I walked home last night, squinting against the freezing January wind, and thinking about the tiny silver tin of lapsang souchong tea in my satchel. As I pondered the lovely, smoky flavor of the tea (arrived that very day from Tea Chef), I was hit by a August memory of hallucinatory intensity: S'mores. I could almost taste the marshmallow, silky within and smoked-stained on the outside, hot enough to melt two squares of chocolate, and insulated by bready sweet graham crackers.
Inspired by that warming thought, and a recent encounter with thai coffee panna cotta, I set out to capture a summer campfire dessert using that crucial mid-winter staple: tea. I wound up decanting a mound of chilled panna cotta flavored strongly with lapsang souchong and vanilla onto a mosaic of warm graham crackers and drizzling melted dark chocolate on top. The tea made the panna cotta sweetly smoky, tinted it an appealing warm brown, and cut the richness of the cream. And the s'mores experience was excitingly reversed--the creamy, smoky element was cold and soothing, while the crackers and chocolate provided heat and texture.
The results were marvelous, even if I do say so myself. I'll certainly make this again. It was easy, and would be simple to make ahead and have ready for an impressive end to a small dinner party.
I'm late in submitting this to the TeaChef contest, so it probably won't be included, but go check out the other entries for cooking with lapsang souchong anyway, and vote for your favorite. (UPDATE: It's up! Now your choice is easy--vote for me!)
Smoky Lapsang Souchong Panna Cotta S'mores
In a small bowl, combine but do not stir:
1 packet unflavored gelatine (2 1/4 teaspoons)
4 Tablespoons cold water
While that rests, combine in a saucepan over medium-high heat:
1 cup heavy cream
4 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or one vanilla bean, split)
2-3 Tablespoons lapsang souchong tea leaves
Heat gently until the mixture begins to barely simmer, then cook for 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally. The cream should take on a light brown color from the tea as it steeps. Add the bowl of gelatine and water and stir for about one minute until fully incorporated.
Strain out the tea leaves (and vanilla bean, if using) and pour the warm mixture into ramekins, tea cups, champagne bowls (that's what I used), or whatever you have around. Chill for several hours, or overnight.
Arrange graham crackers on a plate and microwave for 15 seconds. Briefly dip the chilled panna cotta mold into very hot water (no more than 10 seconds, or the contents will become a melted puddle) and then invert over the graham crackers. Note: If you're worried about turning the molds out onto a plate, they could be served as is, in little cups for your guests to dig into.
Drizzle melted dark chocolate or hot fudge on top, and crumble 1/8 of a graham cracker for decoration. Serve immediately.