clean plate club, cropped

It’s too hot to write.
But not too hot to scarf down
some panna cotta.

ingredients, 2

With bay and pepper,
from Luscious Creamy Desserts.
Get it for a buck!

Okay, I won’t really write a cop-out post made up entirely of haiku, but know that I could if I wanted to.

I picked this book up a year or two ago because it had pretty pictures, but had never used it: the very reason the smackdown exists in the first place. It was about time. It was also too hot to turn on the oven or stand in front of the stove for more than seven minutes, so panna cotta – which I’ve never successfully made – was perfect, and the flavor combination was interesting. Black pepper, bay and honey panna cotta with a brown sugar-balsamic sauce. You know how I love a grown up dessert. You also know how I like taking naps, and making panna cotta, which is mostly waiting for panna cotta to set up, is great for that.


First step: infuse* the cream. A little sugar, some bay leaves and a teaspoonful of black pepper corns went into a small pot of heavy cream.

Note that the pot was not as small as it should have been, because I was bleary-eyed from proofreading a gazillion pages for work and I did my math all wrong. (I was cutting the recipe in half because (1) there are only two of us, and how much black papper and bay panna cotta can you eat? and (2) that was all the gelatin I had and I didn’t feel like going back to the store.) So I ended up with nearly double – but not quite – the amount of cream I needed.

It’s really quite stunning how ridiculously I managed to fuck up cutting the number 1 1/4 in half. I mean, I really screwed it up royally. This may or may not become important later. SUSPENSE!

*Which I just typed as “influse” THREE TIMES. I think that should be a real word. Tell me what it should mean.


The cream mixture had to steep for 10 minutes or so, so I softened my gelatin in still more cream.

I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to stir it around in the cream or just sprinkle it on top. I initially went with sprinkle, because that’s what the instructions said, but it seemed like too much of the gelatin had no contact with the liquid. So then I stirred and it became alarmingly chunky and gloppy, like cream that’s turned, and I was a-feared that I had done A Bad Thing. Would it still work the same way? MORE SUSPENSE! You are, I am certain, on the edges of your seats.

Can you tell I don’t work with gelatin much? Yeah, I thought so.

panna cotta, chilling

Once the peppercorn mixture was done steeping, I whisked in the now VERY icky-textured gelatin slurry. Thankfully, it dissolved right away without any unsightly lumps. I strained the aromatics out of the liquid and poured my panna cotta-to-be into some little ramekins that I’d oiled lightly.

Then I took a nap on the big comfy couch with every throw pillow in the house, and it was AWESOME.

I was going to wait up and unmold these late last night, but I got really sleepy while watching a distinctly uninterested episode of Saturday Night Live featuring Charles Barkley.  Plus, I figured it could take all the time I could give it to set up, since my cream-to-gelatin ratio was all off thanks to my shitty math and frankly, I wasn’t sure if they would set up at all. So I ended up doing it this morning, because panna cotta is the breakfast of champions.

Actually, it’s because we have to leave the house soon for Brian’s grandma’s 90th birthday pizza-and-cake party. Because as it turns out, you can eat even less panna cotta for breakfast than you can at other times of the day.

panna cotta

After only four tries, the panna cotta actually slid out of the ramekin in one piece (END SUSPENSE!); I’d honestly expected it to re-liquify upon contact with the plate. I hurriedly ushered it back into the fridge to wait while I made the brown sugar-balsamic sauce. Which is made of nothing more than balsamic vinegar and dark brown sugar, so there’s not much of a tale to tell there.

I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t get the sauce to trickle picturesquely down the sides of the panna cotta; with it’s color and texture, it came out looking more like an oil slick than anything else. I guess I could have unmolded the second panna cotta and tried again, but pizza and cake are calling. Grandmas only turn 90 once, and they’re so cute at that age. You don’t want to miss it when they blow out the candles.

clean plate club

Taste-wise, as you can see from Fig. 6, there was no problem. The peppercorn notes were much more subdued than I’d hoped, probably because my peppercorns are on the older side, but the bay was pleasantly pronounced (in a good way), as was the honey. The texture, math fuck-up notwithstanding, was actually the best panna cotta texture I’ve ever encountered; creamy and melting and slippery, and not at all gelatinous. The vinegar sauce was perfect for cutting through the sweet fattiness of the cream, and Brian totally wants to marry it and have ten million of its babies. I think I’m going to try an ice cream with these flavors next, maybe with a vinegar/brown sugar swirl. Score!

If the other recipes in the book are as wonderfully flavorful as this one, I’d say you can’t beat the used-book price of $0.95 with a stick.