Vanilla Panna Cotta + Ripe Berries

raspberry vanilla panna cotta

This is a quick post, in line with how quick this recipe is. Panna cotta is the perfect summer dessert. It takes almost no effort to make, minimal preparation, and pairs with almost any fresh ripe summer fruit. You could do peaches, raspberries, cherries, apricots…pretty much anything. I like raspberries the best because they crush up easily and make their own sauce as you spoon up the creamy panna cotta.

I made this dessert in a panic during Stampede when I realized that in between Stampede breakfast hopping, free concerts, Bollywood dancing, and fireworks I had no time to make a fabulous pie or cake for the BBQ that night. Once again, panna cotta saved the day.

raspberry vanilla panna cotta

raspberry vanilla panna cotta

raspberry vanilla panna cotta

So heat up that milk, dissolve that gelatin, go out and enjoy the sun, come back a few hours later to delicious cold and creamy Italian milk pudding.

Perfect Panna Cotta (from David Lebovitz)

Eight servings

You can make them up to two days ahead and keep them well-covered and chilled.

For gelatin-related questions, read my Tips for Using Gelatin. You can find instructions for using sheet gelatin at the end of the recipe.

  • 4 cups (1l) heavy cream (or half-and-half)
  • 1/2 cup (100g) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract, or 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 2 packets powdered gelatin (about 4 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 6 tablespoons (90ml) cold water

1. Heat the heavy cream and sugar in a saucepan or microwave. Once the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract.

(If using a vanilla bean, scrape the seeds from the bean into the cream and add the bean pod. Cover, and let infuse for 30 minutes. Remove the bean then rewarm the mixture before continuing.)

2. Lightly oil eight custard cups with a neutral-tasting oil.

3. Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a medium-sized bowl and let stand 5 to 10 minutes.

4. Pour the very warm Panna Cotta mixture over the gelatin and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.

5. Divide the Panna Cotta mixture into the prepared cups, then chill them until firm, which will take at least two hours but I let them stand at least four hours. (Judy told me American refrigerators are colder than European ones. )

If you’re pressed for time, pour the Panna Cotta mixture into wine goblets so you can serve them in the glasses, without unmolding.

6. Run a sharp knife around the edge of each Panna Cotta and unmold each onto a serving plate, and garnish as desired.

To make Panna Cotta with sheet gelatin: Soften 25g (approximately six sheets) in a liter of cold water for 5 to 10 minutes. Wring the sheets out and stir them into the warm Panna Cotta mixture in step # 4, until dissolved.


Two kinds of Crepe Cake (Vanilla and Blueberry) and Epic Baking

This cake is one of my life achievements – you may think that’s sad, but it’s hard not to be proud once you spend three days on one dessert. During those three days there are many moments where you start questioning yourself (Am I crazy for doing this?), the recipe (Did I really just use a dozen eggs?), and cake itself (Will this be worth it??). The answer is yes! Especially to the last question. Yes this cake is definitely worth it! I found the recipe procrastinating for midterms and day dreamed about it all the way till after finals. The concept of crepe cake is genius. Fresh crepes = good. Rich vanilla pastry cream = always good. Multiple layers of each in one bite = heaven. Why three days? There’s a lot of overnight chilling that needs to happen. The first day you make the crepe batter and pastry cream, stick it in the fridge and dream about cake. The next day you enlist the help of your little sister and learn the art of crepe making. Unless you’re an expert the first few crepes will invariably look a bit disfigured, but you can hide them underneath lots of pastry cream (or use them to taste test your crepe batter). The batter is quite thin so I found instead of making “20 perfect crepes” I ended up with about 40! Which definitely isn’t a problem. The crepes were just the right thickness and were very easy to layer – you just have to make sure they are all uniform in size and shape otherwise you’ll end up with a mound of crepes instead of a cake. Since I had enough crepes to make two cakes I decided to replace the Kirsch in one cake with creme de cassis and put fresh blueberries in between the layers. You only need to chill the cake for at least two hours before serving, so technically it would only take two days to make this cake, but other plans forced me to chill the cake overnight. Talk about an exercise in patience. The next day was the fastest I’ve biked home from work. We took out the cakes, put some finishing touches (I got to use a mini blowtorch for the first time! Caramelizing sugar on top creates a nice crunchy contrast), and finally cut a slice.

Both cakes were amazing. With so much pastry cream you would think it would be quite rich, but the cake tasted almost light and airy. The addition of creme de cassis and blueberries really elevated the cake and gave an interesting twist. I think it would be interesting to experiment with different liqueurs for different flavours. Grand Marnier for an orange crepe cake? What about Frangelico for hazelnut-cream cake? So many possibilities…

The Real Crepe Cake
 (from Cream Puffs in Venice)

The day before serving the cake, make the crepe batter and the pastry cream.

Crepe Batter Recipe

6 tablespoons butter
3 cups milk
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
7 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
Vegetable oil

1. Cook the butter in a small pan on medium heat until brown like hazelnuts. Set aside.
2. In another small pan, heat the milk until steaming; allow to cool for 10 minutes.
3. In a mixer on medium-low speed, beat together the eggs, flour, sugar and salt. Slowly add the hot milk and browned butter. Pour into a container with a spout, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Vanilla Pastry Cream Recipe
2 cups milk
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
3 1/2 tablespoons butter

1. Bring the milk to a boil. Turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla extract then set aside for 10 minutes. Fill a large bowl with ice and set aside a small bowl that can hold the finished pastry cream and be placed in this ice bath.
2. In a medium heavy-bottomed pan, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch. Gradually whisk in the hot milk, then place pan over high heat and bring to a boil, whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 minutes.
3. Press the pastry cream through a fine-meshed sieve into the small bowl. Set the bowl in the ice bath and stir until the temperature reaches 140 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Stir in the butter. When completely cool, cover and refrigerate.

Cake Assembly

2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons Kirsch (or creme de cassis or any other liqueur)
icing sugar (optional)
fruit (optional)

1. To make the crepes, bring the batter to room temperature. Place a nonstick or seasoned 9-inch crepe pan over medium heat.
2. Swab the surface with the oil, then add about 3 tablespoons batter and swirl to cover the surface. Cook until the bottom just begins to brown, about 1 minute, then carefully lift an edge and flip the crepe with your fingers. Cook on the other side for no longer than 5 seconds. Flip the crepe onto a baking sheet lined with parchment. Repeat until you have 20 perfect crepes.
3. Whip the heavy cream with the tablespoon sugar and the Kirsch. It won’t hold stiff peaks but that’s okay. Fold it into the pastry cream.

4. Lay one crepe on a cake plate. Using an icing spatula, completely cover with a thin layer of pastry cream (about 1/4 cup). Cover with a crepe and repeat. If using fruit, sprinkle fruit between layers. The amount of fruit you add is to your preference (try to maintain the levelness of the cake). Make a stack of 20 crepes, with the best-looking crepe on top. Chill for at least 2 hours. Set out for 30 minutes before serving.
5. If you have a blowtorch for creme brulee, sprinkle the top crepe with 2 tablespoons sugar and caramelize with the torch; otherwise, dust with confectioners’ sugar. Slice like a cake.

Batter adapted from ”Joy of Cooking.” Pastry cream adapted from ”Desserts,” by Pierre Herme and Dorie Greenspan. Serves 10.