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Pomegranate and Caramelized Pear Panna Cotta

Pomegranate Panna Cotta

I appreciate this time of year when night falls so much earlier. It makes me want to rush home and cozy up with loved ones, a book or a good project. Unlike summer when things are so bright up in my face, I love that Fall and Winter are seasons of shadows and angles with night and day playing cat and mouse so well. So many holidays around the corner. So many friends dropping by, parties hosted and kitchens in full roar. Time to connect and reconnect with people and things. Time to lose half your brain too if you don’t pay attention!

When things get plenty busy, it’s always good to have a few staples in your kitchen repertoire that are not only show stoppers but easy to prepare and make ahead, almost ensuring your guests will ask for more. My holiday staples almost always include cremes brulees, pots de creme, and panna cottas. Among the variations I like on this traditional Italian favorite, these Pomegranate and Caramelized Pear Panna Cottas have come to rank high on the list.


Panna Cotta is said to have originated in the northern region of Italy where dairy is one of the main agricultural productions but spread out to the entire nation and the rest of the world throughout the years. Variations of panna cotta exist in almost every country as it is a very convenient way to use up extra dairy like cream, milk and yogurt. I grew up on Blanc Manger for example which is a close cousin to the creamy silky no-bake Italian custard.

There are many, many reasons to start putting panna cottas on your list of "reliable-good-things-to-make-for-people-I-love." For starters, what is really fun about panna cotta (beside listening to an Italian saying it outloud) is that you can add flavors and ingredients inside, outside, above and below. You can also mix up the choice of dairy to be used as long as you make sure to balance the acidity and fats of each appropriately. You can prepare them up to 48 hours in advance and keep them snuggled up in the refrigerator until ready to eat. You can top them with whatever strikes your fancy that day or what is available during the season. And…they are gluten free!


November is synonymous with pears and pomegranate to me. Where my mother-in-law tries to find the biggest Comice and Bosc pears for cooking, I tend to favor Seckel and Forelles, my absolute smaller favorites. Where she feels like she hit the jackpot with the biggest pomegranate on the shelf, I always dig for the tinier ones. Yes, I like small and tiny anything but for a reason. Almost everything here is bigger than where I am from. Bigger roads, bigger houses, bigger stores and bigger produce which unfortunately doesn’t always mean bigger on taste. I often find that smaller fruits and veggies pack so much more flavor and I’d rather have a small anything full of aroma any day like small servings of creamy and silky Panna Cotta.

Can I say out loud how much I love caramel? If you know me a tiny bit, you know that the mere idea of caramelizing anything gets me moving. When I made these panna cottas for a catered event earlier this week, I kept the base relatively simple with just a touch of vanilla bean and focused more on the toppings. I caramelized some seasonal Forelle pears with just a touch of butter and brown sugar and kept them at room temperature until the guests were ready for dessert. However, when it comes to pomegranate, nothing beats eating them straight out in their natural form. I just love the tart pop that comes with biting into pomegranate seeds. They were just the perfect texture and color contrast to the richness of the panna cottas.

Caramelized Pear Panna Cotta

One thing that you can play with and never reach the end of your playtime when it comes to Panna Cottas (beside the flavors) is the combination of dairy you use. Most recipes give you a combination of heavy cream and milk, some add buttermilk or/and yogurt to the mix. All are good, all work…in the proper ratios. If you use more acidic dairy like buttermilk and yogurt (even full fat) make sure to keep twice the amount of heavy cream in the mix. The more acidity is mixed in, the greater risk you run of the base separating into one part cream, one part whey. Nothing to do at this point but to start from scratch. Live and learn. If I can save you a major "Oh no!" and an extra trip to the store, then I’ve done my job!

If you are vegetarian or vegan, panna cottas can still be well within your dessert favorites. You can substitute any of the dairy for their vegetarian or vegan equivalent such as soy, almond, oat, hemp milks or vegetarian cream as long as they are the full fat kind. Panna cottas rely on the addition of gelatin which is a no-no if you are not a carnivore but kosher gelatin is often vegetarian and agar agar and carrageen are often used as substitutes. I am not proficient with any of these but you can find more information in this article on their nature and preparation.

