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Just(ifying) Desserts - Vanilla Panna Cotta With Brandied Cherries and Pistachio Brittle

Panna cotta (English translation: cooked cream) is one of the easiest desserts to make, and yet I’d never done it. It’s a bit like custard, but lighter in a sense, because it contains no eggs. It’s a little jiggly and velvety soft.

Nigella Lawson said that a proper panna cotta should have the delicate quiver of a young 16th century courtesan’s inner thigh. I’ve never been a courtesan and it’s been a long time since I was young, but this has a gorgeous quiver.

As desserts go, the panna cotta has very little sugar per serving (my justification), though the other elements of the dish certainly add to that.

For The Panna Cotta


1 envelope unflavored gelatin (about 1 tablespoon)

2 tablespoons cold water

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup half and half

1/3 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract


In a very small saucepan sprinkle gelatin over water and let stand about 1 minute to soften. Heat gelatin mixture over low heat until gelatin is dissolved and remove pan from heat.

In a large saucepan bring cream, half and half, and sugar just to a boil over moderately high heat, stirring. Remove pan from heat and stir in gelatin mixture and vanilla. Divide cream mixture among eight 1/2-cup ramekins and cool to room temperature.

Chill ramekins, covered, at least 4 hours or overnight.

Dip ramekins, 1 at a time, into a bowl of hot water for 3 seconds - no longer or it will melt.Run a thin knife around edge of each ramekin and invert ramekin onto center of a small plate.

For The Brandied Cherries


12 oz. (about 2-1/2 cups) fresh or frozen sweet cherries

1/4 cup brandy

3 Tbs. granulated sugar

2 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

Pinch table salt

1-1/2 tsp. cornstarch

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract


If using fresh cherries, pit and halve them. If using frozen, thaw, drain, and halve them.

In a 2-quart saucepan, whisk together the brandy, sugar, lemon juice, and salt. Stir in the cherries. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the liquid thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes.

In a small bowl, stir the cornstarch with 1 tsp. water. Add to the cherry sauce and cook until thickened, about 2 minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Let cool to room temperature. If the sauce thickens during cooling, stir in water, 1 tsp. at a time, until it reaches your desired consistency.

For The Brittle


Nonstick vegetable oil spray

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1 cup unsalted, shelled raw natural pistachios, very coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 teaspoon baking soda


Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper; spray with nonstick spray and set aside.

Whisk sugar, corn syrup, and 3 tablespoons water in a medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Fit saucepan with candy thermometer, bring mixture to a boil, and cook until thermometer registers 290°F, 3-4 minutes.

Using a heatproof spatula, stir in pistachios, butter, and kosher salt (syrup will seize initially, but will melt as it heats back up). Continue to cook syrup, stirring often, until thermometer registers 300°F and pistachios are golden brown, 3-4 minutes. Caramel should be pale brown (it will darken slightly as it cools). Sprinkle baking soda over and stir quickly to blend caramel thoroughly (mixture will bubble vigorously).

Immediately pour caramel onto prepared baking sheet and, using a heatproof spatula, quickly spread out as thin as possible.

It will cool in 20-30 minutes. Place 1/3 to 1/2 of the cooled brittle in a plastic bag and break into small pieces.

After you top the panna cotta with the cherry sauce, sprinkle a bit of brittle on the top, and serve with a larger piece of brittle.

Quiver on.

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