Saffron panna cotta is my way to honour Italy and Sweden this Advent season. On one side we have panna cotta representing Italy, and in particular my home region: Piemonte. On the other side we have saffron, one of the key flavours of the Swedish Christmas. Italy is a producer of one of the finest saffron qualities in the world, yet we mostly use it in savoury dishes. (Namely, risotto alla milanese.) In Sweden saffron goes mostly into sweet foods, in particular during the Christmas season.
Despite the fact that we own panna cotta back in Italy, I had never heard of saffron panna cotta there. But this is exactly why we travel. To get to know other cultures from their foods and learn how many wonderful uses various ingredients can have. If Mexicans can flavour meat with cocoa, why shouldn’t the Swedes put saffron in panna cotta? That’s right. So if last year I got all passionate about lussekatter, the saffron buns traditionally baked on St. Lucy’s day, this year it was time to take my saffron challenge to the next level.
In this recipe I am referring to a very strange quantity of saffron: 0,25 g. No kitchen scale can possibly weigh such a light amount, of course. Well, in Sweden saffron is sold in small packets that weigh 0,5 g and I have used half of that. It is sold ground, so it’s not the full threads it’s more common to find in Italy, for example. So it’s a vivid red powder. 0,25 g is a very tiny amount, can’t even quantify it on a teaspoon, it’s like 1/10! So if you’re not in Sweden and don’t have access to such packets, take very little. Just a little, really. The deal with saffron is that you want just a hint, but it should never, by no means, overwhelm the flavour of the cream.
Saffron panna cotta recipe
- 300 ml heavy cream (40% fat)
- 100 ml milk
- 60 g sugar
- 6 g gelatin (2 1/2 sheets)
- 0,25 g saffron
- 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Cut the gelatin sheets in smaller pieces and place them in a bowl filled with cold water. Soak for a few minutes. Combine cream, milk and sugar in a saucepan and set on medium heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar. When the sugar has dissolved add the saffron and keep stirring. At this point I swapped my rubber spatula for a whisk and gave it a good stir to mix in the saffron and avoid lumps. Keep cooking this mixture on medium heat until just before it reaches boiling temperature, then remove from the heat. Squeeze the water from the gelatin and add the gelatin to the pot, stirring to dissolve it. Lastly, stir in the vanilla extract.
Pour hot mixture into moulds or serving cups and let sit until it reaches room temperature. When it has cooled enough to go into the fridge, transfer panna cotta cups to the fridge and let sit for a few hours or preferably overnight, until the gelatin sets and the panna cotta is dense and ready. This quantity should yield 3-4 portions.
Saffron is a wonderful natural colouring agent, and despite its appearance being red, it turns food a bright yellow colour, just like turmeric. Please notice that if not stirred in well or strained through a very fine sieve, small saffron particles will remain in the panna cotta and may surface as brighter dots of colour on the top. I think this added feature is far from being a flaw!
With its peculiar taste, saffron panna cotta might be one of the strangest food combinations I made. Yet, to me it’s a total winner. Swedish Advent tastes like saffron and I love the fact that I am making this tradition mine. I am making Swedish food mine. I am integrating in this country through food and this is the best way I could do it.
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