“Around the holidays, starting when I was a kid, I always wanted to impress my grandma Betty,” New Pi graphic designer Laura Engel tells me. “So I’d look up a fancy recipe, like in Martha Stewart, make it, and take it to her for her to ‘taste test’ it. One time,” she remembers, “I tried to make this chocolate ganache cake and I spent hours on it. It just didn’t work! It wasn’t pretty, but we still ate it it anyway.”
Well, this year’s challenge turned out great.
Laura made beautiful (& delicious!) panna cottas for her family and came in to work talking about ‘em. She mentioned the beautiful blog it came from, with lots of frequently gluten free recipes for all you GF-ers out there, and gorgeous photos: Cafe Johnsonia. Word spread.
“I’d never cooked with lavender and ours [in the New Pi bulk herb department] is culinary grade, so I thought ‘Why not?’ I’d never made candied lemon peel either, and my grandma – the same grandma Betty – gave me this new cool tool for cutting the rind. She uses the same one.” (Curious? The top two here match theirs.)
“It was super easy to make the custard,” Laura says, “and you could just put one of our good jams – like our marmalade – on top, if you didn’t want to do the rest. I think it could be topped with anything – even chocolate sauce. It’s kind of like ice cream in that way.”
Lavender Panna Cotta with Honey Poached Pears
Recipe adapted by Lindsey of Cafe Johnsonia from The Joy of Cooking, who says: “Don’t let this frighten you away. It’s a lot easier than it seems and will seriously blow people away. I love desserts like that. Don’t you?”
Makes 6-8 servings
For lavender panna cotta:
3 T. cold water
1 pkg. gelatin (unfortunately we don’t carry gelatin, but we do carry Pomona’s Universal Pectin, which is vegetarian and – while I have not yet tried it – could likely be adapted to this recipe with the “Did you know?” info here or “Jelled Milk Pudding” recipe here)
1 3/4 c. heavy cream
1 1/4 c. whole milk
1/2 c. sugar
1 t. lavender buds
1 t. vanilla extract (or 1/2 vanilla bean, scraped)
For honey poached pears:
3 slightly under-ripe pears, cored and peeled, cut into quarters
1/2 c. water
1/4 c. honey
juice of 1 large lemon
peel of one large lemon cut into strips (use a vegetable peeler to create long strips and cut them into thinner strips with a sharp knife)
1 t. lavender buds
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise down the middle
pinch sea salt
For candied lemon peel:
reserved poaching liquid, only pears removed
1/4 c. sugar
For panna cotta:
Have 6-8 custard cups or ramekins ready. (You can lightly oil them if you plan on turning them out onto a plate, as it helps them release better, but this is also delicious – and easier – in the dish!) Place the ramekins in a 9- by 13-inch baking dish or on a rimmed baking sheet. Set aside.
Place the cold water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin on top. Let soften for 5-10 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine heavy cream, milk, sugar, and lavender in a medium saucepan. Heat gently, stirring to dissolve sugar, until the mixture just comes to a boil. Remove from heat and add the softened gelatin. Place back on the stove and heat gently until the gelatin is completely dissolved, about 2-3 minutes.
Stir in the vanilla and strain through a fine mesh sieve into a large measuring cup with a spout. Pour about 1/2 cup of the mixture into the ramekins. (There might be some leftover depending on the size of the ramekins.) Let stand until cooled to room temperature, then cover the ramekins with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for several hours to chill until set.
For honey poached pears:
Place the pears, water, honey, lemon juice and peel, lavender, and vanilla bean in a small sauce pan. Bring to a simmer and cook until pears are just tender, stirring occasionally and making sure the bottom doesn’t burn. (If it does start to burn, lower the heat – it should just barely simmer.) The pears will probably need between 30-45 minutes to properly poach. Check for doneness by inserting the tip of a sharp knife into one of the pears. If it goes in easily, then the pears are done. If not, cook for a few more minutes. Remove the pears and place them in a bowl to cool. Reserve the poaching liquid and other ingredients.
For the candied lemon peel:
Bring the poaching liquid and its contents to a boil, then lower the heat a bit, and continue cooking until the liquid reduces and become syrupy, an additional 15 minutes or so. Remove the lemon peel from the syrup, letting as much of the syrup drip back into the pan as possible. Reserve the remaining syrup to use as a sauce when serving. Place the sugar in a shallow bowl and add the lemon peel to the bowl and roll until coated. Set the zest aside to finish cooling. You may need to roll them in the sugar several times. Set aside until serving time.
Either serve the panna cotta still in the ramekin, or carefully loosen it from the mold with a thin knife and turn upside down on a plate. Top with 3-4 pear slices, drizzle with some of the syrup, and top with a few strips of candied lemon peel.