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Panna cotta, Italian for “cooked cream,” is the name of a dessert that is made taking sweetened cream and setting it with gelatin. It is typically set in a mold that is then inverted before serving, but it can also be served without unmolding in a pretty glass or serving dish. The beauty of panna cotta is that it tastes fancy without a whole lot of effort or skill required, so it’s a great dessert for hosting nice dinners at home or for a group. Plus, the base of a panna cotta is just cream, which means it’s a great blank canvas for adding other flavors to it.
While I was on a rigorous diet over the summer, I bought some frozen blueberries to add to my healthy smoothies in the mornings. Soon after, I fell off the wagon, and the blueberries sat forgotten in my freezer for weeks. It wasn’t until I started running out of space in my freezer and started trying to use or purge some of the contents that I found the blueberries in there again, and decided to try to make something with them. Since the texture of cooked berries is not something that I generally enjoy, I decided to use them to infuse some cream and make blueberry panna cotta. It was so good that some of my coworkers still talk about it, so I decided to share the recipe.
You start by macerating the blueberries. That is, sprinkle some sugar on them and let them soften and release some of their juices. After that, cook them over medium heat until they just start to simmer, then lower the heat and add the gelatin. Once the gelatin has dissolved, add half of the cream and stir until the cream is hot. Don’t let it start to boil or simmer, or the fat in the cream might start to separate and you’ll wind up with an oily film on your finished product. Just let it get hot, then mash the blueberries a little more to get more of the juice out before passing the mixture through a strainer and into a bowl with the other half of the cream. Stir in the vanilla extract.
You mixture might have some flecks from the blueberries. If you prefer, you can pass the blueberry panna cotta mixture through a finer strainer to get rid of these.
Otherwise, pour the mixture into your prepared molds or cups. If you’re planning to unmold the panna cotta, lightly coat the inside of your molds with a neutral oil before filling with the panna cotta mixture. Then, pop them in the fridge until they are set. This should take about 3-4 hours. Panna cotta should be eaten cold, so they should remain in the fridge until you’re ready to eat them.
If you’re unmolding them, you can do so by running a thin knife along the edge of your mold, then inverting onto a plate. You might have to shake it out, as they like to stick sometimes. You can serve with additional fresh berries if you like, but it tastes great on its own as well. I didn’t have any blueberries, so I served it with blackberries.
Unlike flan and other custard desserts, panna cotta is best served the same day or not more than a day later. Otherwise, they start to dry out due to the gelatin. So, plan accordingly.
Blueberry Panna Cotta
- 2 cups blueberries (can be fresh or frozen)
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 tbsp gelatin
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Place the blueberries and the sugar in a medium saucepan. Let them sit for at least 10 minutes (but preferably 30), then heat the blueberry/sugar mixture over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is just starting to simmer.
Reduce heat to medium-low, then sprinkle the gelatin over the mixture. Let it sit for about a minute, then gently continue heating and stirring the mixture for about 5 minutes or until the gelatin has dissolved.
Add 1 cup of the cream, and continue stirring until the cream is heated through. Do not allow the cream to start to simmer or boil. Gently mash the blueberries in the cream mixture so that they release some additional juice.
Strain the mixture into a bowl with the other 1 cup of cream, then stir in the vanilla extract. Divide equally between your serving dishes or molds, then refrigerate until set (about 3-4 hours). Serve cold.