Passion in Panna Cotta: Lychee and Pomegranates

January 22nd, 2010

Lycheepcwhite

The boyfriend has been on a pomegranate kick lately. I'll see him standing at the sink, staring pensively down, hands subtly moving…doing what? Inspecting the sink for scratches? Ruminating over the dirty dishes I haven't cleaned from the last baking project? Trying to secretly get rid of something down the garbage disposal? No, he's patiently taking apart a pomegranate, removing the arils in the sink so he doesn't get ruby red pomegranate juice stains all over the kitchen walls.

There's an elegant poetry in the working of his hands around the plump fruit; the careful opening of the fruit, like the revealing of a heart; the patient, delicate extraction of the arlls; the orderly discarding of the peel and pith in a neat pile, with not a single aril lost. My boyfriend's love of precision and cleanliness makes him an ideal cook – and disassembler of fruit.

Lycheepom

So, inspired by all the lovely red fruit about, I decided to make these panna cottas topped with a layer of pomegranate jelly – the look is very berries-in-the-snow, isn't it? I played around with ideas for different flavors for the panna cotta, but found a can of lychees in the cupboard and had my answer. I really like the combination: the lush, floral sweetness of the lychees make a good match for the clean tartness of the pomegranate, and reinforces the tropical sensibilities of the dessert. I love the taste of lychees, although I'm not the biggest fan of their texture; I find I like them best when their flavor is infused into a dessert, like ice cream. Panna cotta also proved a perfect base for the lychees, providing a wonderful backdrop for their honeyed flavor.

Panna cotta has gained a reputation as a finicky dessert, and indeed, rubbery panna cotta is certainly a sad thing. But as with all recipes involving gelatin, it's really a matter of using the correct proportions, and the entire process of actually making the panna cotta is so laughably short, it's astonishing that such a simple recipe could yield such sublime delight- or invoke such fear in the maker.

Lycheepannatraycotta

A couple of my thoughts on panna cotta: since this dessert is all about cream (after all, it means "cooked cream" in Italian), using quality cream is of paramount importance. Although many panna cotta recipes use just cream, others use yogurt, buttermilk, or sour cream, to add flavor while boosting the creamy mouthfeel of the final product. Some panna cotta recipes cut the cream with milk, as I do, for panna cotta on the more ethereal side of the spectrum. But don't ever use only milk, or less than whole milk, or you'll end up with more of a milk jello, which is exactly what you don't want your panna cotta mistaken for!

The silky, just-barely-solid texture of panna cotta is its hallmark; the key lies is proper measurement of the gelatin. I used to find that I erred on the heavy-handed side when I made mine; remember, you're not going for jello! However, on the flip side, you don't want to end up with cream soup either. Sometimes your panna cotta may teeter between just set but not really wanting to hold its shape when unmolded; that's why I find making panna cotta in presentation-worthy glasses a bonus, since you can just serve them straight in the glass without worrying if they'll unmold properly. (It made photographing them a lot easier!)

If you do want to unmold them, though, try spraying the glasses very lightly with a flavorless oil before you pour in the panna cotta, so they will unmold more easily. If they are really stuck, dip the glasses briefly in a bowl of hot water and then flip over onto a plate.

The boyfriend gave these two thumbs up, although he might have been a little miffed that I used some of his precious pomegranates to make them. Don't worry; I got him more to make up for it, although I think this dessert more than justifies a little pilfering?

Lycheeblack

Lychee Panna Cotta

1 can (14 oz) lychees in syrup

2 teaspoons powdered gelatin

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup whole milk

2 tablespoons sugar

Open the can of lychees and pour the lychees and syrup into a food processor. Process until the mixture is smooth. There will still be little bits of lychee flesh and pulp. Strain into a measuring cup until you get 1 cup of clear liquid.

Place 3 tablespoons of cold water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Let sit while you do the next step.

Combine lychee liquid, cream, milk, and sugar in a medium saucepan. Heat on medium, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved and it just comes to a boil.

Remove lychee mixture from heat and add gelatin. Stir until the gelatin is fully melted and combined.

Divide mixture among glasses and refrigerate until set, at least 2 hours.

Pomegranate Jelly

1 1/2 teaspoons powdered gelatin

1 cup pomegranate juice

1/2 cup sugar

Place 3 tablespoons of cold water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Let sit while you do the next step.

Combine pomegranate juice and sugar in a medium saucepan and heat on medium, stirring until sugar is dissolved.

Add gelatin and stir until it is fully melted and combined.

Remove from heat and let cool for about 10 minutes.

Pour pomegranate mixture over the panna cottas and refrigerate until set, about 2 hours.

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25 Comments so far ↓

  • Alex #1

    Wow. I love the flavor of lychees and the flavor of pomegranates. It looks delish!

  • Monica #2

    Hi, been a long time reader of your blog : )
    Thanks for all the yummy delights!

    I can’t help but notice you have lovely spoons. May I enquire as to where you purchased them?

