Agar agar – I’ve been thinking about this seaweed condiment as it might be the key to some of my favorite desserts. Agar agar is made from red seaweed and comes in dry powder or hard flakes. I bought the latter and it has made all the difference.
You see, I’ve been trying to make panna cotta for myself and that involves a gelling agent of some sort. I’ve been too much of a pussy to try it out before now, so I found myself walking home with a bag of agar agar flakes and some Italian intentions. Had I been smarter, I would have done proper research (google.) I did not. I made mistakes and ate them all.
I was mostly happy with my final results. It was just as delicate as I wanted, but that meant not always having perfectly molded panna cotta. I’m ok with that. I think the texture is better, and in the end, you have to go with taste and not appearance. My boyfriend was able to unmold the panna cotta perfectly but I butchered them and then had to use hot water which promptly melted the poor things. Don’t get mad because I got mad skills – he said. You can always slowly increase the amount of agar agar for a more solid panna cotta, but I cringed when my spoon met resistance. I definitely want to try and make some savory panna cotta this coming spring.
This dish has a nice,creamy tartness from the buttermilk and a delicate citrus sweetness from kumquats that I love. The anise is very mild and hardly will be noticed from anise-haters. I fed it to multiple anise-haters and they all loved it.
Anise Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Candied Kumquats
1/4 c water
2 ts agar agar flakes
4 star anise
1 vanilla bean, deseeded
½ c sugar
1 c cream
2 c buttermilk
+ Spray 6 ¾c ramekins with nonstick spray or coat it with a mild oil.
+ Allow agar to soak in water for at least five minutes. Add anise, sugar, vanilla, and cream to the water and bring it to a slow boil. You need to see bubbles. Continue stirring or the flakes will stick to the bottom and corners of the pot. Agar flakes takes about ten minutes to dissolve. Use a fine mesh strainer to remove solids that might have clumped up. You might see some agar flakes still, but it should be ok.
+Mix the strained cream with buttermilk and distribute evenly into your ramekins. Allow to cool in the fridge for 4-6 hours. You can remove the panna cotta for a classic presentation by running a sharp, thin knife around the edges. It can also be served in its container.
+ Serve with a generous spoonful of candied kumquat and its preserving syrup.