For my 11th birthday, I had a Valentine’s Day themed sleepover party. Paper hearts in shades of pink and red were stuck to the walls, my mum and sister came up with a St Valentine quiz for me and my friends, and there was a ‘baking’ competition that involved the microwave and melted Skittles and a lot of mess. This party was probably my first celebrated Valentine’s Day and may well have been the last. There have been gifts – usually of the cookie variety – to beloveds, there have been cards, but during those teenage years at an all-girls’ school when I thought I would one day die alone and was genuinely contemplating how I’d look in a nun’s habit, the thought of Valentine’s Day with a boyfriend was both so far removed from my day-to-day, namely because I didn’t know any boys so I had limited options there, and simultaneously my main focus in life. Now, I just wish I could go back in time to give 16-year-old me a hug and tell her not to despair, Mum is right and boys are like buses, give it 15 years and Valentine’s Day will simply become an excuse to make coconut and passion fruit panna cottas. The fact I can pick up two spoons and share it with someone is a perk (and also annoying as I’d like it all to myself).
After all, what says I love you more than food? Especially sweet food for your sweetheart. Anything else is giving into the commercial pressures which, quite frankly, don’t deserve your money. Your taste buds on the other hand really do deserve a panna cotta. And so, what we have is an excuse to eat one. Can we call this the day of making love to your stomach?
The jiggly joy of panna cottas
We talk a lot about taste when it comes to food. Understandably. We also eat with our eyes, so we drool over food photos on Instagram and leave captions with the flame emoji. But do we ever discuss the performativity of food?! Wobbly desserts are a category of their own. There’s panna cotta, jelly, mousse, posset, crème brûlée, crème caramel, there’s even that jiggly baby’s bottom of a pudding, blancmange. Some are set in bowls like glacial lakes and are reluctant to honour us with even a ripple. That’s why those pert little hills of dessert which you invert onto a plate are the best because you can wave that plate around to your heart’s content and watch it wibble wobble away.
Panna cottas do this jiggle dance so satisfactorily. So, imagine my consternation when I was told panna cotta in France is traditionally served in a glass of all things?! If I received a glass of panna cotta in a restaurant, I might just send it back (I mean, I wouldn’t, I’d eat it but with annoyance) (also, ignore the glasses of panna cotta in these photos. I have only two ramekins). Trailing around the limited kitchen shops in Toulouse to find panna cotta moulds came to no avail. It wasn’t until the day of making these creamy desserts did I just take a risk and greased up those two ramekins in my cupboard.
And what do you know? They worked a treat! Two little jiggly mounds of coconut and passion fruit panna cotta. They are quite an opulent dessert, don’t you think? A panna cotta is paraded to the table like the crown jewels on a velvet pillow. I’ve added to their drama with the juicy, seedy contents of a passion fruit spilled all over them, a dusting of coconut, and then some dried petals but I think that went overboard somewhat.
But as for the desserts themselves… under your spoon, the panna cotta trembles then silently surrenders as you glide through with barely a protest of complaint. A satiny strip is scooped away, and you practically slurp it off your spoon, a very romantic action this Valentine’s Day, and then you’re hit with the fragrance of that passion fruit on top and the delicate coconut, cool and mellow, balanced with lime, soothing your palate. It’s all eaten in a few gulps, slurps and crunches of those passion fruit seeds. The language of love.
And who needs lovey-dovey anyway? Dare I say this is a perk of the non-romantic dessert – they’re not heart-shaped, they’re not a strawberry dipped in chocolate, they are just creamy, wibbly coconut and passion fruit panna cottas (although the word passion is just a coincidence). Dinners in teeming restaurants surrounded by people you both hate (just because it’s the day of love doesn’t mean you have to start liking other people), wilting flowers and a card from the supermarket don’t quite add up to I love you as much as a panna cotta.
Coconut and Passion Fruit Panna Cottas
- 4 450ml ramekins or 4 glasses
- coconut oil for greasing
- 2 tsp powdered gelatin
- 2 tbsp cold water if you're making a vegan panna cotta, use vegan gelatin
- 400 ml coconut milk
- 2 tsp lime juice
- 2 tsp lime zest
- 25 ml passion fruit juice strained of seeds
- 60 g sugar
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 1 large passion fruit for garnish
- desiccated coconut for garnish
- Grease your ramekins with a little solid coconut oil – spread it quite thinly around the mould as it will melt when you pour in the warm coconut mixture. Set them on a tray out of the way as you make the panna cottas.
- In a small bowl, measure your cold water and evenly sprinkle over the powdered gelatin. Let it bloom while you move onto the next step.
- In a saucepan, pour in the coconut milk and add the lime juice and zest, the passion fruit juice and the sugar. Set the pan over medium heat and warm gently to dissolve the sugar. Don't let it boil! When you see steam, remove it from the heat.
- Add the vanilla and bloomed gelatin (which should be quite firm). Stir to combine and melt the gelatin. You may need to set it back over the heat to melt the gelatin fully – use a whisk to make sure it all dissolves.
- Pour the mixture into a jug then gently divide the liquid between the four greased ramekins. You can fill them to near the rim but be careful as you transfer them to the fridge! Chill for 5 hours at least.
- Once they are set and firm, gently ease the top edge of the panna cottas away from the ramekins with a (clean) finger. After their long rest they should be firm and glossy and ready to invert onto plates! Fill a bowl with warm water from the tap and, one at a time, hold the bottom half of each ramekin in the water. Tip it upside down on a plate, hold them both together in your hands and give them a swift jerk to the side. Set them down on the counter and slowly lift up the ramekin – you should feel the panna cotta give way. Out emerges a pearly white panna cotta! Repeat with all the panna cottas.
- Garnish with the pulp and seeds of the passion fruit, a little desiccated coconut and some dried flower petals if you're feeling fancy.
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