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Lemon Verbena Panna Cotta

lemon verbena panna cotta with mulberry compote

Photo by Holly A. Heyser

A panna cotta is a wonderfully simple dessert to play with. Rich with cream, a little sweet, and… well, the rest is up to you. Since you heat the cream and sugar, you might as well infuse some flavors in it. It is traditional to infuse a panna cotta with vanilla, but I decided to use lemon verbena.

Lemon verbena is one of the most powerful lemon scents I know of, moreso even than actual lemons. It is a shrub that grows like crazy here in California, but it’s not terribly frost-tolerant, so you will need to protect it if you live in colder climes.

Sadly, lemon verbena is hard to buy. So if you don’t have a source, use mint, or basil, or lavender, or anise hyssop, or lemon balm, etc. Or you could stick with vanilla.

The only special ingredient you will need is gelatin, which is easily found in the baking section of any supermarket. I use the old standby, Knox.

Serves 4

  • 2 cups cream
  • 1/2 cup dried lemon verbena leaves, loosely packed
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons gelatin
  • 6 teaspoons cold water
  • A little canola or grapeseed oil


  1. Heat the cream, sugar and lemon verbena leaves over moderate heat until it simmers. Turn off the heat, cover and let steep for 1-2 hours.
  2. Lightly oil four 4-ounce ramekins with the grapeseed or canola oil. Tip the ramekins to the side, and if the oil pools, dab it up with a paper towel.
  3. Strain the cream to remove most of the lemon verbena leaves. A few flecks is interesting, though.
  4. Reheat the cream over medium heat until it steams.
  5. Meanwhile, get a large bowl and pour the gelatin into the cold water and gently stir to combine.
  6. Pour the hot cream over the gelatin and stir well to combine.
  7. Pour this into the ramekins, and put them in the fridge to set up. It should take between 1-2 hours.
  8. To serve, run a thin-bladed knife around the edge of the panna cotta and upend them on a dish. Shake the ramekin back and forth a little, and it should drop out of the ramekin and onto your dish. Hopefully.
  9. Serve with caramel, or a fruit compote. I designed this dish to go with my mulberry-key lime compote. A mulberry jam, heated up, would also work.

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