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Where I work now, I have a genuine Italian gelato machine and I make gelato and sorbets almost daily. This is a serious (and fun!) challenge for a pastry chef whose last job required frequent innovation in the face of a lack of fancy equipment. I became pretty adept at making semifreddos, granitas, and hand-stirred frozen desserts. But before I even started experimenting with those I filled the chilly dairy void in my menu with all kinds of wacky panna cotta.
Panna cotta is a common restaurant dessert menu item. It's elegant, conveniently gluten-free, and deceptively simple. If you're even somewhat serious about home cooking or have ever thrown a dinner party, there's a good chance you've made it. It probably involved vanilla beans, and if you really got crazy maybe buttermilk or yogurt. But there's a lot you can do to flavor your panna cotta beyond those standbys. You can infuse it with ingredients like toasted almonds and sweetcorn. You can mix in flavorings like malt and matcha. You can even swap out your regular sugar for brown sugar or honey. These are all things I tried during my tenure. But I didn't stop there.
Valentine's Day was fast approaching and I wanted to make something special. I figured a dark and white swirled chocolate panna cotta with pomegranate and chocolate syrup would be a sexy, easy way to please all the dining pairs that night. I expressed my idea to one of my assistants. To which he replied, "You mean like a stracciatella panna cotta?"
Long story short, it worked beautifully, so beautifully that a couple of weeks later I debuted an adaptation of the dessert on our menu: Mint chocolate chip panna cotta.
Cool and minty, with a little vanilla extract added to keep the mint flavoring from crossing the line into toothpaste territory, this really does taste like a jiggly, soft mint chocolate chip ice cream. The stracciatella creates texturally contrasting bits of chocolate—the pieces are randomly sized but still small enough to melt quickly in your mouth, which makes it a much more interesting than plain chocolate chips. And drizzling the melted chocolate into the cold mixture is just plain fun.
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About the Author: Anna Markow is a pastry chef obsessed with doing things that no one else does and giving unusual ingredients their time to shine. You can follow her sometimes-pastry-related thoughts on Twitter @VerySmallAnna and see her adventures in creativity on her website, VerySmallAnna.
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