Easiest Peach Panna Cotta (sort of)

Four years ago:

We moved to the UK and I quickly discovered that I can’t get gelatin (or ‘jelly’ as it’s called here) here except for strawberry, and even that comes as a partially reconstituted thick paste, which means I have to wildly adjust any recipes I make with it.* This has led to me requesting (on more than one occasion) that visitors from the US bring me jello powder when they come to the UK. This is a request that is not only embarrassing but also stupid, because nearly all of the things I have made with gelatin since starting this blog have been miserable failures (looking at you, Neon Green Lime Pine-Sol Pie). When friends bring me gelatin, it’s always the same flavours: cherry, orange and lime, because those are the most common flavours in the States and obviously that’s totally fine. But I needed peach, grape and pineapple for a few recipes and I’ve been pretty stumped at what to do about that (other than scour the nearest Trader Joe’s when I am in the US over the summer and hope for the best).

One year ago:

I bought the glass molds you see in this post at a handful of charity shops all in one day (there are two more medium-sized ones that didn’t get used for this dish) because I knew I had a host of things to use them for from the Box… but then I just couldn’t muster the energy to make any of those things, assuming they’d all be awful.

Six months ago:

We were in in Madeira over New Year’s and (of course) visited the local grocery store. I love wandering through supermarkets when I visit a new country- it’s somehow both soothing and exotic, like ‘these people drink the same brand of coffee I do!’ but also ‘WHAT EVEN IS THIS SHINY, SPHERICAL, COMPLETELY TRANSPARENT BALL AND WHY IS IT IN THE CANDY AISLE?’ and when we were in Madeira, we stayed at an AirBnB in the middle of nowhere, so we had no choice but to stock up on groceries.** While wandering the supermarket looking for milk (we circled the entire building three times before we found UHT milk on a shelf stored at room temperature because I guess that’s the only way an island that remote can feasibly get milk at all without it costing an arm and a leg), I stumbled upon… PEACH GELATIN. In an aisle full of flour, baking powder and other dry goods, with nary another gelatin flavour in sight, there was an entire shelf of peach. Naturally, I bought two packets.

But then I got it home and first I couldn’t find the recipe that required peach gelatin, and then I found the recipe but it sounded like a spring/summer dish and THEN I couldn’t think of an excuse to make this because it’s not exactly something I want to take to work or serve to friends, and that’s generally how we get rid of my sweets around here. But now I have the requisite dishware, the correct ingredients and I am out of excuses, so here you go.

Last night:

I finally made this 'creamy fruit salad mold,' but in the interest of making it sound not disgusting, we're calling it Peach Panna Cotta, because that's what it tastes like, and basically what it is.

You may have noticed that this is a large-print recipe from a newspaper in the 1970s. The newspaper is trying to pretend like they’re doing the elderly a service by printing the recipe extra-large, but I have a sneaking suspicion someone backed out of a paid ad at the last second and they just had some space to fill.

*This isn’t a different ingredient; it just has another name on the other side of the pond. But to be clear if you’re making this at home, this is made with powdered or partially reconstituted gelatin, NOT peach jam/preserves.

**As a side note, the owner of the AirBnB left us a bag of bananas, avocados and other fruits from his farm on our doorknob early one morning while we were still asleep. When we awoke, he had left a note with them that said he would ‘like to offer [us] a selection of contemporaneous regional fruits of the moment,’ which is possibly the greatest and most elaborate statement I have ever heard in English. There were two fruits in the bag that we could not identify, and when we image searched them, we found that one is called, literally, sleeve. Obviously this was the best trip we’ve taken in a long time.

The verdict:

4 spoons out of five. Of the three ingredients in this recipe, I hate one (yoghurt), am indifferent to one (gelatin) and adore one (peaches), so I really wasn’t sure how this was going to go. Honestly, it was great! It tastes like panna cotta, a dish I fell in love with on a trip to (of all places) China, but omits nearly all of the fat found in regular cream-heavy panna cotta by using fat-free Greek yoghurt as the only dairy. The recommendation to use canned peaches threw me for a loop as this would obviously be better with fresh peaches, so I did two versions (one small, one large) to test the difference. Fresh peaches are always better, but even the canned peaches left us with a tasty result and while I'm not saying a dessert that involves flavoured gelatin should really be nominated for an award any time soon, there's very little difference between a regular gelatin-set panna cotta and this version, which just amps up the peach flavour with a little boost from the gelatin. This was the perfect light, summery dessert to reward myself after a pretty hectic week, and it's pretty enough (if a little retro) that I'll definitely be making it again.

