Project Just Desserts: Veganizing Top Chef! Week four: VEGAN Mango Panna Cotta, Açaí Fluid Gel and Mango Sorbet with Basil-Lime Syrup!  »

Last week, Celine Steen gave us peanut butter krispy bars and toffee fudge brownies, and they were scrumptious, right? Like your at-home efforts turned up 1,000 percent. This week Just Desserts got all complicated and fancypants again; luckily our guest chef is the super-skilled Robin Robertson; we felt confident that the head of Global Vegan Kitchen could manage something as nonsensically complicated-sounding as Mango Panna Cotta, Açaía Fluid Gel and Passion Fruit Sorbet—with Tarragon Syrup, of course. Musn’t forget the tarragon.

Robin, because she is great, includes some small lessons with her recipe, so there is nothing more to say about her triumph, besides CONGRATULATIONS! and AMAZING!, maybe. Therefore we proudly give you over to Robin Robertson!

Three out of four of the main components of this dessert challenge are already vegan, so I’ve concentrated my veganizing efforts on the mango panna cotta. Literally “cooked cream” in Italian, a panna cotta is traditionally made with heavy cream and gelatin—definitely not vegan.

Even though the other elements of this dessert are already vegan, I still wanted to give them some kind of makeover, so I reworked them to be more accessible for the home kitchen. I mean, I can’t be the only one who doesn’t own a liquid nitrogen tank. And is it just me, or does “açaí fluid gel” sound like something you’d rub into a patch of dry skin? Call me crazy, but I think desserts should not only taste delicious, they should sound appetizing as well. It’s an added bonus if they don’t take all day to make, and if you can actually buy the ingredients at the supermarket.

So here you have it: my veganized version of mango panna cotta, as well as my own easy-and-accessible spin on the accompanying “fluid gel,” sorbet, and “tarragon” syrup.

Ready to serve!

Vegan Mango Panna Cotta, Açaí Fluid Gel & Mango Sorbet with Basil-Lime Syrup

Mango Panna Cotta
Instead of serving the panna cotta in slices, I went for the more traditional individual mold. To replace the cream, I used coconut milk, since it goes so well with mango, but soy creamer or a cashew cream (such as MimicCreme) can be used instead.
1 cup coconut milk
¾ cup sugar
1 Tbsp. agar powder
1 cup pureed mango
1 cup tofu cream cheese
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Combine the coconut milk, sugar, and agar, in a pot and let sit for 5 minutes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. In a food processor or high-speed blender, combine the coconut milk mixture with the mango, tofu cream cheese, and vanilla, and process until smooth. Quickly transfer the mixture into individual cups or molds. Set aside to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 1 hour. To unmold, place a plate over each mold and invert onto the plates. If it doesn’t come out easily, set each mold in warm water for a few seconds or run a knife along the edges of the mold.
Açaí Fluid Gel
I was surprised to find that my local supermarket has açaí juice. Still, I think “açaí coulis” has a better ring than “açaí fluid gel.”
⅓ cup açaí juice
1 tsp. agar agar powder

Combine the acai juice and agar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate to set until needed. When ready to use, blend the mixture in a blender to liquefy.

Basil-Lime Syrup
I just couldn’t bring myself to use corn syrup and grapeseed oil to make the syrup, and I thought basil would be a better match than tarragon (plus I have a lot of fresh basil on hand and zero tarragon). I think my basil-lime syrup is more appetizing and certainly easier to make. Best of all, it contains no oil or corn syrup, or tarragon, for that matter.
¼ cup lime jelly
¼ cup sugar
2 Tbsp. water

1 cup fresh basil leaves, blanched, shocked, and squeezed dry
In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, lime jelly, and water, stirring to dissolve the sugar and melt the jelly. Remove from the heat and stir in the basil. Transfer the mixture to a high-speed blender and blend until smooth. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer and set aside until needed.

Ready for show!

Mango Sorbet
The original recipe calls for passion fruit juice, and I can say with certainty that there is no passion fruit juice available within a 60-mile radius of my home. I made a mango sorbet instead, using whole fruit instead of the juice for a richer flavor. Since the mango is subtle in the panna cotta, I like getting an extra wallop of mango from the sorbet. I went with a curved slab shape for the sorbet instead of a scoop to juxtapose the Bravo set-up. (The sorbet is cut into cubes for the scaled down dessert photo.)
½ cup sugar
½ cup water
2 cups diced fresh mango
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Cook over low heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved, about 3 minutes. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil, then remove from the heat. Transfer to a heatproof bowl and refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours.
In a blender or food processor, combine the mango and lime juice and blend until smooth. Add the cooled sugar syrup to the mango mixture and process until smooth.
Freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. When the mixture is finished churning in the machine, transfer to a freezer-safe container and freeze for 1 to 2 hours.

Fresh raspberries
Fresh mango
Vegan chocolate

In case you are too lazy to cannot find the link to the left, click here to read the Project Just Desserts archive. Please let us know if you attempt Robin’s recipe, or any of the recipes past or future! Send photos! Play along!


Top Chef: Just Desserts, episode four airs tonight, and our fourth chef is revealed!  »

I’m sorry, who are you? Oh just one of the winning desserts from last week’s Top Chef: Just Desserts as veganized by the brilliant Celine Steen? Okay, just checking. NOW I WILL EAT YOU.

The fourth episode of Top Chef: Just Desserts airs on Bravo tonight (10 Eastern/Pacific), which means that we’re ready to unveil our third guest chef (see the first three here! Chocolate mousse! Margarita Bombes! Toffee Brownies! Rice Krispy bars coated with chocolate and hazelnut butter! DO IT) who will veganize the episode’s winning dessert! Well, it keeps getting better, and Imma ‘bout to tell you why.

ANNND here’s why: this week’s guest chef is the COMPLETELY AMAZING Robin Robertson of Global Vegan Kitchen. This woman is pretty much the most wonderful person alive. Not only has she penned 19 must-own vegan cookbooks (Vegan on the Cheap is my personal favorite vegan cookbook of the minute DEPRESSION 2.0, BABY! Oh, also, a friend who hates everything claims that 1,000 Vegan Recipes is pretty much the only reason she cooks/gets out of bed in the morning), she’s also a columnist for VegNews and a contributor to a million other magazines. In 1988, she left the restaurant world to dedicate her life to spreading vegan deliciousness throughout the land. So, basically, she’s a vegan pioneer who has made all our lives easier. Plus, she’s adorable and sassy, to boot. Bow down!

We love her and are so honored to have her tackle this week’s recipe, however insane/terrifying/complicated/easy/WHO KNOWS WHAT TOP CHEF WILL THROW OUR WAY. Bring it, Bravo!

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