Panna cotta is a dessert I’ve seen over and over since starting the food blog, probably even before then. When you’re always looking at recipes to try though I guess you tend to notice some things more. And I’ve noticed that panna cotta seemed like a popular choice. I’ve been curious about it – what is it’s texture like, for the most part. Let’s see what happens when you try something new for the very first time. The biggest surprise wasn’t my reaction.
I dunno what happened to the ingredients shot, but no, I didn’t Instagram it. Anyways, prepare to make one of the easiest desserts. Ever. In the history of Easy Desserts. This is something you could make the morning of a day with the girlfriends and it would ready by lunch or early afternoon. So strike off the easy category.
Welcome to the most labor-intensive part of the recipe: pitting the cherries for the cherry compote. I adjusted the recipe a little to lessen the amount of compote from 6 cups of cherries to 4. In retrospect it could even be shortened to three cups of cherries.
To make this part as easy as possible, I highly recommend investing in one of these very inexpensive cherry pitter tools. I think mine cost seven bucks. It rips that pit right out of the cherry in no time, without tearing the cherry apart. Hubby had a lot of fun doing that. Once he started playing with it I could barely get a turn in. So that makes this even easier – get someone else to “play” and do it for you! It really only took about ten minutes to do this part.
Outside of a JELL-O mix, I’ve never touched gelatin for recipe purposes in my life. The recipe only said to dump the stuff in some water. That’s it. No, “stir it in, silly” or anything. I’ll help you out – stir it in. I did not (again, gelatin newb, I assumed it would all float down into the water) and some of it just sat on top and I discovered this as I was supposed to incorporate it with the other ingredients. Don’t be silly like me.
So once you’ve dissolved some sugar in some half and half, all that’s left to do is whisk in the rest of the panna cotta ingredients. Easy!
Well, hold up, I lied. One more step – you must strain the mixture. Why? Because if you’re silly like me, some of that gelatin just won’t whisk in because it didn’t properly mix with the water. And then I was all, “Crapsies! Will there not be enough gelatin to turn this into a wobbly, gelatinous dessert now?!” It sucks when you’re all Gelatin Newb and just aren’t sure.
Because now we must put the liquid into pretty dishes and wait a few hours to see if we’ve done it right. Don’t fret over it. Go pet the cat. Or stack up all your cooking magazines. Or run on the treadmill. It’s just dessert for gosh sakes. Tell everyone they’d better eat it no matter what. Yeah, that’s it.
Meanwhile, while the panna cotta is hopefully chilling its way to awesomeness, you should get to preparing the cherry compote. Wait -what? You forgot to get that going during the four hours of panna cotta chilling time like you were supposed to? Well, never fear – I forgot to as well. I’ll tell you how to cheat up the compote in the Notes below. *high five*
At the end of the day, if you’re trying something new, and you’re wondering if you’ve made it right as you taste it, just ask yourself: do you like it? If the answer is yes, congratulations, you cooking fox, you did it right.
I asked on Twitter what the texture of this was like. I was hoping that it wasn’t too much like JELL-O. Why would I want to make, essentially, the same thing when I have plenty of those little boxes in my cabinet. In a way, this is like JELL-O, but probably best described as a more grown up and sophisticated version. At first, it feels on the tongue much like JELL-O, but that firmness gives way to a creamy undertone and melts on the tongue much better that JELL-O. All the great buttermilk and half and half weren’t wasted; they’re creaminess does come through. Together with the cherry topping and a few pieces of almond to round it off, this was a pleasant surprise.
But you know who liked it more than I did? My non-dessert-eating hubby. Color me shocked! He ate his right up with plenty of enthusiasm. To give that more perspective, he has gotten irate over offers of dessert before because most of them just do not appeal to him. Heck, even our kidlet had a few bites and smiled while doing so. It was like I’d woken up that morning in an alternate universe – and I liked it!
Panna cotta is one of the stranger desserts I’ve made and tried, but in the end I really enjoyed it. I’d make this again in a heartbeat.
Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Cherry Compote
adapted from Food Network Magazine, July/August 2012
Prep Time: 15 hours minutes Cook Time: About 40 minutes Chill Time: 3-4 hours Level: Easy Makes: 5-6 servings
For the panna cotta:
- 1 1/4-ounce packet unflavored gelatin
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 cup half-and-half
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
For the compote:
- 4 cups pitted cherries
- 1 cup sugar
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Chopped toasted almonds, for sprinkling (optional)
Make the panna cotta: Fill a liquid measuring cup or small bowl with 1/2 cup cold water; sprinkle the gelatin on top, stir to incorporate and let stand 5 minutes.
Heat the sugar and half-and-half in a small saucepan over medium heat, whisking to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and whisk in the gelatin mixture until dissolved. Stir in the buttermilk and vanilla and almond extracts. Pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a large liquid measuring cup or bowl. Let cool to room temperature, then divide among 6 glasses or small bowls. Refrigerate until firm, at least 4 hours.
Make the compote: Combine the cherries and sugar in a large saucepan; let sit at room temperature until juicy, about 4 hours.
Bring the cherry mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally and skimming any foam from the top, until thick and syrupy, about 30 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and vanilla extract and cook 2 to 3 more minutes; remove from the heat and let cool completely. (Refrigerate any leftover compote in an airtight container for up to 1 month.) Spoon on top of the panna cotta and sprinkle with almonds.
If you’re like me and forgot to start that compote four hours early, or just don’t want to start that early…
Combine the cherries with the sugar in a saucepan and let stand for one hour. Add 1/2 to 3/4 cup water and heat over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Continue as directed above, skimming off any foam and cook about 30 minutes total. Do use all the lemon juice – it sounds like a lot but it really brightens up the compote nicely. It continues to thicken a little as it cools. Would also be fabulous on ice cream if you have leftovers.
I didn’t toast my almonds, just grabbed some whole ones, gave ’em a little chop and that’s it.