Soon after discovering the varied and compelling world of food blogs, I discovered Sugar High Fridays (SHF), as created by the Domestic Goddess (who recently wrote a great two part contemplation on good food requiring effort). Now that I have my blog up and running I decided that it was time that I participated, so I hopped over to Is My Blog Burning (a great resource for food blogging events and a quick history if you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about) to find out who was hosting this month’s SHF. My timing must have been preordained because I happily discovered that Emily of Chocolate in Context is hosting SHF #29: Raw Chocolate. It just so happened that I had picked up some raw cocoa nibs recently and had been inspired to use them in an adaptation of Michael Chiarello’s recipe for Cocoa Caramel Panna Cotta from The Essence of Chocolate.
I must admit that I have never tried panna cotta before (eating or making), so I am happy to say that I was extremely pleased with the result. Mine did not unmold like the picture in book, but I made one in a ceramic bowl, just in case. This was also my first time working with cocoa nibs. I had tried them before in various chocolate bars and bakery treats while traveling, but I could not find a local retailer that carried them. Then I found them at the local coop, but they were raw – most recipes I found called for roasted cocoa nibs, so I bought some, but I kept putting off trying them in something. This SHF left me with no excuses. While I did not attempt to try them in a completely raw recipe (if I want to taste the raw food movement I’ll go to a restaurant), I do think that this was a great way to highlight the complex and unusual flavors of raw chocolate.
I developed this recipe for small portions since I developed it during Spring Break and many of my friends are still students and out of town, but I think that it should scale up easily. Small servings are perfect because this dessert is deceptively light for being based on half and half.
Raw Cocoa Nib Panna Cotta
¼ cup water
1/3 cup granular sugar
½ cup raw cocoa nibs
1 pint half and half
1 ½ teaspoons gelatin
Place half and half and cocoa nibs in a small saucepan and heat to medium until it is steaming (don’t let it boil) and take the pan off the heat and cover for 30 minutes.
Combine the gelatin and 2 Tablespoons water in a small bowl and set aside.
Place the sugar in a small saucepan and add the remaining water. Bring to medium heat, and cook, swirling the saucepan occasionally to color the caramel evenly, until a medium amber (I’m never exactly sure what that is either, so if you’re not sure it’s better to go too light than too dark).
You may want to brush the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush if sugar crystals begin to form (I just purchased a silicon brush and decided that they are great for many uses, but I’m going to keep my old fashioned ones for pastry).
Strain the nibs out of the half and half and add the gelatin and caramel – reheat gently if needed to dissolve the caramel. Divide into four, 4 ounce molds and refrigerate for at least three hours.