Since the 4th of July comes right in the beginning of the summer, it tends to be a hot holiday, one that you celebrate by hanging out around the pool, going to the beach or sipping from a huge pitcher of homemade iced tea while relaxing in the shade. It’s not the kind of day when you want to fire up the oven and get some baking done – mostly because you’ll also need to turn up the air conditioner to compensate for all the extra heat coming from the oven! I like to look for no-bake desserts for my 4th of July celebrations and this year I cooked up one that is as tasty as it is colorful, a Red, White and Blue Panna Cotta.
Panna cotta means cooked cream, and it is a custardy desert that is stabilized with gelatin. This is a layered panna cotta, made by pouring and setting multiple flavors of custard base. The process is quite easy and the results can be spectacular. The only catch is that there is a little bit of waiting time involved because each layer has to set before you pour in the next one. The upside is that the dessert can be made well in advance and stored in the fridge until you’re ready to serve it.
There is alcohol in this panna cotta, so it is a little more of an “adult” dessert. I used blue curacao, a bright blue orange-flavored liqueur, as well as a little blue food coloring, to get the color in the blue layer and give it a strong orange flavor. I used triple sec, a colorless or slightly orange-colored liqueur that has the same flavor as blue curacao, as well as some red food coloring, for the red layer. There aren’t that many red spirits, so in this case food coloring was definitely the best option to deliver the color I wanted in my finished product. The base of the panna cotta is flavored with vanilla bean, so the resulting dessert has a slightly boozy oranges and cream feel to it. It is creamy, with a silky smooth feel that almost melts in your mouth.
If you want to make this without alcohol, you can add orange extract and water to the blue layer along with blue food coloring. For the red layer, you can doe the same thing or even opt for orange juice, the color of which can be covered up easily with red food coloring.
My servings are quite generous, as I opted to prepare my panna cottas in stemless wine glasses, but you can easily make smaller portions and serve these in martini glasses or other dessert cups. I topped these off with some lightly sweetened whipped cream to add a little extra sweetness and another splash of white. Fresh fruit would also make a very nice garnish, and a mixture of blueberries and raspberries would both match the colors and taste delicious with the orange and vanilla panna cotta.
Red, White and Blue Panna Cotta
1 cup heavy cream
1 2/3 cups milk, pref. whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean
1/2 cup sugar
3 tsp unflavored powdered gelatin
2 tbsp blue curacao
1 tbsp grenadine
1 tbsp triple sec
red food coloring
blue food coloring
Take out 4 wine glasses or 8 small dessert cups.
In a large bowl, combine heavy cream and 1 cup of milk. Stir gently to combine.
In a small saucepan, combine remaining 2/3 cup milk with vanilla bean seeds (cut bean in half lengthwise and scrape seeds out with the back of a knife), sugar and gelatin. Stir and allow gelatin to hydrate for 3-5 minutes. Turn on heat to medium and cook, stirring slowly but constantly, until both the sugar and the gelatin have completely dissolved. Remove from heat and whisk into the milk/cream mixture.
In a small bowl, place the blue curacao. In another small bowl, combine the grenadine and triple sec.
Pour 2/3 cup of the milk mixture into each bowl. Whisk to combine. Add additional blue and red food coloring to blue and red mixtures to intensify the colors as needed.
Divide blue mixture evenly into prepared cups. Place in refrigerator and allow to set for about 30 minutes. Leave remaining white and red mixtures at room temperature
Divide white mixture evenly into prepared cups once the blue layer is set (it will jiggle, but hold together, when gently shaken). Pour white mixture in using a small ladle, or pouring over the back of a spoon, to avoid disturbing the blue layer. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
Repeat with red layer, dividing it evenly between the cups. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Serve with whipped cream or fresh fruit.
Makes 4 generous servings (as pictured); 8 small servings.