Panna Cotta

Panna Cottas are pretty much a bottomless well for your tastebuds and imagination.

Panna Cotta

Pomegranate and Caramelized Pear Panna Cottas:

Notes: I make my own yogurt and used a freshly made batch in this recipe but you can substitute with store bought plain full fat yogurt, just don’t use light, pretty please.
If you are not used to working with gelatin, in all its various forms, I recommend this article written by David Lebovitz. Gelatin won’t be a mystery anymore!

Serves 8

For the panna cottas:
2 tablespoons cold water (more if using sheet gelatin)
2 teaspoons (5gr) unflavored powdered gelatin (1.5 sheets to 2 sheets gelatin)
2 cups (500ml) heavy cream
1/3 cup (70gr) sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split lenghtwise and seeded
1 cup (250ml) plain whole milk yogurt

For the caramelized pear topping:
1 tablespoon (15gr) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 tablespoons (30gr) light brown sugar, packed
2 Forelle or Seckel pears or one Bosc pear, peeled, cored and cut in small dices

One pomegranate, seeded

Prepare the panna cottas:
Place the water in small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Reserve.
In a large heavy bottomed saucepan placed over medium heat, bring the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla bean seeds to a simmer. When the cream is hot, remove from the heat and whisk in the reserved gelatin until it is completely dissolved. Add the yogurt and whisk until well blended.
Divide the mixture among 8 glasses or ramekins. Let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes and then refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving to let the cream set properly.

Prepare the caramelized pears:
In a heavy sautee pan set over medium heat, melt the butter and sugar together. When the mixture starts to sizzle, add the pear dices and sautee them until they start to become translucid and a little soft to the touch, about 2 minutes. If you cook them too long, you will end up with pear compote which is good too, but does not have the same biting contrast as barely sauteed pears.
Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

To serve:
Top the panna cottas with some caramelized pears or pomegranate seeds as desired.

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alice November 12, 2009 um 12:20 am

Helen, I always visit your site and wish I could grab everything you make off the screen and eat it. I'm so thankful you are so generous with your recipes. Can't wait to try this one!

Anonymous November 12, 2009 um 12:31 am

What a beautiful set of desserts! Your photos capture the beauty of your seasonal ingredients wonderfully. I love the vibrant yet simple look of the pomegranate against the pure white panna cotta. Gorgeous! –Rachael

Whisk-At-Hand November 12, 2009 um 12:56 am

These are gorgeous and look so delicious! What type of yogurt machine do you use, do you use a machine? I want to start making my own but don't know what brands/models are good. I can't wait to try this recipe! I love pomegranate seeds but never know what to do with them besides carefully picking the little gems out and eating one by one.

Jessica November 12, 2009 um 12:59 am

As usual, absolutely delicious!

Cannelle Et Vanille November 12, 2009 um 1:04 am

Oh I love it! Just made maple panna cottas with spiced poached pears today too. The pomegranate must add such wonderful texture. Makes me want to have seconds!

Engineer Baker November 12, 2009 um 1:10 am

Oh, there are so many lovely things here – I love fall for its angles as well, panna cotta for how Italians (or anyone but an American – ugh) pronounce it, and that green and blue napkin because of my unreasoning love of that particular shade of green. Oh, oh! And that textured picture of the pears – just lovely!

Lauren November 12, 2009 um 1:15 am

Delicious! I adore the flavours and everything in this =D.

El November 12, 2009 um 2:00 am

The photos came out great and the recipe looks delicious. I couldn't agree w/you more on the "bigger is better" theory. I don't know how it worked it's way into American conscientiousness but it's only served to make us, well,…bigger :>)

Lori November 12, 2009 um 2:40 am

A very attractive dessert. I love the colors here. The red on white is just beautiful. I could go for one of those right now.

