Panna Cotta

21 Jun

I wondered if I was getting ahead of myself by posting my all-time favorite dessert only a month into my food blog adventure.  But I’m just so beside myself with excitement that I was able to recreate this dessert I thought was impossible to make at home that I really have to share it with you.  I had my first taste of panna cotta in London, in a little Italian restaurant in Exmouth Market, just a block or two from the flat I was staying in for the semester.  I can barely remember the taste or even the texture, but I do remember that I was absolutely in heaven.  Or perhaps eating heaven.

Panna cotta is a delicately flavored (typically with vanilla beans) dessert with a consistency that falls somewhere between Jell-O and pudding.  It’s softer than Jell-O, but firmer than pudding. Panna cotta is typically molded so that it looks just like flan.  The beauty of panna cotta is that you can take it from a fancy molded Italian bistro dessert down to a less fussy yet still classy and beautiful presentation.  The recipe here is pretty strongly of vanilla (it tasted almost like ice cream)–probably because I used vanilla bean paste instead of an actual vanilla bean (see my caramel recipe as to why).  I missed the delicate flavor, but the delicate texture was exactly what I was hoping for and, in the end, this was still one of my biggest triumphs in the kitchen: recreating one of the greatest food memories I have in my heart.

I have to admit, I waited 4 years to even attempt this because I assumed it was a recipe only attempted by the most knowledgeable Italian master chefs.  I give full credit to Miss Nina Baker (no relation) for giving this recipe a try long before I did–and successfully I might add!  Obviously I regret waiting so long now that I know how easy it is to make.

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta
slightly modified from The Best International Recipe cookbook
serves 5-8, depending on your serving manner

Emily’s Tips: 1) make sure you have 2 trays of ice ready ahead of time or else you’ll be calling your boyfriend and asking him to stop by your apartment to make ice for you before you get home from work.  Your request will be met with confusion.  2) Keep your wits about you.  This is a very simple recipe, despite its appearance.  Just read the recipe thoroughly ahead of time and stay calm during the cooking process.  3) Make sure you’ve got a thermometer handy.

  • 1 cup whole milk (do not substitute skim or low-fat milk)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons Knox unflavored gelatin (find it in the market next to the Jell-O)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste (2 teaspoons of vanilla extract can be used instead)
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  1. Pour the milk into a medium saucepan. Sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the milk and let it sit and hydrate, about 10 minutes.
  2. Combine the vanilla bean paste (or extract) and cream in a large measuring cup; set aside. Make a large bowl of ice water using 2 trays of ice cubes and 4 cups cold water; set aside. Set your containers on a baking sheet and set aside.  You can use eight 4 oz ramekins.  I evenly split the recipe up amongst 5 of our tumblers.  The most elegant serving dish?   Wine glasses.  I prefer the look of stemless in this case.
  3. Heat the milk and gelatin mixture over high heat, stirring constantly, until the gelatin is dissolved and the mixture registers 135 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 1 1/2 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the sugar and salt until dissolved, about 1 minute.  Stirring the milk and sugar mixture constantly, slowly add the cream and vanilla mixture (make sure to get all the delicious vanilla that has likely settled to the bottom of the cup by now).
  4. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl (metal if you have it) and set the bowl gently into the ice water. Let the mixture chill, stirring frequently, until it has thickened to the consistency of eggnog and registers 50 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 10 minutes.
  5. Strain the mixture into a pitcher (I used a tall measuring cup and just refilled a few times), then pour it evenly into the serving dishes.  Shake each dish gently to even the surface.  Cover each ramekin with plastic wrap, making sure that the plastic does not mar the surface of the cream and refrigerate until just set and chilled, at least 4 hours or up to 5 days.
  6. Add your preferred topping just before serving, most commonly a berry coulis, but personally, I just like cutting up fresh strawberries to drop on top.

4 Responses to “Panna Cotta”

  1. Lorelei Leslie June 21, 2011 at 9:03 am #

    do you know how adorable you are?

    Seriously.

    • Emily June 21, 2011 at 9:09 am #

      comment approved. 😛

  2. Anna Savage June 21, 2011 at 6:21 pm #

    This looks absolutely divine! I buy the Trader Joe’s panna cotta all the time, but you make it look so easy! I think I will try my hand at this next week!

  3. Ace July 6, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

    oh i ❤ panna cotta! it's so delicious. I need to make room in my fridge first though. definitely bookmarked on my list 😉

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