Orange-scented panna cotta with pomegranate arils

November 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

The blog has been quiet for the past couple weeks.  I don’t really have any good excuses.  Just lots of busy-ness lately.   Fortunately for me, part of that busy-ness has involved hanging out with good friends and sharing delicious meals together.  We had a couple of friends over not too long ago for a small dinner party and I wanted to whip up a tasty, farmer’s market-inspired dessert.  There was one small twist: it had to be low in carbohydrates.  What??!!   My baker’s head was spinning a little bit… what can I make with no flour and minimal added sugar that is still elegant and doesn’t scream “low carb dessert”?  After one deep breath, I realized this wasn’t as much of a challenge as I was making it out to be and there had to be good ideas out there.  Hmmm…what about panna cotta?  I had never made panna cotta before, but a quick Google search revealed that it is super easy and can be prepared well ahead of time, perfect for a dinner party. I had picked up an orange and a couple of pomegranates at the farmer’s market (where I was kindly informed that the most ripe ones look the worst- brownish, and almost cracking). I also had a perfectly fragrant vanilla bean that I had picked up at a spice farm in Costa Rica earlier this year, and I was just waiting for the best recipe to showcase its flavor.  I took David Lebovitz’s Perfect Panna Cotta recipe, cut it in half to serve 4 people, and added a few small twists.  Here’s what I used:

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 vanilla bean (or 1/4 of the one shown, or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
  • 1 packet powdered gelatin (2 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 3 tblsp cold water
  • 3 tblsp fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • 1 1/2 tblsp orange zest
  • 1/3 cup pomegranate arils
  • 1 tblsp sugar

1. Heat the heavy cream and 1/4 cup sugar in a saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar.

2. Once the sugar has dissolved, remove the mixture from the heat.  Add the vanilla bean seeds (cut in half lengthwise and scrap them from inside) and the vanilla bean pod in to the mixture.  Add 1/2 tblsp of orange zest.  Cover and let steep for 30 minutes.

4. Remove the vanilla bean pod from the mixture.  Add three tblsp orange juice and stir to mix. Place the mixture back on the heat to warm it slightly.

5.  Add the cold water to a medium-sized bowl.  Add the gelatin powder to the water and stir quickly to mix.  Let sit for 5-10 minutes.

6.  Add the warm cream mixture to the gelatin and mix to completely dissolve the gelatin.

7.  Pour the mixture in to martini glasses, wine glasses or molds.  Chill for 2-4 hours.

8.  In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

9. Remove the arils (seeds) from the pomegranate.  (This can be done by cutting it in half and tapping them out in to a bowl of water.  The arils should sink and the membrane will float.  I found this easier to type than to do.)

10. Place the arils in  small baking dish and sprinkle with 1 tbsp sugar.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes, or until the arils have slightly darkened and look sticky.

11.  When ready to serve the panna cotta, remove from the fridge and divide the arils between the four desserts, and top with the remaining orange zest.

Notes on these desserts: These turned out creamy and decadent and elegant, especially served in a martini glass.  And yet, they were so easy!  The only thing I would have changed was to add more pomegranate.  I thought the contrast in textures was great, and the flavors melded well together, but the dessert became a bit too rich for me without a little bit of pomegranate in every bite.  However, I was the only one at the table who thought this… so maybe the ratio of pomegranate to cream is good for most people.  I also think serving it with raw pomegranate arils would be just as tasty and probably more beautiful.

My only technical challenge was that all of the vanilla bean seeds sank to the bottom before the panna cotta was able to solidify.  If anyone has any tips on how to prevent this from happening, I would love to know so I can keep my vanilla bean evenly distributed (as much fun as it was to have a coating of vanilla bean seeds at the bottom of the glass).

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