From Heston’s latest recipe book, Heston Blumenthal At Home is Heston’s recipe for Chamomile Panna Cotta
I waffle on quiote a lot about food, yet when it comes to drinks I have the tastebuds of a child. I’d pick Pepsi Max over a coffee in a heartbeat.
When I forced myself to start drinking tea I figured I might as well go for the healthy stuff, meaning I’ll always pick the green or herbal varieties ahead of a classic British cuppa. I’m quite fond of chamomile tea, and I also recall seeing this flavour paired with strawberries on both the Fat Duck’s menu and a Summer Tart served at Dinner.
Strawberries were out of season when we made this last October (as dessert to go with Heston’s Crispy Lemon Sole with Cucumber recipe), but we were curious enough to risk it. We’d just got our hands on the new recipe book Heston at Home, and it was one of the easier recipes to try out.
Plus, we had loads of chamomile tea in the cupboard that needed using (I’d been busy drinking Pepsi Max).
Recipe: Not available online
Special Equipment: None
Special Ingredients: Chamomile tea bags, gelatine
Time: 1 hour (plus at least 6 setting in the fridge)
Cost: Approx. £2
Serves: 6 (allegedly, but I only got 3 portions out of this)
STEP 1: Chamomile Infusion
Pretty easy. Heat the milk with the teabags in it. The only effort required was not wandering into the living room and get distracted watching season 6 of Dexter, letting the pan boil over.
STEP 2: Mixing the Ingredients
You only need 250ml of the milk from the 350ml you infuse the teabags with. Heston explains this precaution: the tea bags will absorb some of the milk. Making a surplus ensures you’ll definitely have amount you need.
We were worried about losing that extra flavour, so we gave the teabags a good squeeze before we measured the milk.
STEP 3: Bain Marie
After adding he gelatine you’re supposed to leave the mixture over a gentle bain marie, stirring only very occasionally until the mixture becomes “thick and custard like”. There’s no indication of how long this should take and, like all good Northerners, we like our custard set to a substantial thickness.
After twenty minutes stirring and waiting we just got bored. It had only thickened by a fraction. More boring was waiting for the panna cottas to be cool enough to pour into moulds and then the put them in the fridge. Some fiarly pointless muslin-sieveing occurs prior to this.
There was a massive problem when it came to the moulds. Heston claims this recipe serves 6, but if you add up all the ingredients there’s only about 600ml to go around. We thought we’d use a variety of moulds to see which we liked best, and ran out of liquid after we’d filled just 3! (Part of this may have been my repeated “taste-testing”).
Heston says the panna cotta should set in about 6 hours, and if made too far ahead they’ll be too firm. Fine if you’re starting your prep at 7am. Back in the real world we made these the night before and ate them 24 hours later.
STEP 5: Chamomile Sugar
The final step is to mix the contents of your last chamomile tea bag with fructose and sprinkle this mixture over your cut strawberries. We were worried that this would mean spitting out dry, gritty grains of tea when we ate it, but the good folks at Twinning’s grind their tea pretty fine. Their texture was indistinguishable from the sugar.
Unmoulding the panna cottas onto plates led to the usual slapstick of blow torches, burnt fingers and near-catastrophes.
You don’t put milk in chamomile tea, much less sugar and half a pint of double cream. We were a little sceptical about what this’d taste like.
We needn’t have been. There’s a reason this flavour combination is found at two of Heston’s restaurants – it’s inspired. The mellow, delicate chamomile pairs beautifully with the fresh, sweetness of strawberries.
Or it would do if we’d had fresh strawberries. The scant few you see on this one plate are the only edible bits of our entire supermarket punnet. The panna cottas turned out a little firmer than we’d have liked as well, meaning we used either a gram too much gelatine or 24 hours really is too long in the fridge. Further experiments have revealed that 15 – 30 minutes out of the fridge before serving loosens them nicely.
Other than that this is a great recipe. It’d be ideal to make again in summer. Until then Heston suggests a few variations, including basil, coffee and Earl Grey.
This last one sounded ideal for playing around with. We combined it with Heston’s recipe for Caraway Biscuits and Mum & Dad’s old wedding china to make an Aumbry-style dessert riff on the after-dinner ganache they serve at Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental. We had it along with Heston’s Sea Bass and Vanilla Butter recipe.
If we made this again we’d only change the following:
Make twice as much. So there really are 6 decent servings.
Make it in season. And ensure the strawberries are the best possible quality.
Less time in the fridge. Or resting outside before serving for better texture.