Recipe: Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Apricot Gelée

Panna Cotta, an Italian dessert of silky, sweetened cream set with gelatin, is all at once simple, classic and elegant.  It is, at its best, subtle, not overly sweet, and the perfect way to end a meal on a light and refreshing note.
Panna cotta comes together quickly and can be molded in any type of vessels you choose -- from ramekins to demitasse, martini glasses to mason jars.  I like to compliment my panna cotta with a thin layer of gelée -- a gelatin stabilized glaze made from fresh fruit.  Apricots are in season right now, and are bursting with summer sweetness, so I chose to do an apricot gelée.  You can use my recipe with any type of fruit you'd like.  
Here are some photos of panna cottas I've made in the past with a variety of gelées and vessels:
Vanilla Panna Cotta with a Honey Gelée and Bee Pollen
Lemon Panna Cotta, no gelée
Meyer-Lemon Panna Cotta, Strawberry-Rhubarb Gelee

I like to decorate my desserts with edible flowers, especially in summer and springtime. My theme fo…

Holiday Magic: Fancified Borax Crystal Snowflakes
{and Candle-lit Centerpieces}

You don't need to be a scientist,
an artist, or Jack Frost
to make these easy
(and inexpensive)
real crystal ornaments!

Making crystals from Borax is one of the most magical, easy and satisfying classroom science projects.


I had the pleasure of seeing it done by a teacher friend in a classroom of second and third graders just a few weeks ago.  It got me thinking about experimenting with a way to take the project from classroom to craft-room for the holidays.  Search online and you'll come up with hundreds of tutorials, all calling for the same simple solution of hot water supersaturated with Borax and snowflakes or other shapes made out of pipe cleaners.  I mused, "I wonder what would happen if I used a plastic snowflake, instead of a pipe cleaner, as a base for the crystals to form."

So, I headed off to the Dollar Tree and found two different types of snowflake ornaments.  They look cheap and they are cheap.  Perfect for this project!  

This shows the results with the 6 pk. of snowflake ornaments.  Because of the fine little tinsel threads, these snowflakes grow big icy crystals.

After an overnight bath in my Borax solution, the crystals had seeded and beautifully covered the cheap ornaments with a magical crystalline shimmer.  I think they're positively lovely! 

This shows the results with the 10 pk. snowflake ornaments.  The crystals on these ornaments grow much smaller and finer.

I'd definitely say that this classic classroom science experiment has gotten a grown-up upgrade.  Are you ready to create some crystal magic?  Here's how to whip up a whole flurry of real crystal snowflakes to decorate your home this holiday season:

Fancified Borax Crystal Snowflakes

  • Inexpensive snowflake ornaments (must have some sort of glitter coating.  The crystals need something to stick to).
  •  Borax (about $4 for 76 oz. at most grocery stores)
  • A large glass bowl or jar with a mouth wide enough for the ornaments to fit through (I purchased mine for $5.99 at Michael's).
  • Boiling water
  • A wooden or silicone spoon for stirring
  • A dowel, wooden spoon, pencil or other long stick from which to hang the ornaments over the solution.
  • Optional:  Wire ornament hooks (you can leave the ornaments on the silver string, but I like being able to twist the wire securely around the branches of my tree).  You can get a lifetime supply at the Dollar Tree for $1.
  • Optional:  Acrylic sealer

Step 1:  Fill your bowl with hot tap water.  This will prepare the glass for the boiling water and will help you to avoid shocking the glass and risking a break or crack.  Boil enough water to fill your bowl 3/4 full (you need to leave some head-room, since the Borax will increase the volume).  Pour out the hot tap water and replace with the boiling water.

Step 2:  Stir in enough Borax to supersaturate the water.  You'll know that the water is supersaturated, when the water will no longer clear up, and the crystals will no longer dissolve when added.  For my bowl, which held about 10-cups of water, I needed 3 cups of Borax.

Step 3:  Pass a dowel or stick through the string of each ornament, or remove the string and replace it with an ornament hook.  Place the hook on the dowel or stick.  Then, gently lower the ornaments into the hot solution.  The ornaments are light, so they'll float for the first hour.

After about an hour, the snowflakes will begin to grow teeny tiny crystals, which will weigh the ornaments down.  At this point, you'll want to position the ornaments so that they do not touch each other, or the sides of the glass.

Step 4:  Get some sleep, go do some holiday shopping, or catch up on your email.  In about 5 hours, your snowflakes will be covered with beautiful, light reflecting crystals!  If you like a lighter covering of crystals, take the ornaments out at 4-5 hours.  If you like the heavier frost, keep them in the solution longer.

Step 5:  Remove the crystals from the solutions and hang somewhere to dry.  Once dry, the crystals will be completely hardened.  To add longevity to the life of the ornaments, you can give them a light coating of acrylic sealer.

Here's a bonus!

Once you're done making the ornaments, pour the solution out of your container.  What's left behind is a sparkling blanket of crystals lining the bowl.  Add a candle and you have an elegant winter centerpiece.

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