Tag Archives: panna cotta


I’ve been watching more of my DVDs from The Great Courses and the Culinary Institute of America. I have particularly enjoyed “The Everyday Gourmet: Baking Pastries and Desserts.” The presenter is Chef Stephen L. Durfee who is an instructor at the Greystone campus of the CIA. He certainly has earned his chops – he is a James Beard Foundation winner and has been the pastry chef at The French Laundry, among many other accomplishments and awards. His lessons have been very instructive, and his style has been friendly and conversational.

The lessons have come in handy. Susan has had a minor procedure needing a soft diet for a few days. That seemed like a perfect time for me to try out Chef Durfee’s recipe for panna cotta. What could be easier than panna cotta?  On top of that it’s very tasty. Another nice thing about the recipe is that it invites variations. Buttermilk gives an interesting flavor, but the usual fruit toppings were out. What could be easier than chocolate ganache?


Buttermilk Panna Cotta


  • 2¼ cups buttermilk
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Place 1 cup of the buttermilk in a wide-rimmed bowl, reserving the rest
  2. Sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the surface of the buttermilk and let rest for 5 minutes to bloom the gelatin.  The surface should wrinkle up as the gelatin blooms. You can ensure an even process by exposing more of the buttermilk by breaking the surface with a whisk.
  3. In a medium sauce pan, dissolve the sugar in the cream and bring to the boil.
  4. Pour the boiling cream into the bloomed gelatin mixture and stir to completely dissolve the gelatin.
  5. Add the vanilla extract and reserved buttermilk to cool the mixture.
  6. Strain the mixture through a fine-meshed sieve. This step is very important to remove any clumps of undissolved gelatin and buttermilk..
  7. Pour the strained, cooled mixture into 6 serving dishes or ramekins. The mixture should be cooled before pouring it into the dishes or ramekins. Otherwise it might separate into layers.
  8. Refrigerate several hours or over night until the panna cotta is set.

Chocolate Ganache


  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 5 ounces heavy cream
  • 1 ounce corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons orange liqueur (optional)


  1. Chop the chocolate into small pieces about the size of an M&M candy to make sure it will melt with the added hot cream before the cream cools off. . Transfer to a medium bowl.
  2. Combine the cream and corn syrup, stirring to make sure the syrup is completely  dissolved. Bring to a rolling boil in a small saucepan..
  3. Pour the hot cream and corn syrup mixture into the chopped chocolate. Let sit undisturbed for a moment or two to let the chocolate begin to melt.
  4. With a spatula, stir the chocolate from the center outward until the cream has been completely and evenly incorporated.
  5. If desired, add the orange liqueur and stir until completely incorporated.
  6. Cool for 10 minutes or so until just warm to the touch.
  7. Ladle one or two tablespoons onto each of the tops of the chilled panna cottas. Return to the refrigerator and chill for 1 hour. This will form a  firm chocolate layer. If you want something softer, use more cream when you make the ganache.
  8. Serve.


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In a previous post, September 10, 2013, I wrote about Sarah’s panna cotta recipe and added some images of her making it and a berry topping down in the basement prep area of Rich Table. That version uses fresh buttermilk from the restaurant that is a byproduct of their house-churned cultured butter.

This is a slightly different version of the panna cotta using commercial buttermilk and ginger as the principal flavoring. I used it as the centerpiece of the dessert for our recent pot luck birthday party: ginger-scented panna cotta with cajeta and sea-salt-sprinkled chocolate sables.

It is very easy to make. The only special step is to strain the panna cotta into the ramekins to remove any bits of ginger root and undissolved gelatin.


Ginger-Scented Buttermilk Panna Cotta


  • 1¼ cups heavy cream
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 6-inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 packet unflavored gelatin
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1½ cups buttermilk


  1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the cream and sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Add the ginger root pieces and simmer for 15 minutes
  2. Meanwhile, sprinkle the gelatin over the surface of the water in a small bowl. Let stand for 5 minutes to soften the gelatin.
  3. Stir the softened gelatin into the simmering cream mixture and stir vigorously until the gelatin is completely dissolved.
  4. Add the buttermilk and simmer gently for another 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
  5. Remove from the heat, cool for a minute or two, and then strain into six 6-ounce ramekins
  6. Cool to room temperature and then cover each ramekin with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.




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It’s May! And I think that Spring may be here. Lots of flowers are in bloom, but we have experienced freezing weather for the last week. As well, it is a month of birthdays: three of our circle of friends are having birthdays within a week of one another, so we are planning a mass celebration. I am making the dessert. My plan is to make takeoffs from Sarah’s Rich Table desserts – salted chocolate sablés and buttermilk panna cotta. Neither of these is an authentic recipe from Sarah (Do you think Dad could talk her out of trade secrets?) but they should be close. I also plan to gild the lily – it is Spring, remember? – with Mexican cajeta to pour over the panna cotta.

