This caramel topped Panna Cotta is a prelude to an experience with your senses. The texture of Panna Cotta is so creamy, it's smooth like yogurt but has a firm consistency like a flan. It's another one of those desserts that are versatile with the flavorings and toppings. In my Regional Italian Cookbook, the gelatin is diluted in Marsala before adding it to the heated cream. This is where I play with flavors. I did use Marsala here, but you can get so creative and use rose water, lavender essence, diluted honey or your favorite liqueur. If you are making chocolate flavored Panna Cotta I would add the cocoa to the cream and use water to dilute your gelatin. Have fun with it, taste, create, design.. but most of all enjoy!
1 quart heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean split lengthwise, seeds scraped
2 1/4 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin
3 tablespoons *Marsala
1. In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, sugar, vanilla bean and seeds. Bring the mixture just to a simmer over moderate heat. Remove from the heat, cover and let steep for 15 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the *Marsala and let stand until evenly moistened, about 5 minutes.
3. Uncover the cream mixture and bring just to a simmer over moderately high heat. Remove from heat, add the gelatin and stir until dissolved. Remove the vanilla bean and save for another use. Pour the panna cotta mixture into eight 4-ounce ramekins and let cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the panna cotta is set but still jiggly, at least 3 hours. Serve in the ramekins, with berries.
4. *If you do not have a preference for Marsala you can surely replace the liquid here with water or another liqueur of your choice.
The panna cottas can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. In my experience they firm up nicer after 12-24 hours.
Ciao and Buon Appetito,
Cherry Custard Sauce
adapted from Epicureous online
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup canned pitted cherry pie filling
2 tsp. Sherry
Melt butter in heavy small saucepan over medium heat. Add sugar and cook until mixture is deep amber, stirring constantly, about 8 minutes (mixture will be grainy). Reduce heat to medium-low. Add cream. Mixture will bubble and crystallize. Stir until till crystal caramel bits dissolve, about 8 minutes. Add sherry to cherry filling. Add cherry filling to caramel; stir until heated. Refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.)