Monday August 6, 2012


Getting out of the Pastry Dungeon and into a Manhattan ballroom sounds like a Cinderella story on paper, especially with Lady Godiva herself playing the fairy godmother. But when such a thing happened to me, I didn’t go to the ball to dance with a prince, but to work. Godiva Chocolate invited me to design a unique dessert to serve to the hundreds of culinary rockstars attending Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs Gala in Times Square and demonstrate the recipe in a video.

Did I mention I only got a ten day heads up?

three layer panna cotta

Since I didn’t have enough time to develop something entirely new, I chocolified a few of my favorite recipes instead.

White, milk and dark chocolate panna cotta with rooibos milk chocolate caramel, pistachio white chocolate gianduja and banana brulee. I went with panna cotta because it doesn’t require slicing or scooping, which simplified the work of plating a dessert for nearly a thousand people. Likewise, the banana brulee added lots of fruity, crunchy, creamy, bittersweet goodness without a ton of effort or expense (letting me stick to my budget).

Those were my practical considerations, but as you’ll see from the video, my real concern was deliciosity and nostalgia.

(Note: for those reading via the email newsletter, click here to exit your email client and watch the video on a web browser.)

I had a mandate from the director to get a manicure (my first in about seven years) and someone to do my hair-and-makeup, so the fairy tale element definitely remained intact despite the work involved. And compared to a typical day sweating it out in the restaurant, having a chance to play in traffic, wander around the market, and otherwise help the crew get that b-roll totally rocked.

Milk chocolate caramel

If you haven’t had rooibos before, this caramel makes a great excuse to buy a few ounces. Some stores bill it as “red tea” but it comes from a completely different plant so that’s kinda bunk. It has no caffeine and unlike actual tea, you can’t oversteep it; instead of getting bitter, it just gets more intense. Even if you don’t make the rest of the dessert, I hope you’ll give the caramel a shot.

Since my visit to New York to make the video and feed dessert to famous chefs, things have calmed down a little at the restaurant just as they’ve gotten crazier at home (hello trying to write a 400 odd page cookbook in my so-called spare time). But either brand of madness is so much more than I ever expected from a career making desserts in my hometown. I’m grateful to Godiva and Food & Wine for making this the year pastry chefs finally got awarded alongside their savory counterparts, and for casting a net wide enough to reach Lexington, Kentucky.

Tri Layer Panna Cotta with Rooibos Caramel
white chocolate pistachio gianduja

posted byStellaand filed under:  Chocolate  Fruit  Gluten Free

22 comments and counting

Aug 06, 2012 ·  1:01 PM

I totally want to make a d&d adventure now called the pastry dungeon. We can save the lady Godiva from the evil gingerbread man. Your dessert looks scrumptious. I’d never have thought about putting robios tea in caramel.

 · Leslie ·

Aug 06, 2012 ·  1:22 PM

Your plating is lovely!

 · Dollfacedelights ·

Aug 06, 2012 ·  1:37 PM

When you get your own show, can I be your stylist? This would mean lots of fun shopping trips.

 · Jennifer Raskopf · 

Aug 06, 2012 ·  2:39 PM

Congrats, Stella! I, too, am so glad to see pastry chefs given the praise they deserve instead of always playing 2nd fiddle to the savory chefs! I’ve never tried making panna cotta before so I just may have to give this recipe a whirl. As for the rooibos caramel, I will definitely be trying that!

 · Rosanne · 

Aug 06, 2012 ·  3:36 PM

Simply lovely plate! I too will be trying that caramel.

 · Bonnie ·

Aug 06, 2012 ·  5:57 PM

@Leslie, oh, holy crap, that would be the funnest game ever. You could earn XP for baking, candy making and frozen desserts!

@Dollfacedelights, thank you!

@Jen, I would looooooove for you to style me like some Home Ec teacher from the 40s….

@Rosanne @Bonnie I think you’ll really enjoy the rooibos, in or out of the caramel. Let me know what you think!


