It's possible I get a little over excited about some things. Mostly where food is concerned. Those who know me well might consider it charming and endearing or just plain odd, but this is who I am. I have always felt that the the real joys in life are the little things and am often frusturated when others aren't able to see such beauty in life's small details. Even something as seemingly insignificant as a jam jar.
I first spotted these oh so very cute, made in Germany, canning jars about 5 years ago in a European cookbook. Since then I have been tempted over and over in books, magazines and of course food blogs, as I'm not alone in my fancy for these old fashioned, yet elegant glass containers. Trips to Europe have left me empty handed and an upcoming trip to San Francisco was going to be my chance. That was until I was alerted of their presence in my very city, for the first time. I snapped them up practically skipping out of the store with them. When you've coveted something for this long, its hard to describe the elation. An unassuming customer walked by me, adding casually, "aren't they neat". Oh, girl, you have NO idea, I wanted to mutter! I held in my enthusiasm as best I could, promptly calling my Mom of course. As always she was a a good sport, listening to me going on about some glass and rubber rings. She's knows me and while may not always "get me" all the time, she always shares in my joy, even when that joy is about a jar.
I started dreaming of what I would do with them right away and it didn't take for me to dream up these lovely little parfaits. These layered spoon desserts were first to come to mind and a special dinner picnic was to be the perfect excuse to make dessert in jars. Each person's dessert was like their own little present to unwrap. I wouldn't have dreamed they would turn out so lovely and travel so well.
Made of a simple layering of lemon verbena pannacotta and bright red hibicus gelee, this is a pure summer dessert. No oven required, and a bare heating of the stove makes for the perfect hot weather preparation. I've had a bit of a love affair with gelee this past year, especially when flavoured with bright ingredients like hibiscus flowers and raspberries and combined with a creamy pannacotta. If dried hibiscus is hard to find be sure to get a nice hibiscus based fruit tea for a similar result.
This recipe may seem long and complicated, but in actuality it is two fairly simple steps, both of which can be done separately. The entire dessert can be made a day or two ahead, and in fact will benefit from it.
For this recipe you will need to decide what you want to serve them in. If you are lucky enough to have some beautiful jars such as the pictured Weck jars, they really make a great presentation and are easy for transporting to a picnic. Readily available Bernardin canning jars would be charming and I would definitely suggest checking out your local secondhand store. But this dessert can also be served at home in wine glasses, martini glasses or glass ramekins. You are looking for something with a 1 cup/250ml capacity.
Lemon Verbena Pannacotta:
3 cups cream or half and half
1 large handful fresh lemon verbena leaves, washed and dried
1/2 cup sugar
1 envelope gelatin
1 tsp vanilla extract, or 1 vanilla bean from your Homemade Vanilla
8 - 1 cup capacity jars, glasses or bowls
Bring 2 cups of cream to a simmer, add lemon verbena and optional vanilla bean. Set aside to steep for 1 hour. Strain, pressing verbena solids firming to extract as much flavour as possible.
Place remaining 1 cup cold cream in a small sauce pan, sprinkle over gelatin. Leave to soak 5 minutes. Heat over med low for a few minutes to dissolve gelatin. Add steeped cream and sugar. Bring to a simmer, but do not boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add vanilla extract and pour into jars, being careful not to splash any of the sides. Set in fridge to set at least 4 hours.
1/4 cup (heaping) dried hibiscus flowers
1 used (dried) vanilla bean, optional
2 1/2 cups boiling water
1 1/4 cups fruity white wine
1 pint perfect raspberries
3 1/2 tsp gelatin
Pour boiling water over hibiscus flowers and optional vanilla bean, and let steep at least 30 minutes, up to overnight. Strain out flowers, reserving for garnish if desired. Reserve 1/3 cup and refrigerate it until cold.
Once reserved 1/3 cup of tea is cold, sprinkle gelatin over and set aside to soften. In the meantime, in a small saucepan, combine 2 cups of tea and the wine, add raspberries and let steep 15 minutes, off heat. Remove raspberries with a slotted spoon. Add sugar to liquid and bring pot to a boil and then boil for 4 minutes to boil off some of the alcohol. Reduce heat to low.
Add softened gelatin and stir until all gelatin is dissolved. Remove from heat and put aside, sirring often, until room temperature. You may put in fridge at this time, but be sure to stir often. You want it to be cool enough to pour over top of the pannacotta. Once cool enough, remove jars or glasses from fridge and gently pour equal amounts in each, about the height of a large raspberry. Place a few raspberries gently in gelee and then top with a touch more gelee to top off jars. Refrigerate at least 4 hours. These are best about 1/2 hour out of the fridge or cooler.