bay leaf panna cotta with pomegranate

pana-cotta-editsGrowing 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!

pomegranate


bay leaf panna cotta with pomegranate

serves 4

  • 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.

 

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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.

Enjoy!

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fig olive oil cake with orange and thyme

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I’ve never claimed to be good at baking, except for when I convinced a chef I once worked for to put me on pastry because I was tired of working late nights on the line. I still miss those quiet mornings by myself in the restaurant covered in flour making galettes, meringues, tarts and focaccia while listening to Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Now days my extent of baking is limited to cookies for the kids, fruit galettes and olive oil cakes. I love dessert that’s not too sweet and can even can teeter on the savory side. Something that can be had for breakfast, afternoon tea or post dinner.

Olive oil cakes are crazy versatile and can incorporate lots of different fruits, citrus and herbs. I usually end up making one at every season with whatever fruit is at it’s best….plums & lemon verbena, oranges & rosemary, strawberries & basil and here with figs & thyme.  The one key is using high quality extra virgin olive oil. A nice fruity one. I know you paid a pretty penny for that bottle and this recipe calls for a hefty amount, but trust me, it’s worth it. That’s what’s giving the cake most of its flavor.

You can top the finished cake with fresh figs tossed with sugar & thyme, but here I lined the bottom of the pan with them to bake like an upside down cake. However you choose to do it, top it with either powdered sugar, whipped creme fraiche or vanilla ice cream.


fig olive cake with orange & thyme

makes one 9″ cake

fig-cake

  • 12 figs
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 Tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • juice & zest from 1 medium orange

Preheat oven to 350º and coat a 9″ springform pan with the butter. Remove stems from figs and slice in half arranging them cut side down in the pan. Sprinkle with the thyme leaves and set aside. Sift flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and set aside. Whisk together eggs and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Whisk in olive oil, orange juice and zest then add the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth and most of the lumps are gone. Pour batter over figs and bake 35-45 minutes until golden brown, the sides are pulling away from the pan and a toothpick comes out pretty much clean when inserted into the middle of the cake. Set the cake out to cool on a rack before removing from pan.

Once cool enough to handle, remove sides of pan and place a large plate over the cake and flip over so the figs are facing up. Remove bottom of pan and sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving (optional).

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