Panna Cotta with Pears and Salted Caramel

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by Heather Harris Brady

Panna cotta is quick, easy, delicious and hard to photograph. From all accounts it just appeared sometime in Italy in the 1960’s, first thickened with egg whites like a custard and baked in a water bath, until someone hit on the idea of adding gelatin. If you have a cold refrigerator you can start it about 90 minutes before a dinner party and it will be ready when you are. It would be a great choice for any friends on a gluten-free program.

In this version I’m using a combination of buttermilk and heavy cream. The finished dessert is a lovely balanced cream that doesn’t hint heavily at either main ingredient. I had the pears and caramel already, but you could use any fruit sauce you like – a combination of dried and fresh apricots would be especially good I think. I unmolded these, but you could stick with the ramekins if it makes things easier.

Panna Cotta, Serves four

  • 8 oz. heavy whipping cream
  • 1/3 c. granulated sugar
  • 1 T. cold water
  • 2 T. sherry
  • 1 packet unflavored gelatin
  • 2 c. buttermilk
  • One small can dulce de leche (optional)
  • Kosher salt for sprinkling (optional)
  • Two ripe pears, washed, cored and sliced (optional)

Combine cold water and sherry, stir in the gelatin to soften and set aside.

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Mix the heavy cream and sugar in a saucepan, heat over medium, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved.

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Once the sugar is dissolved remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the gelatin well. Then whisk in the buttermilk. The mixture will start to thicken a bit.

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Pour it into ramekins.

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Put them in the refrigerator for an hour, until set. Cover them with plastic wrap if you are making this recipe ahead. If you’re unmolding the panna cotta to serve it, run a knife around the outside of each one. It should unmold easily, but if it doesn’t gently ease it out with a spoon, holding the ramekin just over the serving plate. Spread the caramel on the plate, sprinkle with salt and add 1/4 of the pear slices to each serving. If you’d like a mix of textures a tuile cookie would be nice on the side.

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Three years ago: Chocolate Ganache
Two years ago: Stuffed Pork Tenderloin
One year ago: Chocolate Sheet Cake

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