Happy July and Happy Birthday United States of America!
It seems like it was yesterday that I was writing a Memorial Day post, heralding the beginning of swimsuit season and, here we are, half way through the summer. What in the world happened to June, does anybody out there know?
We were getting ready to eat a late dinner a few nights ago when, out of the blue, we began hearing "pop-pop-pop .......... pop-pop-pop-pop"! It kept going. For a minute Scott and I looked at each other puzzled, then our eyes lit up as we remembered the fireworks that's sponsored each year by our local YMCA. The Y is only two blocks from our home and they always schedule their beautiful fireworks display the Sunday before the 4th of July. We rushed to the door and ended up eating our meal right there on the front steps, never taking our eyes off the glorious heavens. I'm not sure what we ate for dinner that evening, but I can't forget the spectacular display; one glorious burst of sound and light after another, thundering and showering the skies with every hue imaginable, before fading into wisps of smokey shadows. We oohed and aahed with each colorful explosion and recalled the words of the famous patriotic anthem; "and the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night, that our flag was still there...".
Our country is celebrating 238 years of independence this week, so I decided something festive in red, white and blue was in order. I tossed around a couple of ideas, but in the end, got my inspiration from Martha Stewart for this Strawberry and Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta.
I loved the idea of a dessert with just a few simple ingredients; in this case fresh strawberries, a splash of lemon, cream, Greek yogurt, sugar and vanilla beans. The panna cotta and strawberry layers are both thickened with a bit of natural, unflavored gelatin.
The recipe is fairly easy to put together, with the cooking done quickly in the microwave. The hands-on time is less than 30 minutes, but there is an hour refrigeration time in between layers to achieve the pretty flag-striped look. If you're pressed for time, this dessert could be made with just two layers and still be quite festive.
Although this dessert is perfect for a patriotic celebration, I'm already thinking of variations of flavors that could be done for other occasions and seasons. The strawberries could be swapped out for layers made with blueberries, peaches, apricots, pumpkin, pomegranate, cranberries.......... Hey, how about a layer of ganache like in these Layered Cheesecake Jars. Okay, I could keep going; but you get the idea of fun versatility, right? Make these beautiful little layered jars of deliciousness a day or two in advance for easy entertaining. Just add blueberries and a sprig of mint right before serving. Expect gasps of patriotic delight!
P.S. Happy 4th of July from The Café! We'll be back on Saturday with a new recipe, after taking a short holiday break.
- For the strawberry layer:
- 4 cups sliced strawberries
- ⅔ cup sugar
- 2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- ¼ cup fresh orange juice about
- 1 envelope unflavored gelatin ¼-ounce or 7g
- For the panna cotta cream layer:
- 1 envelope unflavored gelatin ¼-ounce or 7g
- 1 ¼ cups heavy cream
- ½ cup greek yogurt
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean pod or 1 teaspoon regular vanilla extract
- For the topping:
- fresh blueberries for topping
- mint sprigs for garnish
For the strawberry layer - Combine strawberries and sugar in a large microwave-safe bowl. Cook on high power for 2 minutes. Stir and cook another 2 minutes. Pour through a fine sieve, pressing on berries with the back of a spoon to extract as much juice as possible. Add lemon juice. Measure the amount of strawberry juice.It should right around 1 ⅔ cups. If it's not quite 1 ⅔ cups, add a bit of fresh orange juice. Set aside.
Put ⅓ cup cold water into a small microwave-safe bowl; sprinkle with gelatin. Let soften 5 minutes, then place in microwave for 10 seconds. Add to strawberry juice mixture; stir well.
Clear off an area in your refrigerator to hold 4 dessert glasses. (Each glass should hold about 1 ¼ cups liquid.) Pour ¼ cup strawberry juice mixture into each of the four glasses. Set remaining strawberry gelatin aside. Refrigerate glasses until gelatin is completely set, about 1 hour. (See tips below for even layers)
For the panna cotta (cream) layer - Put ⅓ cup cold water into a small microwave-safe bowl; sprinkle with gelatin. Let soften 5 minutes, then place in microwave and cook on high for 10 seconds.
Combine cream, and sugar into a medium-size microwave-safe bowl. Cook on high for 2 minutes until starting to simmer. Remove from microwave and add vanilla bean paste and gelatin, stir until gelatin has dissolved, about 2 minutes.
Place yogurt in a separate medium size bowl. Whisk until creamy and smooth. While whisking, slowly add heavy cream/sugar mixture. Whisk till smooth. Set aside.
For the layering - When strawberry gelatin layer has set, add ¼ cup of the cream mixture to each glass. Cover remaining cream and set aside (keep at room temperature). Refrigerate glasses until cream (panna cotta) layer is set, about 1 hour.
Repeat layering with remaining strawberry and cream mixtures, forming 4 layers, waiting an hour in between layers.
Serve with fresh blueberries and mint sprigs for garnish. Can be made 2-3 days in advance.
A few tips for pretty layering:
Before starting to layer, clear off a shelf in your refrigerator for the four glasses. Do all the layer pouring right there in the refrigerator. Otherwise every time you try to move the glasses in and out, you'll mess up the layers.
Use a small mouth funnel to pour the layers. You'll have much less mess and much prettier layers.
If the panna cotta mixture or the strawberry mixture starts to get a little thick in between pouring layers, just pop it back in the microwave for 10 seconds before pouring the next layer.
Be sure to wait until the previous layer is congealed before adding the next. Mine took an hour but each refrigerator is different.
Inspired by Martha Stewart