Wash, remove stems and chop into 1/4-inch pieces:
3 1/2 pounds quinces
Place in a large heavy saucepan with:
7 cups water...
Is anyone else tired of being dessert-bombed?
You enjoy a pleasant meal, and then out comes a triple chocolate explosion or a maple-bacon extravaganza (just the word "extravaganza" makes me a little tired). You want dessert, but by the time the sugar-fest is over, your tastebuds are exhausted and you have the irrepressible urge to brush your teeth. Twice.
Eating dessert shouldn't be punishment. Remember when it was the reward for finishing your broccoli? Well, as adults, think of it as a reward for navigating the labyrinth of modern life.
There are many advocates for eating fruit for dessert, Alice Waters being the first and foremost. I heartily agree--if you can get incredible in-season fruit, you really don't need anything else. The human in me, however, occasionally wants something more out of my dessert course.
Several years ago, I started exploring aromatic desserts. I think my first foray into this was Earl Grey shortbread, which quickly became one of my absolute favorite cookies. Then there was a saffron panna cotta so delicious that it's one of my most vivid food memories. In the intervening years, I've used jasmine tea in little cakelets, lavender in cookies, and thyme in pie crusts.
The thing I love the most about aromatic touches like these is that they're incredibly subtle (unless you've ever had the misfortune to use too much lavender in something, in which case you probably felt like you were licking a bar of soap). They perfume desserts rather than flavoring them, per se. Rather than smacking around your taste buds, aromatics provide a sophisticated and simple end to a meal.
Most recently, I've become smitten with elderflowers. They grow abundantly in the Pacific Northwest, and they have a sweet, delicate scent that's pretty dreamy. They also impart their heady fragrance to my favorite liqueur--St. Germain.
Using flowers in baking can be tricky because it's easy to overwhelm their delicate flavor. One great method for capturing fleeting aromas is the infusion. Simply steep your aromatic ingredient in heavy cream, strain out the solids, and proceed with your recipe. For this panna cotta, I wanted the taste of the elderflowers to sing, so I didn't even add vanilla. To give it a little acidity, I used some Greek yogurt in addition to the heavy cream. This recipe is a bit non-traditional in that I use mostly heavy cream and as little gelatin as I can get away with, making for a luxurious but subtle dessert.
Lightly oil six 4- to 6-ounce custard cups or ramekins.
Bring to a boil in a small saucepan:
2 cups heavy cream
4 clusters of elderflowers
Cover the saucepan and allow to infuse for 30 minutes, then strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve or chinois, pressing on the elderflowers to extract all the cream.
Pour into a small bowl:
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons cream
Sprinkle over the top:
1 1/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
Let stand for 5 minutes to soften.
Combine the infused cream in a saucepan with:
1/2 cup sugar
Heat just enough to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and whisk in the gelatin along with:
1/2 cup Greek yogurt*
(1 tablespoon elderflower liqueur)
Pour into the prepared cups and refrigerate until firmly set, about 4 hours. If not serving at once, press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of each cream and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
Unmold onto plates and serve with fresh fruit, if desired.
*You can also strain regular whole milk or low-fat yogurt if you don't have Greek yogurt.