Serve a taste of glamour, class with a martini glass


November 15, 2006|By Carolyn Jung | Carolyn Jung,McClatchy-Tribune

James Bond prefers his shaken, not stirred.

I like mine thick enough for a spoon or a fork.

When it comes to that icon of cool, a martini glass can hold a classic American cocktail. Or nowadays, a whole lot more.

Ahi tartare. Silky panna cotta. Spicy ceviche. Basil ice cream. Even good, old-fashioned mashed potatoes or Jell-O.

Put anything into a martini glass, and instantly it's glam.

That's why Gillian Baggen, pastry chef at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in San Francisco, loves to serve individual desserts in the sophisticated stemware, especially layered desserts that look so alluring behind clear glass.

She might start with some coffee gelee, add a layer of biscotti bits, then some mascarpone mousse and end with icy coffee granita. It's a distinctive dessert made all the more striking by its vessel.

"The martini glass is so versatile and so attractive," Baggen says. "With its wide top, it's very nice to decorate. The stem gives it a different dimension; it has that height. Whatever you put into it becomes tall and elegant."

With its wide conical bowl perched atop a slender, fragile stem, the glass has an artsy, sexy and dangerous air. After all, even when you're seated, it takes a steady hand to avoid spilling its contents.

As with a wine or champagne glass, the stem on a martini glass allows you to pick it up without warming the contents with your hand. Some say the wide rim heightens the gin's bouquet in a classic martini.

Others say the glass was created during Prohibition because it allowed the martini to be quaffed in three gulps or quickly dumped out in the event of a police raid.

No matter the occasion, a martini glass always serves high drama.

So skip the Cosmos and the Lemon Drops. Next time you entertain, set aside some snazzy martini glasses for something more substantial. Make it easy - a scoop of Haagen-Dazs with a drizzle of fudge sauce. Or make it challenging - a scallop mousse topped with lobster and caviar. Whatever you put inside is sure to dazzle.

Bottoms up.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta

6 servings

2 1/4 cups heavy cream

1 cup (less 2 tablespoons) granulated sugar

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped; both bean and seeds reserved

3 3/4 cups buttermilk

2 packets powdered unflavored gelatin

zest of 1 lemon

Bring cream and sugar to boil in large saucepan; add scraped vanilla bean and its seeds. Stir to combine.

Remove pot from heat, discard vanilla bean. Set aside.

Pour buttermilk into bowl or measuring cup. Sprinkle gelatin over the top, and allow to bloom for 2 to 3 minutes, without stirring.

Place saucepan of cream and sugar back on stove top on medium-high heat. Slowly pour buttermilk-gelatin mixture into saucepan, whisking constantly until well mixed. Bring to boil, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat, and whisk in lemon zest. Pour mixture into 6 martini glasses. Chill until firm, at least 5 hours or overnight.

Note: This cold, creamy, not-too-sweet eggless custard is fantastic on its own. But it also can be topped with fresh berries, brandied cherries, orange or tangerine segments, chocolate shavings or even chocolate chips. For a fun party idea, set out small bowls of each to create a "toppings bar" and let your guests help themselves.

Per serving: 490 calories; 9 grams protein; 34 grams fat; 21 grams saturated fat; 39 grams carbohydrate; 200 milligrams sodium; 128 milligrams cholesterol; trace of fiber

From Gillian Baggen, pastry chef of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, San Francisco

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