I’m so truly excited for my talented (and crazy beautiful) friend Camille, from the entertaining site Camille Styles–just a few weeks ago she became a first-time mom to a gorgeous little baby girl named Phoebe. I can still remember those early days with my baby girls, and what a whirlwind it was–exhilarating, exhausting and emotional (the entire gamut). And yet, as unfamiliar as it all was (particularly with Reese, my first), it seemed strangely comfortable. I’m genuinely thrilled for Camille and her husband and their life ahead with Phoebe–there’s simply nothing like life with little girls. While Camille and her new little family spend these first few weeks together, I’m honoured to be one of the food bloggers contributing to her beautiful website with this Layered Chocolate & Lavender-Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta.
Since long before the time my love for sugar became my career, it seems I have had somewhat of a lavender obsession. I can recall becoming instantly smitten the first time I tasted a lavender & vanilla sugar cookie many years ago at a gourmet food show–with its subtle violet flecks, intoxicating fragrance and delicate-and-slightly-unexpected flavour this single cookie may be responsible for my love for infusing lavender into desserts. What surprised me most was how the lavender didn’t taste floral, but rather heightened the sweet vanilla tones of the cookie and married the sugar, butter and vanilla in magical way.
Today one of the things I love most about incorporating culinary lavender in desserts is the curiousity it elicits from guests who may or may not be certain they would enjoy such a thing, and the element of surprise when they realize how much they do. Lavender pairs well with many sweet flavours, most notably lemon, chocolate, vanilla, honey and pear, as well as an entire host of savoury flavours. The possibilities are virtually endless, but the key to pleasant-not-perfumey lavender desserts is go easy! Use it sparingly, especially if you are adding it directly into the recipe (as opposed to straining the buds after flavouring).
One of my favourite ways to bring its unique flavour into the mix without over-powering dessert, is by keeping a stash of lavender sugar handy. Simply add a few spoonfuls of dried culinary lavender to a sugar canister or jar filled with sugar, stir it up and keep it airtight when you’re not using it. The longer is sits, the more powerful the flavour, but it’s a great way to infuse in recipes by simply using the lavender sugar (or part) in place of regular sugar. Voila! You can even use it to sweeten lemonade, tea, simply sprinkle upon baked goods . . .
Or, of course, you can use it to create Layered Chocolate & Lavender-Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta (with a dollop of Lavender Whipped Cream!) — my current favourite. Panna Cotta, an Italian pudding made mostly from simmering cream, sugar and gelatin, is truly unique in that it is one of the simplest desserts to make, yet extremely versatile and enthusiastically celebrated by those who taste it. Because it seems many people don’t think to make it at home, it’s often a special treat to dinner party guests. With its luxe texture and decadent taste, I find it to be reminiscent of lavish restaurant desserts, particularly when you add sophisticated elements, such as dark chocolate, vanilla-bean and lavender sugar.
I went ahead and made mini lavender & dark chocolate bars using this Chocolate Bar Mold I was dying to use, but even a small piece of quality dark chocolate on top would be a fabulous touch.
The Lavender Whipped Cream adds a dreamy lavender touch to the dessert and officially makes this a very indulgent treat.
