is an Italian dessert that literally means "cooked cream". It
contains just a few ingredients; cream (and/or milk), sugar, and vanilla
that are set with gelatin. This lovely eggless custard-like pudding
has a rich flavor and silky smooth texture that takes just minutes to
prepare. Panna Cotta is the perfect dinner party dessert as it is can be made
ahead, is well suited for individual servings, stunning to look
at, and delicious to eat. I like to serve these Panna
Cotta with a medley of fresh berries, poached fruit, or a chocolate or fruit sauce (strawberry
or raspberry are very nice).
Panna Cotta begins with gelatin. For this recipe
we are using unflavored powdered gelatin as leaf gelatin is hard to come
by in North America. Powdered unflavored gelatin is sold on the baking
isle of grocery stores and is packaged in small boxes that contain four
paper envelopes of powdered gelatin. We need just one - 1/4 ounce (7
grams) (scant tablespoon) envelope. Unflavored gelatin is tiny granules
that are tasteless, colorless, and odorless. It is used as a thickening
agent but only becomes active when dissolved in a hot liquid. But first we
need to sprinkle the gelatin over cold liquid (in this case milk) which
allows the gelatin to soften, swell, and become spongy (to bloom). While
the gelatin is softening, the next step is to heat the sugar and heavy
cream (double cream) (cream with a 35-40% butterfat content) until hot. I realize that some may want to make the Panna
Cotta lighter in taste, texture, and calories. If that is the case just
substitute milk or a lighter cream for some of the heavy cream. Once the
cream is hot, stir in the softened gelatin. The gelatin then needs to be
gently warmed so the granules completely dissolve and the proteins become
activated. I always like to check to make sure all the gelatin granules
are dissolved. Do this by dipping a spoon into the cream to see that all
the crystals have melted. The final step is to stir in the pure vanilla extract or
vanilla bean paste, and you are done. Pour the cream into 6 to 8 - 1/2 cup
(120 ml) dessert cups and refrigerate until firm. This will take about two
to four hours, or even overnight. Absolutely delicious.
Note: For a more
intense vanilla flavor, you could substitute half a vanilla bean for the pure vanilla extract. To
use a vanilla bean simply split the bean down its length and scrape out
the seeds using the end of a sharp knife. Then, stir all the seeds
into the cream before it is heated. This not only imparts a
wonderful vanilla flavor to the cream but I also like how the seeds dot
the finished Panna Cotta. Now, do not throw away the vanilla pod
once you have scraped out the seeds. This can be used to make
wonderful vanilla scented sugar. To make the vanilla sugar first
leave the vanilla pod on your kitchen counter for several hours or even a
day until it dries out. Then, simply bury the dried vanilla pod into
your canister of sugar. After a few days you will find that the
flavor of vanilla has permeated through all the sugar.
Panna Cotta: To
start, have ready six small (1/2 cup) (120 ml) custard cups, ramekins, ceramic
bowls, wine glasses or other small dessert cups.
In a small bowl,
sprinkle the gelatin over the cold milk and let this mixture sit for about 5 -
10 minutes. It will soften, swell, and become spongy. Meanwhile, combine the
cream and sugar in a medium saucepan and bring it just to a boil, stirring to
dissolve the powdered sugar. Once the cream is very hot, remove the saucepan
from the heat and stir in the gelatin mixture. Stir until the gelatin has
completely dissolved. If necessary, return the saucepan to the stove and stir
over low heat until you no longer see any gelatin particles. Stir in the vanilla
paste or extract.
Pour the cream
into the dessert cups and place in the refrigerator to chill for two to four
hours, or until set. The Panna Cotta can be made one to two days
Can serve with
a medley of fresh berries, fruit, chocolate sauce, or a fruit sauce.
Makes 6 individual servings.
Preparation time 35 minutes.
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