With its easygoing nature, panna cotta—Italian for “cooked cream”—makes for a spectacular holiday dessert. The essence of simplicity, it can be altered to suit any occasion—built savory with cauliflower and morels in spring, created to uplift with spices and citrus in winter, or made sweetly with vanilla and strawberries in summer. Panna cotta provides a lovely blank canvas for any season.
Chef Varin and Beverage Director Amanda Reed talk about the dessert and cocktail pairing they created for a chilly December.
Why did you choose this direction for the panna cotta?
Varin: Caramel is great year round and especially comforting in late fall and early winter. Smoking the caramel with apple wood gives it even more character and depth, and I play off the wood by adding brown-butter cooked apples. Hazelnuts round out the dish with nutty flavor and texture.
What was the inspiration behind the cocktail pairing?
Amanda: Everything about this dessert led me to bourbon; the sweet baking spice notes (a result of aging in new charred oak) are the perfect complements to the hazelnut, vanilla and apple flavors in the dessert.
Since panna cotta is rich and creamy, I wanted to make a cocktail that had some weight to it and coats your mouth. I specifically chose Buffalo Trace Bourbon because it is on the sweeter side. I like to keep dessert pairings simple—something you can sip while enjoying the last part of a great meal—so I considered just serving bourbon neat, but I wanted more depth and sweetness. I added Licor 43—a Spanish liquor heavy on vanilla and warm winter spices —topped off with a touch of water, which tones down the alcohol and expands the flavors.
For texture and temperature, I build and serve this cocktail at room temperature.
Caramel Panna Cotta
2 1/3 tsp Gelatin (If using powdered gelatin, use 5 times the gelatin’s weight in water to bloom)
14 oz Buttermilk
40 oz Cream
1 Vanilla Bean
14 oz Sugar
Bloom gelatin in water. Combine the split vanilla bean with half of the cream in saucepot and bring to a simmer. Scrape vanilla bean and add back to hot cream. Allow mixture to infuse for 30 minutes, then remove bean and save for later use. Caramelize sugar using dry or wet method to desired color (approximately 320 F.) Slowly and carefully pour hot infused cream into caramel in small increments while stirring until all of the cream is incorporated. Add gelatin to mixture, then add remaining cream and buttermilk. Stir until combined well. Strain mixture through medium fine mesh so that bean seeds remain in the mixture. Chill in desired vessel until set.
1lb 2oz Sugar
10.5 oz Cream
2 tsp Salt
1/2 lb Smoked Butter (Room Temperature)
Smoke butter in smoker or on stove-top without allowing butter to melt. (We cut the butter into 1 inch cubes and place it in a pan, we then place that pan over another pan filled with ice.) Bring cream to a simmer. Caramelize sugar using dry or wet method to desired color (approximately 320 F.) Slowly and carefully pour hot infused cream into caramel in small increments while stirring until all of cream is incorporated. Add salt. Cool mixture to 140 F, then stir in butter until incorporated. Store under refrigeration, but bring to room temp before using. Caramel may be used for many applications and other desserts. You can also alter the formula with other flavors or omit the smoke altogether.
Hazelnut Nib Streusel
1/2 lb Butter
1 lb Flour
1/3 to 1/2 tsp Salt
7 oz Sugar
3.5 oz Hazelnut (Chopped Lightly)
1 3/4 oz Cacao Nib
Cut butter into 1/2 inch cubes. Freeze. Combine flour, salt and sugar in stand mixer fitted with whip attachment. Add cold butter to flour mixture and mix until crumbly or mealy (like coarse sand). Fold in hazelnut and cacao nib. Mixture can be stored in freezer or baked right away at 350 F until golden brown. Cool mixture and store at room temp.
You may also omit hazelnuts and add any other nuts or a combination of nuts or seeds to this formula.
Brown Butter Apple
2 lbs Apple—peeled, cored, and cut to desired shape (We do 16 wedges per apple)
1 lb Butter
1/2 tsp Salt
8 oz Brown Sugar
Brown butter in saucepot by melting over medium high heat and stirring thoroughly with a whip until butter foams, the milk solids brown, and the aroma is very nutty. Cool slightly to not burn pan (we plunge the bottom of the pan in ice water). Toss apples with salt and brown sugar. Combine apple and butter in a vacuum seal bag and seal completely. We cook the apples in the bag (sous vide), at 170 F until tender (approximately 1–3 hours) depending on how soft you want the apples.
Panna Cotta Cocktail Pairing
¾ oz Buffalo Trace
½ oz Licor 43
¼ oz Water
Combine ingredients in a dessert wine or spirits glass. Swirl to mix.
*This cocktail recipe is portioned as a pairing cocktail, double the proportion if you would like a more traditional sized cocktail.