How To Make Panna Cotta

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Plated Molded Dessert
Panna Cotta topped with Roasted Rhubarb

While the mention of Panna Cotta conjures up images of a fancy dessert one would expect to find in a fine restaurant, this dessert is actually quite simple to make and takes very few  ingredients. It is elegant and sophisticated in its simplicity and will surely impress those lucky enough to sit around your table.

What is Panna Cotta?

Panna Cotta is an Italian dessert often associated with the Piedmont region in northern Italy. Translated, it means “cooked cream”.  It is a chilled dessert that is thickened and set by the use of unflavored gelatine, making it sublimely silky in texture.

There is no egg in this dessert and it does not require any oven baking.  This makes it an easy dessert to prepare and it is especially delightful in summer when the fresh berries and other fruits are locally available.  It also makes great picnic fare when set in small covered glass jars and kept cool until serving.

Whipping cream is the main ingredient in this dessert so don’t skip out on it.  It’s what makes Panna Cotta, well, …. Panna Cotta!  It wouldn’t be cooked cream if there wasn’t cream in it!

This dessert can be made entirely with whipped cream though I have lightened up my version slightly by replacing a portion of the heavy cream content with whole milk. Fat-reduced milks are not recommended for this recipe.  Instead of the whole milk, a 10% M.F. half-and-half blend or an 18% M.F. coffee cream can be used for a richer texture.

Dessert glasses filled with Chilled Dessert
Dessert Glasses Filled with Panna Cotta Topped with Roasted Rhubarb

There are various recipes for flavored Panna Cotta but this is my basic “go-to” recipe for plain vanilla Panna Cotta made with whipping cream, whole milk, sugar, vanilla, and unflavored gelatine. My preference is to use caster sugar, also known as instant dissolving sugar or berry sugar.  It is extra superfine and is perfect for custard-style desserts where a smooth texture is desired.  Regular granulated sugar can be used but, if you have the caster sugar available, I recommend using it.  Because vanilla is the key flavoring agent, be sure to use pure vanilla, not an imitation.

How to Make Panna Cotta

Essentially, if you can heat milk, you can make Panna Cotta!  Simply combine the whipping cream, whole milk, and sugar in a saucepan and heat it, over medium heat and stir constantly, until it is steaming hot but not boiling.  Basically, just bring it to the point where it is about to boil but is not given the chance!

While the cream and milk mixture is heating, place 2 tablespoons of cold water in a small shallow bowl and sprinkle the gelatine on top.  Let stand for 4-5 minutes to allow the gelatine to dissolve and soften, a process known as “blooming”.  Remove the cream mixture from the stove and whisk in the gelatine until it is completely dissolved, melted, and incorporated.  Lastly, whisk in the vanilla.

To be sure there is no residue from the gelatine remaining, I recommend straining the mixture through a fine wire mesh sieve.

Pour the mixture into individual serving dishes or molds that have at least a ½-cup capacity each. Let the mixture rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes then cover each dish tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  If you are not planning to unmold the Panna Cotta, the dessert will benefit from about 4 hours to set.  If you plan to unmold and plate it, I recommend leaving it for at least 6 hours, or even overnight. Covered tightly with plastic wrap, this dessert will keep up to 3 days in the refrigerator.

Serving Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta is typically made in individual portion-sized dishes or molds as opposed to scooped from a large bowl.  This would cause it to lose its shape and it would not present well for serving. It is lovely presented in small glass serving dishes so it can be seen, enjoyed, and appreciated from all sides. Any kind of dish or mold that will hold approximately ½ cup would be suitable for this dessert.  This could be dessert glasses, wine glasses, speciality molds, cups, or ramekins, for example.

Glass dishes filled with vanilla Panna Cotta topped with Roasted Rhubarb
Panna Cotta topped with Roasted Rhubarb in Dessert Glasses

If planning to unmold the dessert, lightly oil the mold then wipe out  the oil residue with a paper towel. This light oiling will help to unmold the dessert while not leaving it greasy. There is no need to oil dishes in which the dessert will be directly served – only do this in cases where the plan is to unmold the dessert and plate it. A perfect Panna Cotta is firmly set yet still has a slight wobble or jiggle to it. When unmolded, it should be firm enough to stand on its own while retaining the mold’s shape.

Unmolded Panna Cotta on Plate
Unmolded Panna Cotta Topped with Roasted Rhubarb

Unmolding Panna Cotta

To unmold Panna Cotta, dip the mold in hot water for 12-15 seconds.  Then, run the tip of a thin bladed knife very carefully just around the upper edge of the Panna Cotta. Place a plate on top of the mold and flip both over, giving the dish containing the dessert and the plate, together, a slight shake, or gentle jerk, to release the dessert.  This may require a couple of dippings in hot water if the Panna Cotta does not release from the mold on the first attempt. Subsequent dipping(s) should be in shorter increments of about 5 seconds at a time.

Panna Cotta can be served perfectly plain, dressed with crushed berries, whole fresh berries or other fruit, a favorite curd (such as lemon, clementine, or rhubarb, for example), a drizzle of chocolate or caramel sauce, a fruit compote, fruit gelée or glaze, or even a favorite jam or jelly.

Plated Panna Cotta topped with Roasted Rhubarb
Panna Cotta topped with Roasted Rhubarb

The Panna Cotta in the photos is dressed with roasted rhubarb. I used 6 ounces of rhubarb, chopped into about 2” lengths. These were placed, single layer, in a shallow baking dish to which I added 2½ tablespoons of apple juice (orange juice would work, too), 4-5 strips of orange rind, ½ star anise pod, a light sprinkle of cardamom, 1½ tablespoons of caster sugar, and 1 teaspoon of strawberry balsamic vinegar (optional).