El November 12, 2009 um 2:50 am

I meant "consciousness" not conscientiousness…note sure where that came from…sorry about that. Anyway, I meant to complement you on that outstanding pear photo. I'm not sure how you created the effect but it is truly fabulous!

Rosa's Yummy Yums November 12, 2009 um 3:21 am

Fantastic, as always! That is an elegant and refined dessert. I love the pear picture!



A Bowl Of Mush November 12, 2009 um 4:22 am

Lovely as always! Beautiful flavors 🙂

Gudrun from Kitchen Gadget Girl November 12, 2009 um 4:24 am

this is perfect! Our fruit CSA box from Frog Hollow has both pears and a pomegranate. And I am a huge fan of Panna Cotta. Thank you for the recipe and fruit suggestions….

KMS November 12, 2009 um 4:37 am

i love how you describe the shadows and angles of the season. the light, the air, love it all. but especially your panna cotta!

Mimi November 12, 2009 um 5:58 am

What a lovely dessert. Seems so light and refreshing a nice contrast to those heavy holiday desserts.

Cheri November 12, 2009 um 9:17 am

I am loving all the information in this post! Thank you so much for sharing the "insider" information about the balance of ingredients so that we can feel more confident fiddling around with the recipe. I would love to take a pastry course some day, once my kids are a little older. But, for now I am thankful for lovely people like you are helping me learn already. 🙂

Cheri November 12, 2009 um 9:18 am

I am loving all the information in this post! Thank you so much for sharing the "insider" information about the balance of ingredients so that we can feel more confident fiddling around with the recipe. I would love to take a pastry course some day, once my kids are a little older. But, for now I am thankful for lovely people like you are helping me learn already. 🙂

Anonymous November 12, 2009 um 9:37 am

I am not the kind of person who leaves comments usually but your work is too gorgeous to leave uncommented. Simply amazing!

martina November 12, 2009 um 10:36 am

Following your blog for a while: astonishing! But how an italian sounds funny pronuncing "panna cotta"? Let me know… so I won't feel stupid if someone smile at me at some point saying it!
thanks for the incredible inspiration and gorgeous pictures in every post

Y November 12, 2009 um 1:24 pm

I especially love the pictures of the pomegranates. It's kind of annoying that we both experience opposite seasons, because reading your blog always makes me long for seasonal things I obviously can't get from here! 😛

Helene November 12, 2009 um 1:36 pm

martina: just like with most languages, it's the intonation given on the words as they are pronounced that is different.

Anonymous: thank you! Glad you de-lurked!

Anonymous (the other one, I indeed rejected): thenks four alwayz nauticing my tipoes in such grend stile and so niceli. Pleaze continue toe ignaurre the part i wraute on sanding me an emaile about tipoes.

♥peachkins♥ November 12, 2009 um 2:15 pm

stunning photos! I love he panna cotta flavors..

Sunshinemom November 12, 2009 um 2:40 pm

I came to tell you how good the pictures look, how inviting the dish and how I love the way you write but seeing the comment right above I could not help noticing that you have a really really terrific sense of humour and what a subtle style:D:D!!

Sara's Test Kitchen November 12, 2009 um 2:59 pm

Too funny. If your beautiul, delicious pictures didn't keep me coming back for more your wit sure would.

Irina@PastryPal November 12, 2009 um 4:08 pm

That white on white photo almost looks like a dream. A dream I wouldn't mind having every night 🙂

cindy* November 12, 2009 um 4:28 pm

you're too funny, "so bright up in my face…" i had to laugh out a loud a little 🙂

i love panna cotta because it sounds and looks so fancy, but it's really a simple dessert! your photos are absolutely stunning helen, i love, love those jeweled pomegranates!

