Of the countless holiday desserts I’ve created this juniper infused, dark chocolate & sea salt panna cotta topped with candied Meyer lemon rind & Irish sea salt might be my favorite. Made with a Lindt EXCELLENCE Sea Salt bar, it’s ultra creamy, luxurious, complex, and not only is it exceedingly simple and quick to make, it can be made the day before. I don’t think it gets better; this tastes like it takes far more effort than it does. The juniper comes through in the perfect amount, slightly louder than a whisper but not too much more. The crunch of sea salt and the chew of sugared lemon add the perfect textural contrast. Meyer lemon, sea salt, chocolate, and juniper have proven in this instance to be such a stellar combination I can’t wait to explore it in all different iterations, though this one might be hard to top.
I have varying levels of confidence in the things I do professionally, but writing recipes has never been a difficult one. Writing blog posts & styling shoots are both far more difficult. They require some sort of inspiration. In short, I have to be in the mood. With cooking, it isn’t that way. Flavors and combinations are always swirling in my head. It comes to me intuitively, by absorbing the all that is culinary like a sponge and seeing the world through the lens of my cravings. Photography is much the same; I just see light. Writing and styling, they just aren’t like that. They can feel like pulling teeth especially if I’m tired, rushed, overwhelmed, or distracted.
All of that to say, it’s the holidays. Rushed, overwhelmed, distracted. Yes, all of the above. And that’s why creating this recipe was such a thrill. It’s everything I could possibly want to give you in a holiday dessert recipe. It takes a few minutes to whip up, easily done the day before and then popped in the fridge to set. If you make it the day of your party, just make sure you start about 4 hours before you intend to serve it thought keep in mind for 3 1/2 of those hours it’s just sitting there. It’s really about 15-20 minutes of hands on absolute max. This recipe is my Christmas present to all of you who do and have supported & frequent this blog. I hope you get the chance to enjoy it this holiday season! Oh! And if you can’t find juniper berries, you can easily order them online. That’s what I did.
It’s just a simple dessert, but creating it gave me that rare satisfaction, one of those rare moments where you can look at, taste, experience something you created and not only not hate it but love it. I think so many of us creative sorts are our own worst critics; not hating what I’ve done in a day is a good day in my book. It’s very, very rare that I’m proud of something. And while I think it would do me good to give myself a bit more credit, a pat on the back here or there, another part of me believes it’s the perpetual dissatisfaction that spurs me forever forward, always trying and growing. Never resting on past successes. But, for one moment, I was able to rest in a feeling of accomplishment, savoring a spoonful of this in my kitchen. I can’t wait until I have some guests to serve it to. Maybe it will make an appearance on a menu at our Venice retreat…I’m thinking it must. I’ll have to pack some Lindt & Juniper berries!
ps. A little reminder that you can find tickets to my culinary + photography expedition in Southeast Asia here, and that there’s one last ticket to the herbalism workshop + gathering here! Happy holidays!
juniper & sea salt dark chocolate panna cotta
This is my ideal holiday dessert. Rich, complex, and interesting. And so incredibly quick & easy. Perfect for a busy season that demands something special. I use this method to candy my lemons but I remove the pith also and curl them after they've dried partially to make twists.
- 3 cups heavy cream, divided
- 1 packet powdered gelatin (2tsp)
- 200 grams (1 cup) granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoon juniper berries, lightly crushed in mortar & pestle
- 1/2 teaspoon course sea salt, plus extra for garnish
- 1 Lindt EXCELLENCE Sea Salt Dark Chocolate Bar, finely chopped
- candied meyer lemon (or regular lemon) peel (optional for garnish)
- Pour 1 cup of the heavy cream in to a medium sauce pan and sprinkle the gelatin over the surface & let bloom for 5 minutes.
- Place the pot on the stove over med-low heat and cook, stirring until gelatin is just dissolved.
- Add the rest of the heavy cream, juniper berries, salt, and sugar. Stir to dissolve sugar and cook, continuing to stir occasionally until it's just about to boil and a few bubbles start to form on the sides.
- Remove from heat, and whisk in the chocolate until completely melted and combined.
- Cover and let it steep for 30 minutes. Let it go a bit longer for a stronger juniper flavor, but not too long or it might start to set up a bit too much to strain.
- After steeping, strain into a 4 cup measure for easy pouring into your vessel of choice. Brush whatever you'll be serving it out of very lightly with olive oil or a neutral oil.
- Chill for at least three house and up to a day (if chilling a day cover with plastic wrap). If you wish to unmold them, briefly submerge them in hot water and carefully turn out onto a plate. Garnish with sea salt, a bit of shaved chocolate, and candied lemon.
- This recipe yields about 24 ounces of panna cotta, so it would make 6 4 oz. panna cotta, but how you divide it up and into what it totally up to you. I love little copper molds. It's so rich that a little goes a long way, and I like to serve it with some sort of crunchy cookie on the table. If you want to be really fancy, you could team it up with a glass of bubbly for the holiday season!