Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Panna Cotta with Figs

Martha Stewart Living, October 2000
  • Yield Serves 6


  • 2 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons bourbon
  • 15 ripe figs, cut in half lengthwise, stems removed


  1. Fill a large bowl with ice and water, and set aside.
  2. Place 3 tablespoons water in a small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over water, and let soften for 10 minutes.
  3. Place heavy cream and 1/2 cup sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer. Add gelatin mixture, and stir until gelatin and sugar are completely dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to 1-quart measuring cup.
  4. Place measuring cup in the ice bath, and whisk cream mixture until cool, 6 to 7 minutes. Add vanilla extract. Pour mixture into six 6-ounce ramekins or glasses. Chill until set, about 1 hour and 50 minutes.
  5. While contents of the ramekins set, make the caramel: Spread remaining cup sugar evenly in the bottom of a heavy skillet, and place over medium-high heat. Let sugar melt without stirring, until the bottom layer is completely melted and the edges begin to brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Tilt and swirl the pan to distribute the sugar evenly. Stir with a wooden spoon until all sugar is melted and dark amber. Stir in 1/2 cup warm water and bourbon. Stir until combined, and remove from heat to cool to room temperature.
  6. To unmold panna cotta, dip ramekins in warm water. Run a paring knife around edges of panna cotta to break seal, and invert each ramekin onto a dessert plate. Dessert will slowly slide out. Garnish with figs and caramel. Serve. You can keep panna cotta, covered in plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for up to three days. It should be eaten quite cold; remove it from the refrigerator just before serving. At times of the year when figs are out of season, drizzle the custard with chocolate sauce, or top it with fresh berries.

After Ben made a wonderful handmade, vegan pizza, I decided to follow the Italian meal with a delicious Italian dessert: panna cotta. Ever had panna cotta before?  Well, none of us have.  Therefore, I didn't know what to expect.  Creamy, tart, flavorless?

The overall appearance of this dessert is definitely of fine restaurant quality.  I especially loved that the panna cotta slipped easily from the ramekins, making it less likely for me to screw it up.

Panna cotta is a dessert for any occasion.  Plus, with a name like that, it is sure to live up to its impressive name...or is it?

Photo Gallery

Sarah helped me gather fresh figs for the panna cotta from our fig tree.
The sliced figs.

The cream and sugar are in the pot.  It was brought to a simmer while I diligently stirred.  I was very careful not to burn the cream. 

Let me offer you some advice here.  If you are relatively new to cooking cream, then you might make the same mistake that I have before, if you aren't careful.  Stirring often and carefully monitoring the heat is essential when simmering any cream or milk.  Stay focused (multi-taskers take note, me included). 
The gelatin has bloomed.

A very special person came over for the evening, my Dad.  My Dad was a wonderful guest and the children loved playing with their grandpa.

Shown here is my super-Dad picking fig leaves for the garnish.  
Back in the kitchen, after the cream and sugar simmered, I poured the contents into a Pyrex bowl along with the gelatin.  It was whisked for seven minutes. 

Next, the ramekins were filled with the panna cottta and then they were set into the refrigerator.

As I was working on this blog, I googled this dessert and found out that panna cotta means cooked cream in Italian.  A common Italian dessert, panna cotta most likely originated from the mountainous region of Piemonte, Italy.  The more widely-known gelatin version evolved over time and the modern version typically contains cream, sugar, gelatin and vanilla. 

The sauce making begins.  It all went downhill from here when it came to making the bourbon sauce.

  Hopefully by watching my mistakes you can avoid making them yourself.

Here is the sugar on medium high heat.  I used my large, cast iron skillet for this step.

You know, If I would have just stopped here I would have been just fine.  But, I kept on going. 
and going... uh oh. 
I quickly added the bourbon and vanilla extract.  But then...
What the heck?  The sugar, bourbon and vanilla extract crumbled up like caramel corn, or something.

The dilemma

Add a little water and re-heat?  Doing that exposed the sugar to more heat, adding more of a funky, burnt flavor to the sauce.
Dad even tried to help me mash up the pieces while we added a little more water. After it cooled, we all tasted it and agreed that it tasted like dark molasses.  Not our idea of a tasty sauce. 
Luckily, I had a jar of Ben's homemade blackberry sauce that he made over the summer when our blackberries were in season.  I decided to substitute the bourbon sauce for our blackberry sauce. 
Now that the sauce issue is taken care of, the panna cotta is ready to be served. 
Each ramekin was set into a warm water bath (Bain Marie).  I ran my paring knife around the edges to easily remove the panna cotta.
I always get nervous when anything gets inverted. 
In the end, the dessert turned out to be a family hit.  The berry sauce was delicious.  The fresh figs made a nice accompaniment.  The panna cotta had a very creamy, smooth flavor with a velvety and bouncy feel from the gelatin.  As the recipe states, chocolate, berry or really any sauce could be poured over the dessert.  Ben and Dad really enjoyed this dessert.  I won't mention who had seconds ;)
Sarah enjoyed her panna cotta very much. 

 Gabriel was very proud of his decorating skills on the panna cotta.  Notice the four dots on the top? This was his idea. Gabriel thought that the dessert was pretty good. However, he was more interested in using a hands-on approach to experiencing his dessert. 

Most mothers know the expression on their child's face just before they "spin out".  Can you see the mischief arising?  This is Gabriel's mischievous face.  Shortly after eating, he decided to decorate the walls and the table.  Who knows?  Maybe he'll be a famous painter one day? 

I will make sure to remind him that his very first experimental canvas was not only a blank piece of paper, but also a yellow kitchen wall. 

~Just Dessert~

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