The recipe for cajeta comes from the superb cook book, Authentic Mexican, by Rick Bayless and Deann Groen Bayless (William Morrow and Co., New York, 1987, p 293). Even though the recipe calls for regular white sugar, in the past I have used piloncillo, the small cones of unrefined sugar that you can find in Mexican and Central American markets. This time, though, I decided to go with turbinado. The other decision was whether to use goat’s milk or cow’s milk. The authentic version calls for goat’s milk, and it is easy to buy from the stalls selling goat cheese at the farmers market or in cartons at health food groceries, so I went with that.

The only tricky things about the recipe are: (1) don’t let the mixture boil over when you add the baking soda, (2) stir occasionally so that it doesn’t burn on the bottom, and (3) watch for the change in the size of the bubbles as it boils, because that is the sign to let you know it’s almost done.

Cajeta is akin to caramel or butterscotch sauces, and it can be used in exactly the same way. It is delicious over ice cream, fruit, cake, etc. I guess you could just eat it straight out of the bowl, and some folks probably do.




  • 1 quart goat’s milk
  • 1 cup turbinado sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 1½ inch stick of cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 tablespoon light rum


  1. In a large, heavy saucepan, combine the goat’s milk, sugar, and corn syrup, stirring until completely dissolved. Add the cinnamon
  2. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to the boil and then  remove from the heat and stir in the dissolved baking soda. It will foam up, so stir it vigorously to prevent boiling over.
  3. Return to the heat and adjust the temperature so that it simmers gently with a low boil. Stir frequently from the bottom of the pan to prevent scorching.
  4. Check frequently and stir. After about 30 – 45 minutes, the mixture will have reduced to about half or less, and the bubbles on the surface will change in size and become more glistening.
  5. Turn down the heat to medium-low, allowing the mixture to reduce still further, but stirring very frequently to prevent burning.
  6. When it has thickened sufficiently  – it should coat the spoon but still be fluid – remove from the heat. Cool for a few minutes, and then stir in the rum.
  7. Allow to cool completely and then transfer to a serving dish or to a wide-mouthed jar. It can be refrigerated for later use, but reheat gently before serving.


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Even though Sarah is trained as a savory cook, by default she has also been doing baked goods and desserts at Rich Table. She doesn’t think of herself as a pastry chef, but her success proves otherwise. Desserts have been among some of the most popular items at Rich Table since it opened over a year ago. There is always pressure to keep some of the old favorites on the menu, but there is also pressure to introduce new items on a fairly constant basis.

Two recent additions are:

Blue corn cake with honey-griddled plums, and vanilla ice cream. This dessert is a riff on Sarah’s favorite cornbread recipe, but made with blue corn meal. I suspect that comes from her interest in New Mexico traditions. She also has a good source for blue cornmeal from  Tierra Vegetables in the farmers market at the San Francisco Ferry Building.

Blue corn cake with honey-grilled plums and vanilla ice cream

Blue corn cake with honey-grilled plums and vanilla ice cream

Bittersweet chocolate ganache with almond butter crunch and passion fruit meringue.

Bittersweet chocolate ganache with almond butter crunch and passion fruit meringue

Bittersweet chocolate ganache with almond butter crunch and passion fruit meringue

Panna cotta is one of the old favorites, but Sarah has come up with lots of variations that have kept it popular and fresh. Some of those variations include buttermilk, coconut, and more recently cream cheese.  Panna cotta is a cousin of flan, crema catalana, and crème brûlée. Those custards are made with eggs which are cooked gently to provide thickening. Panna cotta has gelatin added for the thickening agent. In commercial kitchens, leaf or sheet gelatin is the form most commonly used, but that form is not often available in grocery stores and is a little trickier to use. That’s ok, because a perfectly good panna cotta can be made with the granulated form, although you may need to experiment and cut back on the amount of the gelatin if the finished panna cotta too firm for your taste.

Sarah’s current cream cheese panna cotta is delicious, but if you want to try it at home you will need to tinker with the amount of gelatin you use. The firm texture of the cream cheese sets up too hard with the usual amounts of gelatin.

I think her buttermilk panna cotta is every bit as good. Sarah makes it with fresh cultured buttermilk that the restaurant gets when it house-churns its own butter. That’s not practical at home, but fresh commercial buttermilk will work. That’s my version below.


Panna Cotta


  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 packet unflavored gelatin
  • 1½ cups heavy cream
  • 1½ cups buttermilk
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons orange blossom water
  • 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur (optional)


  1. Place the water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Let stand for 5 minutes or until the gelatin softens. Do not let it stand too long or it will turn into a solid blob that is hard to dissolve.
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, buttermilk, and sugar. Bring to a  boil for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.
  3. Using a whisk or immersion blender, stir in the softened gelatin. Stir for at least a minute. Make sure that the gelatin is completely dissolved. Otherwise it will sink to the bottom and form a separate gelled layer.
  4. Stir in the orange blossom water and optional Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur.
  5. Pour into 6 6-ounce cups. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 3 hours or overnight.
  6. Serve with fresh berries or your choice of toppings.


