An unrivaled favorite in this house, I'm always thrilled when the peonies start blooming. The race is on to capture their unique & delightful flavor by making tons of jelly [see last year’s post for that recipe here,] custards, sorbet, & simple syrups before the blooms fade! This week, I will focus on an extra-special Italian dessert that is wonderfully enhanced by the addition of peony-- the Peony Panna Cotta.
The Panna Cotta is wobbly, creamy pudding that can be as extravagant or simple as you wish. Generally speaking, they are very likely to get the “OOOOH!” reaction when served, but are deceivingly simple to make. [Don’t you love when that happens?] They are naturally gluten-free & can even be tweaked to dairy-free or vegan by substituting agar agar for the gelatin & coconut or almond milk for the cream. Today, I am sticking to a classic version made with cream & gelatin-- & even using that cream to my advantage to enhance the look of our Peony Panna Cotta. Traditional recipes use a combination of heavy cream with milk or half & half to create a silky smooth texture, but often complain of the dessert separating into different layers. That separation is just what I am after here, as I will infuse the cream with our peony petals, giving it a soft pink color, & leave my half & half plain. The result, as seen in my pictures, is a beautifully two-toned final product. No extra work required for this-- the different specific gravities of the two liquids will settle into their own layers all by themselves [but look like you really put effort into it!] Let’s get started!
Getting The Peony In Our Peony Panna Cotta
We begin by infusing our heavy cream with peony petals for a delicate flavor & color.
I like to infuse a big batch for multiple projects [ice cream, sabayon, & panna cotta will be made from the batch pictured here.] If you are only planning to make this recipe, you will need 2 cups of heavy cream & 2 cups of peony petals. Each full flower holds about a cup of petals. You can use any color peony for this recipe, but the fuchsia & pink ones are needed to deliver the color results I am describing.
Begin by immersing each blossom into a sink filled with ice water to ensure you have no tiny hitch hikers along for the ride. Pluck all your petals from the flowers, being careful to remove any green portions & leaves. Rinse & drain well in a colander.
Place half your petals into the bottom of a large mason jar or other container with a tight-fitting lid. Add your cream slowly to the jar, covering the petals. Press & softly mash with a wooden spoon, then begin adding the remaining petals, continuing to press & mash them down to incorporate them. Seal the jar & pop it in your refrigerator to steep overnight. There is no need to scald your milk as peonies easily give up their heady fragrance & delicate flavor to the rich cream. After 24-hours, strain off your cream from the petals, pressing the petals to get every drop out. You can then either rinse the spent petals & compost them or simply throw them out. Your remaining cream will now be delicately scented, peony flavored, & if you used pink flowers, it should also be an incredible pale shade of pink.
A quick word about molds for your Panna Cotta: there is no need to buy fancy, special molds to make this dessert. Any small dish or ramekin can be used. Obviously, funky-shaped dishes or molds will result in funky-shaped Panna Cotta, but a simple, plain one will be just as delicious! While there is no need to invest in a set of molds with sealing lids like the ones in my pictures, they do make for a pretty result & effortless release of your desserts. No matter what you set them in, you will want to have the cups prepped & ready before beginning. This truly is a quick, simple dessert as you are about to see!
Let’s do it--
Peony Panna Cotta
1 envelope unflavored gelatin (about 1 TBS)
2 TBS cold water
2 cups peony-infused heavy cream
1 cup half & half
1/3 cup sugar
1 TBS Buttercup extract [or 1.5 tsp vanilla + 1 tsp almond + .5 tsp lemon extracts]
Lightly oil your ramekins, wiping out most of the oil, to help with the release. Put your cold water in a small saucepan & sprinkle the gelatin evenly over it, letting it stand for about 1 minute. Heat gently, stirring until the gelatin is dissolved completely. Set aside. In a larger saucepan bring your peony cream, the half & half, & the sugar just to a boil over medium heat, stirring the entire time. DO NOT ALLOW IT TO REACH A FULL BOIL. Remove pan from heat & stir in gelatin mixture & your baking extract/s.
That’s it -- Seriously, you just made Panna Cotta!
If you wish them to be uniformly pink, simply use all cream instead of the half & half & infuse all of it with petals [adding an additional flower to the mix.] Again, any rich nut milk can be substituted for your cream if you are looking for this to be dairy free, although you will change the flavor this way as peony is rather delicate.
I do hope you try this super-simple-but-sure-to-WOW-them dessert. It is a winner for sure! Truly a wonderful way to enjoy your peony flowers, & fun to make & eat as well!
Until next time-- Enjoy!