At least, that’s how I view it. I think there is no spice in the world that I am more enamored with than saffron. It must be the unique flavor and the vibrant golden color that it imparts to food –simply amazing!
Though considered one of the most expensive of spices – a little of it goes a long, long way (and I am lucky to have relatives who bring them home from trips). Jaden of Steamy Kitchen has a very lovely treatise of saffron on her blog recently – including where to buy it – so I will not cover its origins and its many uses in different cuisines (Jaden’s post also had a long list of different dishes that use saffron entered by her readers).
There is also a myth that having too much saffron makes you laugh – whether that means that you are happy or simply going nuts – I have no idea. That information came from the “Hungry” Hubby, who, by the way, cannot prove the veracity of such claim.
When Sunita of Sunita’s World revealed the spice of the month for October was saffron, my thoughts zeroed in immediately to the alluring picture of a creamy panna cotta in Alice Medrich’s book Pure Dessert. And if there was someone who knows how to make this Italian dessert, it’s Alice. I have made her heavenly cocoa nib panna cotta with outstanding results – the memory of the taste I still hold so deliciously to this day (psst…also check out Anita’s rendition of Alice’s honey panna cotta ). Aside from being infused with saffron, cardamom is also added. I have never used cardamom before but I have read about its many wondrous contributions in desserts – so this was a great opportunity to combine the two.
Saffron and Cardamom Panna Cotta
From Alice Medrich’s “Pure Dessert”
· 3 ¼ cups heavy cream
· 1/3 cup sugar
· Pinch of salt
· 5 cardamom pods
· Slightly rounded 1/8 tsp crushed saffron threads
· 1 cup whole milk
· 2 ½ tsp unflavored gelatin
· 1 cinnamon stick
· Fine chopped or grated pistachios for garnish (optional)
IN A SMALL SAUCEPAN, heat the cream, sugar, and salt until steaming hot, stirring from time to time to dissolve the sugar. Off the heat, add the cardamom pods and saffron. Cover and allow to steep for 25 minutes. Meanwhile, pour the milk into a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Set aside (without stirring) for 5 to 10 minutes to let the gelatin soften.
Add the milk and gelatin to the cream mixture and reheat to steaming, stirring well to dissolve the gelatin. Strain the mixture into a bowl, preferably stainless steel; discard the cardamom pods. Set the bowl in a larger bowl of water and ice cubes and stir frequently until the mixture thickens and registers 50 °F on the instant read thermometer.
Divide the mixture evenly among the ramekins or dessert dishes. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 4 but preferably 12 hours. Serve the individual panna cottas in their ramekins or dishes, or unmold the ramekins : wrap each one briefly in a wrung-out hot wet towel and unmold them onto dessert plates. Use a Microplane zester to grate a little stick cinnamon over each one. Sprinkle with chopped or grated pistachios, if desired.
I have seen saffron simply thrown into dishes as threads. But I have learned the traditional Persian way of extracting maximum flavor from this spice. First you grind the saffron very finely with a mortar and pestle used exclusively for saffron. Then you add a little hot water to it and let it sit for a few minutes before using it.
Alice, in her book, has you grind the saffron threads before adding it to the hot cream mixture. So I guess this works just as well.
Of course with instructions this simple there’s always a way for me to mess up. I was ignorant in knowing the difference between a cardamom pod and its seeds and thought what I bought in the store were the pods (they were seeds although the label said whole cardamoms). And I swear, google was not very helpful the first time I searched for it either (miraculously, the second time I did a search AFTER I had already made the dessert, I found the answer there so spelled-out for me – grrr).
So my end-result? A panna cotta that had the wonderful essence of saffron but nary a trace of cardamom. It was sensuously creamy and tasted fantastic by itself or with pistachios and strawberries. I can’t wait to make it again – and yes, I have ordered cardamom PODS and I’m sure they are not the seeds!