As winter tightens its grip, comforting desserts are just the ticket to cheer the heart and brighten dark days. Spiced Coconut Panna Cotta with Moreno Cherries is a luscious choice for those who need dairy free and gluten free options. Although this dessert is the color of snow, the coconut flavor will bring to mind tropical isles and warm breezes, while the cherries are a reminder that spring will return one day.
Panna cotta is simply thick cream set with gelatin and chilled in a mold. It can also be made with nut milks, or even rice milk, but it won't have the creamy consistency of the original. For a dairy free version I rely on smooth coconut cream that pairs beautifully with the vanilla, nutmeg, and cherries I like to add.
The nice thing about naturally sweet coconut cream is that additional sweeteners are unnecessary. The not-so-nice thing is that it is so very coconut-y with a heavy mouth feel that can overwhelm a delicate dessert like panna cotta. This can be offset with the addition of ingredients that balance the flavors and give the dish a well-rounded profile.
I start by adding a whole vanilla bean. Simply split the vanilla bean, scrape out the seeds, and add them and the pod to the coconut cream. For a bit of a spicy kick I add a generous grating of fresh nutmeg or ground cardamom. Stir everything well so the vanilla seeds don't stay in clumps, then bring to a simmer over medium heat. Be sure to stir regularly so the coconut cream doesn't scorch.
When the cream mixture starts to simmer, remove from heat and sprinkle the gelatin powder over the surface, stirring briskly to help it dissolve quickly. When the gelatin is melted, strain the mixture through a fine sieve that removes the vanilla pods and any undissolved gelatin, but retains the vanilla seeds.
Lightly grease ramekins or the molds you'd like to use, then pour in the panna cotta mixture. Place in the fridge and leave to chill and set for at least an hour. Test the firmness by jostling the ramekin. The middle of the panna cotta should move slightly but not slop.
Leave the Spiced Coconut Panna Cotta in the fridge until you're ready to serve. Then run a thin knife around the edge to loosen the dessert and invert onto a dish or platter. Top with three Moreno cherries and drizzle with the cherry syrup. You can also serve the panna cotta in the mold -- espresso cups or wine glasses are a great option for this. If you only want a small dessert, set the panna cottas in shot glasses, then top with one cherry and a spoonful of cherry syrup.
If cherries aren't your cup of tea, try adding passionfruit pulp, diced mango, or a dollop of jam.
Panna cotta can be served by itself, but it's especially nice with cookies such as ginger snaps, oatmeal cookies, or buttery shortbread on the side.
Spiced Coconut Panna Cotta with Moreno Cherries
- 3 cups coconut cream
- 1 vanilla bean
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 3 teaspoons powdered gelatin
- Moreno cherries in syrup
Lightly oil panna cotta molds or ramekins. Set aside.
Pour coconut cream into saucepan. Split vanilla bean and scrape seeds into cream along with pod. Add ground nutmeg and stir to mix well. Heat over medium high heat until it begins to simmer.
Remove from heat and sprinkle powdered gelatin over the top, whisking swiftly to dissolve gelatin.
Strain mixture to remove vanilla pod and any undissolved gelatin, then divide amongst molds.
Refrigerate at least one hour then serve topped with Moreno cherries and a drizzle of syrup.