You guys are going to think I’ve become completely unhinged with this one, and that’s ok. Because maybe I have, a little. I blame far too many episodes of The Mind of a Chef — or just a complete and utter devotion to forcing as much browned butter as possible into a dessert that, scientifically speaking, is kind of anti-browned butter. (I’ll explain later.)
A few months ago, Chris and I had the most spectacular meal at Manresa, included in which was a browned butter panna cotta, AKA Mindsplosion Central. I died, you guys. Ok, I didn’t die (clearly, jeesh, I don’t give you guys enough credit), but I think I uttered something alone the lines of “I could die at this moment and have no regrets” as soon as the first spoonful graced my lips. It was utterly silky, nutty and essentially browned tasting. It was nearly outside my realm of comprehension.
The single most delicious bite of food I’ve had in recent memory, in fact. And that is no small statement.
This week, Chris and I celebrated four years of marriage, and on top of being completely taken aback by just how quickly time continues to pass (and how much more gracefully men age than women — what is up with that?), I was more than a little smitten with the idea of recreating that most epic dessert.
But first, Google had to drop some knowledge on me. Like:
- Basic panna cotta is ridiculously simple. Liiiiike, why haven’t I been eating this stuff for breakfast? simple.
- Browned butter panna cotta is less simple. There aren’t many recipes out there, but it kinda sounds like clarified butter and gelatin don’t mix; it actually separates out, leaving a buttery puddle atop your dessert. No buens.
- If you want to capture (and keep!) that browned butter flavor in your recipe, it needs something to cling to. This recipe browned powdered milk along with the butter to give that nutty flavor somewhere to go. Whoa! Science! Cooking is fun!
- I don’t have powdered milk.
(Confession: not all of that was Google. Some of it was just me talking in bullets.)
Anyway, no powdered milk sadface. But you know what I did have?
A small box of instant vanilla pudding mix. Wink.
Sooo, caramelizing an entire box of vanilla pudding mix in an entire stick of unsalted butter probably sounds a little Kooks MaGoo, but it works like a stinkin’ charm and I’m honestly just too lazy a person to question it. (I mean really, it’s just sugar, cornstarch and vanilla flavor, so it kinda makes sense, but it’s still ghetto as fuh.) I’m also gonna be real candid here and tell you the result initially looks like caramelized cat food — but I promise you, PROMISE YOU, that it’s a non-issue when everything is blitzed together. Plus, the pudding mix ends up accounting for the sugar and vanilla you would have added anyway — win! — and the cornstarch is just another thickener alongside the gelatin — win x2! — so it’s actually a bit of a shortcut.
But, like, a Bill Cosby-endorsed shortcut, which is maybe the winningest of all.
Topped with fresh, summery stone fruit (nectarines are pictured here, but I did a couple with plums, too) and a generous pour of borderline-smoky maple syrup, this is a wickedly decadent and surprisingly grown-up dessert that should probably make me want to stop saying things like BALLS GOOD, KITTYCAT! But then again, it’s made with pudding mix, so you know. Keeping the bar pretty low.
I’m sure the ladies in the kitchen at Manresa may very well agree this is not their browned butter panna cotta, and they’d be right.
Or rather, mine and Chris’. Our little browned butter baby, four years in the making. (So weird.)
Happy anniversary to my one and only. <3
Thanks for letting me count changing the sheets as your linen-themed gift.
Browned Butter Panna Cotta with Maple Syrup & Stone Fruit
By Emily Stoffel
Cook time: 20 mins + chilling | Serves 4-6 (depending on your ramekins)
Note: Four ingredients — unless you count a splash of water and salt — and (almost) no measuring. That seems noteworthy to me. I used coconut milk because it’s shelf-stable, which means I can have it on hand to make this recipe any ol’ time. It only faintly influences the flavor — and positively so, in my opinion, but I bet you could use the same amount of whole milk or cream (or a combo) with equal success. Also: Browned buttaahh! (<– Battlecry, no big deal. It’s cool.)
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) good, unsalted butter
- 1 small box Jell-O instant vanilla pudding
- 1 can (14 oz) light coconut milk
- 1 envelope gelatin
- 1/4 cup cold water
- pinch sea salt
- fresh stone fruit (such as nectarines or plums), sliced
- good maple syrup
In a medium saucepan, melt butter until just foamy. Add entire contents of pudding mix. Cook on medium to med-high heat, stirring constantly (mixture will be foamy) until pudding mix is a deep butterscotch color, five or so minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly so solids clump together, a couple minutes. (Clarified butter will separate from caramelized pudding mix. This is normal.)
Meanwhile, add 1/4 cup cold water to a high speed blender and sprinkle gelatin evenly over top. Allow to sit 6-10 minutes for gelatin to bloom.
Using a rubber spatula or a slotted spoon, transfer clumped, caramelized pudding solids to a small bowl, pressing lightly against the side of the pan to press out any additional butter. (Note: this is the part where the pudding mix will look suspiciously like caramelized cat food. Funky as that is, it’s ok. It might even crisp up a bit as it cools. Also ok. It will be blitzed to oblivion in a matter of moments.)
Reserve clarified portion of butter for another use. (Toss it with hot pasta and red pepper flakes! Drizzle it over seared shrimp or scallops! Brush it on grilled pineapple!) It’s super tasty.
In same (dirty is fine) saucepan, heat coconut milk until hot but not boiling.
Add hot coconut milk and sea salt to the blender with the bloomed gelatin and blend until just combined. Then crumble in caramelized pudding — careful, it’s still hot! — and blend again, at high speed if necessary, until pudding mix is fully incorporated and mixture is smooth and slightly frothy.
Divide mixture among ramekins, cover with plastic wrap and chill for 6 hours or until set.
Serve topped with fresh stone fruit and a generous pour of maple syrup. Enjoy!
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