Vanilla Rum Panna Cotta with Rum Roasted Cherries

It’s all a balancing act, isn’t it? Whatever we do, work, parenting, marriage, home, we spend all of our days juggling. Add to that the little luxuries of life, cooking, shopping, visiting friends, visiting interesting places. Reading and writing. And it’s a veritable circus: juggling, balancing, tightrope walking, taming wild animals…. A friend, spending two days in Chinon as she bikes across France, stopped by the hotel yesterday and asked “How do you do it?! I’m astonished that you can do it all!” Frankly, I don’t know. “I’m astonished that I’m still standing!”

As you know, my days, my work starts at 6:30 am and runs through the day, up to 14 hours if I have fruit to prepare, jam to make, or shopping to get done. My days, my work ends at 8:30 or 9:00 pm when I prep the kitchen for the following morning’s breakfast and take out the trash. And the dog.

Lunchtime is a quick bite in between chores; I may take the time to make myself a salad or heat a can of soup or leftovers. If not, it is bread with cheese, fruit with yogurt. Then back to work. Our evening meal – more about that another time – is usually a thrown-together affair or take out. And snacks? Well, of course we must eat something late morning (during breakfast clean up) and middle of the afternoon once things have calmed down and before the groups arrive. And there is always bread. And jam.

I often feel like Frances.

Jam on biscuits, jam on toast,

Jam is the thing that I like most.

Jam is sticky, jam is sweet,

Jam is tasty, Jam’s a treat.

– Russel Hoban, Bread and Jam for Frances

Bread and jam for breakfast. Bread and jam just as breakfast ends. Bread and jam at the end of cleanup. Bread and jam mid-afternoon.

But, really, this is only because I have had no time to cook or bake, neither time nor energy. What time I do have in the afternoons I devote to writing. And while bread and jam is very, very good (I do love it!), I would be oh so more than happy to have panna cotta.

I adore making Panna Cotta: it is a snap to put together, the flavor variations are endless and it is husband’s favorite dessert. The combination of vanilla and dark rum is simply wonderful, a beautiful balance adding warmth, an odd and earthy sweetness and a complex layering of flavors to the cream. Topped with Rum Roasted Cherries just makes this the best summer or early autumn treat, elegant and special enough to share with friends, which we did when I first made this. Groans of pleasure were all that broke the concentrated silence amid the clattering of spoons against glass as mouthfuls of smooth, silky Panna Cotta were scooped up. Even the children battled for the last bite, the last rummy, sweet cherry popped into eager, happy mouths.


Rum Roasted Cherries I


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Vanilla Rum Panna Cotta with Rum Roasted Cherries
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Earthy, warm, sweet, rum and vanilla make a beautiful, complex pairing of flavors for a creamy dessert such as panna cotta. Add the rum roasted cherries and you have a stunning dessert.
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 8
Vanilla Rum Panna Cotta:
  • 3 cups (750 ml) cream or a combination of heavy cream, light cream/half-and-half and milk
  • 2 tsps (1/4 oz, about 8 g) powdered unflavored gelatin
  • ½ cup (100 g) granulated white sugar
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract or the seeds scraped from one vanilla pod
  • 3 Tbs dark or amber rum or to taste
Rum Roasted Cherries (adapted from The Kitchn)
  • 30 plump, ripe unpitted cherries
  • 2 tablespoons demerara or granulated brown sugar 
  • Pinch sea salt
- fleur de sel
  • 2 Tbs dark or amber rum
For the Vanilla Rum Panna Cotta
  1. In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, pour 1 cup (250 ml) of the cream/milk mixture and sprinkle the gelatin on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes to soften the gelatin; I usually just tap the gelatin to push it under the liquid. After 5 minutes, turn the flame under the pot to low and allow to heat very gently for a 5 minutes until the gelatin dissolves completely, whisking carefully. Do not allow the milk to come to a boil: you can add a bit more of the cream/milk to the pot if desired while heating; if the milk starts to steam too much, simply pull the pot off of the heat and whisk until the 5 minutes are up.
  2. Whisk in the sugar and the rest of the cream or cream mixture and continue to heat over low until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid is thoroughly warmed through. Whisk in the vanilla and the rum, taste and add more rum if desired. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before dividing evenly between 6 glasses, cups, verrines, or ramekins.
  3. Cover each with plastic wrap and slide into the refrigerator to chill and firm overnight.
For the Rum Roasted Cherries
  1. Preheat oven to 450°F (230°C).
  2. Pit the cherries over a small roasting pan (catching the juice), dropping the pitted cherries into the pan as they are pitted. T oss with the sugar and a pinch of salt. Place in the oven and roast until the cherries start to release their juices and the sugar melts and begins to caramelize. This will take about 10 minutes but watch the cherries very carefully, as the sugar may start to burn.
  3. At the end of 10 minutes, remove the roasting pan from the oven and add the 2 tablespoons dark rum and toss until all of the sugar is moistened and the cherries are coated. Return the roasting pan to the oven for 5 more minutes. Watch very carefully to make sure that the sugar does not burn. Remove the roasting pan from the oven to a wooden board or cooling rack.
  4. Place the roasting pan on the stove over a very, very low flame and stir and toss, gently pressing the cherries with the back of a spoon or spatula just to release a bit more juice. Toss and cook gently but very quickly – only a minute or two – until the last of the sugar has melted and a thick, cherry red juice forms. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to either warm or room temperature.
  5. Spoon a few Rum Roasted Cherries onto each chilled and set Vanilla Rum Panna Cotta with a bit of the cherry rum juice and serve immediately.

  • Jill Colonna
    September 27, 2015

    I know what your friend means. It was so impressive to watch you look so calm and collected with the guests this summer – knowing what you do in between-times too! You know how to tempt us with these cherries. I love a pannacotta since it’s so easy but these cherries on top? The perfect toe-curling treat. Rum does sound like a good answer to it all!

  • Paola
    October 28, 2015

    Oh how we loved Bread and Jam for Frances in our house! So making this. I think rum is my favourite spirit…

  • Adri
    December 21, 2015

    Oh my, but what a supreme delectation. This sounds so good, and so very perfect for this time of year. This is why we preserve cherries in the summer…