This dish was covered tightly with foil and the rhubarb roasted at 375°F for 12-13 minutes (depending on size and maturity of rhubarb), just until the rhubarb was barely tender.  The foil was removed and the rhubarb roasted for 5 minutes longer, allowing the sauce to reduce somewhat to a slightly syrupy consistency.  The rhubarb was then refrigerated before dressing the Panna Cotta with it.  My Stewed Rhubarb could also be used to serve with the dessert.

Roasted Rhubarb atop Panna Cotta
Roasted Rhubarb tops Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta is an easy-to-make classy dessert whether served in pretty glass dessert dishes or unmolded and plated.  It is great for events for which you want to have some food prep done a day or two ahead.  It’s a super great dessert choice for summer when it can be dressed simply with fresh berries and seasonal fruits.  A simple, plain vanilla Panna Cotta offers many versatile options and, just by what is topped on, or served with, the dessert, it can look like a totally different dessert each time it is served.

Panna Cotta

Ingredients:

1 1/3 cups whipping cream (35%M.F.) (no substitute)
2/3 cup whole milk (or 10%M.F. half-and-half or 18%M.F. coffee cream/table cream)
6 tbsp caster sugar (aka instant dissolving or berry sugar)
1¼ tsp pure vanilla

1 – 7g (¼ oz) package (apx. 2½ tsp) unflavored powdered/granulated gelatine
2 tbsp cold water

Method:

Combine the whipping cream, milk, and sugar in a saucepan. Heat, over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is steaming hot. Bring it almost to the boiling point but do not boil.

While the dairy and sugar mixture is heating, place 2 tablespoons of cold water in small bowl and sprinkle the gelatine on top. Let gelatine “bloom” for 4-5 minutes, until it is softened and moistened.

Remove heated mixture from stove and whisk in the softened gelatine until it is completely melted and dissolved. Strain mixture through fine wire mesh sieve to remove any stray solids that may remain. Evenly distribute the mixture between four ramekins, molds, or serving dishes, each having at least ½ cup capacity. Let stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes then cover each Panna Cotta tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least four (4) hours for serving dishes or six (6) hours for Panna Cotta that is to be unmolded and plated.

If unmolding the Panna Cotta, lightly oil the ramekins or molds and wipe out the excess oil with a paper towel. To unmold Panna Cotta, dip dish in hot water for 12-15 seconds, then run the tip of a thin, flat-bladed knife around the top edge of each Panna Cotta and invert the dish on to a plate, giving the plate and mold a slight shake, or jerk, to loosen the Panna Cotta. If it does not unmold, repeat the procedure of dipping the mold in hot water, but at 5 second intervals.

Serve the Panna Cotta cold. If desired, at time of serving, add a chilled coulis, a drizzle of chocolate or caramel sauce, a fruit compote, glaze, gelée, or simply top with fresh fruit of choice.

Yield: Apx. 4 servings (½ cup each)

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Panna Cotta

This easy-to-make Panna Cotta recipe is sublimely silky smooth and is perfect paired with fresh fruit, coulis, gelée, glaze, or a drizzle of chocolate or caramel sauce.
Course Dessert
Cuisine Italian
Keyword Panna Cotta
Servings 4
My Island Bistro Kitchen Barbara99

Ingredients

  • 1 1/3 cups whipping cream (35%M.F.) (no substitute)
  • 2/3 cup whole milk (or 10%M.F. half-and-half or 18%M.F. coffee cream/table cream)
  • 6 tbsp caster sugar (aka instant dissolving or berry sugar) (see Note below)
  • tsp pure vanilla
  • 1 – 7g (¼ oz) package (apx. 2½ tsp) unflavored powdered/granulated gelatine
  • 2 tbsp cold water

Instructions

  1. Combine the whipping cream, milk, and sugar in a saucepan. Heat, over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is steaming hot. Bring it almost to the boiling point but do not boil.
  2. While the dairy and sugar mixture is heating, place 2 tablespoons of cold water in small bowl and sprinkle the gelatine on top. Let gelatine “bloom” for 4-5 minutes, until it is softened and moistened.
  3. Remove heated mixture from stove and whisk in the softened gelatine until it is completely melted and dissolved. Strain mixture through fine wire mesh sieve to remove any stray solids that may remain. Evenly distribute the mixture between four ramekins, molds, or serving dishes, each having at least ½ cup capacity. Let stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes then cover each Panna Cotta tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least four (4) hours for serving dishes or six (6) hours for Panna Cotta that is to be unmolded and plated.
  4. If unmolding the Panna Cotta, lightly oil the ramekins or molds and wipe out the excess oil with a paper towel. To unmold Panna Cotta, dip dish in hot water for 12-15 seconds, then run the tip of a thin, flat-bladed knife around the top edge of each Panna Cotta and invert the dish on to a plate, giving the plate and mold a slight shake, or jerk, to loosen the Panna Cotta. If it does not unmold, repeat the procedure of dipping the mold in hot water, but at 5 second intervals.
  5. Serve the Panna Cotta cold. If desired, at time of serving, add a chilled coulis, a drizzle of chocolate or caramel sauce, a fruit compote, glaze, gelée, or simply top with fresh fruit of choice.

Recipe Notes

Yield: Apx. 4 servings (½ cup each)

Panna Cotta will keep, covered in plastic wrap, for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.

NOTE: If caster sugar is unavailable, regular granulated sugar can be substituted.

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