Horchata Panna Cotta
When you think of horchata, you probably think of a cold glass of sweetened rice milk spiced with cinnamon. This is the most prevalent variety in the US, available at many taquerias and Mexican restaurants. It is a delicious and refreshing drink, and perfect to balance out tacos with fiery salsa. Interestingly, despite the association of horchata with Hispanic and Latinx cultures, it actually came from Africa and was not originally made with rice.
Horchata originated in North Africa around 2400 BC, where it was made from tiger nuts. The original beverage is still popular in Africa as well as Spain, where it is called horchata de chufa, but it has also spread around the world and spawned many variations. It is the ancestor not only of the familiar rice beverage, but also variants made with melon seeds, sesame seeds, peanuts, almonds, and all sorts of other ingredients. In many ways it seems to be credited as the first nut milk.
While there are many, many variants of horchata consumed around the world, this post focuses on the most popular variant in the US, horchata de arroz. While traditionally this drink was made with just sweetened spiced rice milk, over time it has become standard practice in many places to add dairy. Milk or cream is often added to enhance the creaminess, and sweetened condensed milk is added to sweeten and flavor the drink. I have tried it both ways, and while the non-dairy version is delicious, if you are trying to recreate the drink from your local taqueria, you will want to add some dairy.
For me, horchata alone is usually plenty for dessert. On a hot night, after a meal of spicy tacos, it is perfect: light, sweet, and delicious. But, if you want to class things up a bit, panna cotta is an easy way to turn that delicious drink into an elegant dessert. All it takes is the addition of a little bit of gelatin.
To make this recipe, you will need to make the horchata first, which takes 24 hours. Then you need to add the gelatin and allow it to set, which takes a few more hours (depending on how cold your refrigerator is). It is an easy recipe to start a couple of days ahead or even prepare before heading into the woods on a camping trip. Then, when the time comes for dessert, all you do is quickly heat up the sauce and pour it over.
Horchata Panna Cotta
4 cups water
1 cup long grain rice
¼ cup sugar
1 large cinnamon stick
1.5 cups half & half
¼ tsp vanilla extract
.25 oz. gelatin (1 envelope)
2 cups horchata
¼ cup condensed milk
⅛ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tbsp butter
1 tbsp milk
Make the horchata first. Add the rice, water, sugar, and cinnamon stick to a pitcher, stir, and place in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
Once 24 hours have passed, blend the mixture well and strain through a sieve. You can discard the strained rice bits or save them for use in a quick arroz con leche.
Add the half & half and vanilla extract, and stir together. You can use whole milk in place of half & half, but the mixture will not be as creamy and decadent. For use in panna cotta especially, I suggest half & half.
Put ½ cup cold horchata in a bowl and pour over the envelope of gelatin. Allow the gelatin powder to hydrate for around 5 minutes.
In a saucepan, heat the rest of the horchata over medium-low heat. When the gelatin is hydrated, add that mixture to the saucepan.
Heat the horchata until it is warm and the gelatin is fully dissolved. Do not boil.
Pour the horchata from the saucepan into your serving dishes (or molds, if you are feeling bold) and place these in the refrigerator to set for at least 4 hours.
Add the butter, condensed milk, and ground cinnamon to a skillet over low heat.
Allow the butter to melt and stir the mixture until well-combined. Add the milk to thin the sauce, add a pinch of salt if desired, and remove from heat.
Drizzle a bit of the sauce over each panna cotta and enjoy!