Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse Cake

“Oh, did you know moose are some of the animals most likely to escape from cages or zoos? Their snouts are incredibly flexible and capable – almost as good instruments as an elephant’s trunk, perfectly capable of manipulating doorknobs!” informed me my son, lured into the kitchen by the smell of toasted hazelnuts, when I told him what I was making. I have no clue how he jumped so quickly from the idea of airy sweet pudding to the largest member of the deer family, but now that I know, I’m sure I’ll be peeking over my shoulder fully expecting some runaway moose skewer me onto its antlers whenever I’ll find myself in a zoo. Because I can’t seem to remember that I need to buy toilet paper at the store, nor that I shouldn’t still be stuffing my face after 6 p.m., but a piece of useless information such as this will undoubtedly stick with me forever.

And do you know what else is as good an escapist as moose? Mousse! I can’t keep it in the house. It just seems to disappear, usually in conjunction with two slightly guilty (but satisfied) teenagers. It catches a lift on spoons, cowers in bowls, or sneaks into cakes in lieu of a filling, gradually leaving nothing but a contented silence behind. This, of course is at least partially my fault – while the light whipped crème is a delight all in itself, I cannot resist taking it one step further and merging it with layers of moist rum-scented chocolate cake into something entirely new and delicious. Throw in some toasted hazelnuts, and mousse finds a new contender for kitchen escape artistry!

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Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse Cake

(adapted from Nick Malgieri’s: Chocolate)

Cake:
  • 4 eggs, room temperature, separated
  • ¾ cup sugar, divided
  • pinch salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 cup ground hazelnuts
  • ½ cup cake flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill 1 for 1 all-purpose gluten-free flour mix)
  • 3 tablespoons dark cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
Rum syrup:
  • 1/3 cup each sugar, water, and rum
Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse:
  • 16 oz. (454 g) good quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 ¼ cup (310 ml) heavy cream
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons, 4 oz., 114 g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 tablespoons rum
  • 4 egg whites, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned, and roughly chopped (see Note)

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Method:
  1. To make the cake, butter a 10 inch (25 cm) springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350 °F (175 °C).
  2. Beat the egg yolks with half of the sugar until thick and light yellow in color. In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites with salt and cream of tartar until opaque, then gradually add in the remaining sugar and continue whipping until stiff peaks form. Fold yolks into whites, and then add in the ground nuts. Combine flour, cocoa, and baking powder, sift the mixture over the batter, and fold it in. Pour batter into the springform pan, and bake for about 30 minutes, until the cake springs back, and the cake tester comes out clean. Unmold and let cool.
  3. For the rum syrup, boil water with sugar. Cool and pour in the rum. Set aside.
  4. For the mousse filling, place the chocolate into a glass bowl. Bring the cream to a boil, and pour it over the chocolate. Whisk until smooth. Let the chocolate mixture cool to room temp. Beat the softened butter until fluffy, then add in the cooled chocolate and rum. Heat egg whites and sugar, whisking constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is hot, and then whip the egg whites using an electric mixer until cooled. Fold the egg whites into the chocolate, and add in the chopped hazelnuts.
  5. To assemble, slice cake into three layers. Place one layer back into the washed springform pan and moisten it with the syrup. Spread with 1/3 of the mousse. Continue layering moistened cake layers and filling, ending with the mousse. Place the cake into the fridge to set the mousse.
  6. Unmold the cake onto a serving plate, decorate with hazelnuts and/or shaved chocolate, and serve.
Note:

Best way to skin the hazelnuts is to cook them in some water with baking soda for couple of minutes, until the water turns black from the skins. The skins should then slip off easily (much easier method than rubbing the toasted hazelnuts in a dish towel!)

I made the cake in an 8-inch (20 cm) springform pan, and sliced it just in two layers. I had quite a lot of filling leftover, but I wanted the cake to be higher, and it worked quite well this way.

