Most restaurants don’t put brains on their menu, and most of us don’t cook them at home, either. But for Halloween I wanted to make an exception and put brains on my dessert menu – Panna Cotta Brains with Raspberry Filling. These delicious desserts are an elegant take on the zombie aesthetic and are a wonderfully weird dessert to serve for Halloween.
The exterior of the brain is made with a vanilla yogurt panna cotta. The panna cotta is fairly thick and sets up quickly, so the desserts don’t take too long to make. I filled my molds with panna cotta and let it partially set, then scopped out the center of the brains to make room for the filling. The filling is a sweetened raspberry mixture that uses fresh raspberries and a bit of raspberry liquor. It also contains a little bit of gelatin to help it hold together nicely once it has chilled. I lightly crushed the raspberries instead of pureeing them to give the filling a little texture and give the brains a little bit of gore. The finished dessert is a great combination of vanilla and raspberry, neither of which you would probably expect to find in real brains!
I used some brain gelatin molds that I bought in the Halloween section at Target to make these. Small plastic and silicone brain molds are fairly easy to find around Halloween because people use them to make ice cubes for parties, as well as for making creepy, jiggly brain Jell-o for the kids. This recipe is scaled to make two 4-oz molds and you may have to adjust the quantities when you fill your molds if they are a different size. If you don’t have the brain molds, you can still make a panna cotta with a raspberry filling in a small ramekin using the same technique, but it won’t capture quite the same Halloween look.
A word of warning: plating this dessert is likely to inspire a Hannibal Lecter moment if you’re a fan of the Thomas Harris series, since I doubt that many of us plate brains on a regular basis. But don’t be put off by their looks, because these brains are frighteningly good.
Brain Panna Cotta with Raspberry Filling
Vanilla Yogurt Panna Cotta
2/3 cup plain greek-style yogurt, cold
1/3 cup milk (pref. whole milk), cold
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp water
1 tsp powdered gelatin
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup fresh raspberries
1 tbsp water
1/2 tsp powdered gelatin
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp raspberry liquor*
Take out two 4-oz plastic or silicone brain molds.
Prepare the panna cotta: In a large bowl, whisk together yogurt, milk and vanilla extract.
In a small, microwave-safe bowl, combine water and gelatin. Allow to stand for 1-2 minutes to bloom the gelatin. Add sugar to the bowl with the gelatin and microwave for 30-45 seconds on medium power until the gelatin dissolves. Stir to ensure there aren’t any lumps and allow to cool slightly.
Pour gelatin mixture into yogurt mixture and whisk until very smooth.
Prepare the filling: In a small bowl, gently crush the raspberries with a fork until they are chunky.
In a small, microwave-safe bowl, combine water and gelatin. Allow to stand for 1-2 minutes to bloom the gelatin. Add sugar to the bowl with the gelatin and microwave for 30-45 seconds on medium power until the gelatin dissolves. Stir to ensure there aren’t any lumps.
Pour gelatin mixture and raspberry liquor into the crushed raspberries and stir to combine. Set aside until ready to use.
Assembly: Pour yogurt mixture into brain molds and freeze for 10-15 minutes, or until panna cotta is beginning to set. Scoop out the center of the brain with a spoon, returning excess panna cotta to your large mixing bowl. Whisk the extra panna cotta vigorously until it is smooth again.
Fill the brain cavity with raspberry filling and return to freezer for 5 minutes.
Remove the panna cotta from the freezer and cover raspberry filling with extra panna cotta. Refrigerate for 1 hour, or until set.
Dip the molds in hot water for 8-10 seconds to loosen them and unmold onto plates to serve.
Makes 2 brains (serves 2).
*If you don’t have raspberry liquor, you can use an orange liquor like Cointreau instead. Alternatively, you can omit the liquor altogether and substitute water or fruit juice and add a touch more sugar to your filling as needed.