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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Panna Cotta with Balsamic Berries

While going through some magazines, my wife found a recipe, in House Beautiful that she thought looked good.  It is a recipe for Panna Cotta with Balsamic Berries by Ina Garten the Barefoot Contessa.  A few days after she gave me the recipe, we were having some friends over for to share a BBQ dinner, and my wife asked if I would make this recipe for dessert.

After a quick trip to the store for whipping cream, one vanilla bean and some fresh berries, I was ready to make the dessert.  I started the day before our BBQ and made the cream portion of the dessert.  I read the directions and quickly decided that while the dessert looks complicated, it is quite easy to make.

I started by cutting a slit the length of the vanilla bean and using the blade of a knife to scrape out the seeds.  I was expecting seeds I could see, but instead the seeds looked like black tar as I scraped out the bean.  Next, in a large mixing bowl I added 1 1/2–cups of the whipping cream, a pint of whole milk yogurt, 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract, the vanilla bean seeds and then used a whisk to mix all the ingredients.

Into a medium saucepan, I deposited another 1 ½-cups of the cream, and ¾-cup of sugar and stirred the sugar into the cream.  I set the saucepan over a burner on the range and set the heat to medium to bring the cream to a simmer.  While the cream heated, I added one package of unflavored gelatin powder into 1 ½ tablespoons of cold water and mixed.  The gelatin had to sit and soften for 10 minutes, which is about the time it took for the cream to simmer.  I didn’t want to mix the gelatin too early because I learned in another recipe that if it is left too long, it becomes a hard mess that is virtually unusable.

Once the cream mixture began to simmer, I removed it from the heat and whisked the gelatin into the cream.  Next, I slowly added the hot cream mixture to the cold cream in the mixing bowl and combined the two cream mixtures using the whisk.  I set out eight ramekins, poured the cream mixture into the ramekins, filling seven of the eight.  I could have poured less of the mixture into each ramekin and prepared all eight, but seven was fine for our dinner and gave a larger portion of the cream to each guest.

I placed the ramekins on a cookie sheet and placed them in the refrigerator to cool.  Once the cream mixture was cool, I covered each ramekin with plastic wrap and I finished for the night.

On the morning of the BBQ, I did some more preparation of the dessert by slicing two pints of fresh strawberries into a large bowl.  Next, I added a pint of fresh raspberries and a pint of fresh blueberries.  I sprinkled three tablespoons of sugar over the berries and mixed the sugar into the berries.  The recipe calls for two tablespoons of sugar, but the raspberries were a little sour so I added more.  I covered the berries with plastic wrap and put them in the refrigerator to stay cool.

Thirty minutes before it was time to serve the dessert, I added five tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and a touch of black pepper to the berries and stirred to mix.

Next came the trickiest part, the directions say to run a small knife around the sides of each dessert and then dip the bottoms in hot tap water to loosen the cream and then turn over on a plate and tap the bottom and the cream should fall out.  I did all this and the cream remained stuck in the ramekin.  I found that while having the ramekin inverted, I insert the knife blade along the side of the dessert to make a small opening to allow air to enter, and then the cream drops out of the ramekin onto the plate.

All that remained was to spoon some of the berries around the cream and then grate a little bit of fresh lemon peel onto the cream and serve.

Everyone enjoyed their panna cotta dessert.  The cream portion was very light and the little bit of lemon zest added just a little enhancement to the flavor.  I would never have thought to use balsamic vinegar with fresh berries, but the vinegar added just a little bite to the sweetness of the berries and was delicious.

This is a dessert that I will make again; the hardest part will be waiting until all three types of berries are again in season.  At first glance, the dessert looks very difficult to make, but in the end I found it very easy to make.  When I looked for the recipe on-line, I was initially surprised that some of the measurements of the ingredients were different, then I quickly realized that the on-line version is makes 4 servings instead of 8, so all the measurements are one half of the recipe from the magazine.

Find the recipe at:

Adventures In Food: Author: Kerry Howell

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