- “Cooked cream” in Italian
- Easy to make
- Easy to come up with variations
- Learn the secrets of gelatin
- Put a bit of time into the presentation
In Italian, “panna cotta” means “cooked cream”. And that’s pretty much what you get, but it’s rather a boring name for the experience. The cooked cream can be flavored in countless ways and might have been made to be served in little bowls, all different flavors.
Make panna cotta in advance
The Italian classic is a perfect dessert when you’ve got lots of friends coming round and want to plan ahead. Panna cotta should be made at least a couple of hours in advance and benefits from spending even longer in the fridge. How long depends on the flavors you use. If you’re adding alcohol, for example, it will need longer to set.
Freezing panna cotta
Make your panna cotta a day in advance but cover it with plastic so it doesn’t form a tough crust on top. If there’s any left over, panna cotta freezes very well. Cover with plastic here too. This avoids it drying out or taking on the flavor of anything else you’ve got in the freezer.
Easy to make
Making panna cotta is almost ridiculously easy. But your guests don’t need to know that. Simmer cream, sugar and natural vanilla for a while until the sugar has dissolved, the vanilla flavor has developed and the cream has reduced. Once the consistency is syrupy, fish out the vanilla pod and dissolve the gelatin in the liquid. Now you can pour it into individual serving dishes and leave to set in the fridge, unless you want to add additional flavorings.
How do you flavor panna cotta?
Well the answer to that one is easy. Pretty much however you like. Fruit, licorice or chocolate, for example. It’s a good idea to start with a basic recipe and then work from that.
A balance of fat and gelatin
Panna cotta is an easy dish to succeed with, but the key to the smooth texture is the relationship between fat and gelatin. You can replace the cream with milk, soy milk or coconut milk but you have to increase the amount of gelatin accordingly. A larger amount of a liquid flavor element means you might have to adjust the amount of gelatin upwards too.
Succeeding with gelatin
If you’ve got the basics right, you’ll increase your chances of the gelatin dissolving smoothly and easily.
- The temperature of the soaking water should be low to stop the gelatin from swelling up too quickly and going lumpy.
- Don’t add gelatin to a cold mixture. It will form lumps.
- To be totally sure of a silky-smooth consistency, you can pour the mixture through a sieve when portioning it out.
- If your panna cotta refuses to set – try heating it up again (never boil it...) and adding a little bit of extra gelatin.
- Some fruits such as pineapple and kiwi contain enzymes that break down the protein in gelatin so it never sets. This problem can be solved by heating the fruit in question first.
- Gelatin-based desserts go rubbery after a few days. Don’t make your panna cotta more than about four days in advance.
Simmer, never boil
The mixture that is going to turn into panna cotta should only simmer until the gelatin has dissolved. Boiling it will destroy the properties of the gelatin.
Getting panna cotta out of the molds
Getting panna cotta out of its mold is an art in itself. To succeed:
- The panna cotta must have been cooled and been allowed to set for at least 4 hours.
- The mold shouldn’t be too big, max about 150ml.
- If the panna cotta refuses to let go, try quickly dipping the mold in hot water and trying again.
- One trick is to brush a very thin layer of flavorless oil on the inside of each mold before pouring in the mixture.
- If the panna cotta absolutely won’t come out, get a spoon and enjoy it straight from the dish...
Pimp your panna cotta
Noting invites decoration like the smooth surface of panna cotta. Give guests an idea of what they’re looking at by decorating it with something to indicate the flavor – tea leaves, lime zest or fruit, for example. Or combine smooth panna cotta with cake crumbs, a nougatine or any other attractive, crunchy contrast. There are more ideas here: Decorating desserts
Panna cotta recipe
Panna cotta consists of cream, sugar and gelatin, cooled slowly in individual molds. You don’t need to make it any more complicated than that. Serve with a fruit compote, fruit slices or a raspberry sauce for some much-needed acidity to go with all the mild and vanilla-friendly.
Serves about 4
2 leaves of gelatin
45g granulated sugar
1 vanilla pod
- Put the gelatin in cold water for about 5 minutes.
- Heat the cream, sugar and the halved vanilla pod and simmer for a moment
- Add the leaves of gelatin so they dissolve in the liquid.
- Let the cream cool. Pour the cream mixture into small bowls or glasses and put in the fridge for about 3 hours.
Panna cotta with tea and chocolate
We can recommend a chocolate panna cotta flavored with tea, preferably a black, flowery tea blend. Note: The tea leaves should be soaked a day ahead. Don’t choose a chocolate that’s too bitter as the tea adds a touch of bitterness too. You need to be careful with bitterness in desserts, as in life.
Serves about 8
200ml tea, Söderblandning or something else fruity
90g cane sugar
2 1/2 leaves of gelatin
190g plain chocolate 70%, preferably fruity like Manjari from Valrhona
- Mix the cream and the tea leaves and leave to stand in a cold place for 12 hours.
- Heat up the cream to body temperature or max 50°C and strain out the tea leaves.
- Squeeze as much cream as you can out of the tea. Heat the cream and sugar.
- Soak the gelatin. Pour the cream over the chopped chocolate. Add the leaves of gelatin.
- Pour into glasses or cups, place in a cold place and leave to set for a couple of hours. Decorate with tea leaves if desired.