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 | By Michelle Sessions DiFranco

A festive Italian dessert for your holiday table

Honoring St. Ambrose

St. John Chrysostom once said, “The bee is more honored than other animals, not because she labors, but because she labors for others.” I can’t help but wonder if he was thinking of his contemporary, Aurelius Ambrosius, when he penned that quotation. Aurelius Ambrosius is better known to us as St. Ambrose.

St. Ambrose, whose feast we celebrate on Dec. 7,  is a Doctor of the Church and was one of the most influential and important figures in the Church in the fourth century.

As a prolific preacher and the Bishop of Milan, St. Ambrose was influential in advancing much of western Christianity in the fourth century. Interestingly, throughout most of his life, Ambrose kept bees. He loved them and bred them so he could give honey to the poor, which is why he’s the patron saint of bees and beekeepers. It is said that when Ambrose was an infant, a swarm of bees landed on his face, leaving behind a drop of honey before flying away. His father took this as a sign that he would become a great preacher with a “honeyed tongue.”

Like the bees St. Ambrose kept, this holy man gave his life’s work to others. He labored for the Church. And as his peer, St. John Chrysostom has said, this deserves honor.

With Christmas festivities around the corner, consider making this Italian dessert to honor a saint who spent most of his time in Italy and whose feast we celebrate this month. I share this recipe for a panna cotta with a nod to the preacher with the “honeyed tongue.” This silky sweet treat is made with lots of honey. Enjoy!

Michelle Sessions DiFranco is a designer and the busy mom of three children.

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Milk and Honey Panna Cotta

(serves 6-8)

  • 3 teaspoons gelatin
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 2 ½ cups heavy cream
  • ½ cup honey (plus more for topping)
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • Raspberries (for topping)

In a small bowl, combine the gelatin and milk and set aside to “bloom.”

In a medium saucepan on very low heat, combine the heavy cream, honey, whole vanilla bean, lemon juice and sugar (until sugar is completely dissolved). Remove the vanilla bean and split lengthwise. Scrape the beans into the mixture and stir to combine. Add the milk and gelatin mixture and mix with a whisk until fully combined and smooth.  

Divide the panna cotta mixture into 6-8 glasses (or ramekins) and chill in refrigerator for at least 4 hours (or overnight). Top off each serving with a teaspoon of honey and fresh raspberries. To make it even more festive, add some spun sugar!