Recipe: Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Mixed Berry Compote

There’s been a serious heat wave hitting Shanghai this summer with record temperatures soaring well over 100°F for weeks.  I’ve been trying to keep my daily outside adventures to a minimum, staying indoors where it’s nice and cool.  Naturally, the last thing this heat makes me want to do is to do any serious roasting or baking.  Plus, one downside of living in a small apartment is that during the summer when the oven is on the whole place heats up like a furnace.  I decided this would be the perfect occasion to make an easy, no bake dessert like panna cotta, something I’ve been wanting to make ever since I tried Scarpetta’s last summer.

A lot of the local markets here are outdoors.  Unfortunately this sweltering heat doesn’t bode well for fresh produce without refrigeration.  I decided to make a compote using a mix of frozen berries including strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries.

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Mixed Berry Compote

Using frozen berries actually has it’s upside to fresh berries since it helps create a little more liquid that you can cook down to a syrup.  Frozen berries are also picked and frozen just when they are ripe so you don’t have to use as much additional sweetener.

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Mixed Berry Compote1

I think panna cotta is one of the most versatile and wonderful desserts.  One great thing about panna cotta is there are so many variations of flavors and toppings, and so many ways to serve it.  You could set it in a larger serving dish and spoon it out onto your plate to keep it rustic.  Or you could go with two of my favorite ways to serve it:  Right out of ramekins…

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Mixed Berry Compote2

…or setting it in wine glasses to add some elegance.

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Mixed Berry Compote3

Panna cotta is one of those secretly easy recipes that has that “wow” factor to impress guests.  This was definitely one of the easiest things I’ve put together.

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Mixed Berry Compote:
Cook time: 30 min | Serves:5-6

Adapted from David Lebovitz 

For the panna cotta:

2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla paste
2 1/4 teaspoons of powdered gelatin, or about 1 packet
3 tablespoons cold water

For the compote:

2 heaping cups (300g) of frozen mixed berries
1 tablespoon sugar (or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

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 paste.

(If using a vanilla bean, scrape the seeds from the 1/4 of 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. Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a medium-sized bowl and let stand 5 to 10 minutes.

3. Pour the very warm panna cotta mixture over the gelatin and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.

4. Divide the panna cotta mixture into the cups (about 1/2 cup per serving), then chill them until firm, which will take at least two hours but I let them stand overnight.

5. Make the berry compote by putting the frozen berries, sugar and vanilla extract into a small sauce pan and turn on low heat. Allow the berries to thaw and cook down.  Add more sugar if needed.  Feel free to add a dash of liqueur such as chambord or orange flavor and allow that to infuse and cook down as well.  Allow the compote to cool.

6. Once the panna cotta is firm, spoon the cooled compote over each serving and garnish with mint.

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