Custards and Panna Cotta
Cream based desserts often include dairy, eggs, sugar, and a flavoring, such as vanilla. The dairy in cream-based desserts can range from milk to heavy cream to soft cheese. The eggs in desserts can be used whole, yolks, or whites – or a combination of. Cream desserts will then have a sweetening agent and a flavor. This will be the main item in a cream-based dessert.
Cream based desserts are served cold as they need time to set after cooking/preparing. Not all cream-based desserts are cooked. Desserts like panna cotta are thickened with gelatin. Vegan versions of panna cotta can be made with a dairy milk alternative and agar agar. For cooked cream-based desserts, the coagulation of eggs is the setting agent. These types of desserts are baked in a water bath to ensure even gently cooking – and to aid in the dessert not scrambling. Custard refers to a group of desserts that are dairy and egg based and are cooked in a water bath in the oven. Some examples are:
• Crème Brulee – The most basic custard dessert. Crème brulee uses all heavy cream. It is very easy to prepare and is traditionally only 4 ingredients. Is very rich and creamy. Crème brulees are cooked in a water bath and then cooled. When cool a layer of sugar is spread evenly over top and the sugar is burnt to form a crust with a torch or under a broiler. Crème Brulees are not removed from the vessel they are cooked in.
• Crème Caramel – a custard that has a base of a thin caramelized sugar layer. As the custard cooks, the caramel seeps into the custard. When plated, the custard is inverted onto a plate also provides its own liquid sugar sauce until unmolding. Crème Caramel is made with a mixture of heavy cream and whole milk.
• Flan - Spanish cousin to crème caramel, except the flan is made with whole milk and no cream.
• Pot de Crème – “pot of cream” more refers to the vessel in which it is cooked.
• Bread Pudding – most basically a custard base poured over stale bread and baked. Bread pudding can be found made with any variety of flavors and ingredients, can contain fruit, chocolate, nuts etc.
Custard based desserts rely on a technique called tempering. Tempering is the process of equalizing the temperature of 2 liquids before combining them. Temper hot into cold -SLOWLY. When the temperature of the cold has risen slightly to the temperature of the hot, the cold can be slowly added to the hot.
Dessert Sauces are a very important part of plated desserts. Dessert sauces provide additional contrast, texture, color, and flavor to a composed plate. There are many different kinds of dessert sauces that can be used in almost any imaginable flavor and color. Dessert sauces should never detract in any way from the main item but used as an enhancer to the main item and the other elements on the plate. Here are some common dessert sauces:
• Coulis – a pureed sauce with fruit that has been sweetened.
• Cooked Fruit Sauce – a coulis that has been heated and reduced to further thicken.
• Thickened Sauce – a sauce that has a thickening agent, such as flour, cornstarch or arrowroot.
• Crème Anglaise – classic custard sauce made from egg yolk, milk, cream, and sugar. Very simply put, a tempered, cooled, but not baked crème brulee could be a crème anglaise. In its frozen form, simply put, a crème anglaise is ice cream.
• Sabayon – Classic sauce of egg yolks, sugar, and marsala. In Italian, it is called a zabaglione.
• Caramel Sauce – caramelized sugar mixed with heavy cream
• Chocolate Sauce – there are many variations of chocolate sauce
• Fruit Salsa – a unique version of a fruit salad that is used to enhance the flavors of desserts