During her time in the windy city Vicki Young was the head pastry chef and baker at Floriditas and Loretta. She’s been a mainstay of the capital’s food scene, having worked with a number of restaurants, and as a private chef, to craft exquisite savoury and sweet menus. When she’s not doing any of these things, Vicki makes jaw-dropping celebration cakes for clients all over the region, and puts on dessert degustation pop-ups. She is a keen advocate of local produce and supports New Zealand producers as a member of Eat NZ’s 30-strong Kaitaki Collective. You can keep up with Vicki’s culinary endeavours on her popular Instagram page, @vickieats.
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This dessert is a nod to the baked custards and jellies of my Cantonese childhood.
Growing up we would often go with my 婆婆 [por por] to her friend’s house and she would always make pandan coconut jellies for us to eat.
I remember the wobbly bright green and white diamonds on the plate, crunchy from the agar agar, with a warm aroma reminiscent of vanilla. When we went to yum cha on Sundays, these jellies would often make an appearance on the dessert trolleys, next to the mango puddings adorned with tropical toothpick umbrellas.
This is a nod to childhood nostalgia with a modern twist: pandan – fondly referred to as “vanilla of the East” – infused into panna cotta, with a touch of almond. The crunch, this time, comes from the refreshing yuzu granita and textural pops of mandarin. The mandarin is freeze-dried from Food Nerd (a freeze-drying company here in the capital). This recipe uses gelatin, but can be easily replaced with a vegan gelling alternative such as Jel-It-In.
As well as incorporating textures, I wanted to highlight flavour and the role each component plays in the dish. The panna cotta is not too sweet, allowing the grassy (and almost bitter) taste of pandan to come through. The nutty almond adds to the warmth and creaminess of the coconut base, and the fragrant Japanese yuzu gives a refreshing sweetness. The mandarin cuts through the creamy component with its acidity, adding to the sweet citrus of the yuzu.
Makes up to 10 small panna cottas
For the panna cotta 400ml coconut milk 200ml coconut cream 110g caster sugar 1/2 tsp natural almond essence 100g pandan leaves (you can buy them frozen at an Asian supermarket) 125ml water 6 gelatin leaves
For the granita 250ml water 100g caster sugar 50ml yuzu extract
For the garnish Freeze-dried mandarin segments
Equipment Blender or juicer 2 saucepans Sieve Moulds or deep dish for panna cotta Dish or heatproof container for granita Cooking thermometer Measuring jug or scales
Blend pandan leaves with 125ml water to extract juice.
Put pulp and juice with all panna cotta ingredients together in a saucepan on low heat until sugar dissolves (do not boil).
Strain and cool down to 45°C.
Reconstitute gelatin in cold water, squeeze out excess water when soft, and add to the cream mixture at 45°C max. (or lower, but warm enough to dissolve the gelatin).
Pour into moulds or set in a deep dish.
Refrigerate to set, for four hours or overnight.
For the granita, bring sugar and water to boil, then add yuzu extract.
Pour into a tray which fits into the freezer and let it cool to room temperature.
Put in freezer. Stir and scrape mixture every 30 minutes with a fork, until a shaved-ice consistency is achieved.
De-mould panna cotta, and serve with granita and freeze-dried mandarin segments. Enjoy!