Buttermilk Panna Cotta
with Black Cherry Compote

Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Black Cherry Compote

I love all things Alice Medrich and so this Buttermilk Panna Cotta didn’t convince me of anything I already didn’t know. She has been a superstar in my book for years. These days I come to think of Alice as if she is my own personal culinary secret weapon when it comes to menu planning. Her recipes are always simple to make, use easily available ingredients (and never too many) and they are always well tested and dependable even though she is definitely not the editor of Vogue Magazine.  It takes a whole lot of skill to put together an entire book full of winners as she has clearly done in “Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts” the book that inspired this Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Black Cherry Compote recipe you see before you. (Her tweed tort from the same book was featured here earlier this year – also an easy to make winner.)

Alice Medrich first showed up on my radar several years ago while I was surfing online looking for a classic brownie recipe. I ran across her now iconic brownie recipe (made entirely from cocoa powder –as opposed to melted bakers chocolate) and decided to give it a go.  She titled the recipe “Best Cocoa Brownie” and although I am always a bit of a natural skeptic when superlatives are being thrown, around I was willing to give the recipe a shot based on the sheer number of adoring bloggers who had tried and featured the recipe.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Black Cherry Compote

The brownies were fantastic and I’ve been in love with this Medrich woman ever since.   Her brownie recipe is all of perfect and easily lends itself to all manner of simple adaptations not the least of which was my own spicy hot Salted Mayan Almond Brownie recipe. Last year even she got in the adaptation act and modified her own recipe by simply browning the butter and taking something already perfect to new heights. This simple tweak is classic Alice and teaches us that even with recipes that have only a half dozen ingredients the simplest device can reinvent it.  I’m in awe of cooks who can do this so effortlessly.

In many ways I believe this brownie recipe became something of a template for the many wonderful treats Alice has graciously shared over the years since. And while her expertise will always be forever associated with chocolate in our brains (the name of her famous pastry shop in Berkely was called “Chocolat” after all), her non-chocolate recipes are just as seductive and just as dependable.

And infinitely adaptable to suit your particular style.

buttermilk panna cotta title-

Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Black Cherry Compote

I’m always looking for ways to use up “the rest of the buttermilk” the delicious, delicate tang and silky texture of this panna cotta make it a perfect foil for just about any fruit you have on hand. So even though black cherries will be taking their time before making a return you can always top it with some sugared sauce fresh berries — or just do as Alice would have you do and get creative on your own. I think these panna cottas are the perfect excuse to raid any of the preserves you put up last summer!

As written, Alice didn’t include black cherry compote for her panna cotta dessert recipe. But that just proves the point. She throws down the panna cotta itself and then invites you to engage your own imaginations to finish the job. I had black cherries on hand but you can just as easily cut up any fresh fruit you have on hand, give it a bit of a chocolate drizzle, or just eat it plain because it is good enough to do just that.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta

Buttermilk Panna Cotta

You can serve the panna cotta in their ramekins or remove them from the dishes onto a dessert plate using a sharp paring knife to loosen them from the sides of the dish. Top the surface of the dish with a dessert plate and invert the dish to release the panna cotta. Top with the black cherry compote or pass a bowl around the table.

This is what you will need:

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 1/2 cups buttermilk

This is how you make it:

  1. Lightly spray six individual ramekins with a flavorless vegetable oil spray or wipe with a thin layer of canola oil.
  2. Pour the water into a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin on the surface. Set aside without stirring to let the gelatin absorb the water and begin to swell up.
  3. Add cream, sugar, and salt to a saucepan and heat over a medium flame. Stir until the sugar is fully dissolved then remove from heat. (Do not bring to a boil.)
  4. Add the water-gelatin mixture and stir well with a whisk to disperse the gelatin. Cool the mixture till lukewarm.
  5. Gently whisk in the buttermilk and stir thoroughly and stir every few minutes as the panna cotta cools. Use a rubber scraper to get any of the mixture that is sticking to the sides and bottom and continue to incorporate it in the mixture. The panna cotta will begin to thicken as it keeps cooling down. Keep mixing it every 2 minutes or so with a rubber spatula. This will ensure a tender panna cotta.
  6. Once the mixture is cool to touch and slightly thickened, pour equally into the dessert dishes. Cover each with a piece of plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours to overnight to set.
  7. The buttermilk panna cotta is ready when the surface is firm to finger touch.


Adapted from "Sinfully Easy Desserts" by Alice Medrich. The original recipe can be found here and it is worth checking out Alice's tips for a silky smooth, delicate panna cotta.



About Trevor Kensey

To be truthful, I don’t know what “Sis. Boom. [blog!]” means either. The name implies something explosive just happened I suppose I would like it if each post would make made a small ‘boom’ in your day or at least a fizzle. Even though a recipe is included with every post I have a hard time calling this a “food blog” or even myself a “food blogger”.

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  1. Trevor this is stunning. I love Alice’s recipes as well. I’m reading this at 5.33am – and want this panna cotta for breakfast!

  2. Oh my – is THIS what I should have been doing with my extra buttermilk? Why didn’t someone tell me sooner?

    This is really lovely and it makes me sad that cherries are long gone 🙁

    Of course, now I am having visions of citrus balsamic reduction or a cranberry compote or….

  3. Diana @YourFlavorChef says:

    Beautiful! I can’t wait to try this version of one of my all time favorite desserts!

  4. I really didn’t need to see this as I eat my chia / hemp, berries and soy milk. Looks just incredible!

  5. Beautiful! I adore Buttermilk Panna Cotta, but I have never made Alice’s. She is one of my culinary heroes, the woman who got me going making truly fine cakes and pastries. I remember her shop in San Francisco and it was wonderful. Her meticulous work and attention to detail are so impressive. I do hope you have her first book, Cocolat. It is a treasure. Published well over twenty years ago, it remains one of my go-to books for fine desserts.

  6. There once was a boy named Trevor
    Who’d loved Alice Medrich since forever
    His version of her dish
    Looks perfectly delish
    The photo alone well worth the endeavor!

  7. Thanks for turning me on to Alice Medrich. I am not the baker in the family and I think my daughter may be getting a cookbook of Alice’s for Christmas. I love how many wonderful things she does with fruit. Fabulous, and your dessert… the texture is just… can I have a bit right now.

  8. I love panna cotta – but am so intimidated by making it. Thanks for your post and inspiration to try 🙂
    This looks gorgeous by the way – totally delectable.

  9. Just beautiful! You do the most wonderful things with berries!

  10. I want – love the way you have served it

  11. It’s been way too long since I’ve made panna cotta. Do you think this would work with milk soured with vinegar? Buttermilk containers are a very rare sighting in PR.

  12. Welcome back! A beautiful recipe… I am sharing it right now!

  13. These desserts look gorgeous!

  14. I have a love for both panna cotta and alice medrich too. Her bittersweet brownies are wonderful, and have those cocoa things in my bucket list as well. And you added cherries! I could eat this for days. Isn’t panna cotta one of the best things ever?!

  15. “I’m always looking for ways to use up the rest of the buttermilk” Uhhh yeah, I’m in the same boat. This looks like a perfect use up! I love that you could easily pair this with any seasonal fruit.