This summer, while staying in Uganda, I visited a museum presenting local history and the traditional way of living in the area. The people there used to rear cows (Ankole cows with enormous horns).
To store the milk, they used calabashes, which they washed and smoked to disinfect them before use. The milk they put inside took on the smokey flavour. I tried it there in coffee and as a yogurt. It inspired me to try my own smoked milk dessert.
Thinking about what to pair with the smokey taste, I came to cherries and chocolate. A common combination, in a form of a panna cotta, is rendered here in a new way, using smoked cream, that balances the sweetness of cherries and chocolate. Panna cotta is one of the staples in many restaurants, and often made in a simplified way, using gelatin to set the cream instead of cooking it. I wanted to do it in a traditional way, without gelatin, using only cream, sugar and egg whites, to show that even doing it the traditional way doesn’t take much work. The smoked cream complements the taste of cherries and chocolate, and gives the dessert a new, unexpected twist.
For 4 pots of 100ml each
- 300ml heavy cream
- 1 vanilla bean
- Cherry wood smoking chips
- 3 egg whites
- 35g sugar
- 160g amarena cherries in syrup
- 50g chocolate, to decorate
Start by smoking the cream. If you have a smoke gun, put the cream in a plastic container, seal it with cling film and fill with smoke. Wait until the smoke dissapears, then repeat 3 or 4 times, mixing in between. You can smoke the whole amount of the cream, or, if you want to make sure the taste isnt too strong, smoke only 2/3, and mix in the rest as it is.
If you dont have a smoke gun, you can take an old casserole, line the bottom with aluminium foil, add a fistful of the smoking chips, and use a pastry ring to elevate the bowl with the cream over the chips. Put the lid on the casserole and seal the joint with aluminium foil. Heat it to medium high and leave it on the stove for about half an hour.
When smoked, infuse the cream with the vanilla (add the bean cut lenghtwise, scrape in the seeds, bring it to a boil, then let stand for at least 20min).
Preheat the oven to 120C.
Mix the egg whites with the sugar. Mix in the strained cream. Pour it in thinck glasses or ramekins and put them in a tray. Add boiling water to the tray, reaching till about 3/4 height of the glasses. Place in the oven and bake for about an hour. The panna cotta should look set, but still wiggle slightly in the centre as you take it out.
Let it cool, then add amarena cherries and the chocolate rolls.