Roasted Persimmon & Milk Panna Cotta
Chinese culture is rife with culinary superstition. From foods having ‘heaty’ and ‘cooling’ properties, to getting 50 years of guanyinma bad luck from sticking chopsticks straight up in a ricebowl, some of them make sense, but others, not so much.
One such superstition that I’ve never really questioned (until now) is the advice to refrain from eating certain fruits and milk together. The fruits in question range from bananas and oranges, to more niche ones like mangosteens, and of course, today’s ingredient of interest — persimmons!
A month ago, on a two-day layover in Tokyo on the way to Memphis, I had a dessert that blew a gaping hole in this Chinese superstition I’ve long held to be true. It was a persimmon milk kakigori at Kurogi.
The dessert was all kinds of fluffy and creamy, and was as graceful as the Japanese autumn happening all around. It looked the part too, with the ultra-fluffy shaved ice only the Japanese could pull off piled high in a hand-made ceramic bowl, a gleaming wedge of persimmon on top, and a little quivering piece of gold leaf for that extra bit of boujie-ness. As much as I liked persimmons, I did have reservations about the milk part. But all doubt evaporated as I put spoon to mouth, because by god does the combination of fruity persimmon and ice-cloud dairy work; it was like having a cold, milk-flavoured cotton candy with bits of lightly-sweetened, jelly-soft persimmon slices suspended in every other bite. It’s so sensual and autumnal, and totally speaks to the part of you left behind during your infatuated, Winter Sonata-obsessed teenage years.
The real kicker though, was a third ingredient hidden within the kakigori tower — a few sweetened bits of adzuki (red bean). Its almost meaty earthiness grounds the whole dessert, and reinforces the marriage of persimmon and milk even more, like a pastor officiating their wedding. Most importantly though, the dessert did not give me a stomach ache, and that was all the reason I needed to recreate the flavour combination back home in Malaysia.
So, in celebration of the non-existent autumn of the ever scorching hot Malaysia, I took the three flavours — persimmon, milk, and red bean — and whipped up a tribute dessert of sorts: a milk panna cotta with roasted persimmons, a red bean kakigori-esque granita, and a spiced syrup for a bit of drizzle action.
It sounds like a heck of a lot of work, until you actually get to it. The panna cotta can be whipped up in 10 minutes and forgotten in the fridge until the next day, the persimmons can be left to roast in the oven until you need it, and the syrup is just a byproduct of the persimmon roasting process. So the only mildly annoying part is scraping the red bean ice. But if anything, just like a marriage isn’t quite complete without a pastor or wedding officiator, this dessert would fall short of its true autumnal high without the addition of adzuki.
Aside: Thank you Flory for bringing me around Tokyo! If you’re ever planning on going to Japan, check out some of her walking guides and eating recommendations. Or book her for a tour! She’ll bring you traipsing around the back-alleys of Ginza in search of fox shrines, find little kissatens across the city, and show you funky, silly doors (called Thomassons) wherever you go. Oh, and her writing is waaaay more entertaining and awe-inspiring than mine, so sign up for her newsletter!
Milk Panna Cotta, Roasted Persimmons, & Red Bean Ice
Milk panna cotta
300ml milk, can be substituted with heavy cream for a uber-rich panna cotta
200ml condensed milk
6g gelatine powder
Red bean ice
100g red bean, soaked overnight in water
1 litre water
50g sugar, or more to taste
Roasted persimmons & spiced syrup
2 persimmons, peeled and sliced horizontally into ½-inch discs
250g caster sugar
2 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
Panna cotta: Sprinkle the gelatine over the 50ml of water, give it a stir, and leave it to bloom for 5 minutes. Pour the milk, condensed milk, sugar, and salt in a pot, and heat it up until it starts to steam. Add in the bloom gelatine, and bring the whole thing to a boil and immediately take it off the heat. Let it cool in the pot for 15-30 minutes, then pour it through a sieve into small wine glasses or a silicon mould, or any other vessel you’d serve the panna cotta in. Chill it in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, or overnight, until it is set.
Red bean ice: Soak the red beans in water for at least 3 hours, or up to 12 hours overnight. Then, place the red beans, water, sugar, and salt in a pot and bring it to a boil. Let it simmer for 30 minutes to an hour, until the red beans are super soft, and mashable with a fork. (The cooking time will vary depending on how long the beans have been soaked for. For an overnight soak, 30 minutes should do it.) Roughly mash up the red beans when it’s cooked. Then, let it cool in the pot until lukewarm, then transfer it into a container, and pop it into the freezer until the next day, or until it’s frozen solid. Then, using a fork, scrape the block of red bean ice to get granita-like shavings. Keep it in the freezer until you’re ready to serve.
Roasted persimmons: Put the caster sugar, water, and all the spices in a small pot or saucepan, and bring it to a boil. Add in the persimmon slices, and let it simmer for 10 minutes, until the persimmons turn glossy and softens slightly. (If you’re using really ripe, soft persimmons, cook it for 5 minutes or less.)
Roasted persimmons: Heat your oven to 160°C. When the persimmons are done, spread them out onto a lined baking tray, and roast them in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until they’ve dehydrated slightly. When they’re done, remove from the oven and let them cool to room temperature.
Spiced caramel: Fish out the spices from the syrup the persimmons were cooking in, and bring it to boil. Let it simmer for 10-15 minutes until it starts to brown and darken into a fragrant caramel. (Be sure to watch it so it doesn’t burn!) Don’t let it get too dark and thick because it’ll harden as it cools, and you still want it to be pourable. (You can add some water to it at the end if you think you’ve gone too far.)
Serve: Unmould the pannacotta onto a plate. (Or skip this if you’re serving it in a glass.) Then, serve with the roasted persimmons and red bean ice, and drizzle the spiced caramel all over!