Raise your hand if…
* yours is always the last house on the cul de sac to put up holiday lights.
* you have yet to buy ~ let alone decorate ~ a tree.
* the only batch of Christmas cookies you baked is long gone and you have yet to bake more.
* haven’t started shopping for gifts
Me! Me. Me. Me.
Every year I find myself scoffing at those who have their lights up before Thanksgiving, or boast that they had all their holiday shopping done by the end of August. I mean, what is the rush? And then, just like that, it’s mid-December and I’m the one who’s being scoffed at.
That’s when I pull out this recipe for spiced panna cotta (cooked cream). Because we all know that nothing, but nothing, is easier to make than panna cotta. Seriously, it takes no more effort to make this than it does to pull the lid off a Kozy Shack pudding. It is nothing more than heavy cream, heated with a handful of spices, then thickened with gelatin and chilled. And even though I like Kozy Shack (original rice, please), this is better.
There are just a couple of things to keep in mind when making panna cotta. The first is to use really good cream, since it is the star ingredient (locally I’m partial to Lewes Dairy and Trickling Springs Creamery; when I’m in Michigan it’s Shetler Dairy (motto: “Our cows aren’t on drugs but they are on grass”)).
Also, you want the consistency of the chilled panna cotta to be just so ~ too much gelatin and you get white Jell-O; too little and it spills out when you unmold it like an aging movie star taking off her Spanx. This recipe gets it just right.
Panna cotta may be easy to make, but it’s still luxurious, especially when it’s spiked with cinnamon, cloves, and star anise. It would be a fine way to end a holiday dinner party ~ if you can get your act together to organize one.
What’s your favorite holiday short-cut recipe? I’d love to hear about it.
(copyright 2012 Domenica Marchetti)
Use your favorite spices to flavor the hot cream. Keep it simple with vanilla bean and lemon zest, or add more complex flavors such as star anise and peppercorns, as I've done here. Many recipes for panna cotta include a sauce of some sort as a garnish. You can serve this with a fresh berry sauce or pear compote if you like, but I find it detracts from the delicate flavor of spice-infused fresh cream so I serve it as is. Garnish with a dusting of cinnamon or a whole star anise (the latter should be removed, of course, before the panna cotta is eaten).
- 2 cups good heavy cream
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 3 to 4 whole star anise
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 3 to 4 whole cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon peppercorns
- 2 strips lemon zest
- 1/2 vanilla bean, split open lengthwise
- 1/2 envelope (1/8 ounce) unflavored gelatin
Combine the cream and sugar in a medium saucepan. Add the star anise, cinnamon stick, peppercorns and lemon zest. Scrape in the vanilla beans and add the pod. Cook over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is almost at a simmer, 7 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and let steep for 30 minutes.
Pour 1 1/2 tablespoons water into a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let stand for 5 minutes.
Uncover the cream and bring it just to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from the heat and use a skimmer to remove the spices and lemon peel. Gently whisk in the gelatin mixture until it is completely dissolved. Pour the panna cotta into four (4-ounce) molds or ramekins and let cool slightly. Cover the molds tightly with plastic wrap and set them in the refrigerator to chill for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight.
To unmold, dip the bases of the molds in hot water to loosen the panna cotta just a little. Unmold the panna cotta onto small dessert plates and garnish each serving with a dusting of cinnamon or a star anise.