IMBB#17 Tea – Chai Panna Cotta with Rosewater and Cardamom Syrup

chai panna cotta

“But we brought cream…
and scones”

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.

chai ingredients

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.

chai panna cotta


  1. Viv’s avatar

    What a gorgeous dessert! Save me some, will ya? ;-)

  2. flygirl’s avatar

    it’s beautiful! yum!

    how will i compete? esp without a camera??

    geoculinary? mwahahahaha!!!!! great stuff anthony…

  3. Anthony’s avatar

    Hi Viv

    Too late. Toni ate the last bit (yes I know I wasn’t too happy about that either)

    It’s much better than it was. I just remembered there’s a light sprinkling of cinnamon on top of it too.

    No camera? You could post it over and I could take a pic or failing that maybe draw a picture. Not enough of that these days.

    Geoculinary is go!

  4. boo_licious’s avatar

    Great dessert. I love the rosebuds based on the gulab jamun rose syrup.

  5. Reid’s avatar

    Hi Anthony,

    The panna cotta looks really good and I can imagine the sweet spiciness of the combined dessert and syrup. Don’t know how to help you though as I’ve never made this dessert. Looks too difficult.

  6. Anthony’s avatar

    Welcome and thanks Boo. Maybe it wasn’t a sleigh after all.

    There’s a fair bit going on which is good. It’d be interesting to amp up the peppers. It’s actually pretty easy, I’ve just made it look hard in my attempt to weasel out of giving exact amounts of spices.

  7. Jeanne’s avatar

    Ooooh – exotic AND gorgeous! Impressive. And you “just happened to have” some dried rosebuds lying around? You old (as opposed to New…) romantic you. Top photo too, by the way…

  8. keiko’s avatar

    How gorgeous! I’m very curious about the taste too. Great job!

    Oh, I can’t take my eyes off Reid’s puppies – they are so cute!

  9. Foodfreak’s avatar

    What a lovely presentation!

  10. deborah’s avatar

    Panna Cotta, Chai, Gulab Jamun. Damn fine work Anthony.

  11. Anthony’s avatar

    -Yes yes enough about me, what did you think about the dessert? Did I mention I always keep a bottle of champagne chilled in the fridge too? (and have a geometric haircut)
    My poor diner party pic effort shamed me into action on the pic.
    -Ahh thank you, it’s well worth trying to find out. If you look quickly Reid’s dogs look like a two headed beast.
    -hey cheers
    Thanks but I’m a big phony. Everyone should read this guide:Dispensing Happiness: An Indian food primer for the interested American by Stephanie’s man. So should I again because it should be *masala* chai. I’m pleading generally accepted understanding in an adopted language and an example of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

  12. Anonymous’s avatar

    Welcome back Devo!

    You may have to trade recipes with Mrs Singh at ‘Mrs Singh’s Grand Centro Café’ (Murray St City near Dr Fist Optometrists). She prides her self in traditional ‘temple’ styled Masala/Chai’ tea. Not as spicy/cinnamon tasting as some of the more commercial varieties (which is could be either a good or bad thing depending on preference). The Tasmanian Salmon fish curry also rates highly.


  13. Anthony’s avatar

    Maybe we can whip up some chai for the next rock out.

    I know where you mean, I always walk past Dr Fist Optometrist and think it’s lucky he’s not a proctologist.

  14. apple of my eye’s avatar

    aaaaaaaauuuuuuuuugggggghhhhh that sounds wonderful!

    chai is by far my fave rave at the coffee shops nowadays, though some places make it out of the instant powder stuff and it has an icky artificial taste….

    and rosewater…mmmm….

    you’re a man after my own heart, anthony :)

  15. Anthony’s avatar

    Hey AOME
    You’ve a good heart, I just make stuff. You should give this a go. Let me know if you do.

  16. 2-minute Noodle Cook’s avatar

    Hi “Pat”
    The panna cotta looks wonderful! I had one going for my menu with the hope of using Bushell’s orange and wattleseed (nutty chocolate taste) tea infusion and serving in an orange sauce spiked with star anise. :)

  17. Anthony’s avatar

    “Pat”!? I think actual Pat might be a bit pissy with the conflation and I’m disappointed it wasn’t Patrick McGoohan – Number 6 in mysterious existential drama The Prisoner. Thanks and cheers for being taggee and I must say you’re doing top stuff over there and yes star anise would make a good spikey weapon thingy.

  18. J’s avatar

    hi anthony, you’re a veritable master at unmolding – that panna cotta looks perfect, nary a blemish or scar in sight…love the passage to india-meets-arabian nights flavour fusion too…cheers,j

  19. teddles_russ’s avatar thank you, you’ve finally prodded me into looking this up, it’s been on my to do list for over a year now. ( if you’re interested)

    And I love the word geoculinary, I will attempt to use it in a blog article as soon as I figure out how to recover the database after a nasty hard drive crash…

  20. Anthony’s avatar

    Thak you kindly J, it”s like me without all the bicycle and karaoke accidents. Hey Passage to India meets Arabian Nights. Your honour, all I said was open sesame and the next thing..

    Go for it. They’re such tasty things. I made bogus ones the other night with cinnamon donuts and the leftover syrup and ice cream.

    Good luck with the database.

  21. Anthony’s avatar

    Oh and lets get this geoculinary thing going.

  22. Manas’s avatar

    I love chai tea. I drink it nearly every day in winter. I reckon the best mix I’ve found so far is from the Herb and Spice shop in the centre of Freo Markets. I just hate it in coffee shops though, when they put sugar in it – I don’t like my tea sweet.

    I will definitely have to try this dessert…ummm, yum.

  23. Manjusha’s avatar

    That looks positively yummy!

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