Layered Chocolate & Lavender-Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta

Chocolate Lavender Panna Cotta via Sweetapolita

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.

image source

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).

Lavender Sugar via Sweetapolita

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 . . .

Chocolate Lavender Panna Cotta via Sweetapolita

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. ♥

Layered Chocolate & Lavender-Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta

Ingredients

    For the Lavender-Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta:
  • 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
  • For the Chocolate Panna Cotta:
  • 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
  • For the Lavender Whipped Cream:
  • 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)
  • For decorating:
  • Dark chocolate piece (or Dark Chocolate & Lavender, if possible)

Instructions

    For the Lavender-Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta layer:
  1. Pour the cold water into a small bowl and sprinkle with the gelatin.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. For the Chocolate Panna Cotta:
  6. Once your Lavender-Vanilla Panna Cotta layer has set, make the Chocolate layer:
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. For the Lavender Whipped Cream
  12. Prepare the whipped cream up to 2 hours before serving:
  13. Add dried lavender to whipped cream, cover and let sit for minimum 1 hour (the longer it sits, the stronger the flavour).
  14. Chill a stainless steel mixing bowl and metal whisk or hand mixer beaters for 15 minutes in freezer.
  15. 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.
  16. Top each dessert with a dollop of Lavender Whipped Cream and a piece of dark chocolate, or dark chocolate with lavender.

Notes

Chilled Panna Cotta will keep well for 2 days.

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Sweetapolita’s Notes:

  • 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!



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Lemon Meringue Milkshakes & Mini Swirl Meringues

If you hear a muffled cry for help or cake, it’s likely me from under the endless boxes and stacks of stuff I’ve been getting ready to move in a few weeks. This is the first time we’ve ever moved a full house-load of things, and after 5 years of collecting cake tools, baking supplies, cake pedestals, food props, little girls’ toys, and more (oh, so much more), I may not make it out unscathed. And the thing is, when you’re in the thick of a move and the peak of the hot summer months, creating fancy cakes isn’t as likely as I would have hoped, but that doesn’t mean delightful desserts aren’t possible and, if anything, they’re more necessary than ever.

I recently received this irresistible book, Milkshake Bar by Hanna Miles, and it hit me–milkshakes are where I need to be right now, and vice versa. This book is filled with so much chilly inspiration (think creamy, jelly-filled Doughnut Floats served with a skewer of mini doughnuts; sweet and sponge-candy-topped Honeycomb Shakes; and refreshing, bright and bubbly Raspberry Ripple Floats) that can come to be in just moments–a concept that is much-welcomed in my world right now.

After first flip through the book, I was immediately drawn to the creamy & sunshiney awesomeness that is the Lemon Meringue Milkshake. It seems that my dessert-choices have been colour-driven lately, and bright yellow has my heart these days. And, as you probably remember, I have a real thing for lemony desserts (such as these and this), and since I always have Lemon Curd in my freezer, this recipe was super-simple to make.

What’s funny is that I made these meringues the day before with the intention to blog something totally different (which I will still do), so when I saw the recipe for the Lemon Meringue Milkshake called for a mini meringue topper, I knew it was all meant to be. To make life easier, you could certainly buy some mini meringues to top yours with, but if you do have the time to make these, they are incredible on their own and really satisfy the need for a little hit of sugar–2 for the shakes and 43 for you to innocently sneak, one-by-one, from the airtight container in which they happily sit. Makes good sense, right?

Made with whole milk, ice cream, lemon curd and lemon yogurt, this milkshake is a chilly creamy, dreamy, lemon confection that is sure to hit the sweet spot. ♥ And okay, okay–I did intentionally coordinate Nevie’s jumper with the milkshake, but I simply couldn’t resist!

Here’s the recipe:

Lemon Meringue Milkshakes          {click to print}

 

 

 

 

shared with permission, as written in the book Milkshake Bar by Hanna Miles

Lemon Meringue

3 tablespoons lemon curd

300 ml/1-1/4 cups lemon yogurt

3 scoops lemon or vanilla ice cream

300 ml/1-1/4 cups milk, chilled

2 mini meringues

2 soda glasses, chilled

2 straws

a squeezy bottle of piping bag with a small round nozzle tip

SERVES 2

Put two tablespoons of the lemon curd in a squeezy bottle or piping bag and pipe a lemon spiral onto the inside of each glass.

Put the yogurt, ice cream, milk and remaining tablespoon of lemon curd in a blender and whizz until smooth.

Pour into the prepared glasses and top each with a meringue. Serve immediately with straws and a spoon to eat the meringue.

Sweetapolita’s Notes

  • I typically have this Lemon Curd in my freezer at all times, because it’s such an easy way to add sunshine to any dessert, frosting, ice cream or even drink. You don’t need to thaw it, just pull what you need and it quickly softens back up.
  • You could certainly simplify the process by using store-bought lemon curd and prepared mini meringues (if you’re lucky enough to find those in the shops near you).
  • After pouring the milkshakes and topping with the meringue, they actually kept really nicely while I photographed Neve with hers, so if you’re preparing for a group at a luncheon or party, they should present nicely, even after you prepare an entire tray of them.
  • For my mini meringues, I used the Swiss Meringue method (heating the sugar and egg whites to 140°F, then whipping until reaches stiff peaks), but you could prepare the meringues any way you’re used to or prefer. You could simplify this process by creating pure white meringues, rather than the swirl variety.
Here’s the recipe for the meringues, and although this would be a lot of work for serving a couple of milkshakes, these are crispy, melt-in-your-mouth confections that you can serve by the platter-full and they would be gobbled up in seconds. They also make delightful cupcake toppers and cake decorations. I’ve also been told that they taste particularly Keep them at room-temperature in an airtight container.

