Growing up in my family, we didn’t have a lot of holiday food traditions that I remember. Sure there was turkey on Thanksgiving, ham on Easter and corned beef on Saint Patricks Day but I always envied my fiends who’s families would spend an entire day making tamales for Christmas or a tableful of dozens of different types of Italian cookies. When I had kids I decided I wanted to make our own food traditions. So far they have just evolved from things my family can’t get enough of and enjoy making with me in the kitchen; ginger scones on Christmas morning, crab for Christmas dinner and gougères on New Year’s Eve. Then this dessert, which will start as a tradition this year and my children have deemed wobbly cream.
Panna Cotta is a classic Italian dessert and probably the easiest and most versatile thing to make. Unlike an egg custard that requires baking in an ice bath, panna cotta is set with gelatin. You can make it as creamy or light as you’d like by using either milk or cream. I haven’t tried it yet, but it would probably be delicious made with almond, cashew or hazelnut milk as well. Infuse any herb, spice or extract that you like and top with any fruit, jam, nut, syrup……the list could go on and on. In the summer I love infusing it with lemon verbena and then topping it with strawberries. In the fall I’ll top it with plum preserves and In the winter I use bay leaf and pomegranates whose flavors and aromas remind me so much of Christmastime.
I hope you try it and make it your own. Here’s to new holiday traditions!
bay leaf panna cotta with pomegranate
- 1 1/2 cups half & half
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 vanilla bean split in half or 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tsp unflavored gelatin
- 3 T water
- 2 large bay leaves
- 1 pomegranate
- 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
Start by removing the seeds from the pomegranate. I usually do this by cutting it in half then putting it in a large bowl of water and breaking it into pieces with my hands, carefully removing the seeds. The pith and rind will float to the top of the water while the seeds will sink, so that when you are finished, you can just pour off all of the debris from the pomegranate with the water then you have the seeds at the bottom of the bowl. I’ve also recently seen this technique from Martha Stewart that seems crazy easy. When you are done, set the seeds aside.
You can either serve the panna cotta in cups or you can un-mold them onto a plate. Keeping that in mind, choose 4 custard cups or small bowls or tea cups and rub the olive oil on the insides.
Heat half & half, cream, sugar, bay leaves and vanilla bean (if using) over medium heat in a small saucepan just until it starts to simmer, stirring to make sure sugar has melted. Remove from heat and let sit for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, put the water in a large bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over it and let it sit for 10 minutes. After the cream mixture has steeped for 30 minutes remove bay leaves and vanilla bean, scraping out the seeds and adding them back into the mixture. Reheat the mixture until it is hot then pour into the gelatin whisking to dissolve it.
Pour the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into the prepared cups. Put them all into the fridge to chill at least 2 hours. Once it is set, you can either just top with the pomegranate seeds and eat it out of the cup or you can put a plate over the cup and flip it over to remove the panna cotta, then top with the seeds.