Honey and star anise panna cotta and poached pear

New Year, New Diet. Sure.

We’re over a week in to 2013, and I imagine all your eating resolutions have been broken or, at the very least, a crack in your admirable but naive defiance of the inevitable is imminent.

So here’s a dessert recipe that is mostly double cream and honey.

OK, OK, there’s a little poached fruit on the side as a concession to you health freaks … but the poaching liquor is sweetened and there’s also some sugary, buttery biscuits to jazz things up and weigh you down just a bit more. You are welcome.

P.S. Pears, honey, ginger, a subtle hint of star anise … it’s an easy and effective dinner party one, this, so do invite your fellow gym class procrastinators round, multiplying the recipe as required.

P.P.S If anyone would like to gift me a quality DSLR & pancake lens, these photos would get way less glarey and a whole lot better …

Honey and star anise panna cotta and poached pear

Makes 4 panna cotta (using dariole moulds or ramekins that hold 150ml of water)

For the panna cotta
125ml whole milk
375ml double cream
1 vanilla pod
2 points of a star anise
70g good quality clear runny honey
2 (2g) sheets of gelatine
6 ginger nut biscuits, crushed 
For the poached pear
1 good sized, just ripe Conference pear
10g lemon juice (about 1/4 lemon)
40g honey
250ml water
1/2 tspn ground ginger
4 points of a star anise

Bring the milk, 180ml of the double cream, two points of a star anise and the vanilla pod and seeds (split lengthways and seeds scraped out) to the boil in a small pan. Turn the heat off. Let the spices infuse for ten minutes.

Leave two sheets of gelatine to soak in a bowl of water for four minutes. Re heat the cream for just thirty seconds or so; don’t bring to boiling point again. Squeeze the gelatine to remove excess water, add to the warm cream mix, along with the honey and stir so that the additions dissolve.

Strain the cream, honey, vanilla and gelatine mix through a sieve. Let this cool for ten to fifteen minutes, so that it thickens and clings to the back of a wooden spoon.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk the remaining double cream to ribbon stage (just before it starts to peak – take care not to over whip). Fold the gelatine thickened cream mix into the whipped cream. Decant into a jug.

Pour the mix into the dariole moulds. There should be a gap of around half a cm from the top. Chill them for a couple of hours or more – you can make these the morning before a dinner party, or even the night before.

To poach the pears, put the water, four points of a star anise, lemon juice, ground ginger and honey in a milk pan or small (like 14-16cm diameter) sauce pan. Gently heat the water mix as you peal the pear, quarter length ways and slice out the core. Give the liquid a stir to ensure the honey and ginger are dissolved. Place the pears in the pan and continue to heat the liquid to just below boiling point; do this gradually, taking about two to three minutes. Just as bubbles appear, turn the heat off and let the pear quarters cool down in the liquid. Once cool, the pears should be approaching translucent, but still just hold together in one piece. Again, this can be done in advance – gently reheated to luke warm before serving, or served cold.

[You could reduce the poaching liquor to a syrup to serve with the fruit and panna cotta. Just don’t leave it boiling away to permanently bond with the pan whilst you’re watching TV … like I did.]

Remove the panna cottas from the fridge five minutes before serving, so that they loosen enough to slip freely from their moulds. You may need to loosen by dipping the moulds briefly in hot water.

Crush the ginger nuts or honey biscuits and spoon the crumbs over the panna cotta bases. Gently level the crumb layer, then turn each panna cotta out by placing a plate over the mould and flipping it – as you would a tarte Tatin, Spanish omelette etc. Place a pear quarter on each serving plate and enjoy. If you were more careful than me, spoon over a bit of the reduced poaching liquor over the pears. Alternatively, throw any remaining biscuit crumbs over the plate and then remain unconvinced as to whether this was a good idea or not.


7 thoughts on “Honey and star anise panna cotta and poached pear

  1. That is such a wonderful dessert. I have these wonderful Passe Crassanne pears, that are a hybrid between a pear and a quince. Those flavours are going to be great.

  2. Roger – those Passe Crassanne pears are beautiful – using them (or quince) would be cracking. Do let me know if you try it.

  3. Looks scrummy! I left panna cotta for a while, the same reason everyone else does. Then I tasted someone else’s at River Cottage Plymouth. The creamiest ever, perhaps yours is even better.
    Your dish looks and sounds really yummy.
    I have been experimenting on Crème bavaroise at late. More work than a panna cotta, but what a texture. The use of egg whites, makes it quiet forgiving.
    I am looking for new flavours. White chocolate and orange zest worked well. Lemon grass and lime leaf was also nice. Have also used Star Anise and chai flavours.
    I am thinking about liquorice. I tried and failed. They need a serious bash before infusion.
    The poached pear is the much needed accompaniment. Previously it was a vanilla biscuit.
    Another fine post! Well done R&S!

  4. Another beautiful post – love the flavour combination. One question though, is there a particular reason why you use gelatine for the panna cotta instead of potato starch? At home we always use potato starch thinking it creates a creamier panna cotta (that still sets beautifully and can be inverted onto a plate) but the more recipes I see (including from Heston Blumenthal), the more I realize that the common approach appears to be to use gelatine as a setting agent. I am not sure what the more authentic method is but given that you were actually taught how to cook by professionals (whereas I just devour cookbooks like novels and like to eat good food), I was wondering what your take on this was?

    As for the camera, I hear you! Jessops is a good place to pick up a decent starter DSLR. I got mine from the one on Tottenham Ct Rd, very knowledgeable and patient staff, great offers if you are happy with last season’s models. Paid £550 for a Canon 550D with 3(!) lenses (maybe excessive for a starter but the 75-300mm lense has come in handy when travelling and the 50mm one is great for food shots). Now if someone could just teach me how to take better photos real quick … and yes, £550 is still a lot of money, but on amazon the same camera plus 1 lense only was selling for £750 …

  5. Sophia – Thanks. Glad you like. No trained reason re the gelatine – I’ve just always used it (and, in fact, didn’t touch on panna cotta on my course as that was mostly larder rather than dessert based.) Potato starch would be a vegetarian friendly option, but gelatine’s always worked for me and, so long as you use it sparingly, leads to a delicate and creamy pud. I see no reason to change.

  6. Thanks for the reply! Might have to make a side by side comparison of potato starch v gelatine next time I have way too much time (and cream!) on hand.

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