The first time I tasted an almond panna cotta was at the Imperial Palace, in Chinatown, San Francisco, 1973. I didn’t know what it was but the flavor and texture was exquisite on my tongue. It had the texture of a mousse, so light and velvety, not like any jell-o dessert I’d ever had before. I originally thought the perfume wafting through my olfactory system and sending my salivary gland into a spin was from some exotic fruit. It wasn’t until many years later while adding almond extract to a cherry pie for the first time that I finally found this lovely flavor accent again and the rest is history. Panna cotta is made with heavy cream so I make this almond gelatin dessert with whole milk and sweetened condensed milk to reduce fat calories without sacrificing flavor and for no other reason than it comforts me and my guests enjoy it. Good enough… This recipe is closer to a Chinese Almond Dessert but less firm and more creamy.
Dress up the finished product with fresh berries, rambutans, guava sauce, or coulis of choice. Chocolate always pairs well with almond. Shave dark chocolate over the top or un-mold the dessert atop a puddle of chocolate sauce.
About 1990 I became hooked on the Frugal Gourmet PBS series and bought nearly every one of Jeff Smith’s books. The recipe for this almond cookie comes from Three Ancient Cuisines by Jeff Smith. It is an ultra simple recipe for Chinese New Year Almond Cookies. You can roll the dough in sesame seeds and forgo the almond nut. The cookies will be just as delightful and delicately nutty…a nice accompaniment to panna cotta.
Ingredients - Reduced Calorie Panna Cotta- 4 servings
- 6 Tbsp cold milk (whole milk)
- 1 envelope plain gelatin
- 1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
- 2 cups milk (whole milk)
- 1 tsp almond extract
- In a medium bowl, soften gelatin in 6 Tbsp of cold milk for 5-10 minutes.
- Combine 2 cups of milk with 1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk and heat or microwave until hot.
- Slowly pour heated milk over softened gelatin and stir thoroughly.
- Add almond extract and stir.
- Pour into wine glasses or lightly oiled ramekins. Chill for several hours.
Ingredients – Chinese Almond Cookies:
- 3 cups flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup unsalted butter (or shortening*)
- 1 egg
- 2 tsp almond extract
- Cut shortening into dry ingredients.
- Add beaten egg and almond extract.
- Mix and knead with hands until soft.
- Form into small balls and roll in sesame seeds.(**)
- Bake 10 to 15 minutes at 350 ° F.
Variation in Method:
- Stir baking powder and salt into flour. Set aside.
- Cream butter and sugar together, add egg and almond extract while mixer is running.
- Stir in flour mixture.
- Chill and form into small balls.
(*) Chinese typically use lard in these cookies.
(**) Form into small balls, indent center with your thumb and place an almond in the indentation.