Holiday-Perfect Panna Cotta

Photo & recipe re-blogged with permission from Cafe Johnsonia.

Photo & recipe re-blogged with permission from Cafe Johnsonia.

“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.

milk thickening Laura New Pi Eats

“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.”

Laura New Pi Eats poaching pears

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.

To serve:

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.

Poppin’ Party Bars

These are so much fun.

New Pi Eats Poppin' Party Bars

Like pistachios? Great. Popcorn? Perfect. Toasted almonds and cranberries and sea salt? I’m there. These bars will take just about anything you throw at them – and make it look spectacular.

We experimented with all different toppings and I don’t think there was a bad one in the batch: we tried everything from dried pineapple (unsugared – so different from the sugared kind!) and toasted coconut flakes to yogurt covered pretzels (and raspberry yogurt covered pretzels. Those are our mauve friends, below).

New Pi Eats any kind of topping bars

And I LOVED the popcorn on them – great crunch and really fun. These would make a great new take on Halloween popcorn ball treats this year.

Watch your mailbox or inbox for the November/December Catalyst winging its way to you with an article about my new favorite popcorn and one of our great local producers – Tiny But Mighty. It’s the most flavorful popcorn I’ve had, its hulls disappear and don’t get stuck in your teeth (a boon for those reluctant flossers out there!), and it’s darn cute to boot.

Poppin’ Party Bars

Fun & rich: These are as good as the toppings you choose, so go wild. Cut into small squares – they’re dangerous!

Makes about 26 small bars

In advance: Can be made 5 days ahead, stored airtight at room temp.

Adapted from

Toffee cookie base:

1 c. (2 sticks) butter, room temp, plus for greasing
½ c. (packed) light brown sugar
¼ c. sugar
½ t. sea salt
1 ½ t. vanilla
1 ½ c. flour


6 oz. semisweet or dark chocolate, finely chopped (try Guittard chocolate chips from the bulk section)
approx. 1 ½ cups toppings: pistachios, dried cranberries & unsugared pineapple, lightly toasted coconut & slivered almonds, yogurt covered pretzels, crushed candy, popcorn (really good!)
flaky or coarsely ground sea salt

Toffee cookie base:
Heat oven to 375°F.

Line a 13x9x2″ baking dish with foil, allowing 2″ overhang (or use a silicon pan); grease with butter.

Beat butter at medium speed until smooth, about 3 min.

Add sugars and salt; beat until light, about 3 min.

Beat in vanilla; slowly incorporate flour fully (will be sticky).

Spread in lined dish in a thin layer.

Bake until bubbling, puffing, and golden (may look separated – don’t worry), about 22 min. Cool. Can be made 2 days in advance of topping.

Heat oven to 375°F.

Scatter chocolate evenly over cookie base; bake until melted (several min.). Immediately spread evenly.

Top as desired while still warm, lightly pressing into chocolate.

Sprinkle with salt.

Cool 15 minutes. Lift from dish with foil overhang. Cool until set, about 2 hrs. (or refrigerate).

Remove foil and slide onto cutting board. Cut into bars.

Too Hot to Not Eat This Bit of Magic

magic shell - James Ransom for Food52

Get ready for this recipe. No, it doesn’t require lab ingredients, and no, it’s not going to take you a second more than five minutes (probably a lot less!).

magic shell -James Ransom for Food52

So what’s in it, you say? Well… two ingredients.

Count’em: One? Chocolate (to your desired sweetness). Two? It’s on sale right now. But what could it be?

Find out with the recipe right here, and ford this heat wave with a little more glee. Happy summer!

Re-blogged with permission – find more recipes and cooking articles at!

Previous Older Entries


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,405 other followers

%d bloggers like this: