Recipe – Pumpkin Panna Cotta with Spiced Cereal Crunch

I regard autumn as the pinnacle of visual wonderment in the farmer’s markets of Canada. Lane upon lane of ochre, sienna, and crimson fruits and vegetables instantly fill me with a childlike, storybook glee, reminding me of chilly adventures in pumpkin patches and warm Thanksgivings seated around a heavy oak table impossibly stacked with meats, pies, and drinks. As busy as life with a toddler and new baby can be, it was inconceivable that Immortal Pestle would fail to capture at least a tiny slice of this miraculous season.

Pumpkins hold a universal fascination for Canadians, no doubt due in part to the large role they play in the festival of Halloween. Every child associates pumpkins with bagfuls of candies, evenings of trick-or-treating, and nights curled up on the sofa watching scary movies while the wind and rain heave and howl outside the window. I also like to think that the vivid colour, the grotesque shapes, and the magical appeal of carving open a pumpkin to reveal the hidden interior add another layer of imaginative mystery. Whatever the origin of their adoration, these mirthful fruits feature prominently in fall recipes across the entire North American continent. I was recently gifted an absolutely gorgeous Cinderella pumpkin from our friend Michael Hoy of Hoy Culinary, who whispered to us that the greatest of pumpkin dishes were to be had from its succulent flesh. If your pantry isn’t already fully stocked with a complete range of pumpkins then take a look at this guide to the ultimate pumpkin pie-ery, as reported by the Cooking Channel, no less.

The Cinderella (or Rouge Vif d’Etampes) is highly sought after for the sweet liquids and clear, slightly citrus flavour it provides. Given its abundant natural attributes, I felt obliged to produce a recipe that put full emphasis on the taste and aroma of this pumpkin. My instinct was to do something slightly different, and since I have been waiting for an opportunity to make the astonishingly good cereal panna cotta developed by Momofuku I decided to blend the two ideas into one dish, the Pumpkin Panna Cotta with Spiced Cereal Crunch.

Developing this recipe was one of my most difficult challenges to date. Although the pumpkin possesses a distinct flavour profile that I thought would ultimately be able to work the type of magic I was trying to conjure up, being able to distill that unique essence into a very light dessert proved to be quite a task. Every recipe I examined fell flat, with far too little of the purity and intensity of flavour I was looking for. I found other recipes online for pumpkin panna cotta, but all included the spices as a central element and only one sieved the panna cotta to remove thin the dish and remove unwanted fibre. I went so far as to try canned pumpkin purée! A futile experiment. Exasperated, I focussed on the sweet liquid that could be pressed out of the purée, boiling it to concentrate the flavour. By taking the liquid down to a residue, it is possible to caramelize the solids. If done properly, without burning, the result is a rich, buttery, fruity paste that gives the real body to the pumpkin aroma. The rest of that body comes from gelatin, a long, fibrous protein that is derived from collagen in animal tissue. Yes, this is not exactly a vegan-friendly dessert item. When gelatin comes into contact with warm water its flexible structure shifts to accomodate the water molecules. As the temperature decreases individual strands of gelatin begin to associate with one another, forming a matrix that traps large amounts of water and yields a gel. Learn more about the science of gelatin in our soon-to-be-posted review!

The recipe eschews traditional wisdom by placing a solid emphasis on the pure, authentic flavour of the pumpkin. The aromatics that are normally found in pumpkin dishes – nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves – are contained in the crackling cereal topping.  The contrast between the jellied texture of the panna cotta and the crisp grains heightens interest and builds a more complex mouthfeel. This is pumpkin pie deconstructed, and it succeeds as a light and refreshing dessert that can be paired with a heavier main course. Something pumpkin pie definitely can’t brag of. The total preparation time is just over 1 hour, including the roasting of the pumpkin. Plan on at least 2 hours for the panna cotta to set in the fridge.

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Pumpkin Panna Cotta with Spiced Cereal Crunch

For the panna cotta

1 cup pumpkin, roasted and puréed
1 1/2 cups pumpkin liquid
1 cup 35% cream
1/2 cup milk
2 tbsp skim milk powder
3 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp ground ginger
pinch of salt
5 g gelatin powder

For the spiced cereal

1 cup cereal (such as corn flakes)
3 tbsp skim milk powder
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt

Quarter a medium size pumpkin of choice and remove the seeds and soft interior. Brush with a neutral vegetable oil (not olive!) and roast on a baking tray in the oven at 350 F for 45 minutes. Remove, peel the skin from the pulp and purée in a food processor until smooth. Gently shake the purée in a large sieve or press through cheesecloth to remove at least 1 1/2 cups of liquid. Gently boil the liquid in a small saucepan until the water has evaporated. Whisk the residue as it browns, removing from heat to cool when it starts to turn from light brown to dark.

Bloom your gelatin by adding it to 1/4 cup of cold water in a large plastic bowl.

In a large sauce pan combine the pumpkin purée, milk, cream, ginger, skim milk powder, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Heat to just below the boil and then remove from heat. Transfer part of the mixture into the small saucepan containing the caramelized pumpkin residue, stir to dissolve, then transfer back into the large saucepan. Stir for 1 minute then filter off the solids from the hot liquid through a sieve, working gently so as not to push too many large particles through the mesh. Filter once more if needed, then transfer the still warm liquid to the plastic bowl containing the bloomed gelatin. Stir with a whisk to dissolve all of the gelatin and then transfer to moulds. Place in the fridge for at least 2 hours to allow the panna cotta to set.

While the panna cotta is chilling, mix the skim milk powder, sugar, salt, and spices in a medium sized bowl. Crush the cereal lightly with your hands and add to the bowl, followed by the melted butter. Stir to coat the cereal evenly, then bake on a parchment paper lined tray at 275 F for 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove and allow to cool.

When the dish is ready to be served add the cereal topping.

Enjoy!

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