Panna Cotta with a Thanksgiving Twist


We are the black sheep of American families shunning the 16-pound turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. Instead, my family would gather around other delicacies such as honeyed ham, peking duck and lechon (roast pig). Rather than break tradition, why not incorporate Thanksgiving flavors in a novel way by making Mascarpone Panna Cotta with Cranberry Orange Compote?

I have never been a fan of cranberry sauce, especially when it is a jiggly blob that slurps and slides out of a can. However, fresh cranberries pack a burst of tartness during the autumn season, and are as easy to cook as boiling water. Just simmer the cranberries until they burst open. The natural pectin in the cranberries thickens the sauce without any added starch. This dessert is perfect for non-bakers and can be made ahead of time. Gelatin provides structure as the panna cotta cools in the refrigerator so that you can achieve a custard-like texture without the fuss of an oven and water bath.

The compote flavors were inspired by the cranberry-orange muffins that I would nibble on while spending my lunch hours studying for the GMAT exam at the Coliseum bookstore café on 42nd street. The moist muffins and orange glaze helped me get through an otherwise painful hour of timed drills, essays and long division. (What sadist came up with those data sufficiency questions?) I returned years later to enjoy a muffin stress-free, but alas they have been replaced by a string of Pret A Manger, Cosi and Papyrus shops. I will have to try to re-create that sweet and tangy treat another time.

The mellow sweetness of the oranges highlights the bright tartness of the cranberries. Adding lemon or lime would make the compote too sour. I then needed something creamy and decadent to balance the sour notes of the cranberries, and what is more decadent than mascarpone cheese? Mascarpone gives the panna cotta a richer, heavier texture that is a cross between crème brulee and cheesecake.

After figuring out the flavors and texture, I then considered temperature. Temperature is a combination of physical temperature (is the dish hot, tepid or cold) as well as flavor temperature (mint is cool while jalapenos are hot). Since the panna cotta is served cold, I wanted to add a touch of warmth to combat the chilly bite in the autumn air. You could add two tablespoons of cognac or orange liqueur (such as Grand Marnier) to the compote along with the orange juice, or for this PG-Rated version add a little ground ginger to achieve a similar effect. Ginger and orange are a popular pairing in Asian dishes, and are just as tasty paired together in this dessert.

Taking inspiration from familiar flavor pairings, but bringing them together in a new way is a fun challenge. We can tip our hat in deference to tradition, while making the dish all our own—holistically testing our creativity and scientific knowledge in the process. Now if only I could convince the Graduate Management Admission Council to replace those darned data sufficiency questions.

Mascarpone Panna Cotta with Cranberry Orange Compote

Serves 6

1 envelope gelatin (2 teaspoons)
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
2 teaspoons vanilla

For the compote:
2 cups whole cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 teaspoon ground ginger

Stir the gelatin with 2 tablespoons cold water and set aside until the gelatin softens, about 5 minutes.

Combine 1 cup of heavy cream with 1/4 cup sugar. Stir and simmer until the sugar dissolves. Add the gelatin mixture, continuing to simmer and stir until the gelatin dissolves.

Remove the cream and sugar mixture from the heat and slowly whisk in 1 cup of heavy cream and the mascarpone until smooth. Add the vanilla and whisk to combine.

Pour the cream and sugar mixture into ramekins or silicone molds and chill at least 4 hours.

Combine all of the compote ingredients in a medium sauce pan. On medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a boil and stir to dissolve the sugar. The cranberries will burst and pop open as they cook and soften. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer the sauce until it thickens, about 5 – 8 minutes.

Unmold the panna cotta and top with the cranberry compote. You can serve the compote cold or play with contrasting temperatures by warming before serving.

Hazel Sy
November 2010

Hazel’s Notes:
I prefer to use silicone cups for most desserts that need to be un-molded such as panna cotta and molten chocolate cake.

Fashion Is Never Bottomless Charity Event
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Four Legs Good Bake Sale Fundraiser
Try my vegan goodies at the Four Legs Good bake sale fundraiser at the Cabernet & Crafts Fair on December 4th. The proceeds will help provide food and shelter for homeless animals. The fair will be held at Make Wine With Us, 21 Curie Ave, Wallington, NJ.

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3 Responses to “Panna Cotta with a Thanksgiving Twist”

  1. Ethel

    Hello I have been searching for the recipe for the Pret A Manger cranberry orange muffins.. I have never tasted a muffin so GOOD. Can you help?

    • tastypursuits

      Ethel, I know what you mean about cranberry orange muffins. I love them too! Don’t have a good recipe for it yet though.


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