I had a difficult time deciding what to make for Easter dessert this year. Usually, I make a big chocolate cake masked in Italian buttercream and topped with crushed mini-eggs. But for the second year in a row, we weren't able to share our Easter with other people. I didn't have as many mouths to feed, and my kids had already eaten their entire bodyweight.
Dessert was a toss-up between peach cobbler with warm custard or – one of my favourite desserts – panna cotta tartlet with a blueberry compote.
I like panna cotta, but on it's own it can be a bit 'blah'. I love upping its complexity by adding in a sweet pastry base and a fruity sauce. Though there's plenty of cream and butter in this recipe, it tastes light and refreshing and looks really impressive. For springtime, it's an ideal dessert (especially if you can run to a milk tank and skim some cream before the truck arrives to take it away).
This pastry dough is very delicate. I don't roll it out the way I would an average shortcrust. I find it easier to gently press the dough into the tartlet tins. Then, I chill the tins for about 30 minutes before baking. This ensures the butter hardens up a bit and the base bakes evenly; with little shrinkage. If you don't have individual tartlet tins, the recipe will work for one larger tin. Having a removable bottom is essential, though, as the pastry is still quite delicate once baked.
For the pastry:
125g softened butter
75g icing sugar
1 egg yolk
160g plain flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
For the panna cotta:
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
1/2 packet powdered gelatin (about 1 1/2 tsp)
Pinch of fine sea salt
For the blueberry compote:
250g fresh or frozen blueberries
75g granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Zest of one lemon
1 heaping tbsp cornstarch mixed with 125ml water
1. Make the pastry: in a bowl or stand mixer, mix the egg yolk, butter and icing sugar until well combined. Add the flour and salt. Mix until it comes together, like a cookie dough. If it’s dry and crumbly, you can add 1-2 tbsp of milk. You should be able to shape the dough into a disc.
2. Wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 190°C. Divide the chilled pastry into four equal portions.
4. Gently and evenly press the pastry into four small tartlet pans. Use excess dough to patch any holes. Do not poke holes in the bottom of the tartlets or the panna cotta will leak through later!
5. Line the tartlet pans with parchment paper and fill with pie weights (or dried beans). Bake until the tops are golden brown and the bottoms are cooked through (the bottoms will still look pale), this should take about 15 minutes. Don’t worry if the bottom of the tartlets seem too soft; they will firm up as they cool.
6. When the tart shells are cool, carefully remove them from the pans and place them on a lined baking tray.
7. Make the panna cotta: in a small saucepan, combine the cream, salt and vanilla bean paste. Slowly heat the cream mixture until it’s hot and steaming.You do not want to bring it to a boil.
8. Remove the cream mixture from the heat and sprinkle the gelatin over top. Gently whisk the mixture until the gelatin is dissolved (this might take a minute or two).
9. Pour the mixture into the tart shells (don’t try to move the tart shells off or around the tray at this point) and carefully put the tray into the fridge to set.
10. Make the compote: in a saucepan, combine the blueberries, sugar, lemon zest and vanilla. If you’re using fresh blueberries, add a splash of water to the pot. Bring to a boil, then add the cornstarch/water mixture.
11. Stir until thickened, remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
12. When the panna cotta has set in the tart shells (one to two hours), top it with the cooled blueberry compote.
13. Garnish with mint. Serve immediately or keep them in the fridge to be served later the same day.