PANNA COTTA, CRÈME FRAÎCHE, CARAMEL AND CAVIAR
This dessert from Lefebvre is an expert-level project and a fascinating look at the labor that goes into a restaurant–quality dessert. The results are surprising and profoundly complex in flavor: The salty caviar against the caramel sauce is savory-sweet and satisfying.
• 1 cup sugar
• ¼ cup water
• 1 cup heavy cream
Fill a small bowl or glass with ice water, and have a pastry brush at the ready. Combine sugar and water in a two-quart saucepan and heat over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves.
Dip pastry brush into ice water and brush down inner sides of saucepan so no sugar builds up on them.
Turn heat to high and continue to cook water and sugar mixture until it turns a dark amber. (It will appear darker in the saucepan, so test color by dipping a spoon into mixture and dotting some of it onto a white plate.) Do not stir mixture except for gently swirling the pan. As sugar builds on sides of pan, brush down with ice water.
As soon as mixture reaches the correct color, slowly and carefully add heavy cream. Be sure to use a long whisk, and do not put hands directly over pan. Pour cream by the side of the pan, and stir with whisk handle outside the edge. The caramel will foam up, so it is imperative to add cream slowly to prevent caramel from spilling over. Once all the cream is added, if there are lumps, heat caramel sauce until it smooths out. Cool sauce completely. Reserve.
• 12½ grams gelatin, sheet or powdered
• 1 cup Bellwether Farms crème fraîche
• 1 cup heavy cream
• 1 cup whole milk
• ½ cup sugar
• 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise with seeds scraped out (or 1 teaspoon vanilla paste)
Lightly coat an eight-by-eight-inch cake pan with spray or liquid oil. Press a layer of plastic wrap into pan, being careful to keep it as smooth as possible. Make sure plastic is pressed into the corners, but be careful not to tear it. Use a hard plastic spatula to remove any large wrinkles by running the flat edge from the center of pan out to the edges.
Bloom the gelatin by placing it sheet by sheet into a large container of very cold water. You may add a few ice cubes, but the water should be no colder than 36 degrees. Note: Powdered gelatin may be substituted gram for gram for sheet gelatin; however, you must then bloom the gelatin in precisely three ounces of cold water.
In a pan with at least a two-quart -capacity, mix crème fraîche and heavy cream. Reserve.
In a small (at least one-quart) saucepan, heat milk, sugar and vanilla bean pod with its scraped-out seeds over -medium-high heat until mixture begins to simmer. Remove from heat. Immediately add prepared gelatin. If using sheet gelatin, squeeze as much water as possible from the sheets by squeezing firmly between your hands. If using powdered gelatin, simply add the gelatin, which will have fully absorbed the water in which it was bloomed. Stir mixture until gelatin is fully dissolved.
Stir hot mixture into reserved crème fraîche mixture. Allow to cool at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until mixture feels cool to the touch. This will ensure vanilla seeds are suspended throughout panna cotta. Remove vanilla bean pod.
Pour cooled mixture into the prepared pan and refrigerate for at least six hours to allow gelatin to set. Once it has set, turn pan upside down onto a cutting board. Gently pull on plastic to unmold panna cotta. Using a sharp knife dipped in warm water, cut panna cotta into one-inch strips, then cut these strips in half. This will yield 16 four-by-one-inch strips.
• 2 teaspoons caramel sauce
• 1 panna cotta strip
• 2 teaspoons American sturgeon caviar
• Fleur de sel, to garnish
Pour caramel sauce onto center of an appetizer plate. Using an angled palette knife or spatula, spread sauce to form a six-by-two-inch strip that will be visible when panna cotta is placed on it. Carefully pick up panna cotta strip and center it on caramel.
Gather caviar in a line along the edge of a knife. Drop caviar onto panna cotta strip in a line centered down long side of strip. Sprinkle a few grains of fleur de sel over top of panna cotta.