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you plucky huck

Recipe: huckleberry panna cotta

We returned home to the Front Range this evening after winterizing and buttoning up the house in Crested Butte. The next time we return will be with multiple pairs of skis! Between now and then, there is plenty of work to get done. I haven’t had a chance to really sift through my photos from the fall shoot, but here are some quick ones I’ve been sharing.

the castles with fresh snowfall

west beckwith mountain

the slopes on snodgrass

just another gorgeous aspen-lined road

last minute surprise sunset colors

In addition to shooting fall colors around Crested Butte, I spent time working with Neva on her leash skills on the nice paths in our neighborhood. She’s already amped up as it is, but there are fewer distractions on these paths than on hiking trails, so she’s slightly (ever so slightly) more responsive to commands, corrections, and praise. In the backcountry, Neva acts like a drug addict, losing her mind over every sound, smell, and movement – she even refuses her favorite treats. I should revoke her lab license! But each day she made a little improvement such that after a week away, Jeremy said Neva was better on our hike Saturday. I’ve also noticed that she is becoming more cuddly. At 18 months, I hope that Neva will outgrow her adolescent stage and become a dog we can enjoy rather than remain a ridiculous amount of work any time we choose to do anything.

neva likes down comforters and human beds

hiking in the west elk wilderness

neva tries to creep away because she doesn’t like posing for pictures

Earlier last week, I went to shoot sunrise only to wind up with a cloudless fizzle. Instead of wrapping things up and heading back home I decided to scout out a trail that had been good for huckleberries at the start of September. Most of the good patches were bare now, but the patches that didn’t have fruit before were loaded with blue orbs that had frozen solid overnight. But mountain huckleberries are tough little berries, surviving the frosts and snows of early autumn above 10,000 feet. I picked about a half cup while examining The State of the Huckleberry along the trail. I found some chanterelles, too, but they don’t weather a frost nearly as well as their huckleberry neighbors do, so I let them be. The frozen hucks tasted like deliciously slushy purple huckleberries – slurpleberries.

slurpleberries (frozen huckleberries)

There are plenty of things you can make with frozen huckleberries, which is a good thing since most folks will only ever get their paws on frozen huckleberries (you can buy them online) as the season for fresh hucks is relatively short. I recently had a craving for panna cotta (translates to cooked cream), because I love the silky smooth texture without all of the work of say, crème brûlée or flan. And everyone knows that berries and cream are a match made in heaven. Use blueberries if you don’t have huckleberries, but promise me that one day… ONE DAY you will try a huckleberry.

huckleberries, almond extract, vanilla paste, milk, cream, sugar, gelatin, water (not pictured: pinch of salt)

sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let soften

bring the milk, cream, sugar, and salt to a boil

Panna cotta remains one of the easiest fancy desserts in my entertaining arsenal. I think the only downfall would be allowing the gelatin to cool and clump when you add it to the hot cream mixture because you might end up with bits of disturbingly chewy gelatin. I like to keep it on very low heat until it is time to stir it into the hot cream, then I keep stirring to make sure there aren’t any gelatin lurkers. If you do find one, it’s simple enough to smear it with the back of a spatula or spoon against the side of the pan until it dissolves or melts into the cream. Decide ahead of time if you want to unmold your panna cotta or leave it in the ramekin. For aesthetics, if you leave it in the ramekin, use a clear vessel. If you want to serve it out of the ramekin, then grease them with some unflavored vegetable oil.

stir in the warm gelatin

add the flavors (vanilla paste here)

divvy the cream among the ramekins

The panna cotta will have to cool and chill for several hours in the refrigerator before it sets. While that’s happening, you can make your huckleberry syrup. If your plan is to make a purple panna cotta, you should make the syrup first because you’ll want to stir it into the hot cream before letting the panna cotta set in the refrigerator.

sugar, huckleberries, water

mash the berries in a pan

add water

simmer for 5 minutes

The syrup is quite straightforward: extract huckleberry juice, add sugar, simmer until syrupy. How much sugar you add depends on how much juice you strain out of the boiled huckleberries. If you get a half cup of juice, then use a half cup of sugar. I simmer the liquid until a spatula run down the middle of the base of the pan will leave a partition for a few seconds. Let the syrup cool and refrigerate until you are ready to use it.

strain the berries to get the juice

combine equal parts juice and sugar


I did try unmolding the panna cotta from the ramekins, but it wasn’t a pretty sight. Luckily, I anticipate these random minor disasters and had prepared a few panna cotta in glass ramekins. The sauce goes on top et voilà! So easy, right?! Also very creamy and dreamy. Panna cotta is a good return on minimal effort, so stick that arrow in your dessert quiver.

