Panna cotta, strawberry textures

This is a simple dessert I came up with for a night of entertaining - I wanted to use a simple panna cotta (sweetened cream set with gelatin) as the foundation for showcasing the flavor of fresh strawberries. One of the best ways I've seen of really bringing out a particular flavor is presenting it in several different textures, so on top of the panna cotta we'll layer on top a strawberry coulis (a fancy name for pureed and strained fruit), crushed freeze dried strawberries for some crunch, and finally some slices of fresh strawberry. A wine glass makes for great presentation, but you could equally use ramekins or any other mold.

While traditionally panna cotta is set with gelatin, I happened to have some agar agar powder on hand, so I adapted a recipe using that instead. It's extracted from seaweed and called kanten in Japanese; you can find it at a Japanese grocery. It comes in both powdered and flake form; the powdered form is relatively concentrated and you'll need proportionally less agar powder than flakes or gelatin sheets in your recipes, although I have yet to find a reliable conversion rate. I used a scant teaspoon making panna cotta for 4 servings and was very satisfied with the results.

The panna cotta we're making here is not intensely sweet on its own - I wanted to use it mostly as a base for the strawberry flavor. You should feel free to experiment with the cream/sugar ratios to achieve the quantity and sweetness that you want.

Final note: We're using xanthan gum, a hydrocolloid which first made its appearance in "An 8-course tasting menu at home", to thicken the strawberry coulis. You can skip it, or perhaps substitute with cornstarch/water slurry while simmering the strawberries. Xanthan gum is nice in that it does not need to be dissolved in water, and does not need heat to thicken properly - you can find it in the baking section of any supermarket.


For 4 servings.

For the panna cotta:

3.5 Tbsp hot water

1 scant tsp agar agar powder

1 1/3 cup heavy cream

2.5 Tbsp sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Zest of 1 satsuma orange or other citrus fruit (optional)

For the strawberry coulis:

1/2 lb fresh strawberries

1/4 cup water

1 3/4 Tbsp sugar

1 tsp lemon juice

1/8 tsp xanthan gum

For the toppings:

Fresh strawberries, for garnish

1/2 cup freeze dried strawberries

Mint leaves (optional)


  1. 1 day in advance, prepare the panna cotta: Mix the agar agar and hot water in a cup, stir to combine, and set aside. Place the cream, sugar, and satsuma zest (if using) in a small pot over medium heat and bring to a gentle simmer. Stir in the vanilla.
  2. Hydrate the agar agar: place the agar/water mixture into a small pot or pan, and bring to a boil for 1 minute. Transfer to the pot with the cream mixture, and stir well. Transfer the contents of the pot to wine glasses or whatever mold you'd like to use, and refrigerate overnight to set.
  3. Several hours or up to a day in advance, prepare the strawberry coulis: Hull and halve the strawberries. In a small pot, bring the water and sugar to a boil and add the strawberries. Reduce the heat and simmer for 4-5 minutes or until the strawberries soften. Transfer contents of the pot to a blender, add the lemon juice and a very small pinch of salt, and blend very thoroughly until smooth.
  4. Strain the contents of the blender through a fine mesh strainer, then add back to the blender with the xanthan gum and blend briefly to combine (or just stir it in thoroughly).
  5. Pour the strawberry coulis over the panna cotta after it has set (this is easiest with a squeeze bottle); refrigerate for several hours.
  6. Prepare the strawberry powder: wrap the freeze dried strawberries in a paper towel and crush with the bottom of a pot or pan, any hand tool, or just break them apart in your hands until you get a coarse powder texture; some larger grains are fine. Set aside.
  7. When ready to serve, hull and slice the fresh strawberries. Arrange strawberry slices in each glass (this is easiest with tweezers), add a teaspoon or two of the strawberry powder, and top with a mint leaf (if using). Serve immediately.

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