Lavender Panna Cotta with Honey Poached Pears is an autumn twist on a classic Italian dessert.
About a month ago, I had a fabulous dinner with some fellow bloggers at Oasis Cafe in Salt Lake City. It was a wonderful dinner and great introduction to a restaurant I hope to patronize over and over. As good as the dinner was (poached halibut with grilled veggies - amazing), my dessert was the most memorable part of the evening.
Honestly, I don't order dessert all that often when I go out to eat. Most of the time it's because there's nothing gluten-free on the menu. Also, I make plenty of desserts all the time and sometimes I get tired of all the sweets. (Yes, that can happen!) However, when I tasted their Lavender Panna Cotta, I darn near died. It was incredible. It was topped with juicy berries and strawberry sauce. Everyone else had apple pie and ice cream, which I'm sure was delicious, but I felt kind of special with my panna cotta sitting in front of me. I passed my plate around so everyone could take a bite and we all agreed it was the best thing we'd tasted in a long time. So, that brings me to my rendition, Lavender Panna Cotta with Honey Poached Pears. I wanted to put an autumnal twist on this fabulous dessert. It worked even better than I imagined.
I make panna cotta fairly often. It's one of my favorite desserts. It's SO easy to make. No baking involved, easy to infuse with different flavors, silky and creamy. It's a perfect dessert in my book. The fancy part, which actually isn't that fancy, is the honey poached pears. Basically I sliced up some pears and put them into a pan, drizzled some honey over the top, added lemon juice and strips of lemon peel, water, lavender and a vanilla bean and let it cook until it was syrupy. Lemon and lavender together is always magical. I added a fun texture to the dessert by candying the lemon zest in the poaching liquid. Let me just say this - I'm going to start candying lemon peel this way forever and ever. It's such a tasty little treat.
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?
Lavender Panna Cotta with Honey Poached Pearsadapted from The Joy of Cooking
For lavender panna cotta:3 Tablespoons cold water
one package gelatin
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon lavender buds
1 teaspoon 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 cup water
1/4 cup honey
Juice of 1 large lemon
Peel of one large lemon cut into strips (I used a vegetable peeler to create long strips and cut them into thinner strips with a sharp knife)
1 teaspoon 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 cup granulated sugar or evaporated cane juice
For panna cotta:Have ready 6-8 custard cups or ramekins. (You can lightly oil them if you plan on turning them out onto a plate, it helps them release better.) 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, the heat is way too high. 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 to a boil and 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 them 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 and drizzle with some of the syrup and top with a few strips of candied lemon peel.
Makes 6-8 servings.
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