Cinnamon-Lemon Panna Cotta with Nutty Filo Bars
Yield: 4 servings
With its Mediterranean climate, California is a seemingly inexhaustible source for a superabundance of high quality produce including nuts of many varieties. Here, in one simple dessert with Panna Cotta as its main event, you will find a delicious synthesis of six Mediterranean flavors: lemon, cinnamon, almond, pistachio, honey and apricot. Informed by the flavors and textures of flaky, syrup-drenched baklava of the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, the bars use storebought filo as the pastry base. When slathered with nutty-flavored melted clarified butter and paved with chopped and roasted nuts, the filo is then baked to a golden brown. While handling the sheets of filo may take a bit of patience and care, once you have gotten the hang of working gently but quickly with them, the Nutty Filo Bars are a snap to make.
In contrast to the crunch, the creamy Panna Cotta is child’s play, perfect to prepare a day or two in advance of serving the dessert.
The sweetened cream and gelatin-set dessert can be flavored in many different ways, depending on your taste. Here are a just a few ideas for starters–coffee beans, tea leaves, whole spices, chocolate and citrus peel are just a few possiblities. It’s easy to introduce the flavor or flavors of your choice by merely bringing the cream to the boil with whatever flavoring you choose. Then you remove it from the heat and allow the resulting cream, covered in the pot, for a leisurely steeping before sieving out the solids. Here, you want to check that the flavor you have added comes through loud and clear; if not, allow a little more time for infusing.) You can even accomplish the same thing by placing the cream and flavorings into a bowl, covered, and then refrigerate overnight. On the next day, heat the cream briefly just to melt the sugar and the gelatin that you will be adding to it and proceed with the recipe as below.
Note, too, that you can vary the dairy by using part cream and part buttermilk, yogurt, creme fraiche or even whole milk but in order to be sure that the texture and setting quality of the Panna Cotta are unchanged, don’t replace more than half of the quantity of cream shown below with any of the alternate dairy products.
For the Cinnamon-Lemon Panna Cotta:
This make-ahead dessert combines the signature flavors of the Mediterranean: nuts, cinnamon, lemon, honey and apricot. It offers a taste experience combining crunchy and creamy elements in one delicious bite and would make a fitting ending to a weeknight supper or elegant “company’s coming” dinner.
To serve 4.
1-1/2 c. whipping or heavy cream
Zest of 1 lemon, cut into wide strips
2 cinnamon sticks
¼ c. granulated sugar
2 sheets of unflavored gelatin or 2 t. unflavored powdered gelatin
In a heavy saucepan, place the whipping cream. Add the lemon zest and cinnamon and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot now and allow the lemon and cinnamon flavors to infuse, about 15-30 minutes. Once you can taste those flavors, remove the lemon zest and cinnamon sticks and discard them.
If you are using sheet gelatin, place the sheets into a small bowl of ice water just to cover the sheets. If you are using powdered gelatin, place it in a small bowl with 3 T. cold water. Let stand.
Reheat the infused cream, add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Now remove it from the heat. If using sheet gelatin, remove it from the ice water, squeeze out excess water and immediately add to the cream. Stir it in. It should melt immediately. If using powdered gelatin, add it along with the water that it has absorbed to the still-warm cream and stir it in, making sure it has fully dissolved.
Pour the mixture immediately into 4 small plastic cups, 3 to 4 ounce capacity, or other molds of your choice. Place on a level shelf in the refrigerator, carefully cover them, and allow to set, about 2 hours, or even up to a day or two in advance of serving the dessert.
For the Apricot sauce:
4 small to medium fresh apricots, pitted
Sugar, if needed, as needed to taste
Cut up the pitted apricots into small pieces, place into a small heavy saucepan and cook over low heat just to soften. (You may first wish to add a small amount of water to the pot to avoid burning the fruit.) Remove from the heat and puree in a food processor or small blender until smooth. (Pass the mixture through a fine meshed sieve, set over a bowl, if the apricot skins have not fully disintegrated). Thin if necessary with water. Store refrigerated until ready to use.
For the Nutty Filo Bars:
4 ounces of melted unsalted butter
1 egg, whisked with 1 t. of water to make an egg wash
6 sheets of store bought preferably fresh, not frozen, filo AKA/phyllo (unwrap the filo, remove 6 sheets, lay them out flat on a clean dry surface, and then wrap the remaining filo well and freeze for another use such as in the recipe for Swiss chard turnovers with winter tomato sauce
½ c. chopped pistachios, toasted lightly if raw, and then roughly chopped
½ c. whole almonds, toasted and cooled and then roughly chopped
Mild flavored honey, as needed
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Place the melted butter into a small bowl. Have a clean pastry brush ready.
Mix the egg with the water and place it into another small bowl. Have another pastry brush ready.
On a flat dry surface lay out the first sheet of filo dough, keeping the rest of the filo covered with a lightly damp cloth so it does not dry out. Brush a thin layer of melted butter over the first sheet of filo. Now place the second sheet of filo over the first. Brush a thin layer of melted butter on it. Continue this process with three of the remaining sheets of filo. Now place the sixth sheet on top of the stack and brush it evenly and lightly with the egg glaze. Now scatter the chopped nuts all over the dough, pressing them into the egg glaze so that they adhere (some may fall off but don’t worry). Cut the layered, nut-encrusted dough into equal strips, measuring approximately 1-1/2 inches wide by 5 inches long. (Note: You may have a few extra bars but they won’t last long around the kitchen, I’m sure.)
Using a wide spatula, carefully pick up each of the strips and place them onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil. Drizzle lightly with the honey, and bake for about 12 minutes, or until golden brown, turning the sheet pan if necessary to be sure that the bars are browning evenly. Remove from the oven, let cool and then serve with the Panna Cotta.
To unmold the Panna Cottas, simply dip them for a few seconds into a bowl of hot water. Turn immediately onto the serving plates. Spread a generous spoonful of the Apricot sauce on each plate around or beside the Panna Cotta. Place a Nutty Filo Bar on each plate and then drizzle the panna cottas, if desired, with more honey.