It occurred to me that if I waited until July 4 to share my Independence Day dessert with you, it wouldn’t do you very much good at all. Now, would it?? So, I’m going to share it with you today, just in case you’re in need of a festive dessert idea.
I love the idea of using fresh berries in an Independence Day dessert. Not only are they dressed in festive colors, but they are seasonally perfect. I wanted to come up with a way to use fresh red and blue berries in something simple, but elegant. After a little brainstorming, I decided that I’d make a strawberry mousse. I’d decorate it with fresh whipped cream, blueberries, and a mint leaf or two. Red, white, and blue; pretty, festive, fresh, and delicious.
Now, I’ve never actually made a berry mousse before. I’ve made chocolate, cheese, and salmon mousses, but never berry. So, I did what I normally do when I’m about to do anything unfamiliar and I scoured the internet for information. What in the world did we do before the internet?? I must have read a dozen articles, a hundred recipes and a thousand recipe reviews, trying to discern the best approach and the right ingredients for my perfect berry mousse. I was a little disappointed by the number of recipes calling for egg whites and gelatin. Frankly, I just didn’t want to put eggs or gelatin in my mousse. But, their inclusion in these recipes is not accidental or frivolous. The berry puree just isn’t dense enough to hold up in a mousse on its own. The gelatin thickens the puree and lends stability to the mousse. Ok, that makes sense. So what about the eggs? From what I can discern, the purpose of the egg whites, which are whipped into a meringue of sorts and then blended with the puree, is to incorporate air bubbles, which give the mousse its fluffy, foamy texture. That also makes sense. But since the whipped cream serves the very same purpose, I took a gamble that I could skip the egg whites, which turned out to be true.
Here’s where it gets fun… Somewhere in all of this mousse research, I ran across a recipe for panna cotta. Panna cotta is basically sweetened cream, thickened with unflavored gelatin. Hmmmm…. Berries and Cream! Now, that’s an idea! So, I decided to add a layer of vanilla bean panna cotta to my berry mousse. All I can say is WOW! The creamy panna cotta, accented with specks of fresh vanilla bean, was the perfect complement to the sweet, fluffy berry mousse. This panna cotta would even be lovely on its own or with a just drizzle of strawberry syrup and a few fresh berries!
You have a few options for serving this dessert. It can be served in clear serving glasses (clear plastic cups would be fine). Or, it can be set in molds and unmolded before serving. Both presentations are lovely. A benefit of the serving glass presentation is that you don’t have to worry about removing them neatly from their molds. Plus, you won’t have to wonder whether the mousse and panna cotta are firm enough to hold their shape. I actually made the mousse twice, because the first version was barely firm enough to hold its shape once I removed the mold. The addition of a bit more gelatin solved that problem and produced a mousse that was light and fluffy, but firm enough to hold the mold. Either way, save a few berries for garnish. A little dollop of fresh whipped cream and a mint leaf would make the perfect finishing touches!
The following recipes will produce a mousse and panna cotta that’s firm enough to hold a mold. If you are serving in glasses, you can slightly reduce the gelatin, if desired. The entire recipe can be made a day ahead of time and refrigerated.
Mixed Berry Mousse
- 3 cups fresh Mixed Berries (Strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries…)
- 1/4 cup Sugar
- 1 cup Heavy Cream
- 1/2 cup Orange Juice
- 1 packet Knox Unflavored Gelatin (about 2 3/4 tsp)
In a small saucepan, add the orange juice. Sprinkle the gelatin onto the liquid and let it sit while you prepare the puree and whipped cream. (Do not heat the mixture at this time. Allowing the gelatin to bloom in the cool liquid for a few minutes helps to ensure a smooth result.)
With a blender, food processor, or immersion blender, puree the berries with the sugar until smooth. If desired, strain the berry puree to remove the seeds. Set aside.
Prepare the whipped cream by pouring 1 cup Heavy Cream into a bowl and whipping with a whisk until it is fluffy and just begins to hold a firm peak. Be careful not to whip it into a butter. If desired, you can use an electric mixer to whip the cream. Set aside.
Whipped Cream Tip – Place your metal bowl and the whisk in the freezer for a few minutes prior to beating the cream. Place the metal bowl over an ice water bath while you whisk.
Over medium-low heat, bring the orange juice-gelatin mixture to a simmer. Simmer and stir for a minute or two until the gelatin is completely dissolved.
Add the orange juice-gelatin mixture to the fruit puree. Stir to combine.
Add about 1/4 of the whipped cream mixture to the fruit puree. Fold it into the puree until it is well combined. This step will help to lighten the puree for the addition of the remaining whipped cream.
Add the remaining whipped cream and fold it in until blended. Do not over-mix the puree and the whipped cream. The key is to keep the mixture light and fluffy. Over-mixing will result in losing the air bubbles which make the mousse fluffy.
Once blended, pour or spoon the mousse into your serving cups or molds. If using molds, spray the inside with a bit of cooking spray before filling with mousse. This will make it easier to remove the molded mousse. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, until set.
Once the mousse is mostly set, you can begin making the panna cotta.
Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta
- 1 1/4 cup Heavy Cream
- 1/4 cup Milk
- 1 1/4 tsp Unflavored Gelatin
- 1/4 cup Sugar
- 1 Vanilla Bean
Sprinkle the gelatin on the milk and allow it to sit.
In a sauce pan, combine the cream and sugar. Slit the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Use a paring knife to scrape out the seeds. Place the seeds and bean in the cream. Over low heat, slowly bring the cream to a gentle simmer, while whisking to dissolve sugar.
Add the milk with gelatin to the simmering cream. Whisk to combine. Continue to simmer for a few minutes until the gelatin has completely dissolved.
Place a bowl in an ice water bath. Pour the hot cream through a fine strainer or sieve into the bowl to remove any chunks of undissolved gelatin. Whisk the cream for a minute or two. Then, remove the bowl from the ice bath and set aside until completely cool.
Once cool, spoon a layer of panna cotta on top of the berry mousse in your molds or serving glasses. Refrigerate until set, about 2 hours.
(Makes about 6-8 individual desserts)
A few tips for removing the mousse and panna cotta from a mold:
- Wet the tip of a knife under warm water and run it along the edges to loosen it.
- Sit the mold in a warm water bath for a minute or so before removing.
- Place your serving plate on top of the mold. Then turn it upside down and give the mold a firm whack.