Rachel November 12, 2009 um 6:52 pm

Helen, thank you for all of the information and recommendations in this post. I don't ever order panna cotta in a restaurant because I usually think of it as a very boring dessert (& I dislike flans, or similar types of custard). Well, thanks to your post, I have the new realization that these custards are only as boring as the flavors put inside, outside, below or on top of them! I will give panna cottas a try soon.

Christina November 12, 2009 um 8:29 pm

What a beautiful, beautiful site! And this panna cotta looks so delicious.

Unknown November 12, 2009 um 8:59 pm

For a year I have been dying to ask this. Where did you find all those awesome spoons and glasses?! Yes I am dork.

Allison November 12, 2009 um 9:20 pm

Panna cotta has always seemed like a dessert that is a little out of my reach. But they way you presented it in your post makes it sooo accessible.

farida November 12, 2009 um 10:30 pm

As long as there are pomegranate seeds on panna cotta, I am in:) Thank you for the recipe. I must try one day.

Unknown November 13, 2009 um 1:57 am

OK, I have two pomegranates in the fridge along with some pears (I love both of them!) AND I am nuts about panna cotta. I am making this one tomorrow night!! Thank you so much for all of the fantastic recipes and inspiration!!

Simply Life November 13, 2009 um 2:08 am

Oh wow those are just beautiful!

Nutmeg Nanny November 13, 2009 um 2:37 am

I love this time of the year. Pomegranate is popping up everywhere. This looks beautiful and delicious…yum!

Nads' Bakery November 13, 2009 um 4:47 am

Your pictures are always so beautiful and professional! Could you give me some tips or guidelines on what you do??

Memória November 13, 2009 um 6:00 am

The photos of your pannE cottE (plural forms in Italian) are beautiful!! Wow.

Carmen November 13, 2009 um 7:04 am

Hello, I wanted to tell you that your blog looks spectacular!. There is not a recipe that I´ts resist the view.
I love that the blog had a translator because my English is not all good I like.
I'm very novice at blogging, and it is firing me.
I dream to get those legs so sexy on my next Opera´s cake. Complicate!
I invite you to visit my humble blog. htpp://
Thanks for sharing your recipes.
A greeting

Wendy November 13, 2009 um 8:08 am

Oh, those do look lovely! I'm going to have to try that – I've not actually made panna cotta yet, though it's been on my list for a while. And of course, caramelized pears and pomegranates just make it perfect!

toi, moi et anabelle November 13, 2009 um 12:29 pm

Beautiful!! You are an amazing photographer. I also happen to love panna cottas.

Patricia Scarpin November 13, 2009 um 1:32 pm

These are such beautiful combinations of colors and flavors, Helen, I cannot decide which one is my favorite! Love them both – and those glasses are beautiful, sweetie!

Romaine November 13, 2009 um 1:57 pm

The pear picture is amazing. I assume you took it and ran some sort of action on it? So cool!

Helene November 13, 2009 um 2:21 pm

Christine: when I don't find them at antique shops around here, most of them come courtesy of my mom who sends them to me and she shops just about everywhere in France so I really can't say where she gets them, mostly at independent shops around Paris.

Memoria: I believe you wholeheartedly but I have never heard any of my Italian friends say panne cotte.

Romaine: not an action but an overlay texture. Tons of people are graciously making them free to download on Flickr.

Unknown November 13, 2009 um 4:02 pm

Is your mom looking to adopt? lol

Coffee and Vanilla November 13, 2009 um 4:09 pm

Beautiful, just liked to this post in my pomegranate post 🙂


Joy November 13, 2009 um 5:13 pm

Panna Cottas are so comforting to eat, I love the smooth creaminess and I can only imagine how much better they are when paired with a sweet crunchy tartness from the beautiful pomegranates. I think I've told you every single time ive commented here but I just cant help myself: Your pictures are amazing! Your use of light and textures as well as the proportions always come together to create something magical.

Joy November 13, 2009 um 5:15 pm

I love panna cotta for the delicate creaminess it has, but paired with the crunchiness and tartness of the pomegranates I can only imagine how amazing that must be! And I know I've also told you every single time I've commented on here but I cant help myself: your photos are absolutely amazing. Your use of light, textures and proportions always come together to form the perfect picture, its beautiful. Thank you for sharing!

