Panna cotta, an Italian dessert meaning "cooked cream," is a diverse treat when it comes to decorative touches. The custard-like consistency of this dish pairs well with flavors such as fruits, chocolate and caramel. The toppings added to panna cotta not only decorate this otherwise plain-looking dessert, but give it an extra burst of flavor.
Fruit in its many forms serve as colorful and tasty panna cotta decoration. Beat strawberries with sugar to taste for a topping to pour on and around a cooled panna cotta. Blackberries or blueberries can be used in the same manner. Set thinly sliced apples atop panna cotta in a pattern, either flat or set vertically, pointed ends pushed into the dessert. Pair apples with a dusting of cinnamon for added color and flavor. Apples should be dipped in lemon juice to avoid browning while the panna cotta is on display.
Caramel and Sugar
A caramel sauce added to the bottom of the pan before panna cotta ingredients are added creates a caramel layer on the top of the cooled panna cotta once the treat is flipped onto a serving plate. Drizzle caramel sauce on and around panna cotta, or add caramel along with apples for a twist on a caramel apple. Spun sugar creates a glass-like, even spectacular, embellishment to add to the top of the plated panna cotta. Spun sugar is a mixture of corn syrup, sugar and water heated to 293 degrees Fahrenheit. A fork dipped into the liquid gathers some of the sugary solution when it reaches a honey-like consistency. Drizzle the liquid over dowels by moving the fork back and forth, then removing the sugar shapes from the dowels before they harden.
Chocolate and Coffee
Crumbled bits of dark chocolate, cacao nibs or powdered cocoa give the panna cotta and its plate a dusting of color. Chocolate syrup creates a dippable decoration for the panna cotta, especially when extra is added around the perimeter of the treat. Instant coffee and small bits of dark chocolate or miniature chocolate chips mixed into the panna cotta give it flavor and spots of color; embellish the top with whole coffee beans, chocolate-covered coffee beans, or powdered cocoa. Add a dab of whipped cream for an extra tasty touch.
Rather than serving panna cotta as a dessert, serving it as a savory treat opens up new options when it comes to decoration. A dusting of red pepper flakes or toasted pumpkin seeds embellish a panna cotta when mushrooms, red peppers or strong cheeses, such as parmesan, are mixed into the recipe. Using agar instead of the traditional gelatin as a thickening agent allows the panna cotta to be served at room temperature or slightly warmed. The standard gelatin and cream base requires serving the dish cold after it has set in the refrigerator. Goat cheese also creates a savory base ingredient for panna cotta; decorate it with cut-out shapes from canned cranberry sauce for a holiday treat, or fresh herbs for an elegant appetizer.
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