Panna cotta is one of those desserts that are as easy to make as they are delicious. Since you can easily make panna cotta a day in advance (in fact, I would recommend this since it needs a few hours to set properly), it is the perfect pudding to serve at a dinner party. Making it the day before also means there is one thing less to stress over on the day itself.
What I also love about panna cotta is that it is the kind of dessert that can be served throughout the whole year. In winter, you could make a cardamom panna cotta and serve it with some boozy prunes or plums (maybe with some caramelized rye bread crumbs on the side). In late spring you could make a tonka bean panna cotta and serve it with a nespole compote. Once strawberries start tasting like actual strawberries, you could try making a chamomile infused panna cotta with macerated strawberries (or wait a few more weeks and make a rose water panna cotta with fresh raspberries and maybe a little bit of raspberry and rose water coulis from those raspberries that did not survive the trip home from the farmer’s market in one piece). And in case you have access to fresh fig leaves, a fig leaf infused panna cotta with a side of roasted figs in late August would most certainly be the key to my heart. In short, panna cotta is a good dessert to have in your repertoire.
This version is a riff off a dessert my parents concocted when I went to visit them on holiday in Brittany a few years ago. My dad was in the middle of a homemade icecream obsession (in fact I think he still is). He even brought his ice cream maker with him on holiday! And one day he made some pastis ice cream. The thing about my dad is that he is a bit of an ice cream purist and does not get my need or want to always serve something alongside it, be it a drizzle of some good grassy olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt with some vanilla ice cream, a shot of espresso to pour over a scoop of cardamom ice cream, or even just two cookies to make an ice cream sandwich. But it was the end of summer, apricots were perfectly ripe, cheap and available in abundance, and my mum had made a simple apricot compote. And I think even my dad had to admit that a scoop of his pastis ice cream, aniseedy and herbaceous with a few of those jammy apricots and their juices was heavenly.
The heatwave here in Brussels has been going on for so long I am afraid it is no longer a heatwave but Brussels may have simply remembered what summer is supposed to feel like. That also means that it’s still too hot to stand at the stove stirring custard to make ice cream, so panna cotta is a good alternative. It is quick to make and you can serve it cold. Rather than use pastis, which isn’t something I typically have at home, I used some anise seeds to achieve a similar flavour. And then I paired the panna cotta with some roasted apricots. Lastly, both the panna cotta and the apricots are sweetened with honey rather than sugar since I find anise seeds have a sweetness that is redolent of honey.
Honeyed Panna Cotta with Anise Seed and Roasted Apricots
Notes: Flavouring the panna cotta with anise seeds is obviously optional. You could always keep it plain or flavour it any which way you want – you can certainly never go wrong with vanilla. But I adore this version and look forward to making it again and again. While I am partial to panna cotta made with cornstarch, using gelatin is quicker and simpler since you don’t risk any lumps. Also, this way you don’t need to stand by a hot stove waiting for the panna cotta to thicken as you would have to with cornstarch. Lastly, I prefer panna cotta to only barely be set. Enough to keep its shape, but not more. I find that if you are not worried about your panna cotta setting properly, you are using too much gelatin.
For the Panna Cotta
500ml whipping cream
1.5 tsp anise seed
2-3 tbsp honey
2.5 gelatin leaves
For the Roasted Apricots
½ kg apricots
2 tbsp honey
½ tsp anise seeds
1/2 glass of water
The panna cotta needs at least 3-4h to set so it’s best to make this the day before you want to serve it. Heat the cream until it starts to steam then add the honey and the anise seeds and set aside to infuse for 30 minutes. 25 minute in, soak the gelatin in some cold water.
Strain out the anise seeds and re-heat the cream until it is hot to the touch. Take the Remove the gelatin from the water and gently squeeze out the excess water before adding the gelatin to the cream, stirring just until the gelatin is dissolved. Divide the cream mixture evenly between five ramekins with a 100ml capacity. Place in the fridge to set – this will take a minimum of 3-4 hours.
While the panna cotta is setting, prepare the roasted apricots. These can easily be made in advance and kept in the fridge. Just make sure you bring them back to room temperature before serving.
Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees. Cut each apricot in half and remove the pit. Arrange on a baking try and drizzle with the honey. This may not seem like a lot of honey. And that is true. I like the contrast between the slightly tart apricots and the cool and sweet panna cotta. Scatter the anise seeds over the apricots. After about 20 minutes pour the water over the apricots. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the apricots are nice and soft.
To serve, prepare a bowl with hot water (hot water from the tap is sufficient). Place each ramekin in the hot water for 20 seconds. Using a small knife carefully run along the top edge of the panna cotta to loosen it. Invert the ramekin onto a plate, gently shake the plate while holding the ramekin before carefully removing the ramekin – the panna cotta should slowly release from the ramekin. If not, place the ramekin back into the hot water for 5-10 seconds. Pair each panna cotta with 2-3 apricots halves and 1-2 teaspoons of the juices from the pan.