The Best Dessert We Had This Year Is Also The Easiest

LFbu7sYdvDleFMmJrS9P07zP7TXEg4Exy_0C5xdgrqIPhoto: Courtesy of Sigrid Benedetti.
This year, our edit team got a chance to sneak off for a few days to hunker down and get creative. Picture 13 ladies in pajama pants, cuddled up with their laptops in front of a fireplace — that's our kind of slumber party. We spent three days focused on brainstorming, relaxation, and recharging. And, our fuel of choice? Really good food.
Courtesy of chef Sigrid Benedetti, we were treated to the meal of a lifetime: fresh seafood with tomato vinaigrette, a bonkers-good kale-and-pomegranate salad, and a spread of seasonal nibbles we could not stop snacking on. Topping it all off was Benedetti's own maple panna cotta. Served with roasted hazelnuts and apple compote, this creamy dessert literally had us applauding after the first bite. It is a must-eat, must-make, must-never-be-without recipe — and we got it out of her.
In fact, Benedetti was happy to share her secrets to this exceptional treat, and she broke it down into levels of difficulty. Even a kitchen newbie will be able to master the basic elements, but with a little time and effort, you'll have your new knockout dessert (that one you make when you're trying to show off). "Panna cottas are, by their very natures, incredibly simple desserts," says the chef. "This recipe includes some bells and whistles like instructions about how to un-mold it, optional maple caramel (think flan!), and a fruit compote. But, don’t feel like you need to do all the steps. The panna cotta alone, served right in the ramekin, will still make a wonderfully simple but rich and satisfying dessert."
Check out her recipe and instructions below, and GET. IN. THE KITCHEN.
Maple Caramel:
(NOTE: Only caramelize your molds if you intend to serve the panna cotta un-molded.)
1 cup pure maple syrup (grade B is best)
Pour maple syrup into a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, and bring to a boil. Boil for five minutes watching carefully, occasionally swirling the pot. It will foam up quite a bit. That’s to be expected. If the mixture darkens or begins to give off any hint of a burnt smell, remove from heat immediately.
While the syrup is still hot, pour one tablespoon each into the bottom of six heat-proof four-ounce ramekins (four-ounce mason jars work well here). Allow to cool — maple syrup will harden as it sits.
Panna Cotta:
2 cups heavy cream
4 tbsp raw sugar (acceptable substitute: 2 tbsp granulated plus 2 tbsp light-brown sugar)
2 tbsp maple syrup
2 wide strips orange zest (removed with vegetable peeler)
1 wide strip lemon zest (removed with vegetable peeler)
1 tsp gelatin
1 tbsp cold water
½ cup buttermilk
½ tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Combine the cream, sugar, syrup, and citrus zests in heavy pot. Heat, stirring to dissolve sugar, and bring to full boil (watch carefully). Immediately take off the heat, and let steep 10 to 15 minutes.
While the cream steeps, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water, and allow to soften for about 10 minutes.
Bring the cream back up to a boil, remove from heat, and add the gelatin mixture, whisking to dissolve.
Strain the mixture into a bowl, and add the buttermilk, vanilla, and salt.
Pour this mixture into your (optionally) caramelized molds or into pretty ramekins. Chill several hours (four-plus) or a couple of days.
Apple or Apple/Pear Compote:
2 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ⅓-inch dice (or 1 pear and 1 apple)
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp maple syrup
Pinch salt
Melt butter in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Once the foam has subsided, add the chopped fruit and sauté for two or three minutes, until fruit is hot and beginning to soften and release its juices. Add the maple syrup, and continue stirring and cooking for another few minutes until the fruit is just tender. Season with a pinch of salt, and allow to cool.
Topping and Serving Options:
½ cup roasted skinned hazelnuts, crushed
Option 1: To serve it in the dish, simply spoon some compote on top of the panna cotta, and top with the crushed nuts.
Option 2: Un-mold onto a serving dish by slipping a thin paring knife around the edge of the panna cotta, releasing it from the edge of the mold. Invert onto a serving plate. Spoon the fruit compote around the panna cotta, and top with the crushed nuts.
Un-caramelized molds: You have the option to un-mold as above, OR simply spoon the compote on top of the panna cotta, top with hazelnuts, and serve in the dish. Very easy.

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