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Coeur a la Crème with Raspberry Coulis

With the Valentine’s Day just around the corner we’re bombarded left and right with links and articles about love, relationships and marriage. Seven keys to finding the love you want. How to find your perfect mate. Secrets of happy couples. 15 ways to improve your marriage. Everybody is an expert and offers you a surefire way to a satisfying relationship we all long for, and most of the psychologists and therapists base a successful relationship on a mix of love, respect, common goals, communication, and willingness to work as a team.

We’ve got the teamwork down pretty early on – I guess there is no way around it when it’s just the two of you plus a kid (or two) in a world of strangers. When you are an expat that left all family behind, there is no mom to call when you’re sick as a dog and would appreciate a bowl of good old chicken soup, or if you just dream of an hour of non-mommy time. (I remember that even the time in a dentist’s chair getting my teeth cleaned used to feel like a vacation!) You learn quickly to pull your fair share and do what you can so that your life would run as smoothly as possible.

The thing is, life is busy, and in trying to meet all the responsibilities it keeps throwing at you it can easily start to feel like you are just two people leading separate lives next to each other. And when that happens, it all starts going south: The warm and fuzzy feelings all but disappear, and all you see around are problems. Yet you don’t have time nor energy to deal with them, and you don’t have anyone who’d figure them out with you, either, because your plus one is running in his own hamster wheel.

Heck, I tried. I made Mr. Photographer stay up till the ungodly hours, talking about anything and everything I perceived at that moment as a road block in our relationship. In reality it meant that I was talking and he was talked at and quiet. The more I talked, the more worked up and loud I was getting, and the more clammed up he was in return. Which put another extra problem on top of the first one, because what all the experts say is one of the keys of a good relationship? Communication, right?! 🙂

It took me a good long while to figure out that in moments like this I didn’t need to try to solve the problem(s) I suddenly saw booming in front of me. They were there and probably always will be on this side of the ground. What I really needed was to get off the squeaky wheel (even if I felt I couldn’t afford to!) and take a break from all the busyness – find time to just be together. Life is serious enough as it is, and regular doses of fun do more for a relationship than heated “problem solving” till three in the morning.

So that’s what we’ll be doing as this post is going up! I can’t wait to leave behind the everyday – report cards, laundry, and sticky kitchen floor, and going away for just a bit to recharge. But before I go, here is my last Valentine’s day recipe: Coeur a la Crème – creamy heart in a pool of tart raspberry coulis. You’ll still have time to make it on Saturday night, and surprise your sweetie with it on Sunday morning. Coeur a la Crème is made in a special heart mold, which is perforated, so that the creamy mixture can drain and firm up overnight. You should be able to find it in a specialty kitchen stores at this time of year, but if you don’t care for the heart shape all that much, you can make this dessert also in a colander lined with cheesecloth. The taste will be the same of course – it’ll be sweet and creamy with hints of citrus and vanilla, and the tart raspberry sauce pooled around it complements it so well. (I actually doubled the sauce, and I don’t think it harmed anything!) I love how it turned out, and I especially like the texture that the cheesecloth imprinted on the heart. Please give it a try, whether you’re celebrating the V-day or you’re just planning to enjoy a nice relaxing Sunday with those you love.

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Coeur a la Crème with Raspberry Coulis

(Barefoot Contessa’s recipe, adapted from http://www.foodnetwork.com)

For the heart:
  • 12 oz (340 g) full-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup (125 g) powdered sugar
  • 2 ½ cups (750 ml) heavy whipping cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon fresh lemon zest
Raspberry Coulis:
  • 6 oz. (170 g) fresh raspberries
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 cup seedless raspberry jam
  • 2 tablespoons orange liqueur (I used Grand Marnier)

