I find I am not finished with the topic of tea. Behold, my uniform:
I procured these conversation pieces at Lovejoy’s Tea Room in San Francisco. What do I wear on casual Fridays? That would be a bikini, woven out of interlocking Schlitz beer tabs; thank you for asking.
Something else I acquired in my favorite city is an abiding love for Earl Grey panna cotta (translates from Italian to “cooked cream”). A few years ago I disembarked from the plane at SFO, took the subway to my BFF’s office, threw my suitcase at her and dashed for the ferry building. This structure houses a charming bookstore, and a host of tasty samples. Add a velvet couch, and I could live there in contentment for quite some time. I was simply following orders that day; my friend had spoken of the wonders of the Cowgirl Creamery Sidekick, where you can sidle up to the bar for a delicate, diminutive panna cotta.
I decided to purchase the Cowgirl Creamery’s cookbook, so I could have this treat again at home. I never buy cookbooks for just one recipe, but I found this was a matter of some urgency. I wanted to eat these before I was sugared out by the holidays. By the end of December the sight of one of these would make me sigh, grumble and cast my eyes down at a slightly puffy midsection. That is no way to approach such a clever little dessert, and I wanted to go into it fresh and cautiously merry (that’s about as merry as I get).
I don’t make many molded desserts because it is darn near impossible to get them unmolded in one smooth, elegant piece. They are stubborn and seem to display actual volition (like a jellyfish: gelatinous, brainless, but able to outsmart you) in their refusal to be decanted or remain on a plate, rather than sliding to the floor to join their quivering, evasive brethren. I decided to try making these in little cups, and if one came out without protest, lovely. If it refused, I would simply serve them from their bowls. I figured if one succumbed, the rest would follow. Jellyfish are, after all, the lemmings of the sea.*
In the end, I lost my nerve. These little gals looked much too soft set (I followed the recipe but they should have set firmer) to come loose without a fight. They were silky and delicious, though a bit too sweet. I decided they were not truly a winter dessert, but would be more suitable to a long evening when the sun doesn’t set until after 9 (as opposed to 4). Come summer, I will make these again. It seems an impossibly long way off, but solstice is nearly upon us, promising we will turn gratefully once again toward the sun, don our beer tab bikinis, and bask.
Earl Grey Panna Cotta from Cowgirl Creamery Cooks
2 gelatin sheets or 2 teaspoon powdered gelatin
I cup whole milk
4 Earl Grey tea bags
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar (I suggest reducing these)
If you have the gelatin sheets – and can anyone tell me where I can get them? – soak them in a bowl of cold water for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, pour the milk into a saucepan and heat it over medium heat. While it heats, pour the 2 teaspoon of gelatin over 1/4 cup cold water, if you are using the powdered type. When the milk is 180 F (hot, but not boiling) take the pan off the heat and drop in the tea bags. Let them steep for 15 minutes, squeeze out the tea bags and discard. Add the cream and sugar to the saucepan with the milky tea and heat the mixture over low heat. If you are using the sheets, gently squeeze them and add them to the warm milk-cream mixture. Stir until dissolved, and then pour the mixture through a medium-mesh strainer into a large heat-proof measuring cup with a spout.
Pour into ramekins and chill overnight.
*Entirely made up