  • MaryMoh #3

    Wow….that looks really beautiful. I can even have it for breakfast. Looks perfect for the coming Valentine’s Day.

  • Rosa #4

    That panna cotta is lovely and your shots are gorgeous!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  • Laura #5

    I love this presentation. I used to make pannacotta at a restaurant I worked at in Berkeley, and Michael Bauer reviewed it a text book perfect, and it was really smooth and tasty I must say. The owner and the servers hated it though, because they could not for the life of me learn how to unmold it, so they never really wanted to suggest it to the customers, and we were an “Italian” restaurant. Frustrating!

    I am starting a new job and if I make it again I will try to serve it like this, in glasses to avoid the unmolding step.

  • Parigote #6

    It’s look so good !

  • Nadia #7

    Absolutely stunning as usual. I love lychees too. I’ve been afraid of panna cotta ever since I first(and the last)time I made them because it turned out so rubbery! I will definitely remember this entry in the future if I ever dare to venture into making panna cottas.

    On a side note, my mom was on a pomegranate craze too. Our fridge was PACKED with them!!

  • Sreelu #8

    Anitha, this looks so delish, I would love to try this. But where do you get gelatin powder, can we substitue with gelatin sheets, if so how many should I use. Please let me know.

  • pastrygirl #9

    Hi Sreelu,

    This is a surprisingly tricky question, because gelatin sheets come in different sizes and strengths so it’s not a simple conversion. One envelope of Knox gelatin (the type I use) has about 2 1/2 teaspoons of powder, and I have seen conversions ranging from 3 to 5 sheets of gelatin for one envelope.

    David Leibovitz has written an excellent article about gelatin, and there is a link at the end of the article to an eGullet discussion about gelatin conversions.
    link to davidlebovitz.com

    I would check to see what is the strength of the sheets you have, and test a conversion with this recipe or another – it may take a couple tweaks to get the results you want. Good luck!

  • Su-yin #10

    I’ve been on a pomegranate kick too, so this looks lovely! I really like the combination of lychee and pomegranate you have here, will have to try this out very soon. :)

  • Stephanie - Wasabimon #11

    Pomegranate and panna cotta – perhaps the perfect marriage. Thank you!

  • Doc Kane #12

    Gorgeous presentation, Anita. And of course, anything with Lychee instantly gets my vote. Toss ‘em in some ice cold Vodka for a great pairing!

    Cheers,
    Doc

  • sudhakar #13

    That last shot is stunning. I might see if we can make it at college this week.

  • Caitlin #15

    This looks fabulous! While I’m not a fan of cream-type desserts, I might be swayed by the pomegranate part – it sounds delicious!

  • Hsin #16

    Those look delicious and so beautiful.

    Funny what you said about the texture of lychees. When I was young my dad told me that lychees were cow’s eyeballs (I had only seen them fully peeled at that point). I argued with him for half an hour that they couldn’t be, could they? And he never backed down.
    For years I doubted him, but there was always that nagging feeling that maybe, just maybe he was right.

    Then several years later when I left home and did my own grocery shopping, I pretty much figured it out.
    But still, that feeling as I bite into the flesh …

    I always was annoyed at him for that.

  • Hsin #17

    Those look delicious and so beautiful.

    Funny what you said about the texture of lychees. When I was young my dad told me that lychees were cow’s eyeballs (I had only seen them fully peeled at that point). I argued with him for half an hour that they couldn’t be, could they? And he never backed down.
    For years I doubted him, but there was always that nagging feeling that maybe, just maybe he was right.

    Then several years later when I left home and did my own grocery shopping, I pretty much figured it out.
    But still, that feeling as I bite into the flesh …

    I always was annoyed at him for that.

  • Betty #18

    Excellent post! I love the spoons!
    Thank you!

  • Christa Kelso #19

    Just found your blog and its amazing! SOOO many yummy things :)
    Can’t wait to browse around!
    -Mini Baker
    ps. LOVE panna cotta, yours looks awesome! great pics too :)

  • theUngourmet #20

    I think this is just about the most perfect panna cotta I’ve seen! Gorgeous!

  • Easy Dessert Recipes From Malta #21

    Oh my! That looks sooooooooo good :)

    I love pomegranate but never made desserts with it. This looks absolutely delicious and what a stunning presentation too!

    Cheers,

    Marica

  • a. #22

    O my god…what a beautiful photos…;) and perfect panna cotta…mmm…Looks really nice. And the spoons….wow, where did you get those fancy spoons? They are just awsome…

    I wish you all the best. Looking forward to new posts..

    Greetings,
    a.

  • betty #23

    wow they look great :O)

  • ButterYum #24

    Stunning photos. I love the dessert dishes you used. My Costco had them for months and months, but the day I decided to go and buy them, they were all gone. I was bummed.
    :)
    ButterYum

  • Lynx #25

    I made these by reference of a good friend. These turned out to be a big hit. So simple to make and modify to different flavors. I got so carried away and tried it with yogurt in sub of the jelly. Thanks for the great recipe!

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