When I try to be at my most creative to create something new, I often find myself struggling because I tend to over think and I add so many components that it becomes bizarre and not all that great. Today I took a step back and thought about what I love, what flavours would work, what techniques I’ve learnt and seen throughout my work experience in Paris, and oddly, the voice of my head chef. He used to constantly tell me how important it was for desserts to have textures as he guided me on glazing and garnishing those Éclairs I used to make at work. “Those rhubarb chips have to be crisp to provide a contrast in texture! It’s very important!!” Of course he said that all in French; croustillante was the word he used. I often drizzle some honey over my cereals and the musky taste of pears pairs beautifully with it. And so you have it.
If you’re wondering how in hell I got those slippery soft pear slices in there, I used chopsticks. Gotta improvise right?
I didn’t invent the idea of Cereal Milk Panna Cotta though. I adapted it from the Momofuku Milk Bar. Their ideas are insanely creative and I play on that and adjust it according to what I love or when I feel a substitute or change might improve upon it, constantly flipping between pages of cookbooks and my own stash of accumulated recipes. Panna Cotta itself usually tends to be too creamy and jellified for my liking but because this recipe is milk based, I found myself actually substituting a part of milk for cream. I used to make this amazing Panna Cotta at work. Silky, with just the right amount of wobble and it wasn’t intensely creamy. I found myself licking the back of the spoon every time I’m done spooning them onto shallow plates. So based on that, I tried to get the right proportion of cream to milk to achieve that same round finishing on the palate.
That’s my new wooden pastry board by the way. I am currently obsessing over it. I just found out there’s a small dent on it and I am this close to going back to the shop to have it changed (restraining of course). I love it, such a worthy investment for only 59€; the smell of good wood, the sturdiness of it. It’s at least 10kilos that I’m wondering how I’m going to bring it back to Singapore… But it’s so perfect and big I just have to. I feel like I can conquer any kinds of dough with this pastry board and a rolling pin.
As for the poached pears, I poached them in the oven, laying them flat over a honey syrup. (I threw in some spices too just for an added kick) A technique I learnt.. Okay scratch that, I observed. Because I wasn’t under the gastro-restaurant anymore, I could only stand from across that big beautiful marble bench (something I really want in my home) and watch how they prepare it. No idea what went into it, how they cooked it, I just guessed how they would have made it based on what I did on their team the last time. Oh and I also tried putting myself in the chef’s shoes and think… “How would he have done this?” It seemed to work though so never doubt your instincts. No time for intimidation in the kitchen, just go for it! And at the same time, try this recipe out too! It requires a little more time because of the different components but it’s hardly tricky at all!
Cereal Milk Panna Cotta with Spiced Honey poached Pears:
For the Cereal Milk: (adapted from Momofuku Milk Bar)
cornflakes – 2 3/4 cups
cold Cream – 1 1/2 cups
cold Milk – 2 1/4 cups
light brown sugar – 2 tablespoons
salt – 1/4 teaspoon
Toast the cornflakes in a preheated 180 degree oven until lightly browned. Set aside to cool.
Transfer into a pitcher and pour the milk and cream it, allowing it to steep for a good 20minutes.
Strain through a fine mesh strainer and using the back of a ladle, press out the remaining mixture absorbed by the cornflakes.
Add the sugar and salt and whisk well to combine and ensure all has dissolved.
For the Panna Cotta: (adapted from Momofuku Milk Bar)
cereal milk – 1 1/4 cups
gelatine sheets – 1 1/2
light brown sugar – 1 tablespoon
Bloom the gelatine in cold water for at least 20 minutes.
Heat 1/2 cup of the cereal milk in a saucepan until it’s hot enough to melt the gelatine. Add the gelatine in and whisk to combine well.
Stir in the sugar till it’s melted and add the remaining cereal milk.
Using a chinois à piston (I don’t know what it’s called in English….), equally fill 3 glasses that are placed on a flat tray.
Transport it carefully and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
For the oven-poached pears:
pears, peeled – 2 no.
cinnamon sticks – 2 no. (break them into halves)
cloves – 4 no.
floral dark honey – 4 tablespoons
water – reeeeally little, just enough to loosen up the honey
Preheat your oven to 180C.
Peel the pears and cut them from the sides leaving the core intact. Using a a tart ring of 1-cm in height (or anything that’s at least 1-cm high), cut the excess height off the pears. That will leave you with pieces of pears of all the same thickness which ensures even baking.
Please the pear slices cut side down on the layer of honey syrup and loosely scatter the spices around.
Foil it and bake it for 30 – 40 minutes, depending on your oven. The pears should be slightly translucent throughout the pieces but still firm enough that it holds it’s shape.
Carefully remove (they’re really soft!!) and place on a tray layered with paper towels. This absorbs the excess moisture and juice released from the pears. Refrigerate to cool and clingfilm it until needed.
leftover syrup from poaching the pears, spices discarded
lemon – 1/4 no. a small squeeze
In a saucepan large enough to contain the syrup, boil the liquid until it is thick and syrup-y and slightly looser than the consistency of honey as it will thicken as it cools. Add a squeeze a lemon just to liven it up and add some acidity. It should be slightly caramelized with hints of spices and the flavour of pear (they release alot of juice during the baking process).
Set aside cool. It should be thick and like the consistency of honey now. If it’s too thick, simply heat it and whisk in some water. If it’s too sweet, balance it out with a little more lemon juice.
Crunchy Caramel-Butter Digestives:
digestive Biscuits (blitzed) – 4 no.
caster Sugar – 2 tablespoons
butter – 30g
Caramelize the sugar over a pan until a dark golden amber colour. Add in the butter and swirl it around to blend well with the caramel.
Add in the blitzed digestives and coat it with a fork. Transfer onto a plate to cool and break up any large clumps.
Add a little water to the honey reduction to achieve a pourable and syrupy consistency and drizzle it over the Panna Cotta.
Slice the pears however you may desire. You want to add just enough syrup to cover the surface of it or it will be too sweet.
Carefully arrange the pear slices over the Panna Cotta and grate some fresh cinnamon over it.
Sprinkle the crunchy digestives for some added texture.
(I rimmed my glass with the peel of a lemon just so you smell hints of citrus, a little trick I picked up during my bartender-ing days :p )