Classic Panna Cotta

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Here’s a great dessert that requires no oven, which is key as the weather heats up.  It’s from my book SALT: The Essential Guide to Cooking with the Most Important Ingredient in Your Kitchen.  (You can buy it here –  B&N – and here Amazon ).  This is one of those recipes that make you feel powerful. It is super-fancy, but super-easy. If vanilla is just too plain for you, see the Variations for more flavor ideas than you can shake a stick at—or a bean, as it were.


2 tablespoons water

2 ½ teaspoons (¼ ounce envelope) unflavored gelatin, (or 4 sheets gelatin)

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup half and half

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 vanilla bean, scraped

½ teaspoon unrefined salt – try Maldon, French fleur de sel, Italian fiores de sel, or a salt infused with rose, citrus, vanilla, chocolate, espresso, lavender, sesame, anise, or cognac

  1. Place the water in a small bowl, and sprinkle the gelatin on top. Let it sit for 5 minutes, until absorbed and solidified.   (If using sheet gelatin, increase the water and soak the sheets, submerged, for 1-2 minutes.) Prepare individual molds with a light coating of pan spray. (I usually spray, then wipe out the excess, so nothing but a thin film remains.)
  1. Combine the heavy cream, half and half, sugar, vanilla bean, and salt in a medium saucepan. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Stir until sugar is dissolved, then remove from heat.   Add solidified gelatin (or squeezed limp sheets) to warm cream and stir until completely dissolved. Pour into prepared molds, and chill for 1 hour, or until firm. (Overnight is fine, too.)
  1. To unmold, wet your thumb and run it around the top of the custard, where it attaches to the mold. Press down to let some air into the bottom, which will release the vacuum. Unmold onto serving plates and serve with fresh seasonal fruit and a final sprinkle of salt.


Infused Cream – As you may have guessed, the flavor best enters the panna cotta via infusion with the cream. When added this way, the ingredients will not alter the preferred, creamy texture of the finished product. For this reason, the best flavors to use include toasted nuts, coffee, tea (matcha, hoji-cha, chai, earl grey), spices (cinnamon stick, star anise, crushed cardamom pods), herbs (lavender, thyme, mint, basil) or citrus zest (try lemon with rosemary). All of these can be added to the warm cream, steeped for several hours, or overnight, then strained out.   Potent extracts work too, but be careful, as their flavors are usually obviously artificial. For best results, consider mixing them with a natural flavor. Try almond and orange flower water, or saffron and rose water.

Puree Additions – For flavors that have some texture, like pumpkin puree, strawberry jam, or goat cheese, some adjustment will need to be made. Add no more than a cup, and increase the gelatin by half again as much (for a total of 3 ¾ teaspoons, 1 ½ packets, or 6 sheets).

Savory – Omit the sugar and make a savory cream for an amazing appetizer or side dish. Try corn, chunky shrimp, roasted chiles, dried mushrooms, or foie gras.



Summer Shortcakes

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Summer fruit is everywhere. It’s Fruit Galore! (If I was a Bond Girl, that would definitely be my name. That or Sticky Buns.)

A surplus of fruit means just one thing to me … shortcake.

This classic dessert has had many incarnations, but it began as a way to use up last night’s biscuits. I’ve seen it made with pound cake, sponge cake, cookies, scones and those doggy-dish shaped cakes they sell at the grocery store (along with that day-glo red gel goop I gather one is supposed to smear onto the fruit. Don’t do it people! That fruit has been good to you! It doesn’t deserve to be treated that way!)

My favorite way to shortcake is with fruit and cream sandwiched between a flaky, not-too-sweet biscuit. I start in the beginning of the summer with berries, until they go away.  Then I get creative.  Apricots, cherries, plums, figs.  When fall rolls around I turn to apples, pears, an even sweet pumpkin roasted to a caramelized perfection.  And in the lean fruit months, I switch into tropical gear, with grilled pineapple or mango.

Don’t be afraid to shed that creativity on your biscuit too.  Some of my favorite versions include roasted plums in a sage-pecan shortcake, mango and pineapple in coconut-macadamia shortcake, and dried fruit macerated in cognac in a gingerbread shortcake. Oh yeah!

And while you’re stretching your culinary creativity muscle, toss the fruit with a bit of sugar, Grand Marnier, herbs, citrus zest, or vanilla for a little something extra.


2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour (you can substitute up to 1/2 cup of an alternative flour, such as whole wheat, corn meal, semolina, buckwheat, acorn or other nut–or you can substitute up to 2 tablepsoons of fine powdered flavoring, like matcha, rose dust, or instant espresso)
1/2 cup sugar, divided (this can be white, brown, date, coconut –what ever you like –it can even be a liquid sugar like honey, although best to add that with the milk)
1 TB. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
4 oz. butter, diced and chilled (if you are dairy free–there are many substitutes you can use, including solidified coconut oil)
2/3 cup buttermilk (or regular milk with a teaspoon of acid added–lime juice, lemon juice, vinegar–which is needed to activate the baking soda)
2 TB. vanilla extract, divided
2 TB. milk

2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 pints fresh summer fruit, rinsed, trimmed and sliced as necessary


  1. Preheat oven to 375˚F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Combine buttermilk and 1 tablespoon vanilla and set aside. In a large bowl sift together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut-in chilled butter to pea-sized pieces with your fingertips or a pastry blender. Make a well in the center of the flour-butter mixture, pour in buttermilk and stir gently until just moistened. Turn the dough out onto lightly floured work surface and fold 7-8 times, just until it holds together. Roll to 1-inch thick and cut into 2 or 3 inch biscuits with circle cookie cutter. Place on the cookie sheet 2 inches apart. Whisk together yolk, milk, and brush it generously on top of each biscuit, and sprinkle with extra sugar for a crispy crust. Bake at 375˚F until golden brown, about 15 minutes.
  2. Whip cream to soft peaks with 1/4 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon vanilla. Cut biscuits in half and sandwich fruit and whipped cream. Sprinkle with sifted powdered sugar and serve.

I’m pretty sure Rainbow Bright could kick Strawberry Shortcake’s @$$