I have recently been reading about a vegetarian gelatine alternative called agar agar, which is derived from boiling several kinds of seaweed together. It’s dried and sold in powder form, flakes or bars and has similar properties to gelatine, in that it can set things into a gel or jelly.
I was intrigued and ordered some of the powder form online to have a play. As the weather was bright and sunny, I decided to try and replicate a recipe for buttermilk panna cotta, using the agar in place of the gelatine. Using buttermilk rather than cream appealed to me as it sounded lighter and fresher than regular panna cottas.
Seeing the first English strawberries starting to appear in the shops, I couldn’t resist buying a large punnet of them. I decided to pair them with the buttermilk panna cotta in order to create a light and summery dessert. As I was in an experimental mood and had set aside a whole day to play with my new agar ager, I decided to have some fun and use the strawberries in three different ways. Some I kept fresh and whole, others I sliced thinly and dehydrated until crisp and the rest I pureed, mixed with some agar and set the mixture into a jelly, which I then cut out small dots/circles of to decorate the plate. Strawberry 3 ways!
Thinking through the dessert I decided I needed to add some chew or crunch element to compliment the other softer textures. Mini piped meringues seemed a good idea and I was struck with how my dessert now resembled a deconstructed pavlova.
I was a little anxious my buttermilk panna cotta wouldn’t set, as I wasn’t sure how to much to use. As it turns out I actually used far too much, as my panna cotta was more like a firm jelly, than a softly set cream. It still tasted nice, but wasn’t the texture I hoped for.
I have decided not to give any recipes for the dessert, as although I was happy with the presentation and the flavours, I felt the textures of both the panna cotta and meringues could have been improved. The panna cotta was much too firm and the meringues were more chewy than crisp.
The flavours were lovely when eaten together. The buttermilk panna cotta was fresh, and only lightly sweet, the strawberry elements had ripe fruity flavours that actually tasted like strawberries and the meringues had a lovely crisp outer crust and very very chewy interior.
I tried really hard with the presentation and was happy with how the dish looked. It just needs some tweaking to perfect the recipes. I need to read up about how to correctly substitute powdered agar agar for gelatine.