Mini Swirl Meringues

 

 

 

 

Yield: ~45 1-inch round mini meringue swirls

Ingredients

3 egg whites (approximately 90 grams/3 ounces)

3/4 cup (150 grams/5 ounces) sugar

A drop of Americolor Electric Yellow  (or colour/shade of your choice)

One Decorating Bag, 14-Inch or 18-inch

Pastry tip #1A 

Small paintbrush

Method

1. Preheat oven to 200°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Wipe the bowl of an electric mixer with paper towel and lemon juice, to remove any trace of grease.

2. Add egg whites and sugar to the mixer bowl and fit onto the top of a medium saucepan filled with about 1-inch of simmering (not boiling) water. (Be sure the bottom of your bowl is not touching the water.) Whisk constantly but gently, until temperature reaches 140°F, or if you don’t have a candy thermometer, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot.

3. Dry the underside of the mixer bowl and transfer to your stand mixer. Whip using the whisk attachment until the meringue is thick and glossy and has reached the stiff peak stage.

4. While the meringue is whipping in the mixer, fit your decorating bag with a plain round pastry tip. Fold over a cuff at the top of the pastry bag and paint 3, equally-spaced, thin lines of yellow gel colour using your fine paint brush (you can use any paint brush, but it should only be one you designate for food) from the pastry tip up toward the cuff.

5. Fill the bag with your meringue (no more than 2/3 full) and pipe small swirls onto your lined baking sheets, spacing them about 1-inch apart.

6. Bake at 200°F for 60 minutes, rotating the trays after 30 minutes. Lower the oven to 175°F and bake until dry, about 40 minutes more.

I’ll see you soon with some birthday-themed blogging!

Good luck & enjoy!



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Boozy Birthday Cake Shots

Boozy Birthday Cake Shots via Sweetapolita

Happy St. Patty’s Day to you! So this won’t be the longest post I’ve ever written, or the most Irish (aside from the fact that I really am 25% Irish) for that matter, but I wanted you to know that I’m here (bearing sprinkly booze), and I’m back in action. Over the past few months I’ve been working on some projects that are sort of behind-the-scenes (and I hope to soon share), and it’s meant less frequent blog posts, so thanks for being patient with me. I’m happy to say that I’m almost caught up and ready for a new phase!

I wanted to share this boozy delight with you to get the weekend off to the right start, because it’s just too much fun not to. Remember I mentioned in my last post, that some girlfriends and I had some fun with Birthday Cake Shots a recent birthday get-together? I discovered cake shots after perusing the Pinnacle vodka site while I was planning cakey drinks to make at the party, and there was no way I was letting that go. I probably don’t have to tell you that bringing out cake vodka, whipped cream, sprinkles and more during a birthday party (or anytime) will definitely elicit some serious party-goer enthusiasm.

Boozy Birthday Cake Shots via Sweetapolita

Even though I’m not a frequent alcohol drinker, discovering cake flavoured vodka has been a pretty life-changing experience. I suddenly find myself randomly texting friends & family when I discover a new cake martini variation and googling things like “cake shooter recipes.” And I may or may not have started to carry sprinkles in my evening bag. Oh wait, I was already doing that.

Too. Much. Cakey. Sprinkly. Boozy. Fun.

Here’s the recipe for the cake shots I made, as well as a handful of boozy treat links from some blogging friends (below):

Boozy Birthday Cake Shots

Yield: 1 shot (easily multiplied)

Ingredients

  • 1 ounce (30 ml) cake-flavoured vodka (e.g. Pinnacle or Three Olives)
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) dry white cake mix
  • 1/2 ounce (15 ml) chocolate liqueur
  • 1/2 ounce (15 ml) half & half (10.5-18% fat cream)
  • whipped cream (for topping)
  • sprinkles (for topping)

Instructions

  1. Shake all ingredients in a martini shaker with ice and strain into sprinkle-rimmed (optional) shooter or shot glass and top with whipped cream and more sprinkles.
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Sweetapolita’s Notes

  • The dry cake mix dissolves right into the drink when you shake it up in the martini shaker, I promise.
  • If you can only find the cake vodka, you can always use more in place of the whipped cream vodka or chocolate liqueur–it’s good both ways! Or, so they tell me. *ahem* You actually can’t go wrong–you can improvise with any sweet liqueur along with the cake vodka. For some reason it all seems to work. Again, so they tell me.
  • Okay, I know I now sound like the Pinnacle poster girl, but if you click here, you can find 5 pages of cake vodka drink recipes!
  • Please don’t cake & drive. xo

For other boozy delights from fellow bloggers, check out this yumminess:

Jessica’s Cake Batter Martini’s

Michael’s Chocolate & Bourbon Pudding

Naomi’s Thin Mint & Bailey’s Chocolate Floats

Steph’s Bourbon & Brown Butter Brownies

Naomi’s Irish Car Bombs Jell-o Shots

Good luck & enjoy!

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