Tahini panna cotta with soy sauce caramel

So I made a riff on this dessert about a year ago for a digital cook-along event for the Boys and Girls Club of Rochester, Minnesota(thank you, Shari for inviting me to do this!). For them, I did a demo on a dessert, which would be delivered to those who participated. For the dessert that I submitted, I made a tahini panna cotta, which was 100% vegan, since I did not want the panna cotta to run into any transportation issues when being delivered to the diners. I used soy milk as the base liquid, but tahini, or sesame paste, to add that richness and fat that soy bean milk would inherently lack. That, along with agar, was how I was able to accomplish a creamy panna cotta texture, without using any actual animal products! If you want, you can substitute the sesame paste with almond butter or peanut butter for a similar effect! Or make really any kind of nut butter, like hazelnut or pistachio, as the fats from that are what emulsify with the soy milk to make a creamier texture and mouthfeel.

To pair with this particular panna cotta, I have a soy sauce caramel(with gluten-free soy sauce before somebody tries to tell me that my soy sauce contained gluten in it), which is literally just 3 ingredients, and a gluten-free sesame crunch, since I was going for a dessert that was both vegan and gluten-free! Between the three, it’s like a fun play on cookies and cream, but using Asian ingredients like soy sauce, soy milk, agar, and sesame. With this dessert, you have crunchy, smoky, salty, sweet, a little bitter, and creamy, so basically a lot of good flavors and textures that you would want in a dessert! The best part is that the panna cotta does have a bit of a wobble or jiggle to it, something that you would only expect from a regular panna cotta that uses gelatin and cream!

Makes 2 panna cottas:
For the panna cotta:
1 cup soy milk
2 tsp agar agar
2 tbsp tahini paste
1/4 cup granulated sugar
a pinch of salt

Bring everything to a simmer. Once everything is fully dissolved into the milk, take off heat and pour into 2 silicone muffin tins. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before carefully unmolding onto a plate. To unmolding, use an offset spatula or butter knife to release the panna cotta from the sides of the mold before turning onto a serving plate.

For the crunch:
1/4 cup ground white sesame seeds
1 tbsp tahini paste
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp xanthan gum
1 tbsp canola oil
a pinch of salt

Mix everything together in a bowl to form your dough. Spread the dough in roughly fingernail-sized pieces on a lined sheet tray and bake at 400 degrees F for 15 minutes. Crush into smaller pieces and cool down completely.

For the caramel:
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup soy milk
1 tsp soy sauce

Heat up sugar until it begins to dissolve and darken in color(you can keep the uncooked brown sugar in a container next to the pot as a way to compare the coloration). Once the sugar is almost the color of milk chocolate, add in the remaining ingredients and stir, off heat, until combined. Allow the caramel to cool down before using.

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