Tuesday Tutor: Featuring Life's a Feast

Bite of Coffee Panna Cotta
Coffee Panna Cotta with Bittersweet Mocha Sauce

Every Tuesday I choose a different blogger to be my tutor for a day: I select an original recipe, I make the recipe following the author's directions, I snap a multitude of pictures, I taste the result - and then I share everything I love about the recipe.

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My tutor today is the prolific and ever-generous Jamie from the well-crafted and evocative Life's a Feast blog. Jamie has a life so filled with interests and activities it's difficult to even begin to summarize her accomplishments (check out this link for details) so I'll share what intrigues me most: her stories. Jamie's true passion is writing and her blog reflects this perfect intersection between delicious multicultural food and seamless storytelling. Every post Jamie writes whisks you off on a journey beyond recipes and techniques, beyond photos or plating. Because food is never just food - there's always a story.

And that's truly what draws me back to Life's a Feast. Yes, there's always a new fascinating and scrumptious recipe. Yes, there's always beautiful photographs with an artistic flair. But it's stories evoked by the food, the bits and pieces woven together from Jamie's life - that's what brings me back for a bigger bite of Life's a Feast each week. I encourage you to slow down and spend some time with Jamie.

About the Author: 5 Fun Facts
  1. "I hate trends, whether in fashion or food. I stay away from them with a passion."
  2. "I have what my husband calls Cosmic Vertigo: I can't look through telescopes, microscopes, binoculars, at 3-D movies or google earth."
  3. "I always loved eating so much that I may be the only person you will meet who actually loved school cafeteria food and airplane food. Maybe because it was good compared to much of what my mom cooked for us at home."
  4. "My husband is an incredible cook and totally self taught. Although I am a passionate baker, he is the one who really taught me - and continues to teach me - to cook."
  5. "Every 5 to 7 years, my husband and I quit everything, move somewhere new (or try to) and start over. We are in that phase now. Life is an adventure."
Author's Photo

Jamie has posted a ridiculous number of fascinating recipes so making a selection for today's post seemed quite daunting until I found this Coffee Panna Cotta with Bittersweet Mocha Sauce. Because I love anything silken and creamy covered in chocolate and because I've been itching to attempt a panna cotta recipe for several months! 

Despite the exotic (to me) name and utter creamy decadence of this dessert, it's surprisingly simple to make - as long as you follow the instructions precisely. A little cream, a little gelatin, a little flavoring, a little waiting - and you've got an exquisite dessert that will still leave you with plenty of time to spend with your loved ones. Did I forget to mention the delicate flavor of coffee balanced with bittersweet chocolate? Or the additive creaminess ever drawing your spoon back for just one more bite? Yeah. This recipe is a keeper.

Unflavored Gelatin
You will need more than one pack of gelatin but less than 2 packs.
Trust me, 2 packs is TOO MUCH =)

Cup of Whole Milk
I used organic whole milk - although I wonder if skim would work...

Softening Gelatin
You can see the gelatin softening in the milk

Heating Cream and Gelatin
Whisk together gently and try not to set gelatin all over the sides of the pan

CorningWare French White Ramekins
While the gelatin is softening, you'll have time to rinse your ramekins - this helps later =)
I used my Pyroceram CorningWare ramekins to avoid thermal shock later

You'll also have time to measure honey - and clean up any little spills

Organic Heavy Cream
And you'll need 1 1/2 pints of heavy whipping cream

Adding Cream
This is the easy part - add the cream...

Adding Honey
...add the honey...

Adding Sugar
...add a little sugar (I'm not sure why, but I followed the recipe)...

Pinch of Kosher Salt
...add a pinch of salt (I used kosher)

Ground Espresso
Here's where I made my mistake - I used ground espresso not INSTANT espresso powder
There IS a difference and don't make my mistake!

Otherwise, you end up with all the granules refusing to dissolve into the cream mixture

Strained Cream and Espresso
I tried straining with a sieve, but that really didn't work. And because of the gelatin, I didn't feel
a paper towel was a good option. Cheese cloth might have worked, but sadly I had none in the house

Panna Cotta Cream Mixture
Thus I ended up with bits of espresso bean throughout my panna cotta mixture
The taste is delicious, but the tiny specs don't improve the texture...

Panna Cotta Filled Ramekins
I found I only needed 6 ramekins - although I filled mine pretty full

Messy Job Filling Ramekins
I also made a bit of a mess. I suspect this is part of the fun of making panna cotta =)

Capped Ramekins Ready for Chilling
I also had these lovely matching lids for my ramekins. They worked perfectly to prevent
the formation of a skin on top of the panna cotta. If you don't have lids, use plastic wrap.
However, I would wait for the panna cotta to cool somewhat before covering with plastic of any kind -
you don't want chemicals from the plastic leaching into your dessert!

