This modern-looking creation was invented to illustrate the concept of a properly prepared composed dessert. Compose is a verb meaning to arrange, create, devise, fashion, form, or shape. In the case of a composed dessert, or dessert composition, several elements are arranged together on a serving plate in a way that is appealing both to the eye and the palate. I teach my students that any plated dessert must contain a minimum of three components. The individual elements should harmonize and also contrast at the same time. In choosing and arranging the elements of the dish, the chef should consider height, color, shape, texture, flavor, and temperature.
This version of panna cotta demonstrates all these ideas. It contains a refreshing, colorful fruit salsa that is served slightly warm; a sweet, transparent strawberry-orange syrup; a crisp and crunchy nut cookie; cold, creamy, snow-white panna cotta; a vibrant purple-toned icy sorbet; and, finally, a fragile, buttery caramel halo and a caramelized macadamia nut—both of which provide height as well as additional taste and texture.
The fact that this dessert has so many components means that you have a lot of options, should you wish to simplify the presentation. For large parties or banquets, consider eliminating both the caramel halo and the caramelized macadamia nut. Instead, place the sorbet directly on top of the panna cotta, using a small, thin round of sponge cake underneath to keep the sorbet from sliding. You will still have the wonderful crisp texture of the hazelnut cookie. Another option is to substitute Florentina Halos from the Blancmange recipe for the Caramel Halos called for here. Blancmange is, as a matter of fact, very closely related to panna cotta.