yogurt panna cotta with balsamic strawberries

It seems like food photography is all the rage these days, and just about everybody who is anybody has become a food paparazzo in some form or another… whether it’s snapping photos at a restaurant or showing off our own food creations with a food blog (guilty, as charged). Somehow, though, the idea behind food photography has become an artful display of illusions and props… making food look good no matter what. What most of us assume as food photography is actually the clever works behind a food stylist. And while a food stylist may know a great deal about cooking, their main focus is not on making something taste good; it’s all about making it look good. Just the other day, I overheard a food stylist on a talk show giving pointers to food bloggers on how to make a cup of coffee look good on camera: soy sauce and foaming hand soap! Not exactly how I like my coffee =P

The truth is, most of the food we see on television or in food magazines aren’t exactly of the edible nature. Condensation on a glass of iced tea is actually spray-on corn syrup, ice cubes are made of acrylic, and that juicy steak with perfect grill marks has actually been sitting in oil for that extra shine and brushed on with colored glaze and piping gel. Now, it’s one thing when a food stylist has to go about making food to stay looking good for the entire time of shooting on a movie or commercial set, but for a food blog it seems to be sending the wrong message. After all, the reason why most of us spend time reading food blogs is because they’re about real people making real food… right?

People like David, Béa, Ree & Fanny have all shown us that it is possible to cook at home and make food that not only looks delicious but tastes delicious as well. So what does it take to achieve both? Well, fresh ingredients, for one, a good recipe, and some good lighting wouldn’t hurt either=P And most of the time, it’s the simplest ingredients that make the best impressions, like this yogurt panna cotta that looks and tastes amazing but will seriously have you in and out of the kitchen in less than 15 minutes (clean-up time included!). Prepare it the day before (or if you’re like me, right before you go to bed) and let it set overnight. I used these cute little prep bowls that my friend, Christine, got from Crate & Barrel, and filled them up about two-thirds full for the perfect serving size. (Thanks, Christine!) The next day, you’ll have a luscious dessert waiting for you to just sit back and relax with it and a spoon in hand, so prepare yourself for a mouthful of yumminess. You can certainly enjoy it plain or drizzled with honey, but it’s oh-so-good with berries on the side, especially balsamic strawberries ;) Who knew that balsamic vinegar and fresh strawberries would go together just like peas and carrots? They’re a perfect match for the yogurt panna cotta and look so lovely next to the pure white, silky mound of deliciousness that you don’t need any special effects =) It’s beautiful just the way it is.

It’s been almost a month since we got back from New York, but memories of the honey almond panna cotta from ChikaLicious still linger on. Although, I have admit, with just one spoonful of this yogurt panna cotta with balsamic strawberries, those memories are slowly starting to fade =P




For the Yogurt Panna Cotta:

1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1 1/4 cups plain yogurt
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cream
1/4 cup sugar


For the Balsamic Strawberries:

1 pound strawberries, hulled, sliced into quarters
2 teaspoons aged balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar



Individual ramekins or custard cups
Cooking spray
Cutting board
Paring knife
Small saucepan
Mixing bowls
Plastic wrap



For the Yogurt Panna Cotta:

  • Lightly coat the inside of four individual ramekins, custard cups, or molds with cooking spray. (Depending on the size, you may be able to fill up to six molds.)
  • Combine the water and fresh lemon juice in a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over and let bloom for 5 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, in a medium mixing bowl, add the plain yogurt and 3/4 cup of cream. Whisk to combine.
  • In a small saucepan, combine the remaining 2 tablespoons cream and sugar. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring to melt the sugar. Remove from the heat. Add in the softened gelatin mixture, stirring to dissolve the gelatin completely. Pour the gelatin mixture into the yogurt bowl. Stir with a whisk to combine.
  • Divide the mixture among the prepared molds. Chill, uncovered, until cold, then cover with plastic wrap and let panna cotta set in the refrigerator overnight.
  • Unmold the panna cotta one at a time, dipping each mold into warm water for just a few seconds, quickly drying, and inverting the mold over a dessert platter. Spoon balsamic strawberries over panna cotta and garnish with fresh, sweet basil. Enjoy immediately!

For the Balsamic Strawberries:

  • In a large mixing bowl, gently toss together strawberries, vinegar, and sugar. Let stand 15-20 minutes, to allow the flavors to marry, tossing occasionally.

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10 comments to yogurt panna cotta with balsamic strawberries

  • your so right about food photography, most of what we see in magazines is never edible! Your panna cotta on the other hand looks delicious! thanks so much for sharing it with us!

  • This panna cotta looks beautiful and delicious! I haven’t made panna cotta for quite a while, but your photo is a good reminder of how simple and lovely this dessert really is. Thanks for the gorgeous post and your thoughts on food photography- very interesting!

  • I hear you on this post – its a little funny because anyone that eats feels qualified to be a food critic, blogger and photographer – its so much better when its edible food that looks good – like this panna cotta

  • Yup…real people cooking real food! I agree! It’s difficult sometimes especially when I just want to eat the food but will have to wait to get the right photo :)

  • Lilia

    Thanks for all the positive comments! I’m all for food photography, but the food should at least be edible =P

    Tokyo Terrace: I didn’t know how simple it was to make panna cotta either! It’s one of those desserts that restaurants want us to believe is very complex and time-consuming… but we know better ;)

    Ivy: I know exactly what you mean! Anthony is usually starving by the time I finish taking photos =P The trouble I have is usually lack of good lighting. I wish I had a backyard so I could just run out and take a nice photo in natural sunlight… someday hopefully!

  • I am tossed because the illusion of all of those food magazine pictures led me to learn how to cook. I hope there is a middle ground between boring pictures and needing the special effects people from Avatar to make great pictures..

  • oh wow this looks delicious!

  • I feel the same way about food photography. I’m not a food stylist or a photographer, but I’m learning more about photography. The food photographed should be edible.

  • This is a great post! I really didn’t realize how simple it was to make. I can’t wait to try it.

    On the photography, I agree with you, I have my own little tricks, but they all have to do with lighting. The photos may never show in a magazine, but we’ve eaten everything that was photographed! I will share the link to your blog with my friends. Thanks for your post!

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