+ extra raspberries/strawberries/pomegranate seeds for decoration

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Method:
  1. To make the Coeur a la Crème: Line a 7-inch (18 cm) Coeur de la Crème mold (or a sieve) with cheesecloth or paper towels, so that the ends drape over the sides of the mold. It helps to moisten the cheesecloth or paper towels with water so that they adapt better to the form of the mold. Suspend the mold over a bowl, making sure there is space between the bottom of the mold and the bowl for the liquid to drain.
  2. Place the cream cheese and powdered sugar in a bowl of a electric mixer fitted with a paddle; mix on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and the paddle with a spatula, and change the paddle for a whisk.
  3. With the mixer on low speed, pour in the heavy cream, vanilla, and add the lemon zest. Whisk on high until the mixture is very thick and resembles whipped cream.
  4. Transfer the mixture into the lined mold, fold the cheesecloth over and let it drain in the refrigerator overnight.
  5. To make the Raspberry Coulis: Place raspberries, sugar, and water in a small saucepan, and cook for about 4 – 5 minutes until the mixture thickens slightly. Transfer the raspberry mixture together with all the remaining ingredients into a bowl of your food processor fitted with an S – blade, and process until smooth. Take out the seeds if desired, and chill the sauce until needed.
  6. When ready to serve, unmold the dessert on a serving plate and carefully pour raspberry sauce around the base.

 

 

 

Bavarian Crème Cake with Chocolate Hearts and Raspberries

Last week’s gluten-free punch cake really punched me out. Mr. Photographer claims it’s his favorite (although apparently he must have several of those, ranging from somewhat favorite through a bit more favorite to the favoritest), and with the Valentine’s Day approaching an outburst of loving kindness towards him swept over me and I set out to make him this overly sweet, overly pink, and overly boozy treat. I didn’t know much about punch cake beyond that, so I spent hours looking for recipes, comparing ingredients and baking methods, and the more I read, the less I knew what to do. The instructions varied widely, so I did what I do quite often when I feel lost in life: I called my Mother. And she, being the kind soul that she is, put me in touch with a professional pastry chef, and saved the day.

Armed with a new knowledge I woke up the next day with a mission: In the name of love let us de-glutenize punch cake. I started with the boozy punch the cake was to be soaked in, and the more I stirred and tasted it, the more awesome it seemed, and the more courageous I felt. How hard can it be? It’s just a simple vanilla cake, really, with some mighty tasty alcohol thrown in. Piece of cake.

Please, never-ever underestimate gluten-free baking. The gluten-free gods are vindictive nasty creatures, and the moment the thought it’s going to be easy just crosses your mind, they start plotting their revenge against you. How? Let me count the ways.

First, the batter I made following Ms. Confectioner’s tried and true recipe and using supposedly the best gluten-free flour on the market ended up so thick I wasn’t even able to get it out of the bowl. We’re talking “stand the spoon in it” thick, and getting thicker by the minute. Obviously it was going to take more than just sub the gluten flour with the outrageously expensive gluten-free mix, even if the package clearly stated to measure “cup-for-cup”! But I was just starting out and my fighting spirit was still going strong. I’m simply going to recalculate and make some adjustments. I can do that. Especially in the name of love.

The second attempt at the batter looked much better – until I transferred it onto the baking sheet, that is. Then it just sat there in the middle of the parchment paper refusing to move, like a stubborn toddler at a toy store. No and no, you can’t make me. Well, I raised two stubborn determined toddlers in my lifetime, so some eggy batter won’t throw me. It might’ve taken a lot of convincing with spatula dipped into water, but eventually I had the batter where I wanted it, spread on the entire sheet. Looking through the oven door it was wildly bubbling up in the pan, and I was slowly starting to lose my patience and getting more and more frustrated. Come on! The cake batter is supposed to rise in an orderly way and not behave this erratically. This is no fun.

Despite everything the cakes emerged out of the oven looking surprisingly normal. OK, so it’s not the best baking experience I’ve had, but we’re halfway there. I’ll let the cakes cool, in the meantime I’ll regain my cool as well, we’ll spread some jam on and pour the oh-so-good punch over, and we’re done. And tomorrow upon taking a bite Mr. Photographer will declare me the best wife ever.

