The quickest, sophisticated-looking, and by far, the easiest dessert recipe I’ve ever known…
“In the 1960s, you could eat anything you wanted, and there was no talk about fat and anything like that, and butter and cream were rife. Those were lovely days for gastronomy, I must say.” – Julia ChildThe Fact: Panna Cotta is an Italian dessert that literally means “cooked cream”. The Inspiration: Honest. I didn’t have the time or the ingredients for anything else. My in-laws were coming home for lunch. My main course was almost done. And I’d forgotten about dessert!!! So I held the refrigerator door open and stared at my options for a whole minute. My panna cotta ingredients practically called out to me, saying, “Use meeee” 🙂 So if you find yourself in a similar situation, you know what to do.
The IngredientsMakes about 8 servings
- 2 ½ cups heavy cream
- 1 ½ cups whole milk
- 2 tablespoons cold water
- 1 tablespoon powdered, unflavoured gelatin
- 5 tablespoons sugar (flat; not heaped)
- 1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Optional: a few tablespoons of rum
- Optional: a handful of strawberries or any fruit of equal measure
The MethodMaking it
Pour the water into a bowl and sprinkle the gelatine over it. Stir and set aside. The gelatine will absorb the water, soften and swell up.
In a saucepan, combine the cream, milk, sugar and split vanilla bean (if using the vanilla bean; if not, incorporate the vanilla extract in the next step), and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Do NOT let it boil.
Remove the saucepan from the heat, and stir in the softened gelatine and the vanilla extract (if using extract; if using the vanilla bean, at this point scrape the vanilla seeds from the bean pod into the mixture, and discard the pod).
Whisk the mixture until it reaches room temperature. If you have a warm kitchen, whisk the mixture with the saucepan in an ice bath.
Check to see whether your mixture is smooth and that the sugar and gelatine have dissolved completely.
If you like a slightly rummy taste in your panna cotta, add in the rum now. You can taste the mixture to check whether you’d like a little more and adjust accordingly.
Now to set the panna cotta… I like the quick and simple presentation where I set the panna cotta in whatever I’m going to serve it. I use wine or shot glasses. If not, you can lightly oil a few ramekins or any bowl with a neutral oil and then use them (the oil so that the set panna cotta comes out easily).
Pour the mixture into the preferred containers and chill at least 4 hours or overnight. If you’re keeping them longer than overnight, cover them with plastic wrap.
What I like to do almost always is add some fresh fruit (strawberries on this day) into the serving mould or serving glass and pour the panna cotta over it so that the fruit sets in the panna cotta itself. It’s the lazier and easier way out.
You can serve panna cotta with whatever you want—fresh fruit (my favourite), berry compote, chocolate shavings and even leftover cake crumbs—like I said, absolutely anything.
If using a mould, before serving, run a thin-bladed knife around the inside of the mould. Dip the mould briefly in a bowl of hot water, and then carefully invert onto the serving plate and tap slightly. If the panna cotta doesn’t unmould right away, return it to the hot water bath for another five seconds and repeat. If stressed for time, do it my way and serve it in whatever you’ve set it in, without unmoulding.