pile a few berries in the center

simple, yet elegant presentation

that lovin’ spoonful

Huckleberry Panna Cotta
[print recipe]
adapted from epicurious

flavorless vegetable oil for greasing ramekins (optional)
1 tbsp (1 env) unflavored gelatin
2 tbsps cold water
2 1/4 cups cream
3/4 cups whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 1/2 tsps vanilla extract or equivalent
1/4 tsp almond extract
huckleberry sauce

huckleberry sauce
1 cup huckleberries, fresh or frozen (thawed)
1 1/2 tbsps water
1/3 – 2/3 cup granulated sugar

Prepare the panna cotta: If planning to invert (unmold) your panna cotta, lightly grease eight 1/2-cup ramekins with vegetable oil. Pour the water into a small saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over the water. Let soften for a minute or so. Turn the heat on to low and give the pan a few swirls until the gelatin has dissolved. Remove from heat. In a medium saucepan, bring the cream, milk, sugar, and a pinch of salt to a boil over medium heat while stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and stir in the dissolved gelatin. Stir well to avoid any clumps of gelatin in your panna cotta. Stir in the vanilla and almond extracts. Divvy the liquid among the ramekins. Let cool. Refrigerate the panna cotta overnight.

Make the huckleberry sauce: Crush the berries in a small saucepan with the bottom of a drinking glass or roughly chop them in a food processor and place them in the saucepan. Add the water and bring the berries to a boil over medium high heat, then reduce to a simmer for 5 minutes. Pour the contents through a sieve to strain out the solids. Measure the amount of huckleberry liquid. For every 1/4 cup of juice, you will need 1/4 cup of granulated sugar. Place the juice and sugar in a clean saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to help dissolve the sugar. Boil for a minute until the syrup thickens. Should yield about a cup of syrup.

Serve the panna cotta: When the panna cotta are set, remove them from the refrigerator. If unmolding, dip the ramekins in hot water for 3 seconds (up to the top of the panna cotta – don’t get water in the panna cotta). Run a knife along the edge then invert your panna cotta onto a plate. For both versions (unmolded or remaining in the ramekin), spoon huckleberry sauce over the panna cotta and serve. Makes 8.

more goodness from the use real butter archives

espresso panna cotta ispahan panna cotta pomegranate lemon panna cotta rose green tea-infused panna cotta with passion syrup

8 nibbles at “you plucky huck”

  1. Kristin says:

    Thanks to you, tasting a huckleberry has been on my must do list for quite a while now! Lovely photos…both of the flora and dessert!

  2. Bette says:

    Loved your comments about Neva, the adolescent who is proving difficult. Having raised a similarly difficult male human, I can identify! But, I’m happy to say he did grow into someone I absolutely adore. I trust Neva will, too. ;-)

  3. Georgina Thornley says:

    Hi Jen,

    I saw that you’ll be back home “with multiple pairs of skis”…. Is it that your family is growing or you are just going shopping?
    My mother was mexican and I just love flan, quick and none fuzz FLAN. I live in NYC, and can ‘t find Hucks but I will try your Panna Cotta with my sub-standards blueberries..

  4. farmerpam says:

    Lovely pictures, thanks for sharing! Panna Cotta is one of my favs, I might have to source some of those frozen hucks. It’s been awhile since I’ve had some. Happy October, keep those photos coming our way! ;)

  5. Jill Hyde says:

    You really caught the colors at their height. Lovely photos! I love the autumn colors. Your time working with Neva will be rewards in the future. We have a new black lab in our neighborhood…9 week old…oh so soft and innocent. I know you are glad to be past that stage. Thanks as always for sharing your photos and food! xo, jill

  6. jenyu says:

    Kristin – yes! I think you might have better luck if you visit Montana or Idaho for the hucks (they are hard to find around Colorado).

    Bette – you are right :) Neva is improving and we love her more each day. We just weren’t sure if she was going to remain as difficult as she was during the adolescence (which still isn’t over, but she’s so much better now).

    Georgina – neither! We do many kinds of skiing (telemark, skate, classic, backcountry) and since we ski both here on the Front Range and in Crested Butte, we bring them back and forth.

    farmerpam – thanks! xo

    Jill – Definitely glad to be past the puppy stage with Neva, but I sure do love playing with other people’s puppies!! :)

  7. Nicole says:

    Hi Jen: I am trying to locate clear ramekins like those you have in this post and I’m coming up zeroes! Do you happen to know of or use a source where I’d find them? I always appreciate not just your food, but the aesthetic choices that go into your presentation. Minimal, clean, etc. And yet the world of ramekins seems full of filagree and beveled edges and tapers. I know it’s a long shot, but I thought I’d ask. Thanks much!!

  8. jenyu says:

    Nicole – I know what you mean about ramekins! This clear glass ramekin is a one-off. Sorry! I got it in the Bay Area in California at a little dessert shop. We ordered the creme brulee and when we were done and I asked what to do with the little glass container, she said “oh, you can keep it.” I was surprised, but I liked it for the clean lines. I have a couple other oddballs like this one that I’ve since collected, but I can’t seem to find them anywhere. Maybe a restaurant supply store or try ULINE?

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