Last week I had people for dinner and whilst pondering what to serve I decided that each course should have a ‘Chinese’ component.
For the pudding (which is what the British call dessert) I decided to experiment with one of my favourite Chinese fruits – yangmei 杨梅, because it has just come into season. I searched the internet for recipes using yangmei and found nothing apart from some cocktail concoctions. So I had a clean slate to do what I wanted.
I decided to make a classic Italian Panna Cotta – panna cotta means ‘cooked cream’ – which is a wonderfully smooth cool dessert which just slips down the throat. It is usually served with a fruit ‘coulis’ or sauce, and I thought I would make a yangmei coulis to go with it.
Now I must give you a bit of information about yangmei. Myrica rubra has been known in China for over 2000 years, in English the fruit has various names: Chinese Bayberry, Wax Berry, Red Bayberry, and it’s juice is now marketed in the west under the name Yumberry. Rich in anti-oxidants, yangmei is sometimes discribed as tasting like a strawberry/raspberry cross. The trees on which the fruits grow often line the streets in southern China. Each tree is either male or female and for pollination they need to be near one-another.
Each fruit is slightly smaller than a walnut and has a bumpy surface. The yangmei ranges in colour from light red to a deep purple, with the later being the most prized for eating as fruit. In the centre of each fruit is a pit, not unlike a cherry stone and of similar size. The fruit has no removeable skin, you eat it all apart from the pit. The bumpy surface is because each fruit consists of thousands of tiny ‘seeds’ on the exterior surface each contained within a juicy fibre which runs from the surface and attaches to the pit.
OK – enough background information! Here is my recipe:
250g fresh ripe yangmei (approx 20 fruit) 50g caster sugar 60mls water 1 Tablespoon cornflour
Rinse the yangmei under running water to remove any dust or dirt, place in a heavy-bottomed saucepan together with the sugar and water over medium heat. As the sugar starts to dissolve increase the heat slightly so that the fruit start to cook and break down. Using a wooden spoon mash the fruit until it is all a pulp. Cook for a few moments then remove from the heat and pass through a sieve – use the wooden spoon to get the maximum amount of juice/puree from the fruit, place the juice in a clean pan. Put the cornflour in a small bowl, add a tablespoon of cold water and a tablespoon of the yangmei juice. Blend together and then add this mixture to the bulk of the yangmei juice in the pan. Whisk together and then heat over a medium temperature, stirring constantly, whilst the juice thickens and comes to the boil. Immediately remove from the heat, pour into a bowl and allow to cool.
PANNA COTTA – serves 4-6
500 mls double cream 50g caster sugar 1 teaspoon Vanilla extract 45 mls cold water 1 sachet (10g) powdered gelatine Lightly oil (with neutral flavoured oil) 6 small bowls, cups or ramekins.
Put the cold water into a good-sized bowl, sprinkle the gelatine powder on the water and let it sponge for 5/10 minutes.
Put the cream and the sugar together into a saucepan and heat gently, stirring constantly until all the sugar has dissolved. Stir in the vanilla extract.
Let the cream and sugar mixture come to a temperature just below boiling. Do NOT allow it to boil. Pour the hot cream/vanilla mixture over the sponged gelatine and stir until the gelatine is completely dissolved. Pour this mixture into the prepared cups and place in the fridge for at least 4 hours to chill and firm.
To serve, run a knife round the inside of the cups and turn the panna cottas out onto individual plates. Pour a puddle of yangmei coulis round each one and garnish with some slices of fresh yangmei and a sprig of mint.