And as much as I love adding fancy components to dessert, the truth is sometimes I simply can’t spend the time needed for complex recipes. As a mom of two little girls, my reality is that I can’t always predict how much kitchen-time I will get, and there’s nothing more rewarding than a show-stopping dessert that truly doesn’t take a lot of fuss. One of the ways I manage to make as many treats as I do with so little time, is by choosing recipes that have components that can be made ahead of time — so when my little one naps or at bedtime. This dessert requires less than 45 minutes active-time and can be made up to 2 days before serving, which makes it an ideal dinner party choice as well as a perfect mama-hostess choice. ♥
- 6 tablespoons (90 ml) cold water
- 4-1/2 teaspoons (22 ml) unflavoured gelatin (such as Knox brand)
- 2 cups (500 ml) whipping cream (35% fat), or heavy cream
- 2 cups (500 ml) half-and-half (10.5-18% fat)
- 1 cup (200 grams) sugar (lavender sugar, if possible)
- 2 tablespoons dried culinary lavender
- pinch of salt
- 1/2 vanilla bean, seeded and scraped
- 1-3/4 cups (437 ml) whipping cream (35% fat), or heavy cream
- 1-1/4 teaspoons (6. 25 ml) unflavoured gelatin (such as Knox brand)
- 2 tablespoons (24 grams) sugar
- pinch of salt
- 2 ounces (60 grams) quality dark chocolate (at least 50% cacao), finely chopped
- 3/4 cup (187 ml) whipping cream (35% fat), cold
- 1 tablespoon dried Culinary Lavender
- 1 tablespoon (12 grams) sugar (or lavender sugar, if possible)
- A drop or two of violet gel colour (optional)
- Dark chocolate piece (or Dark Chocolate & Lavender, if possible)
- Pour the cold water into a small bowl and sprinkle with the gelatin.
- In a medium saucepan, heat the whipping cream, half-and-half, sugar, dried lavender and salt over medium heat until the sugar has completely dissolved and mixture just comes to a boil, about 5 minutes.
- Remove saucepan from the heat and pour mixture through a fine strainer into a 4-cup measuring cup with spout. Stir in vanilla bean seeds, followed by the gelatin mixture, and stir until the gelatin has completely dissolved.
- Divide among 8 individual serving glasses, custard cups or ramekins and bring to room temperature.Place on a flat surface in refrigerator for at least 5 hours, or overnight.
- Once your Lavender-Vanilla Panna Cotta layer has set, make the Chocolate layer:
- Pour 1/4 cup (60 ml) of the whipping cream into a small heatproof bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Let sit for 10 minutes. Place the bowl into a larger bowl with hot water and stir mixture until gelatin has completely dissolved.
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the remaining cream, sugar and salt just to a boil and remove promptly from the heat. Whisk in the chocolate until completely incorporated and smooth.
- Add the gelatin mixture and stir until well combined. Pour mixture through a fine strainer into a 4-cup measuring cup with spout and let sit until it reaches room temperature, stirring occasionally.
- Divide among the well-chilled/set Lavender-Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta layered cups, cover loosely and let chill in refrigerator for another 5 hours or overnight.
- Prepare the whipped cream up to 2 hours before serving:
- Add dried lavender to whipped cream, cover and let sit for minimum 1 hour (the longer it sits, the stronger the flavour).
- Chill a stainless steel mixing bowl and metal whisk or hand mixer beaters for 15 minutes in freezer.
- Strain the cream into the mixing bowl, add the sugar (I used lavender sugar) and gel colour (if using), and beat just until it stiffens to peaks and keeps shape. Take care to not overbeat, or it will become grainy.
- Top each dessert with a dollop of Lavender Whipped Cream and a piece of dark chocolate, or dark chocolate with lavender.
Chilled Panna Cotta will keep well for 2 days.
- This recipe may appear lengthy or complicated, but it is one of the least fussy or time-consuming desserts you can make (I promise).
- To make lavender sugar, simply add a few tablespoons of dried culinary lavender to your granulated sugar and stir it up. Keep in an airtight container and use in recipes in place of regular sugar, sprinkled on baked goods, or in tea. The longer it sits, the more intense the fragrance/flavour. I am hooked on this stuff! It also looks especially pretty sitting on the countertop in a clear glass jar. To make lavender-vanilla sugar (even more delightful), simply include the scraped seeds of a vanilla bean and the pod in your sugar, mix well, and bury the vanilla pod.
- Both the Lavender-Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta and Chocolate Panna Cotta variations are rich, creamy and incredibly satisfying desserts, so if short on time, even a single layer version would be a crowd pleaser.
- You can make this dessert up to 2 days ahead–simply keep refrigerated and whip up the cream topping a few hours ahead of serving.
Good luck & enjoy!