Lemon & Chocolate

Panna cotta, lemon curd and dark chocolate spheres

Lemon and Chocolate

It was my fiancée's hen do on Saturday night, so I was home alone and had big plans: ox cheek, slow cooked in red wine with barley, followed by sous vide hanger steak, bone marrow and chips. Unfortunately, I was stuck with a work-related problem, and decided to order take away instead. 40 minutes later, Domino's turn up with a particularly poor effort.

My evening was rescued by this dessert - which is pretty lengthy in process, but simple to make if you have some time to invest. The combination of lemon and dark chocolate is something that excites my palette a lot. I think the softer than usual panna cotta used here (partially down to the addition of vodka) surrounded by a crisp chocolate layer provides an interesting texture.

If you want to make things simpler you could fill ramekins with the panna cotta, layer over some curd, and pour over a thin layer of melted chocolate to get the same flavour. Here though I've formed the mix into a sphere, with the centre core being replaced by lemon curd. To do this you'll need a few special pieces of equipment - a silicone semi-sphere mould, a melon baller and a paint sprayer.

This recipe is for 4 complete desserts.


Lemon curd

Makes enough to freeze for the sphere's cores, some extra for plate dressing and left-overs for your toast

  • 3 Large Eggs
  • 100g Unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 215g Caster sugar
  • 3 Unwaxed Lemons (zest and juice)

Take two heatproof bowls, one slightly larger than the other, and put some ice & water in the larger of the two. Let the smaller bowl sit on this, and put a sieve on top. Combine the butter, sugar, lemon juice and zest in another bowl. Place this bowl over a pot of simmering water and stir until the butter and sugar have melted together.

Crack three eggs and whisk until fully combined. Add this to the heated lemon mixture while still on the heat, and stir very gently. Make sure the pot of water doesn't get too hot, or your eggs will scramble.

Continue to stir gently for about 10 minutes - at which point the curd will have thickened. Don't worry if it doesn't look thick enough - it won't be until it has cooled. The best way to describe it is as a thick pourable consistency. When it reaches this stage, take the curd off the heat and pour it through the sieve into the ice bath. It's not necessary to use an ice bath if you have the time to wait, but it allows us to move to the next stage more quickly.

Put some of your curd into a squeezy plastic bottle, the rest in a sealable sterilised container, and move them to the fridge.


Panna cotta

Makes enough to fill 8 semi-spheres

  • 2 leaves of Gelatine
  • 300ml Double Cream
  • 75ml Whole Milk
  • 110g Caster Sugar
  • 1 Unwaxed Lemon (zest and juice)
  • 70ml Vodka
  • Special equipment: 7cm diameter half-sphere silicone mould (annoyingly these normally come in the 6 hole variety, so you'll need two)

Add the gelatine to a bowl of cold water and set aside, place your silicone moulds onto a baking tray of about the same size (to make it easier to carry when it's full of the mixture). Combine the cream, milk and sugar in a pot. Bring this to the boil and add the lemon and lemon zest. Whisk this in; when combined, remove from the heat and leave to cool enough so that you can just bear the heat if you put your finger into to the mixture.

Don't mis-judge this temperature; too hot and you'll stop the gelatine from setting, to cold and you'll end up with lumps of gelatine in the mix. When you think it's about right, take your gelatine, squeeze out the water, and combine with the hot lemon cream.

Once at room temperature, pour this into a jug (or auto funnel if you have one) and then fill the silicone molds. Try to fill to the top and burst any bubbles that appear with a fork. Slowly move these to a clear shelf in your freezer.


Construction and chocolate coating

  • 250g 70% dark chocolate
  • 75ml Groundnut oil
  • Electric Paint Sprayer (I use a Wagner W180P; don't use it for spraying your fence before making this recipe though)

When the panna cotta is set enough that it barely moves (though isn't completely frozen), take a melon-baller and carefully scoop out a place for your lemon curd. Pipe or squeeze some of your curd into the hole, then use a palette knife to make sure it sits perfectly flat. Put this back in the freezer to harden compeltely - this may take another hour or two. When you're happy that they're frozen solid, place a sheet of greaseproof paper onto a circular plate (this becomes important later) and carefully unmould each panna cotta.

Work quickly, as the soft mixture begins to melt straight away - build 4 complete spheres by adding each half together and pressing very gently. Make sure there's at least 5cm distance between each one. Put them back in the freezer on the plate while you make the spray paint.

Take a pot of simmering water and place a bowl, containing the dark chocolate, over the top. Allow to melt, stirring occasionally. When ready, take off the heat, pour in the oil and stir to combine completely. Let this cool slightly (or you'll kill your spheres) then fill your sprayer with the mix.

Get a box big and tall enough to take the plate you've put your panna cottas on (a box where each side is the same size as a 12" vinyl record is perfect) and get ready for the fun part. Take the plate of panna cottas out of your freezer and put this in the box. Start the spray gun, and make sure it's at least 15cm away from the nearest sphere. Spray until you can't see any unpainted surface, then turn the plate and cover the next area. Continue until the spheres are covered in chocolate. Remember to try and go right to the bottom of each one, which can be a bit tricky. Try not to rotate the spray gun too much - if the inner pipe isn't fully submerged in the mix it will splatter the surface with random blobs of chocolate. Once you're happy, quickly put back in the freezer for at least 5 minutes to harden the chocolate.

Take the spheres out about 40 minutes from when you want to serve. After they've sat at room temperature for 40 minutes, the outer shell won't look frozen at all. I've served these above with dots of curd and chocolate spray, a few crumbled pieces of chocolate, some cocoa powder and a couple of lemon marshmallows.

Crack into those chocolate shells and enjoy the very soft centre with an espresso, cognac or dessert wine. It's just what every man needs when his wife-to-be is out getting hammered on Jägerbombs in Soho.

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