You may have noticed that desserts baked or otherwise served in jars is becoming somewhat of a food trend. Cakes baked in jars are definitely cute, but it occurred to me that puddings you eat with a spoon – desserts like panna cotta, which you’d serve in ramekins or small dishes anyway – make perfect candidates for serving in jars. Panna cotta, an Italian style gelled cream you might describe as an unbaked crème brûlée, is one of the simplest, most inexpensive desserts you can make. It’s perfectly light and simple for spring and summer, infinitely adaptable (try topping it with fresh berries, macerated fruit, chocolate or caramel sauce), and easy to make ahead to have standing by in the fridge.
I like to pick up vintage jars, which look great anywhere you use them – panna cotta is a great excuse to bring them to the dinner table! When done in jars, you can close the lids as they chill, preventing a skin from forming on top. Serving panna cotta in individual jars, ramekins, small dishes or glasses makes it easy – there’s no pressure to unmould them cleanly. Martini glasses work well for parties – they’re easy to hold and eat standing up.
This creamy panna cotta is made even richer and creamier with mascarpone – the simple syrup on top is made by simmering pomegranate juice and sugar, which creates a sweet-tart drizzle that perfectly complements and contrasts the smooth panna cotta.
Mascarpone Panna Cotta with Pomegranate Syrup
1 pkg. plain gelatin (or 1 tablespoon if you buy it in bulk)
2 cups heavy (whipping) cream
2 cups half & half
1/2 cup mascarpone
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract (optional)
2 cups (ish) pomegranate juice (POM comes in 473 mL bottles-it works perfectly)
1/2 cup sugar
a few strips of orange zest (optional)
Pour the creams into a medium pot and sprinkle with gelatin. Let it sit for a few minutes to let the gelatin soften. Set the pot over medium heat and stir, warming the cream but not letting it boil, until the gelatin is completely dissolved.
Add the mascarpone (I just eyeball it, adding a large spoonful) and sugar and cook, stirring, until the mascarpone is melted and the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.
Pour the mixture into jars (or wine glasses, small dishes or ramekins). Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, until set. (These can be made up to a few days in advance; simply close the lids to avoid having them dry out on top.)
To make the pomegranate syrup, simmer the pomegranate juice, sugar and orange peel in a small pot set over medium heat until it reduces by half. Remove the peel and cool completely – it should have the consistency of syrup. (This too can be made up to a week in advance and refrigerated.)
Drizzle panna cottas with pomegranate syrup and serve. Serves 6-8.
Photo credit: istockphoto.com/mushisushi