Italian panna cotta and budino, and English scented creams are all similar. This though is a good ol’ fashioned blancmange with its Victorian nursery pudding ring to it. Do you ever see blancmange on menus? I’d hazard a guess it’s rarely found these days with that name.
In the ’70s, my mum used to make a plain cornflour pudding among her repertoire of light, summer desserts whipped up in the early hours around breakfast time so it would have time to chill and set for lunch. The white wobbly would be made in a single mould that came courtesy of X number of packet flaps sent away to Green’s, the company of instant Carmelle (packet-mix creme caramel) fame. The mould came in useful for any cold-set dessert like jellies too. I was the only one of us three children who’d enjoy eating the white mound, which mum would often serve with stewed soft fruits from the garden, whatever was in season as summer wore on. Cornflour pud being rather plain, the vibrant berry sauce (red- or black currants and raspberries) lifted it from ‘milk pudding ideal as vehicle for getting a calcium quota into kids’ to dessert status. Years later, I learnt that my grandmother would religiously make a cornflour blancmange every day in summer (six months of the year), for my grandfather; he would eat nothing else as a sweet. Must run the blood then, the blancmange favouring. The other six months, he’d eat the same hot pud – can’t remember what it was, but probably ‘bread n’ butter’ or a crumble.
Of course, once I discovered Italian panna cotta, I was in seventh heaven. If I spot it on restaurant menus, I’ll choose it irrespective of what other delights of dessert are on offer. Milk after mains isn’t to everyone’s taste which I why I served this jasmine-scented blancmange along with an espresso in the late afternoon.
Cooking with flowers may seem strange but it’s common place in middle-eastern desserts (think rose water) and is another influence from Arab cuisine which has made its way into sweets of the southern Mediterranean. Almond blossom, rose petals, lavender and lemon-scented geranium leaves are other floral notes you can introduce to milk desserts and creme pastissiere successfully. I used lavender in a fiordilatte ice cream in the spring. The trick is to not overdo the scent in the taste. I found 30 jasmine flowers were the right amount for 1 litre of milk, but you may need to make it a couple of times to get the floral taste spot on. The white chocolate off-set the floral taste and I put very little sugar in to balance the chocolate.
My jasmine has gone wild this year when most plants in my garden suffered stunted growth from an exceptionally dry spring and were battered by incessant high winds. The jasmine entwines itself across iron railings all along the back of the house, and is finally near enough to waft its early morning scent into my bedroom, after years of coaxing it that way. Tempting then to add more than a mere 30 flowers to infuse in the milk. I urge you to try floral infused milk desserts if only to keep alive age-old favourites; that reminds me, my grandfather was born in fact in Victorian times!
All images © Liz Ayling 2013
- 750ml whole, full-fat milk White chocolate & jasmine-scented panna cotta or blancmange
- 250ml single cream
- 100g white chocolate, grated (reserve a little to top dessert on serving)
- 80g granulated sugar
- 30-40 jasmine flower, according to your preferred taste
- 100g cornflour
- Add jasmine flowers to the milk and cream and heat to steaming point, remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Then, chill in the fridge for 3 hours.
- Strain the flowers from the milk, pressing them down hard in a sieve to squeeze out more essence.
- Place the milk, sugar, white chocolate, and cornflour in a medium-sized pan and stir well to ensure cornflour dissolves. Then, heat the milk mix over a gentle heat until the sugar dissolves, then turn up the heat and stir continuously until the mixture begins to thicken. Reduce the heat, and continue to stir for another minute to cook the blancmange (you don’t want a floury texture). I used a whisk to stir to ensure the mix doesn’t stick and burn. If necessary, add a little more milk if it thickens too fast or too much.
- Pour into moulds – either a silicon muffin tin or jelly moulds. Leave 5 minutes, then place in the fridge to set and chill for at least 3 hours or longer if possible.
- Serve with gratings of white chocolate, and a sprig of jasmine blossom.
Recipe adapted from: ‘Sicilia in Cucina’, Sime Books.