two years ago: Jiffy tuna supper

The recipe:

Peach Panna Cotta

The directions:

Pour boiling water over gelatin and stir until dissolved.
Stir in peach nectar or syrup.
Very slowly, pour this mixture into the yoghurt (you must pour the gelatin into the yoghurt or it won't form a uniform mixture), stirring constantly.
Chill until slightly thickened but not yet completely set; 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the coldness of your refrigerator.
Gently fold in peaches.
Pour into a 3-cup 'fancy' mold (or individual ramekins if desired).
Chill until firm.
When ready to serve, place mold in a bowl of hot water for 1-2 minutes, then invert onto a serving plate.

The ingredients:

1 3-oz./85g package peach gelatin powder or corresponding amount of jelly
1 c boiling water
½ c peach nectar (or, if using canned peaches, syrup from the can)
1 c plain yoghurt (I used non-fat Greek yoghurt)
1 c canned peach chunks or peeled fresh peaches, cut into chunks

Lemon Cake

Here’s another easy one since it’s hard to muster up the energy for anything difficult in the kitchen when you have 18 hours of daylight at your disposal every day. This time of year in Scotland is just my favourite, but it does mean I’m subsisting on little-to-no sleep because who wants to go to bed when it’s still light outside… even if it stays light until 11 and gets light again at 4am?

I was holding out high hopes for this cake because it’s a typed-up recipe card with the title ‘LEMON CAKE (Hunsinger) Good’, so I really thought that it would be, you know, tasty. I made this assumption for two reasons: 1) Eleanor’s opinions haven’t generally let me down and 2) the cakes involving fruit that I’ve made so far have always been ace (see banana, date, coconut and… are we counting pumpkins and carrots as fruit?). Also, I am pretty sure I’ve heard family stories about Mrs. Hunsinger and her baked goods, so I assume this recipe came from her and was hoping for great things.

But I was disappointed. It could definitely be user error, but I felt the cake lacked flavour and the glaze was too thick and sickly-sweet to properly match the soft and fluffy sponge. The glaze was much brighter and zingier than the cake itself, which was also really distracting. I think part of the problem could be that lemon drizzle cake is practically an institution in the UK, so I’ve tried a lot of really good lemon drizzles since moving here and this one just didn’t measure up. I’d hazard an educated guess that part of the problem is probably the fact that it has no syrup poured over it to moisten the otherwise-fluffy-but-dry cake. Further, it’s not a recipe problem so much as a personal opinion that the other issue is that it contains peach juice (I’ve never been able to find apricot nectar in Edinburgh, so we’re condemned to peach nectar over here in the Recipe Box Kitchen)but no discernible reason for this- it doesn’t change the colour of the cake, the flavour, or add any much-needed moisture. Finally, my cake was made from scratch (partly because that’s how I roll and partly because my grocery store doesn’t sell lemon cake mix), so it’s also possible that 1960s lemon cake mix would have been moist and perfectly lemony and I just don’t have the necessary time machine to make that happen, but homemade is always better, so I kind of doubt it.

All of the above notwithstanding, I took this cake into work and got loads of compliments on it, so maybe my standards are a bit high (or maybe my coworkers are just going easy on my ego).

The verdict:

2 spoons out of five. It wasn’t awful, but it sure wasn’t awesome. But it deserves some credit for being hella easy and pretty adorable.

DSCF0398.jpg

Two years ago: Self-Frosting Chocolate Cake

The recipe:

Lemon Cake

The directions:

Preheat oven to 160C/325F and line the bottom of a tube pan with parchment.
Lightly oil sides and stem of the pan.
Mix flour, caster sugar, butter, baking powder, zest of one lemon, lemon extract, oil, and nectar.
Beat in eggs, one at a time, until mixture is smooth.
Bake 25-30 minutes until light golden and a wooden pick inserted in the centre comes out barely sticky.
While cake is baking, make the glaze: beat together powdered sugar, juice from 1 lemon and remaining zest until mixture is thick but pourable (add additional lemon juice, a few drops at a time, or powdered sugar one spoonful at a time if mixture is too thick or too thin).
Remove cake from oven and allow to cool for ten minutes in the pan on a cooling rack.
Remove cake from pan and spoon or pour glaze over the finished cake while still warm.

