), MANGO season is here! This means something more to me because of where I'm from. Like most Indians, I happen to be passionate about mangoes....it truly is a national obsession for us! Indian mangoes are world-famous for their richness, sweetness and unique flavour so it has become a symbol of national pride and identity. Alphonso, malgova, badami, mallika, raspuri, neelam, totapuri....to me, these varieties of mangoes are synonymous with balmy Indian summers. Much like wine, the aroma and flavour of each variety differs from the region it comes from.

Every year, my kids eagerly wait for mango season because the undisputed king of fruits is their absolute favourite too (ties with raspberries!). During the months of peak mango season, my family and I spend languorous evenings stuffing our faces with this exotic tropical fruit thereby keeping us appeased until next season rolls by. 


I wanted to make mango panna cotta last year but somehow I rarely have extra mangoes lying around to make dessert. No matter how many I think I have, it just gets consumed within the blink of an eye!  Having said that, there are a couple of mango based desserts that I've managed to sneak into my blog You can check out these recipes if your are interested - Easy Mango SorbetTropical Mango Cupcakes, Mango Chia Pudding and Fresh Mango Cake with Whipped Cream and Dark Chocolate Collar. This year, considering we are cooped up indoors with a lot of free time and could do with anything even remotely exciting, I didn't want to pass up on the opportunity to make mango panna cotta and add it to my arsenal of mango-based recipes.

Three weeks ago, I caught sight of a gloriously abundant (and inviting!) display of mangoes in the fruit stall of my local wet market and I have been buying them ever since. Nobody has the luxury of repeated trips to the market these days so during my bi-weekly grocery trips, I have been buying 3-4 large mangoes each time. And fortunately for us, every single one of them has been delightful so far. 


For those who are unaware, panna cotta (Italian for "cooked cream") is an Italian dessert of sweetened cream thickened with a setting agent and molded. Even though it is a very simple dessert, it is versatile and exceedingly popular.

Yesterday, me and the kids made mango panna cotta using agar (also called agar-agar, china grass or kanten) instead of gelatin which is traditionally used. I must admit that I am using agar after ages! Around 14 years ago, I used to frequently make a chilled variety of pineapple soufflé that I used to set with gelatin. But once I became more aware of how gelatin is procured, I completely avoided the use of it in my kitchen. But I somehow never fancied the texture of agar set desserts. They lack the lovely wobbly texture that you get from using gelatin and so I abandoned making any kind of dessert that required a setting agent altogether. 


Obviously, I've made an exception now 😁 This mango panna cotta has been set using agar powder. The powder form is easily available in supermarkets here and is the easiest form of agar to use. I used enough of agar to set the dessert firm but it didn't turn rubbery so the texture was reasonably good. The mango I used, although didn't have the deep orange color that I would have preferred but was at least pulpy and sweet so I didn't have to add too much sugar. I didn't add cardamon powder to the mango puree because I wanted to retain the fresh zesty mango flavour but you can add it if you feel like. The white vanilla cream layer didn't turn out cloyingly sweet so it was just right for me. My husband and kids liked the dessert and I have gotten requests to make it again.
 
This is a very easy dessert to put together. It doesn't require too many ingredients, is suitable for vegetarians, can be prepped ahead of time and looks pretty fancy as well! And even if it isn't mango season, if you find good-quality canned mango pulp, you could use it too! If you don't want to bother with getting a slanted layer, you can just stick to horizontal layers. You can use any shape of glass you like or even use silicone moulds. As long as you can get the dessert to set properly, it is pretty much a done deal 👍


Despite the grim circumstances, I hope you enjoy mango season folks! Grabbing onto the simple pleasures of life, when you can, is the easiest way of spreading joy and cheer 😊

Mango Panna Cotta

Preparation time: 30-40 min
Chilling time: 2-3 hours or overnight
Makes: 3 servings
Recipe category: Dessert/Italian
Recipe level: Easy

Ingredients: 

For the mango layer:
1 heaped cup fresh mango puree (from 1 large ripe mango)
1/2 cup water
1 tsp agar powder* (refer notes)
1-1.5 tbsp refined sugar/brown sugar/jaggery powder
a pinch of green cardamom powder, Optional 

For the white vanilla cream layer:
1/2 cup full-fat cream
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup water
1.5 tsp agar powder* (refer notes)
2-3 tbsp refined sugar
1/2 tsp good quality vanilla extract

Method: 

For the mango layer:

1. Peel the mango and chop into chunks. Put the chopped mangoes in a blender add sugar to it and cardamom powder (if using) and make a smooth puree without adding any water.



2. In a medium-sized saucepan, add 1 tsp of agar powder to half a cup of water and stir well. Heat until the water starts to bubble and the agar is completely dissolved. Switch off the flame.


3. Add the sweetened mango puree to the agar mixture. Whisk well.


4. Keep three glasses tilted on a muffin tray (or you could use 3 small ramekins). You can secure it with sticky tape if you think it will not stay in place. Pour the mango-agar mixture till half of the glass is full. Keep aside to set at room temperature. If you want to hasten this process, you can pop them in the fridge. Give it at least 20 minutes to set.



For the white vanilla cream layer:

1. Take milk in a saucepan. Add fresh cream to it. Add the sugar and vanilla extract and mix well. Switch on the heat and let the milk come to a gentle boil. Whisk intermittently to make sure the sugar has completely dissolved. Switch off heat.

2. Meanwhile, in another saucepan, add 1.5 tsp of agar powder to half a cup of water and stir well. Heat until the water starts to bubble and the agar is completely dissolved. Switch off the flame.

3. Whisk the agar mixture into the cream mixture and keep stirring until mixture is uniform. Keep it aside for 10 mins to cool slightly. You will notice that the mixture will slowly start to thicken.


4. Now touch the mango layer to make sure it has set. If it has set, you can remove the glasses from the muffin tray and pour the white vanilla cream mixture into the glass as a second layer.


5. Chill it for at least 2-3 hours. I chilled mine overnight.

6. Serve chilled topped with chopped mango pieces and a sprig of fresh mint.



Notes:
  • If the mango you are using is very sweet, you may not need to add any sugar to the mango layer. If you like your desserts more or less sweeter, you can adjust the quantity of sugar in both the mango puree and white vanilla cream mixture. The quantities mentioned in the recipe were just right for my taste
  • You want to retain the white color of the vanilla cream layer and so I would advise sweetening it with refined sugar instead of brown sugar or jaggery
  • If you don't get fresh mangoes, go ahead and use canned mango puree
  • Don't mix agar powder with warm/hot water as it can clump and become tricky to dissolve. Stir into room temperature liquid and then heat it, making sure the agar has dissolved.
  • *If you don't have agar powder, you could use 1 tbsp (4gm) agar flakes or 1/3 cup agar strands (cut into 1 inch pieces). This should be enough to set 350ml (1.4 cups of liquid) into a firm jelly. For a softer jelly or when using thick fruit pureé, you can try using a little lesser agar (it would involve some experimentation). If using the strands/flakes, soak it in water for 10 minutes to soften it, then bring to a boil while stirring until it dissolves completely. 
  • If you want some texture, you can top this dessert with chopped pistachios

Cheers,
Megha

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