Pumpkin Panna Cotta with Wort Syrup
A couple weeks ago, we had a festive “dinner at Sixpoint.” The occasion? Jersey Dan, Sixpoint’s Philly rep, was in town, and he wanted to cook. It was a fun day of collaborating for this family-style feast, and a welcome change of pace. Together, and in between sips hearty sips drawn from downstairs, we came up with five courses to serve to the entire staff, culminating in this one, for dessert.
Yes, pumpkins are still afloat at the brewery, just like the Pumpkin Brewster Saison is still flowing at bars. They do hold up well over time. I like it when food doubles as home decorations — when you’re sick at looking at the gourds on the stoop, scoop them out and eat them instead. I suppose that theory also holds for having a garden outside, or keeping fresh herbs in the kitchen.
A rich, creamy dessert that looks like you could only get from a restaurant can be deceptively simple, too: panna cotta is just as easy to make as Jell-O. The main ingredient is cream, and the ingredient that makes it stiff is a packet of unflavored gelatin. Unlike egg-based custards, you don’t need any finesse of a chef to pull it off. The word in Italian actually just means “cooked cream,” and you do cook the cream first, by bringing it just to scalding-hot. You’ll have wanted to mix in sugar to that first, and any flavoring agents, like vanilla bean. For this one, I added pureed roasted pumpkin, brown sugar and cinnamon. Mix in the softened gelatin at this point and pour them into individual ramekins. I guess the only tricky part is upending the ramekins to see if they will flop onto a plate (they did easily this time).
But my favorite part about this dessert was its bittersweet syrup, which was made by reducing pure wort — and nothing else. It happened when Jersey Dan and I were discussing what to add to the panna cotta for a little garnish. Maybe I’ll make a syrup of reduced brown ale or something, I suggested. Ian was in the kitchen just then and suggested another option. Just reduce some wort, straight from the brewery. He’d done this before, at a recent beer dinner for friends. Wort is basically beer before it ferments; it’s the liquid when separated from the mash. This is the first step in beer-making, steeping water in malted grains. So the glass full of wort that Ian came back with, a few minutes later, was piping hot. I think it was from a batch of Brownstone Ale that was just being brewed that day.
Because it’s already sweet, we didn’t add any sugar to the wort as it bubbled in a pot to reduce. We actually over-reduced it a bit, and the thickened, molasses-like sauce hardened after being set aside for a while. (I was able to reconstitute it with hot water, though.) It tastes a lot like molasses, with a deep, caramely sweetness and bitter edge. It tasted fantastic with the spiced pumpkin “cooked cream.”
If you know a homebrewer or have played around in that role yourself, try saving a cupful or so of your wort to make syrup with instead. Use it on pancakes or in baking instead of maple syrup or honey. How about a spongey stout cake with this stuff drizzled on top? It’s beer, but only its sweet side.
Pumpkin Panna Cotta with Wort Syrup
(makes 4-6 ramekins)
2 cups heavy cream
1 packet unflavored gelatin
1/3 cup sugar
about 1/2 cup roasted, pureed pumpkin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, cloves or allspice
2 tablespoons water
for the wort syrup
2 cups wort (can be made from malted grains purchased at a homebrew supply shop)
Dissolve gelatin in the water and set aside. Combine the cream, pumpkin, sugar and spices in a saucepan and heat over medium-high, stirring frequently, until it just begins to scald. Remove from heat and stir in the gelatin. Pour into individual ramekins and chill for 4 hours (or overnight) until solid.
To make the syrup, heat the wort in a saucepan until it begins to boil, then reduce to a simmer. Let simmer, stirring occasionally, until liquid has reduced by about half and is thick.
Carefully turn each panna cotta out of its ramekin and onto a plate, with the help of a spatula or knife if necessary. Serve with a drizzle of the wort syrup.