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Storm clouds over Lake McDonald

This summer has been one continuous trip. For a couple of weeks, we made the “Grand Tour” of the Rocky Mountain West. I have lived in the west nearly all my life, and we have spent many happy times in Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, Rocky Mountain National Park,  Zion, and the other Utah parks, but I have never been to Glacier, so we planned this trip with a lot of excitement.

Roadside pool in morning mist

One of the reasons I have not visited Glacier is that it is a long way from just about any place. We spent three full days (twelve hours a day) driving with not many stops in between.

Rapids on McDonald Creek

Forest waterfall

All that said, the visit was definitely worth the effort. We stayed in the pleasant but not elegant Village Inn at Apgar at the south end of the lake. Our room was right at the lake’s edge, and we had a breath-taking view of the major peaks of the park. No matter the weather or the time of day, we never tired of the view.

Sunrise over Lake McDonald

The scenery and the wildlife were both spectacular. Even though it was rainy for part of our visit, the clouds and mists added to the beauty. The Going-to-the-Sun Road turned out to be a not-to-be-missed experience. The road is built on a narrow shelf of the cliffs, rising from the valley floor to the summit dividing the eastern and western halves of the park.  There are waterfalls everywhere, glaciers and snow all around, water pouring out of the sheer rock faces of the mountain, and steep-walled overlooks. We were in luck because the road had opened only the day before our arrival. An additional bonus of that timing was that there were not many other visitors. Mountain sheep grazed unfazed alongside the road. Deer and elk could be seen in the forests beside the road.

Butterfly and lilacs

Lilacs were in bloom at our lodging, and butterflies covered the fragrant blossoms.  A short walk nearby took much longer than we anticipated because we kept pausing to admire wild strawberries, beautiful flowers, and the trademark Glacier bear grass.

Bear grass

Not unexpectedly, the most disappointing part of the visit was the food. The first evening we ate at a family restaurant just a short walk from our room. The menu did not look very exciting and I made the very unwise choice of fish and chips. Huckleberries are one of the iconic delicacies of the region, so we shared a huckleberry cobbler topped with ice cream. The huckleberries must have been in short supply because the dish was augmented with blackberries.

Huckleberry creme soda

Bacon and bleu salad – Lake McDonald Lodge

The next evening we ate in the dining room of the historic Lake McDonald Lodge. The setting was beautiful and historic. The food was ok. Perhaps the highlight was the huckleberry cream soda from a bottle labeled with an image of one of Glacier’s famous red buses. The food choices included several made with local game. The salad actually turned out to be quite tasty.

Lake McDonald Lodge

The famous Glacier NP red bus

After all of this, I tried to think of a recipe that would capture our Glacier NAtional Park experience. Huckleberries immediately came to mind, but my search in various local grocery stores came to naught. Frozen wild blueberries wound up being the closest alternative I could find. Panna cotta seemed easier and more refreshing than a cobbler, So that’s what ended up being the recipe for this post.


Chamomile and ginger panna cotta


  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • ginger root, peeled and cut into five little-finger sized pieces
  • 2 regular tea bags, chamomile tea
  • ½cup sugar
  • ½ cup cold water
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatine
  • 1½ cups buttermilk


  • Combine the cream, ginger root pieces, chamomile tea bags and sugar in a medium, heavy-bottomed pot. Stir to dissolve the sugar.  Bring just to the simmer over medium-low heat.
  • Lower the heat and steep for about 30 minutes. Remove the ginger pieces and tea bags. If there are little pieces of ginger floating in the mixture, strain. Return to the heat.
  • Meanwhile, place the water in a small dish, sprinkle the gelatine over the surface of the water, and allow to soften for about 5 minutes.
  • Add the softened gelatine to the warm cream and stir until the gelatine is completely dissolved, about 2-3 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat. Stir in the buttermilk, and ladle into 6 6-ounce ramekins. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until the panna cottas are set.

Ginger root and chamomile tea bags

Wild Blueberry Sauce


  • 10 ounces frozen wild blueberries, thawed
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • ½ cup water


  • Place the thawed blueberries in a small pan over low heat
  • Dissolve the sugar and cornstarch in the water and then pour into the blueberries
  • Stir the mixture over low heat until the sauce has become translucent and thickened.

Chamomile/ginger panna cotta with wild blueberry sauce, crème frache, and turbinado sugar


  • Run a small sharp knife around the edge of each ramekin of panna cotta.
  • Invert the loosened panna cotta over the serving plate and unmold
  • Top with  wild blueberry sauce
  • Add a spoonful of crème fraîche (optional)
  • Sprinkle with turbinado sugar (optional)


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