Unfortunately, the gluten free gods were nowhere near finished with me and the worst was yet to come. When I carefully started soaking the cake with punch, the once very sturdy cake started literally falling apart in front of my eyes, and I very nearly followed in its footsteps. In my head I quickly counted how many eggs, flour, time and energy I put into that cake, and wasn’t sure if I wanted to cry or start throwing my dirty bowls and spatulas around. I briefly considered slurping up all the boozy liquid instead of wasting it on the darn cake, leaving the kitchen disaster for Mr. Photographer to deal with and call it quits. But I guess I’m too bull-headed for that 🙂

I admit to shedding some angry tears. I admit not being so gentle with the cake anymore. I splatted the booze in splotches onto the cake, slapped the top layer on, shoved the thing into the fridge, weighed it down, and went to bed. Tired, furious, and disappointed. The next day I sheepishly took it out, and cut away the edges. And to my amazement it was a-OK. It wasn’t the most gorgeous cake I’ve ever made… but the layers melded together, the punch-soaked center firmed up, and the cake smelled heavenly: it had hints of lemon, orange, raspberry… and rum. Don’t forget the rum.

The punch cake lesson the gluten-free gods taught me is three-fold: (1) Gluten-free baking will never be the same as gluten baking. It has its own principles, and it will take time to learn them all. Humility and patience is the name of the game. (2) Things are never as bad as they look at a first glance, and it’s best not to make hasty decisions (like wanting to throw unfinished cake away). (3) Things don’t always work out as we want them to, and we (I!) need to learn to roll with the punches baking and life will throw our way. Wish me luck in all of that!

 *****

To gain back some self-confidence after last week’s “pink nightmare” I’ve decided to make something simpler this weekend: Bavarian crème with coffee and white chocolate coupled with cute chocolate cut-out cookies. I went for hearts to keep with the Valentine’s Day theme, and once again made them gluten-free for my guy. The process is very simple. Unlike crème anglaise, which is custard crème thickened with eggs, Bavarian crème is lightened with cream and firmed up with gelatin. You pour it into a springform pan lined with parchment and let it set. When unmolded, the dark chocolate cookies look beautiful standing out against the beige coffee crème, and provide a nice crunchy contrast to the smooth sweet crème. It’s a simple dessert, but decorated with couple of fresh raspberries/strawberries it offers despite relatively few ingredients a cuteness overload, and is good not only for Valentine’s Day, but any time your heart longs for something sweet!

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 Bavarian Crème Cake with Chocolate Hearts and Raspberries

(cookie recipe adapted from http://www.glutenfreeonashoestring.com; cake recipe adapted from http://www.ricette.donnamoderna.com)

 

Chocolate Heart Cookies:
  • 140 g (1 cup) good quality gluten-free flour mix
  •  1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if your mix contains gums already)
  • 40 g (½ cup) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • pinch salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • 56 g (4 tablespoons, 1/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 100 g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg, room temperature, beaten
Bavarian Crème:
  • 20 g Knox powdered gelatin (almost 3 whole packets; 7 g each)
  • ½ cup water
  • 500 ml (2 cups) half-and-half (or whole milk)
  • 1 ½ tablespoons instant coffee granules
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 100 g (5.5 oz.) granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 100 g (3.5 oz.) white chocolate, chopped
  • 500 ml (2 cups) heavy cream
Liqueur syrup for brushing the cookies:
  • 8 tablespoons Crème de Cocoa liqueur
  • 100 ml (3 oz.) water
  • + 1 egg, beaten – for egg wash to brush the cookies (optional)
    – 200 g (7 oz.) fresh raspberries

