It starts with buckets and spades on the beach — the compulsion to fill a container, invert it, give it a smart tap and then tip a perfect replica out onto the sand. If you’re very good at it, you evolve into Auguste Rodin or Rachel Whiteread, who filled an East London house with concrete to make a cast of its interior. But, don’t worry. For the rest of us, there’s always pannacotta.
I’ve just found a beautiful 1920s china jelly mould in a junk shop — perfect for the would-be sculptor inside myself. It had been looking elegantly beautiful on a shelf in the kitchen, until I was inspired to use it by Peter Hone. Peter has a job title to marvel at — he’s a Master Plaster Caster. I discovered his work at my favourite place for architectural salvage, LASSCO Three Pigeons in Oxfordshire. A man with such an impressive title needs a stately home — in this case, a derelict Telephone Repeater Station renovated by LASSCO especially to house Peter’s creations.
The new Hone Exchange, a gloriously eccentric building, is now crammed with Peter’s magnificent plaster casts of leaves, feet, animal skulls and heads.
After a happy half hour looking at the beautiful objects inside the Exchange, I was in the mood to cast my pannacotta.
Makes 6 — 8 small pannacottas
- 4 leaves gelatine
- 600ml double cream
- 170ml full cream milk
- 175g caster sugar
- 1 vanilla pod
- 1 teaspoon rose water
- Strip of lemon peel
Place the gelatine in a bowl of cold water to soften for ten minutes. Heat the milk, cream, lemon peel and seeds scraped from the inside of the vanilla pod. When it is at simmering point, remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until it is completely dissolved. Wring out the gelatine leaves and stir into the cream, one at a time. When they have dissolved, add the rose water.
Remove the lemon peel and pour the cream mixture into the moulds. When cool, put them in the fridge. They should be firm enough to turn out after a couple of hours. Dip the moulds into hot water for ten seconds and then turn them upside down onto plates. Wiggle them about a bit, if the pannacotta doesn’t flop out.
I served mine with a few summer berries and tiny basil leaves as well as with some rhubarb that I poached in loganberry syrup with a couple of cardamons.
The 1920s jelly mould turned out to be just too statuesque for a pannacotta. The finished pudding looked more like a vast white whale on the horizon. The mould has been restored to its shelf, where it continues to look coolly beautiful. Far better were the ancient moulds I was given when I was at university.
I’ll never qualify for the title of Master Plaster Caster, but am wondering if my pannacotta could at least be A Pannacotta Cantata.
Pannacotta should be small, delicate and disappear in a few mouthfuls. Above all, what you must remember is that the perfect pannacotta should achieve the kind of wobble you pray your thighs will never have.