Aug 06, 2012 ·  7:51 PM

Fantastic! <3

 · Rosco ·

Aug 06, 2012 · 11:41 PM

Rooibos in caramel? I would have never thought of putting them together…but I guess that’s why you’re on “The Best” list. Thank you for sharing.

 · Jendo · 

Aug 07, 2012 ·  4:19 AM

Okay, now I think I need to try making some panna cotta. And it was so fun to hear your voice!

 · bethany actually ·

Aug 07, 2012 ·  9:21 AM

Stella, congrats on the honor of being chosen to make a dessert for this event. In true Bravetart style, it is quite a “Stellar” dessert.
Loved the video. You are a natural on camera. I see a show on Foodnetwork coming up perhaps?? I’d watch!

 · saltandserenity · http://www.saltandserenity

Aug 07, 2012 ·  9:39 AM

@Rosco, you would have loved the shoot, it was in the fanciest kitchen studio with lights and a huge prop room, one million assistants an sooooo much equipment.

@Jendo, haha. I made a milk chocolate caramel at first while I was test driving the combo and pairings, but it the whole dessert just seemed too dark and I was trying to think of ways to lighten the flavor profile without taking anything away. Rooibos to the rescue!

@bethany, aw, thank you! I get panicky just listening to my own voice mail, so watching the video was a huge challenge for me. Isn’t it weird how we react to seeing/hearing ourselves?

@saltandserenity, thanks for the vote of confidence! Hmmm, you must have a different Magic 8 ball than I do.


Aug 07, 2012 · 11:25 AM

That video was great! I’m such a fan of your blog, so congrats again on the win from F&W!

 · Julie ·

Aug 07, 2012 ·  5:08 PM

I took my kids to table 310 after a play. They had been so great, and i really wanted to reward them. It was really late, though, and the little one was so tired that he started to cry. His brother turned to him and said, “You’ve just got to trust Mom. It’s going to be worth it.”

It was.

We got three different desserts to share and had contests to see who could savor their dessert the longest.

The Tri Layer Panna Cotta with Rooibos Caramel was on the menu, and it completely rocked their world and blew their minds. They keep begging me to go back. They want two of these deserts with something in the middle for a “palate cleanser.”

 · robiewankenobie · 

Aug 07, 2012 ·  5:36 PM

MMMMMMMMMMM! Ok, so I’d play the game. I haven’t played AD&D for years. A baking themed one rocks (Ok, I’ll use my +2 Viking oven to bake some Macarons of Fury.) Thanks for the food lift. I love your creative pairings!

 · Just droolin' · 

Aug 07, 2012 ·  5:56 PM

Stunning, absolutely stunning. And congrats – what an honor.

 · ButterYum ·

Aug 08, 2012 ·  2:04 PM

What a wonderful video Stella, so professional and instructive. That dessert looks yummy, can’t wait to try the rooibos caramel Congrats on your delicious creation for the gala.

 · Jacque-Lynne  · 

Aug 09, 2012 ·  1:40 PM

@Jacque-Lynne, Thank you so much! I hope you get a chance to make it, definitely one of my favorites.


Sep 16, 2012 ·  7:03 PM

Congrats Stella, I just start following your blog. Thank you for the wonderful dessert & video.
Could you advise how much agar-agar I should use instead of gelatin for the panna cotta?

 · Jade · 

Sep 17, 2012 ·  9:49 AM

Hi Jade! Thanks so much! I haven’t tried making the panna with agar, but when I’ve used it in other recipes, it always proves to be quite potent. You might try using half or 1/3 as much gelatin… Sorry I can’t be more specific!


Aug 25, 2016 ·  9:50 AM

A little late with this question, but — do you have a trick for getting the panna cotta to slide out of the glass in one perfect piece? This is a beautiful dessert and I know it will be delicious. I’ve made layered panna cotta but like a coward always leave it in the glass to serve.

 · Jinx · 


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