The sap is up! Spring puddings for your longing

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Ironically, just as Jello sometimes reminds me of breasts, the opposite happened when I saw these Japanese breast puddings: I started thinking about spring puddings.

While bread pudding is among the greatest winter desserts and Indian pudding has a definite lock on the autumn, spring is the time for smooth, lightly-sweetened custards, preferably served with berries and mint. As I recently saw fresh berries in my local market, it's quite possible that the Japanese boob custards might have had absolutely nothing to do with my recent craving for spring puddings. At least, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

While the ultimate spring pudding (and fall pudding, and winter pudding, and summer pudding, and anytime pudding) is creme brulee, it is also really time-consuming to make, and requires a fair knowledge of proper blowtorch usage.A far easier dessert is panna cotta. Rather than using eggs to create a jiggly texture, panna cotta uses gelatin, which makes it much simpler and less time-consuming to prepare. While it is traditionally served outside of its mold, you can also serve it in its ramekin, particularly if you're in a hurry.

This recipe makes four servings of a basic, all-purpose panna cotta. It can be easily multiplied, is a snap to prepare, and tastes great with pretty much any fresh berry. If you wish, you can omit the vanilla, which will let the pure flavor of the cream shine through. Alternately, you can experiment with other flavorings, like coffee, orange extract, and so forth.

Enjoy!

Panna Cotta
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin (Knox is a good brand)
1/4 cup whole milk
1 1/4 cups whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Fresh berries (optional)
Fresh mint leaves (optional)

In a medium bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the milk. Let stand for two minutes, then whisk together. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine cream and sugar. Cook, stirring to dissolve sugar, until small bubbles appear around edges of pan. Slowly add cream mixture to gelatin mixture, stirring until smooth. Add vanilla. Divide among 4 four-ounce ramekins. Cover and refrigerate for 4+ hours, or until firm.

To de-mold: fill a small bowl with hot water. Dip ramekins in water, being careful to avoid sloshing water into the panna cotta. Run a knife around the edge of the ramekin, invert onto a dessert plate, and garnish with berries and mint leaves.

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. He sometimes serves panna cotta with a single fresh raspberry balanced in the center of each perfect, jiggling globe. Then his wife hits him.
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