The ingredients:

¾ c flour
¾ c caster sugar
¾ c butter, softened
1 tsp baking powder
Zest of two lemons, divided
1 tsp lemon extract
¾ c vegetable oil
¾ c peach or apricot nectar
4 eggs
1 ½ c powdered sugar
Juice of one lemon (zest it first)

Strawberry Cobbler with Black Pepper Biscuit Crust

You know when you see those tarts at cheap bakeries that have a strawberry on top covered in the most artificial looking red glaze? I’m about to teach you how to make that glaze and SURPRISE it’s totally non-artificial and also really tasty.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a plain strawberry pie before. Strawberries always seem to be adorned with rhubarb or jello or baked into cakes or uncooked in shortcakes, so I was excited to try this one out, especially because strawberries in Edinburgh right now are really good… And most of all, because I FINALLY GOT A DOUBLE-BOILER! No more faking it with the bowl of my scale over a boiling pot or just turning the burner to the lowest possible flame and hoping for the best, or microwaving things in short bursts to try to catch the chocolate before it scorches, because I have a double-boiler (and this is really pedantic but I’m most excited that it matches the rest of my pots).

So last weekend, when it was far too hot to actually turn on the stove in our sans-AC apartment, I whipped up this pie… er, cobbler… pobbler? And the results were… confusing.

Look how shiny!

Look how shiny!

Pros:

  • This pobbler is delicious. I would stir the strawberry filling into yoghurt or vanilla ice cream or cream cheese for spreading on the most decadent crumpet or eat it straight off the spoon.
  • It’s easy: if you have a well-stocked pantry, you probably only need to buy one or maximum two ingredients to make this (the strawberries and crust or biscuits to make a crust).
  • It’s personalisable: have some raspberries about to go off? Throw ‘em in with the strawberries, or add a grind or two of fresh black pepper to your strawberry mix. Garnish with mint leaves instead of whipped cream if you’re trying to take it to a picnic.
  • It involves whipped cream, and we all know how I feel about that.

Cons:

  • The crust is so crumbly that it just kind of sticks to the berries and you kind of have to spoon it out (not slive it) which is why I am hesitant to truly call it a pie. While this doesn’t affect the flavour, it does make it a bit messier.
  • As originally written, the recipe didn’t make as much filling as I’d want to fill my standard-sized pie dish, and even though I ‘double-boiled’ the filling for close to 30 minutes until it was very thick, it still didn’t ‘slice’ into neat slices, but rather heaped onto the plate.

Overall, though, I’m not complaining too much: this dessert slumped its way into my heart with its colourful filling, crispy crust and whipped cream garnish, and anything that makes use of seasonal produce is always a plus in my book.

The verdict:

3 spoons out of five. I would 100% make this again, but I feel like the fact that it’s trying to masquerade as a pie when it clearly is not a pie is probably enough to knock it down a couple of spoons.

One year ago: Hungarian Chocolate cake

Two years ago: Sugar crisps

The recipe:

Strawberry Cobbler with Black Pepper Biscuit Crust

The directions:

Preheat oven to 175C/350F.
Combine butter, biscuit crumbs and pepper and press into an 8-inch pie dish.
Bake crust for 7 minutes until golden, then set aside.
Slice stems off of berries, then place berries, sugar and lemon juice in double-boiler.
Dissolve cornflour in water, add to mixture in double-boiler and and cook until very thick (this will take up to 20 minutes, depending on the size of your double-boiler and berries.
Place filling in refrigerator and allow to cool to room temperature.
Pour filling into prepared shell and cover with whipped cream.
Decorate with reserved berries, refrigerate until well-chilled, then serve- probably in bowls.

The ingredients:

2 tbsp butter, melted
½ c digestive biscuit crumbs
¼ tsp black pepper
2 c strawberries, plus additional berries for garnish
1 c sugar
Juice from 1 lemon
3 drops almond extract
2 tbsp cornflour (cornstarch if you're in the US)
¼ c water
2 c whipping cream
1 tbsp powdered sugar