Panna cotta, a traditional Italian dessert, is creamy, light and simple. In this version I've included candied ginger and cinnamon to give it a more exotic flavor. I love the contrast of warm and cold in desserts, and here the warm compote really plays up the cool and silky texture of the panna cotta. Both elements of this dessert can be made at least a day before serving, which means they're great for when you have guests.
To prepare the panna cotta: In a saucepan over medium heat, combine 1 cup of the cream and the gelatin, sugar, cinnamon sticks, and vanilla bean. Heat the mixture, stirring constantly, until the gelatin has dissolved, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl, and whisk in the remaining 3 cups cream. Remove and discard the cinnamon sticks. Scrape the seeds from the center of the vanilla bean into the cream mixture, and then discard the bean. Add the candied ginger, and whisk well. Let cool until tepid.
In the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, whip the egg whites at high speed until they hold soft peaks. Gently fold the egg whites into the cream mixture. Lightly butter eight 8-ounce ramekins. Divide the mixture among the ramekins. Chill, uncovered, for at least 4 hours, or up to 24 hours.
To prepare the compote: Heat the butter in a large saute pan over high heat until melted and bubbly. Add the berries and saute for 2 minutes. Add the sugar and liqueur and cook until the sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes. (Be careful: The liqueur may ignite. If it does, cool the berry mixture until the flames die down.) Add the ginger and cinnamon, mix well, and cook 2 to 3 minutes longer. Let cool for about 5 minutes.
To serve: Run a knife around the sides of the ramekins, and turn each one over onto a plate to release the panna cotta. Top with about 1/4 cup of the warm compote and a dollop of whipped cream. Garnish with a mint sprig.
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Reprinted with permission from Caprial Cooks for Friends by Caprial Pence. Copyright 2000. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley CA.
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