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Method:
  1. To make the chocolate cookies: Line a cookie sheet with parchment; preheat the oven to 325 °F (162 °C). Mix together all dry ingredients in a bowl, set aside.
  2. Whip butter and sugar together until fluffy, gradually add in vanilla and beaten egg; mix well.
  3. Combine the butter-egg mixture with dry ingredients until the dough comes together in a ball.
  4. Roll out the dough between two sheets of parchment paper to about 6 mm thickness; freeze the dough until firm, about 5 minutes.
  5. Cut out cookies, arrange them on the parchment lined sheet (they don’t need much room, as they won’t spread much, if at all.) Freeze the cookies until firm, about 5 minutes.
  6. Bake the cookies for about 9 minutes, until the centers are opaque and not shiny anymore. Don’t overbake. Brush the still hot cookies with egg wash, if desired. Let the cookies cool on the sheet for couple of minutes, and then transfer them to a cooling rack to cool completely. (The cookie dough as well as the cookies can be made in advance and frozen. Let the cookies come to room temperature before proceeding.)
  7. Bavarian Crème: Combine gelatin with water; set aside for about 10 minutes to let the gelatin “bloom.” Line the bottom of a 18 cm (7 inch) round springform pan with parchment paper; lightly butter the sides.
  8. Whisk egg yolks with sugar and vanilla for couple of minutes until light yellow and thick. In a deeper saucepan, heat up the half-and-half/milk with coffee until hot.
  9. Prepare water bath by placing the saucepan with milk into a bigger pan filled with water. Pour some of the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly, to temper it, and then pour the warm egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan with milk. Cook the crème in the water bath for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly, until the crème thickens somewhat and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat.
  10. Add chopped white chocolate to the hot crème; mix thoroughly to melt the chocolate. Let the crème cool a bit, and then add in the bloomed gelatin while the crème is still hot. Mix well to melt the gelatin into the crème. Strain the crème into a bowl, and let it come to room temperature, stirring occasionally.
  11. Whip the heavy cream until soft peaks form. With a spatula, carefully fold the whipped cream into the crème.
  12. Assembling the cake: Carefully pour some of the crème into the springform pan to cover the bottom, and place the pan into the fridge for 5 minutes to let the filling set a bit. (Leave the remaining crème on the counter; you don’t want it to start setting just yet.) Sprinkle the crème with raspberries. Continue layering crème and fruit, letting each coffee layer set in the fridge for couple of minutes, and ending with the crème on top. Let the cake chill in the refrigerator until the crème is well set, at least 4 hours.
  13. Carefully unmold the cake onto a serving plate. Brush the chocolate hearts with syrup and press them against the sides of the cake. Decorate the cake with grated chocolate and fruit if desired, and serve.

Spooky Coconut Panna Cotta with Bloody Good Raspberry Sauce

It’s that time of year again: Toothy jack-o-lanterns, black cats, and scary witches are jumping at us from every corner. It’s a time when you can feed the neighbor kids all kinds of sweet cr*p, so they think you’re the coolest lady in the neighborhood (just don’t forget to promptly send them back home, so that when the sugar high hits and they’ll inevitably go crazy, you won’t be the one that has to deal with them). The only time when you don’t have to worry about having bad hair day and dark circles or puffy eyes, because being scary is actually a requirement. Actually, this time of year you could maybe even get away with killing that horrible coworker that has been annoying the heck out of you for ages: you’d just put him or her in a squeaky old chair on your porch, and no one would probably notice (not for the first week, anyway)!

Some people love Halloween, while others positively hate it and can’t wait for it to be over. When I first came here, I thought it was the weirdest holiday ever. It took me five years to accept it, and another five to get to like it. Today I see it as an opportunity to play, and that is always a good thing in my book. We have to play in life… otherwise it all gets too serious. And it doesn’t really matter if you dress up or not (my teenagers would probably say I don’t need to because I’m a witch all year anyway), or if you decide to dress up your porch instead and make your home the scariest one on the block. The important thing is that you take some time away from all the busyness that’s normally doing its best to suffocate us and do something – anything – that makes you feel like a kid again.

And this is how we played at our house this week! I found this recipe sometime last year and put it aside just so I could make it this Halloween. Panna cotta is a traditional Italian custard, made from sweetened cream thickened with some gelatin. You can flavor it any way you want – mine is made with half cream/half coconut milk and infused with toasted coconut. I enjoy working with gelatin, knew the boys would appreciate some good old creepy food, and I even managed to get Mr. Photographer to step into the kitchen and join me in some gross-out fun 🙂

So here you go! Don’t you want to cut yourself a piece of that squishy bulgy eyeball? Play, eat, drink, and be scary.  Happy Halloween!

