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Acorn panna cotta with butternut ice cream, by David Everitt-Matthias

02 August 2007
Acorn panna cotta with butternut ice cream, by David Everitt-Matthias

The acorns have a very deep flavour when roasted, with hints of mocha, chocolate, almonds and caramel. If you don't fancy using acorns, you could substitute chicory root, coffee beans or even wattleseeds.

Ingredients (Serves 6-8)

For the butternut ice cream 1 butternut squash, weighing 750g-1kg
500ml milk and 500ml double cream
a pinch of ground cinnamon
1 vanilla pod, slit open lengthways
6 egg yolks
200g caster sugar
50ml liquid glucose

For the acorn panna cotta 60g acorns, shelled
700ml double cream
100ml milk
110g caster sugar
3 gelatine leaves

For the paper and wattleseed tuiles 200g caster sugar
200ml water
2 sheets of rice paper
1 dessertspoon wattleseeds

For the coffee extract 100g demerara sugar
50ml water
100ml strong espresso
5g extra bitter cocoa powder
50g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), finely chopped

Method

Butternut ice cream Cut the butternut squash in half lengthways and remove the seeds. Place the squash halves on a baking sheet, cover with foil and bake in an oven preheated to 200°C/ Gas Mark 6 for 40-50 minutes, until soft. Remove the foil, return the squash to the oven and leave to dry out for 5 minutes.

While the squash is baking, make the custard base for the ice cream.
Put the milk, cream, cinnamon and split vanilla pod in a thick-bottomed pan and bring to the boil. Whisk the egg yolks, caster sugar and glucose together, then pour half the milk on to the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Pour back into the pan and cook over a low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon (it should register about 84°C on a thermometer). Do not let it boil or it will become scrambled. Immediately strain through a fine sieve into a bowl and leave to cool.

When the butternut squash is ready, scoop out the flesh and place in a blender. Pour in the custard base and blend until smooth. Push through a fine sieve, then place in an ice-cream machine and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. Transfer to the fridge to soften slightly about 10 minutes before serving.

Acorn panna cotta Place the acorns on a baking tray and roast in an oven preheated to 150°C/Gas Mark 2 until they are deep brown; be careful not to let them burn or they will taste very bitter. Leave to cool, then grind to a coarse powder in a spice mill or coffee grinder.

Put the cream, milk, sugar and ground acorns in a thick-bottomed saucepan and gently bring to the boil. Pull to the side of the stove and leave to infuse for 40 minutes, to extract as much of the acorn flavour as you can.

Soak the gelatine in a little cold water for about 5 minutes, until soft and pliable. Remove and squeeze out all the water. Bring the acorn mixture back to the boil, then remove from the heat. Squeeze out excess water from the gelatine and whisk the gelatine into the acorn mixture, making sure it has dissolved. Strain through a fine sieve, pressing on the acorns to extract as much juice as you can. Leave to cool, then pour into 6-8 lightly oiled dariole moulds, about 130ml in capacity.
Cover and place in the fridge for at least 4 hours, until set.

Paper and wattleseed tuiles Put the sugar and water in a pan and heat gently, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Raise the heat and boil for 3-4 minutes to make a syrup, then leave to cool.

Cut each sheet of rice paper into 3 or 4, or simply tear the pieces to give a more natural look. Pour the syrup into a shallow tray, place the rice paper in the syrup and then carefully lift it out, keeping the shape of the paper. Place on a nonstick baking tray or a tray lined with baking parchment, sprinkle with the wattleseeds and bake in an oven preheated to 85°C (or the lowest possible setting on a gas oven) for 3-4 hours, until crisp and rigid. Leave to cool, then slide a palette knife under the rice paper and lift it off the tray.

Coffee extract
In a small saucepan, dissolve the demerara sugar in the water over a gentle heat. Raise the heat and cook without stirring until it becomes a deep golden caramel. Remove from the heat and stir in the coffee, but be careful as it will splatter. Whisk in the cocoa powder, return to the heat and cook for 2 minutes. Cool slightly, then pour on to the chopped chocolate in a bowl and stir until smooth. Strain through a fine sieve and leave to cool.

Serving
Dip the dariole moulds in hot water for 2-3 seconds, then gently pull the edge of the panna cotta away from the moulds and quickly turn it out on to serving dishes. Serve with a scoop of butternut squash ice cream, a slash of coffee extract and a paper tuile.

Recipe taken from Essence, by David Everitt-Matthias, published by Absolute Press

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