Alas, all good things must come to an end, and with this sweet confection we arrive at the finale of the Best Recipes of 2013 series.  But stay tuned in 2014 for another year of food stories and coverage of the latest cookbooks – and in the meantime, stay warm, eat well, and enjoy delicious holidays with your loved ones!

The book:  Family Table, by Michael Romano & Karen Stabiner (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35.00)

The recipe:  Buttermilk Panna Cotta (with Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote)

Why I tried it: I can’t believe I only discovered panna cotta this year – so easy! and so good!  Violating my own rule (never count on a recipe you’ve never tried, when you’re going to a dinner party), I made it for the first time for an evening with some friends.  I even doubled the recipe and, along with it, the risk of failure.  But I felt it was high time for me to get more comfortable working with gelatin, so I pressed ahead anyway.

Why I loved it:  On the very first try, this recipe hit it out of the park.  The final product was a subtly tart and sublimely decadent custard, which slid like silk stockings over the tongue.  The compote was good, too.  But it was the panna cotta itself that had me going back, time and time again, with a surreptitious spoon.  I made it several times more afterward, and a few times experienced some difficulties – the panna cotta sometimes separated into two layers – one creamy and liquidy, one clear and rubbery.  I later learned I could avert this by leaving the custard out to cool to room temperature before putting it in the fridge (I had done exactly that by accident, out of sheer forgetfulness, the first time).  So let the custard rest and give it a last whisk before you set it in the fridge, and by the time evening falls you will have an indulgence to rival the splendor that was Rome.

Estimated preparation time:  15 minutes active time, followed by half an hour of cooling down and  several hours in the fridge.

Click here for my complete list of 2013 cookbook recommendations.   You can also find many, many more recommendations for great cookbooks on my app, Cookbook Finder (available for your  iPhone/iPad or Android device).

=================================================

Buttermilk panna cottaButtermilk Panna Cotta

Serves 6

2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups buttermilk

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over ½ cup of the cream. Let stand until softened, about 5 minutes.

Bring the remaining ½ cup cream, the sugar, and vanilla to a simmer in a saucepan over medium-high heat, whisking to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and let cool for 1 minute, then whisk in the cream-gelatin mixture until the gelatin dissolves. Stir in the buttermilk.

Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a large measuring cup. Divide the mixture among six 4-ounce ramekins or pour into a small serving bowl. Let cool to room temperature and whisk once again before covering with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for at least 5 hours, until set. (Well-wrapped, the panna cotta will keep for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.)

Run a sharp knife around the edges of the ramekins and unmold the panna cotta onto plates, or serve it right in the ramekins or scoop out of the bowl.

Click here for the rhubarb-strawberry compote recipe if you want to make that too.

Reprinted from Family Table.  Copyright © 2013 by USHG, LLC, and Karen Stabiner.  Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.