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Panna cottas, like all gelatin desserts, offer a blank slate for flavor experimentations. Here I combined two of my favorite things in the world – chocolate and almonds. The chocolate creaminess and boozy almond sweetness tasted divine. This was my first attempt at a chocolate gelatin mold, and am thrilled by limitless chocolate possibilities. Oh the fun I’m going to have!

To make the chocolate amaretto panna cotta, I adapted this recipe from William-Sonoma (I substituted milk for the mascarpone and added  amaretto). While most panna cotta recipes call for straight heavy cream, I prefer substituting some of the cream with milk. I find it creates a lighter, silky texture.

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See my recipe featured in Readers’ Recipes: The New York Times Magazine.

I’ll never forget the first bing cherry I ate. In 1992, after moving from Oklahoma to California, I attended a cookout with friends from my new high school. Along with the garden burgers and hot dogs was a bag of fresh cherries. I found it odd to see cherries eaten out of a produce bag, not immersed in syrup. Always the adventurous eater, I tried a fresh cherry and immediately fell in love with the intricate flavors that barely resembled the sticky sweet  cherries of my youth. Every summer since I’ve anticipated their seasonal purchase and consumption.

This gelatin consists of cherry juice, cherries, and rum on top; sweetened condensed milk, almond extract, and cherry juice on bottom. The cherry/almond/rum combination is sweet and lovely.

Recipe

Top layer

  • 2 cups 100% black cherry juice (I always prefer 100% juices to blends, but if using a blend, you may want to adjust the sugar)
  • ½ cup sugar (or to taste)
  • 2 packets gelatin
  • ¾ cup cold water
  • ¾ cup cold rum
  • 1 cup pitted and halved cherries (thoroughly washed and dried)

Bottom layer

  • One 14oz can sweetened condensed milk (cold)
  • 1 ¾ cup water
  • ¼ cup cherry juice (optional – gives the bottom a pink color. Use 2-cups water for a white bottom layer)
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
  • 2 packets gelatin

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Agar agar, popular in Asia, is a gelatinous substance derived from red algae. I purchased agar agar at a Chinese grocery store, and the results were mixed. While the almond agar agar molds were pretty, it was soft and bland tasting. The red bean agar agar was fantastic, reminding us of red bean mochi. I need more practice making agar agar recipes from scratch, so in the meantime I’m sticking with gelatin.

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