I hope someone else remembers that line from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, a 70’s British WW2 comedy set in India. A much less smug observation than the more familiar “but what have the Romans ever done for us?” on the give and take of imperium. And what else does tea make me think of? Not much. In the greater scheme of beverages, it wallows. Currently it’s serving as a kind of methadone to get me off unthinking reflexive coffee drinking. I’ve become rather fond of the tea, spice and milk combo of chai though. It’s my new king of milky drinks, without peer (yes including latte), and its spicey complexity seemed a good opportunity for translation into a not so sweet dessert.
Good luck finding a definitive chai recipe. I don’t think there is one but this is with good reason, it’s endlessly variable. Chai would make for an excellent platform for appreciating spices and understanding what each one does. A lifetime of fine tuning could be done with possible variations for time, quantity, and grinding of spices to reach the right balance. The first challenge is to get the taste of the tea right as it’s the dominant flavour. After about 10 minutes of simmering, I got there and then strained the milk. To improve the spice flavour I let it continue to simmer longer with some more cinnamon and ginger until it was where I wanted it to be. Keep in mind also that the flavour will be diluted a third by the cream. The ball-park quantities of tea and spices you see were for 2 cups of full cream milk and 1 cup of water. The tea was Harrods (God bless you Ma’am) Empire Blend No. 34 a mix of Assam, Darjeeling and Nilgiri. I have no idea why I have this. The other ingredients form left to right in the pic are: peppercorns and allspice; star anise and ginger; cloves, cinnamon, and green cardamon.
To transform this into panna cotta requires 300ml of double cream, 2 cups of the chai, half a cup of sugar, and 4tsp of gelatine. Bring the cream, sugar, and the chai to near boil, turn off the heat and sprinkle over the gelatine and stir it in unti it has dissolved completely. Let it cool with the occasional stir and pour it into ramekins and refrigerate until set. It can be loosened for serving by resting it in hot water for a not very long time.
The syrup is a fairly standard Indian syrup and I thought it would be at least a good geoculinary (do you like this word? I just made it up, nice isn’t it?) match. It’s from a recipe for Gulab Jamun. The rosewater aspect fitted in nicely because I had a bunch of dried rosebuds that I had bought as wasn’t quite sure what to do with. Something unexpectedly romantic perhaps. Anyway two cups of water, one cup of sugar, and five bruised (just crush them a bit with the flat of a knife) cardamom pods. Heat until the sugar has dissolved, take off the heat and stir in two tablespoons of rosewater. Allow to cool before pouring over the panna cotta.
Tasty. Not too sweet at all and a lot of little background notes. I managed to do some justice to its looks with a bit of Saturday afternoon soft light messing about with the spare one I had on hand (like you do). The only odd result was a rougher “breadier” texture on the bottom (i.e. the top of the ramekin). I’m assuming some kind of separation occurred from the cream but if anybody knows any better, help. Nothing unpleasant though, an unexpected feature.
Thank you Clement for hosting and prodding me out of my usual food comfort zone.