Butterscotch Panna Cotta with Poached Pears

Butterscotch Panna Cotta
Photo by Con Poulos

Courtesy Danielle Snow, former executive pastry chef, Bad Hunter, Chicago

Panna cotta, Italian for cooked cream, is exactly the type of dessert you want in your arsenal: It seems fancy, but set with gelatin, it’s easier to prepare than a custard. This one was supplied by Bad Hunter in Chicago, which closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The dessert is flavored with butterscotch and studded with toffee and sourdough breadcrumbs. The result is rich but not too sweet with plenty of toasty nuttiness to warm a winter’s night.

Ingredients for butterscotch pannacotta
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 ½ tablespoons corn syrup
  • 1 ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 ¾ teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 loaf sourdough bread
  • Olive oil
  • 2 ²/₃ cups heavy cream
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ²/₃ cup crème fraîche1 tablespoon gelatin powder
  • Thyme-poached pears (recipe follows)
Directions for butterscotch pannacotta

To make toffee pieces, line sheet pan with silicone mat or parchment paper. In pot, melt ½ cup of butter. Add corn syrup, ¾ cup sugar, ½ teaspoon salt, 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract and 5 teaspoons water. Cook over medium-high heat until mixture registers 300 ̊F on candy thermometer. Pour into prepared tray and let harden at room temperature. Once cool, break into small pieces and store in an airtight container for up to 1 day.

To make sourdough crumbs, heat oven to 350 ̊F. Cut crust from bread and discard. Cut bread into rough 1-inch chunks. Toss with olive oil until evenly coated but not saturated. Season with salt, to taste. Spread onto parchment-lined sheet pan. Bake for 10–15 minutes, tossing halfway through to ensure even browning. Remove from oven and let come to room temperature, then pulse in food processor to form coarse crumbs.

To make panna cotta, warm pot over medium heat. Gradually add remaining ½ cup sugar to hot pot until sugar caramelizes to deep amber. Immediately add 2/3 cup heavy cream. Bring back to simmer, whisking to incorporate. Whisking continuously, add remaining heavy cream, remaining 1¼ teaspoons salt and 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract, as well as brown sugar, crème fraîche and, as last ingredient, gelatin. Strain through fine-mesh sieve and cool to room temperature. Divide equally among 8 shallow dishes. Refrigerate until set. Top with toffee pieces, sourdough crumbs, thyme-poached pears and whipped crème fraîche or whipped cream, if desired. Serves 8.

Crème fraîche

Add vanilla bean paste to crème fraîche to taste. Whisk until it’s whipped to soft peaks.

Ingredients for thyme poached pears
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 5–6 lemon peels
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 9–10 thyme sprigs
  • 3–4 small Bosc pears
Directions for thyme poached pears

Combine all ingredients except for pears with 3 cups water in sauce pot and bring to boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar.

In the meantime, peel pears.

Once the poaching liquid is simmering, gently drop in the pears. Bring back to a simmer, cover, and let cook until pears are tender all the way through— they should be easily pierced with a small knife, 7-10 minutes. Remove the pears from the liquid using a slotted spoon and refrigerate until chilled. Cut in half, use a melon baller to remove seeds, and slice.

Wine Pairing: Fortified Wine

Fortified wines are a large and varied category encompassing any wine that has spirits added to it. Many are dry, but when pairing with a caramel or butterscotch dessert, you’ll want a sweet Madeira, white or tawny Port, or amontillado or oloroso Sherry. These all have oxidative qualities that can contribute nutty, tobacco, coffee and/or caramel notes. Bad Hunter’s former wine director, Rebecca Schliff, recommends Cossart Gordon NV 5 Year Old Bual Medium Rich Madeira with this recipe.

“This Madeira is a little lighter and less sweet than the butterscotch panna cotta but still stands up to its richness,” Schliff says. “It can be a bit cloying on the palate if both the dessert wine and dessert are equally sweet. The caramel and coffee notes of the Madeira complement the toffee in the panna cotta.”

Published on December 12, 2020