The first time that I discovered kumquats was around the third grade, I think (come to think of it more, that was probably around the same time I went through my zucchini phase, but that's a whole 'nother story). I remember very clearly learning that these small, little orange-like things were actually sweet on the outside and sour inside and being absolutely fascinated by this opposite order of things--'cause it's universal Truth to a smart third grader who knows not to eat glue that you don't eat orange peels either, right?! Upon finding this out, I was truly a kid obsessed, scarfing down every single kumquat that I could come across. They weren't very common back then, even in the California-based Chinese communities around where I grew up, so it wasn't soon after they went out of season (post-Chinese New Year's) that I quickly forgot about them and moved on to the next great third-grade obsession. (Which was probably that zucchini phase.)
|dried osmanthus flowers|
Thinking about food-induced nostalgia also got me thinking about osmanthus flowers, which are these incredibly sweet and amazing-smelling flowers (second photo above). My grandma used to have an osmanthus tree outside her home in Taiwan, and she'd make this amazing rice wine and tang yuan dessert soup flavored with osmanthus flowers. I've always loved the sweet, summery smell and subtle taste of the flowers, but ones in edible form have eluded me for years here in the States. (As for osmanthus in their non-edible form, I'm often willing to take the long bike path home from school just to ride down a street lined with osmanthus trees.) Until, one day, as if by more food magic, my friend Amy (who was one of my food tour-guides in NYC) shows up with dried osmanthus flowers! Magic! --or not: apparently you can find the dried buds in Asian grocery stores or tea shops, and I just hadn't been looking in the right aisles. :-)
Anyways, here they are: two flavors that heavily remind me of my childhood, united in one sweet and simple dessert: osmanthus-scented panna cotta with candied kumquats in vanilla bean syrup. I have to say that the osmanthus flavor is incredibly faint, but since it was my first time working with it, I didn't want to end up with a dessert that was way too flowery. Other than that, the combination of sweet, candied, ever-so-slightly-toothy kumquats and vanilla bean-kumquat syrup over a delicate, jiggly, creamy, and lightly-flavored panna cotta is just wonderful. It's the perfect grown-up dessert encapsulation of the nostalgic flavors of my yesteryear memories. :-)
Back in the present, here's what's been going on during the recent blog-silence and slowed twitter-stream: finishing up my dissertation proposal and having my dissertation proposal
Read on for recipe...
Osmanthus-scented panna cotta with kumquats in vanilla bean syrup
panna cotta recipe adapted from David Lebovitz and Judy Witts
makes ~8 servings
for panna cotta:
2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 Tbspn dried osmanthus flowers
1 vanilla bean
6 Tbspn cold water
4 1/2 tspn powdered gelatin
1/2 cup sugar
1. In a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, combine the cream, milk, and dried osthmanthus. Split the vanilla bean length-wise, scrape the seeds into the cream, and add the bean itself. Bring to a simmer, cover, and remove from heat. Let steep for at least ten minutes.
2. In a bowl, sprinkle the powdered gelatin evenly over the cold water. Let bloom for five minutes.
3. Add the sugar to the cream and milk mixture and return to medium heat. Cook until the sugar has completely dissolved.
4. Pour the warm cream mixture through a fine mesh sieve onto the bloomed gelatin. Stir until the gelatin has completely dissolved.
5. If you would like to unmold your panna cotta, lightly grease the inside of your molds with a neutral-flavored oil. Pour the cream into the prepared molds.
6. Refrigerate the panna cotta for two to four hours. To unmold, dip the bottoms of the panna cotta molds into a bowl of hot water and turn out the panna cottas.
for candied kumquats:
12 oz. (340 gr) kumquats
1 vanilla bean
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water
1. Slice the kumquats and place in a saucepan.
2. Split the vanilla bean length-wise and scrape the seeds into the kumquats. Add the bean as well.
3. Add the sugar and water to the kumquats and bring to a boil. Cook for about 20-30 minutes until the kumquats are translucent.
4. Drain the kumquats and return the syrup to heat. Return to a boil, cooking until the liquid reduces by about half. Remove from heat and let cool briefly.
5. Serve candied kumquats and syrup over the panna cotta.