A few weeks ago I was having dinner with two of my lovely friends (and blog regulars) Paige and Alia. We were planning a dinner party for New Year's Eve and I knew that of course I had to bring some kind of gelatin dessert. We decided that Italian would be the food genre and I immediately I thought to myself "doesn't panna cotta (one of my favorite desserts) use gelatin!?" Some quick dinner-table Googling found that yes, panna cotta was made with unflavored gelatin. Score! I spent quite a bit of time searching for the recipe I wanted to use and what kind of topping to make. I finally settled on this panna cotta recipe and this berry sauce recipe - I have included my slightly altered versions below. I used part half-and-half instead of all heavy cream and although I used vanilla extract this time I plan to use a vanilla bean next time I make this. Also, I used two entire packets of Knox gelatin and I think it could have been a little creamier - I'll stick to 4 1/2 teaspoons exactly next time.
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 cups half-and-half
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract (or 1 vanilla bean)
4 1/2 teaspoons of unflavored Knox gelatin (about 2 packets - measure the teaspoons exactly!)
6 tablespoons of cold water
First, sprinkle the gelatin over all 6 tablespoons of the cold water in a bowl and let stand while you heat the other ingredients. Warm the cream, half-and-half, and sugar in a pan on the stove until the sugar is dissolved.
Once warmed, stir in the vanilla extract (if you are using a vanilla bean, scrape the seeds from the bean and add them to the cream along with the empty pod - cover, and let infuse for 30 minutes - remove the bean pod then rewarm the mixture).
Pour the hot mixture into the bowl with the gelatin and stir until everything is completely dissolved. Pour the mixture into your lightly oiled (use something with minimal flavor - I used canola oil spray and it was just fine) molds and chill until firm. I used some borrowed ramekins but you could use a cupcake tin, teacups, wine glasses, etc. The chilling time will depend on the size of your mold but mine took about 5 hours to firm up (I made these the morning of the dinner just to be sure they had enough time). If you're going to serve them in a wine or martini glass you don't need to wait for them to chill quite as long (since you won't be unmolding).
And finally, the berry sauce! I just grabbed a 12 oz. bag of frozen organic mixed berries (raspberries, a few strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries) and heated them up in a saucepan. I added some sugar (around two tablespoons?) and 2 tablespoons of brandy (I just bought one of those mini airplane sized bottles at the liquor store). Stir the berries as they heat up and break up any big berries with your spoon as they cook down. When I felt like I had the right amount of syrup and mashed berries (not sure what the right amount is, it just felt right), I poured the mixture into a bowl and let it chill in the fridge until serving.
These were so easy to unmold - hallelujah! I just ran a sharp knife around the the edge of the ramekin, held it upside down over the bowl, and used a butter knife to coax it out. They plopped easily into the bowl and even if they aren't perfect when they unmold, you'll be spooning the sauce over each one anyway so don't fret.
I ended up filling the ramekins a bit more than originally intended so everyone had a pretty large serving. This recipe could easily make 8 generous servings or 10 smaller servings. The large servings certainly didn't prohibit us (well, Paige and me) from finishing ours and washing them down with a swig of celebratory champagne. Nothing says "Happy New Year!" like good food, a successfully unmolded gelatin dessert, and the best friends a gal could ask for.