Joy November 13, 2009 um 5:16 pm

uh oh.. i commented twice sorry I thought the first one didnt go through -_-

Barbara November 13, 2009 um 7:02 pm

That's a WOW combination. Mild, white, comfort food panna cotta with the vivid red of the pomegranate. And those pears- what a gorgeous photo. But then your photos are always perfect. And so are your recipes!

Alexandra November 13, 2009 um 7:25 pm

Panna Cotta…mmmm, so enigmatically beautiful! I think I'll add them to our Thanksgiving dessert table!

Tho i've never made them, they seem so intimidating. I'm excited to try!

Gorgeous contrast between the stark white and bursts of red!

Alexandra November 13, 2009 um 7:26 pm

I love and share your sense of observation in the change of seasons….'angels and shadows', so well said!

Helene November 14, 2009 um 4:13 am

Memoria: obviously there was a misunderstanding, I never said I did not believe you. I just said I never heard them say it, which is not to say it is incorrect.

Memória November 14, 2009 um 5:03 am

Everything is fine is on my end. 🙂 No hard feelings. Sorry if I came off as harsh or anything; that wasn't my intention. It was only to inform… Have a great weekend!

The Cooking Photographer November 14, 2009 um 5:47 am

These are really beautiful. I'm going to give them a go.


kellypea November 14, 2009 um 7:38 am

Ah, panna cotta — yet another thing I've not made. It's been on my list forever. You're such a tease. Loving the bright whites in these photos ; )

Wendy November 14, 2009 um 11:27 pm

I have now made panna cotta… mmmmmmmmm! That was delicious! And the leftover pears went on my morning oatmeal… that was yummy too!!!

Michelle November 15, 2009 um 5:09 pm

My boyfriend just tried panna cotta at a farm dinner for the first time, now your site shows me that it should be pretty easy to make it home! This might even make it on the table for our small Thanksgiving dinner this year.

Paula – bell'alimento November 17, 2009 um 2:17 pm

Helen! This is spectacular! I adore Panna Cotta & am crazy for Pomegranates right now : ) Gawgeous!

Anonymous November 17, 2009 um 10:42 pm

Amazing, absolutely amazing! So festive !

Lindsey November 18, 2009 um 4:20 pm

Beautiful pictures! I cannot wait to try out these recipes. I am a first-time reader and will be adding you to my blogroll for sure. Thanks for the great post!

giulia December 14, 2009 um 2:55 am

Hi, I've been coming to visit your blog quite often and I love your photos and your recipes. I made your panna cotta and it was delicious, thank you!
I can't access the recipe of the roasted almond lavender panna cotta, can you help??
Merci giulia

Malia January 2, 2010 um 4:41 am

Thank you Helen! I just made panna cotta for the first time, and with great success! My guests and I agreed that having both the pears and pomegranates in each dish was gorgeous and delicious. Another success, thanks to you.

Cheryl S. January 11, 2010 um 5:19 pm

Just found your blog as I was searching for a pomegranate panna cotta recipe. Yours looks very nice and I will try it, most definately.
As this was written some time ago, I don't anticipate a response but, I'd like to try your recipe with a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds for a flavor layer, but also wanted to slice bananas on top sprinkled with brown sugar then brule them with a torch.
Would you, or anyone, like to comment on the interplay between the fruit flavors and the brule?

Helene January 11, 2010 um 9:40 pm

cher.128: I moderate all the comments so I see when they are new ones.
As far as the flavors of banana and pomegranate with the panna cotta that would work fine. Be careful when you blog torch the top as the custard is not baked but set with gelatin and it could melt the top too much.

Karen Wise March 22, 2010 um 6:33 am

I love the top photo, so bright and airy with a beautiful pop of red. Those spoons are pretty too, what are they made of? Are they resin?

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