I’ve had several attempts at this spiced almond panna cotta now. The first version I made had way to much agar agar – even though I only used 3/4 of a teaspoon!
Agar (derived from seaweed) is a much more powerful gelling agent than gelatin (derived from hooves and bones) and you need far less of it to achieve the same level of solidity. You can see in these photos (taken by the lovely Ken Pla!) just how firm they are – almost like one of those little Japanese sweets. They also had an almost marbled texture which a couple of people said they particularly liked but for me, they were just a bit weird.
I have a strong preference for panna cotta that is slightly wobbly and definitely silky smooth – so of course I had to have another go.
As subsequent attempts proved, there is also something about almond milk that seems to require even less agar than other plant based (or cows) milk. In the end I got down as far as 1/3 of a teaspoon to get a texture I was pleased with.
The chai spices in this dessert are really lovely
– not too strong but no one is going to confuse this with plain vanilla. Despite the fairly significant coconut milk content, the panna cotta also doesn’t taste like coconut. Don’t get me wrong, I love coconut, but so many vegan desserts end up being coconutty that it’s nice to have something different.
This is a great dessert to serve with an Indian main course – a lot of Indian desserts are tricky to make or extremely sweet – whereas this spiced panna cotta is both simple and will appeal to a wider range of palates.
It also looks pretty (and sort of fancy) and is made ahead – no faffing around trying to concoct dessert when you’ve already had a couple of wines!
Spiced almond panna cotta (vegan)
Serves: 4 - 6 (depending on mould size)
Preparation time: 10 minutes (+ minimum of 4 hours in the fridge)
Special equipment: dariole moulds*
Vegan, gluten free, dessert
1/3 teaspoon agar agar powder
1 cups almond milk
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 vanilla pod, scrapped
3 cardamom pods
ground black pepper to taste
In a pot, mix the agar agar together with a small amount of almond milk to make a smooth paste. Add another cup of milk and place the pot on a low heat. Stir then add the remaining milk (both almond and coconut). Bring to a medium heat.
Once the liquid is warmed through add the remaining ingredients.
When the sugar has dissolved, continue to stir on a medium heat for about five to ten minutes minutes, to give the spices time to release their flavour and the sugar time to dissolve completely.
Then pour the liquid into 4 – 6 oiled dariole moulds (I used olive oil but coconut oil or almond oil would also be nice).
Place in the fridge overnight (or at least four hours).
Serve with a curl of orange peel or slices of orange.
*dariole moulds are awesome little plastic cups that panna cotta easily pops out of. If you don’t have any you can substitute for ramekins, and just serve it in the dishes. Alternatively use disposable plastic cups – to release dunk them briefly in very hot water (obviously not getting any water inside the cup!) and they should come out easily.