Monday, February 16, 2009

Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Honey "Pearls" and Grapefruit-Ginger Syrup

At least a year ago, maybe even over two years ago, my hubby ordered the powders necessary to make those fancy molecular gastronomy "caviar" or "pearls" - sodium alginate and calcium chloride. And they sat in our cupboard until this weekend, when we finally dusted them off and got to using them.

If only I'd known how easy it was, I would have done it long ago! And for under $20 for both powders, you only use 1-3 grams at a time, so you get a lot of mileage out of your purchase. Plus, it's fun!

I wanted to make honey pearls, to go with a panna cotta, which I'd also never made before. After the one I'd had at Cafe Juanita, I felt I at least had a good benchmark, and would know if what I made would turn out good enough (it did).

It all came together nicely. Creamy, midly sweet, delicate vanilla panna cotta has a bit of tang from the buttermilk, and given an ethereal ring of lightly sweet honey pearls and tangy-bitter grapefruit. All of this is easy: the hardest part was actually getting the panna cotta out of the ramekin!

Buttermilk panna cotta with honey "pearls" and grapefruit-ginger syrup

For the panna cotta:
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 1/4oz envelope gelatin powder

For the grapefruit syrup:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1" round of ginger
1/4 cup fresh ruby-red grapefruit juice, reserving some pulp pieces from the grapefruit for garnish
1 TB honey

For the honey pearls:
2.25g calcium chloride
1 g sodium alginate
100 g honey

To make the panna cotta:
Scrape the vanilla bean seeds. In a medium saucepan, pour in 1 cup of cream and sprinkle the gelatin on top. Let bloom for 5 minutes. Turn heat to low, lightly whisk until gelatin is dissolved, another 3-5 minutes. Add the vanilla beans and pod, sugar, and remaining cream and buttermilk. Mix, turn heat to medium, and watch closely until milk starts to steam. When milk steams, remove from heat, put on the lid, and let steep for 15 minutes. When done steeping, remove pod and pour into ramekins. Refrigerate for minimum 4 to 24 hours.

To make ginger-grapefruit syrup:
Bring 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar to a boil. Add ginger. Reduce to half and remove the ginger. Let cool, then mix with juice and honey.

To make the honey pearls:
Dissolve 2.25 g calcium chloride in 500g of water in a large bowl. Set aside. In a medium bowl, blend 1 g sodium algenate in 100g water. Add 100 g honey. Put honey mixture into a dropper bottle. Drop honey mixture into the bowl with calcium chloride. Let sit for a little over 1 minute, then strain out. Rinse with water and serve (pearls keep at least 30 minutes).

To assemble: Remove panna cotta by dunking ramekin in hot water for about 10-15 seconds, then dropping upside down onto plate. Drizzle with syrup, scatter pearls and individual grapefruit pulp around panna cotta. Serve.


  1. This looks delicious! Nice twist with the buttermilk in the panna cotta, and I love how speckly it is from the vanilla bean. I'll definitely try this out next time I'm in the mood to make a fancy dessert.

  2. Awesome!
    We're got the chemicals at work and I've been wanting to play with them!

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