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Spooky Coconut Panna Cotta with Bloody Good Raspberry Sauce

(adapted from http://kitchentablescraps.com; makes 6 servings)

Panna cotta:
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • ¼ cup dark raisins
  • 1 ½ teaspoon unflavored powdered gelatin (I used Knox brand)
  • 1 tablespoon Malibu (coconut rum)
  • 1 cup full-fat canned coconut milk
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon coconut extract (optional)
  • 3 kiwis
Raspberry sauce:
  • 1 cup frozen raspberries
  • 1 teaspoon raspberry liqueur (optional)
  • ½ cup granulated sugar (or to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Lenses:
  • 1 ½ teaspoon unflavored powdered gelatin
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • ½ cup water
Equipment:
  • 6 semi-cylindrical molds or bowls (I used silicone baking mold with 6 cavities), about ½ cup each
  • cooking spray
  • melon baller
  • muffin pan with foil liners
  • small cookie cutters (1 1/2 inch, 3.8 cm in diameter)

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Method:
  1. First, toast the coconut: Place the coconut in a non-stick pan, and stir it constantly over a medium heat until very lightly brown and fragrant, about 2 – 3 minutes. Set aside.
  2. Soak the raisins in warm water to soften them; then drain and set aside.
  3. In a small saucepan, combine coconut milk with cream and sugar; heat until hot, but not boiling. Remove from the heat. Add the toasted coconut and coconut extract; let stand for at least 20 minutes to infuse the milk liquid with coconut flavor.
  4. Combine gelatin with 1 tablespoon Malibu rum; let stand for about 10 minutes to “bloom”.
  5. Meanwhile, prepare the molds and the kiwis: Spray the molds with cooking spray; wipe away the excess. Peel the fruit. Cut off the end and cut each kiwi in half. Place the kiwi into the mold to measure and cut it so that it is the exact height as your mold or bowl. Take the cookie cutter and cut the kiwi into a perfect cylinder. With a melon baller scoop out the center of the kiwi cylinder where you want the pupil to be. Put the scooped out half cylinder back into the kiwi for now. Invert the kiwi into the molds so that the scooped out end is facing down.
  6. Strain the toasted coconut flakes out of the milk liquid. Dissolve the bloomed gelatin in a warm liquid and then transfer the mixture into a measuring cup for easier pouring. Carefully pour the coconut cream around the kiwi into each mold until full. Move the molds into the refrigerator and chill for at least 4 hours. (I chilled overnight.)
  7. Make the lenses: Bloom the gelatin in 1 tablespoon water for 10 minutes. Line muffin cups with paper liners. Heat up the 1/2 cup water with sugar; do not boil. Dissolve the bloomed gelatin in the water and pour a little bit into each muffin liner. Chill the gelatin for at least 30 minutes until set. When the gelatin has set, unmold it carefully and cut out 1.5 inch (3.8 cm) circles which will become the lenses for your kiwi irises. Chill until needed.
  8. Assembling the eyeballs: When the panna cotta has set, get ready to unmold it by placing a sheet of wax paper onto a cutting board. Carefully unmold each piece onto the paper and clean any bits of white panna cotta from the kiwis. Take out the small piece of kiwi from the center of the iris and fill the cavity with soaked raisins. Place the lens over each kiwi iris. The edges of the gelatin lens will be a little rough; take a hot knife and carefully melt the gelatin around the edges to make it smoother. Refrigerate the eyeballs while you make the sauce.
  9. Prepare the raspberry sauce: In a small saucepan, combine raspberries with sugar; heat the mixture to break up the fruit. Add the liqueur if using, and strain the mixture to get rid of the seeds.
  10. Spoon the raspberry sauce onto a platter, sit the panna cotta eyeball on top and serve.

Note:

I have a silicone baking pan with 6 half-sphere cavities, and used it for both the panna cotta eyeballs and the lenses. Removing the panna cotta was a little tricky; so I inverted the pan on the cutting board lined with wax paper and used a hair dryer (very carefully, for just 2 – 3 seconds) to get the dessert out. Removing the lenses was very easy; they slipped right out without any trouble.