Dark Chocolate
While the panna cotta chilled, I set to work on making the chocolate sauce
I started with 72% cocoa dark chocolate

Finely Chopped Dark Chocolate
Chop the chocolate finely to ensure even melting

Chocolate and Cream
Add a little cream (and sugar if you desire; I used golden sugar syrup to ensure the final
sauce would remain smooth and pourable even after chilling)

Chocolate Melting into Cream
The chocolate will melt but will not fully dissolve on its own

Whisking together Chocolate Syrup
You MUST whisk briskly to break up the chocolate and combine with the cream

Cooled Chocolate Sauce
You will arrive at a delicious silken sauce; to avoid destroying this lovely sauce, I remembered my
lesson from the panna cotta and left out the espresso. If you have instant espresso, you would want
to add it to the sauce for a mocha flavor...

Coffee Panna Cotta
Plating panna cotta is easy (especially if you're using sauce to help cover any little imperfections
in the panna cotta) - just run a knife around the edge of the ramekin and then turn the ramekin
upside down on a plate; if the panna cotta sticks, give the ramekin a smart tap to release

Coffe Panna Cotta Up Close
You see? I only got off one photo before I had to sample =)

Thoughts while scarfing...
  • Plating and photographing was pure torture! I desperately wanted to scarf down the entire plate, especially after tasting the chocolate sauce. And while I convinced myself it was necessary to show the inner creaminess of the panna cotta, it was truthfully just an excuse to spoon a bite (and then another) of this decadence
  • DO NOT INCREASE THE GELATIN - while the panna cotta will set faster with more gelatin (and you may avoid wasting part of a gelatin packet), this dessert is meant to be exquisitely creamy and never gelled or rubbery and adding extra gelatin will ultimately destroy the consistency as the panna cotta continues to chill. So follow Jamie's measurement precisely - and suffer through the 6-hour chill time
  • I enjoy a hint of coffee flavor with creamy desserts like ice cream, creme brulee and of course, panna cotta. However, my boyfriend is less of a fan and was quite happy with the simple bittersweet dark chocolate sauce. I found the dark chocolate was the perfect pairing with the mild coffee flavor of the somewhat sweeter panna cotta, but I plan to attempt this recipe again using instant espresso powder for a true mocha sauce
  • As you will note in the photos above, there really is a difference between instant espresso powder and ground espresso - so make sure to use the instant variety! Although the flavor of my panna cotta was delicious, the creamy texture was marred slightly by the tiny espresso granules which refused to dissolve in the hot cream

Other Must-Try Recipes from Life's a Feast
Maybe panna cotta isn't your thing. But I guarantee you'll find something uniquely scrumptious and culturally enriching Life's a Feast. Check out these mouth-watering eats and tell me you're not inspired!

Decadent Chocolate Cake
w/ Christmas Flavors
Chocolate Cherry Pound Cake
w/ Mascarpone Whipped Cream
Creamy Indian-Style Eggs
w/ Chickpeas & Rice Pilaf
Le Gateau Nantais
Macarons Pain D'epice
(Gingerbread Macarons)


  1. Yummers! I confess, I may haaaave just drooled on myself :)
    FAB post!

    1. Thanks Mai but the credit really does go to Jamie for such an awesome dessert! I just enjoyed being along for the recipe ride...

  2. I don't think I've ever had panna cotta before. Honestly, anything with gelatin in it kind of freaks me out (I think I was fed too much jello as a child). But... THIS LOOKS DELICIOUS! I'm assuming its maybe more of a pudding consistency?

    1. Amber, think of the consistency of creme brulee - only without the brulee! It's soft, creamy, but "set". I'm not a huge fan of jello myself, but this is nothing like jello =)

  3. Your wonderful words brought tears to my eyes! I wish I could give you a hug. It means so much to me to know that people actually come for the stories and are moved and inspired by them. That means the world to me. That said, your panna cotta are fabulous and I am here drooling all over the keyboard. I so need to make these again. I love the comment about the chocolate sauce hiding imperfections in the panna cotta. True :-) Thanks for sharing this recipe and for the honor of being featured on your blog. x

    1. Jamie, the honor was all mine (truly) and quite frankly it's refreshing to find a foodie who posts more than just a snippet of text w/ a recipe. Maybe it's just me, but I like to understand the journey people take to arrive at a food post... ::big hugs::

  4. I am a huge fan of Jamie's! I have never made panna cotta but I am going to have to change that!!

  5. mjskit @mjskitchen.comJune 11, 2013 at 10:15 PM

    This looks and sounds as delicious as I thought it would. YUM!

  6. I'm so glad you enjoyed, MJ. And I'm a little shame-faced for not realizing some of the photos here are busted. I need to fix this...


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