Panna cotta

Panna cotta

In dessert, Piemonte by Frank19 Comments

It may come as a surprise that this famous, elegant dessert from the Piemonte region of Italy is so very easy to make. Panna cotta, or “cooked cream”, is nothing but warmed (not actually cooked) cream sweetened with sugar and infused with vanilla, then thickened with gelatin and chilled. Traditionally served unmolded, you can make your panna cotta even easier by serving it directly from the serving bowls in which it has chilled, topped if you like with mixed berries, caramel or melted chocolate—or whatever other sweet condiment that strikes your fancy.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6

  • 500ml (2 cups) heavy cream, or a mix of cream and milk (see Notes)
  • 100g (1/2 cup) sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, opened, or a few drops of vanilla extract
  • 1 small envelope of powdered gelatin, or 2 sheets of sheet gelatin

Optional sauces and toppings:

  • Fresh berries, plain or macerated with lemon juice and sugar
  • Caramel sauce
  • Melted chocolate

Directions

Heat the cream, sugar and vanilla in a saucepan until it is just about the come to a boil, stirring from time to time to dissolve the sugar. While the cream is heating up, soften the gelatin in enough tepid water just to cover. When the cream is just about to boil, remove it from the heat and add the softened gelatin. Stir to dissolve the gelatin completely. Remove the vanilla bean if using.

Let the cream mixture cool off for a few minutes, then strain in through a sieve. Pour the mixture into individual serving bowls or molds. Place the bowls or molds in the refrigerator until the cream mixture is set, about 4-6 hours.

If you are using molds, loosen the panna cotta by placing the molds in hot water for about a minute, then unmold onto plates, knocking on the tops in need be to detach the panna cotta from the mold. You may need to use a spatula if the panna cotta sticks stubbornly to the mold, as it has a tendency to do.

Whether you presenting your panna cotta in bowls or unmolded on to plates, let it come to room temperature. Just before serving, pour your sauce or toppings over and/or around the panna cotta.

Panna cotta

Notes on Panna Cotta

The amount of sugar can vary according to your sweet tooth. The 100g/half cup of sugar indicated here makes for an only slightly sweet panna cotta, perfect for my taste, but you will find recipes calling for as much as double that amount. You can also make a lighter version of panna cotta by substituting milk for some (say, up to half) of the cream; in the use US you could, in fact, use “Half and Half” instead of cream.

It goes without saying, perhaps, but there are lots of way to get creative with panna cotta by substituting the vanilla with other flavorings—you can find recipes for panna cotta infused with coconut, white chocolate, blood orange, even pink peppercorns. But before you get crazy, do try the classic version.

These days panna cotta is often accompanied by assorted berries, lightly macerated in sugar and lemon juice as if you were making a macedonia, or perhaps a single berry puréed into a coulis. Also very popular in Italy are caramel—which is nothing but equal parts sugar and water heated until the sugar melts and boiled until the mixture thickens and browns—and gently melted chocolate. But here, too, you can let your imagination run. 

Traditional panna cotta is not for vegetarians, as gelatin is made from fish or meat bones. Pectic is a possible substitute, but not recommended as it is citrus based, and may curdle the cream (although I have to admit I haven’t done the experiment.) The old fashioned way to make panna cotta involves eggs, whisking the whites of two medium eggs vigorously into the hot cream at the same time you would have added the gelatin.

For a lighter dessert along the same lines, try the biancomangiare from Sicily.

 

Panna cotta

Total Time: 4 hours

Yield: Serves 4-6

Panna cotta

Ingredients

  • 500ml (2 cups) heavy cream, or a mix of cream and milk (see Notes)
  • 100g (1/2 cup) sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, opened, or a few drops of vanilla extract
  • 1 small envelope of powdered gelatin, or 2 sheets of sheet gelatin
  • Optional sauces and toppings:
  • Fresh berries, plain or macerated with lemon juice and sugar
  • Caramel sauce
  • Melted chocolate

Instructions

  1. Heat the cream, sugar and vanilla in a saucepan until it is just about the come to a boil, stirring from time to time to dissolve the sugar. While the cream is heating up, soften the gelatin in enough tepid water just to cover. When the cream is just about to boil, remove it from the heat and add the softened gelatin. Stir to dissolve the gelatin completely. Remove the vanilla bean if using.
  2. Let the cream mixture cool off for a few minutes, then strain in through a sieve. Pour the mixture into individual serving bowls or molds. Place the bowls or molds in the refrigerator until the cream mixture is set, about 4-6 hours.
  3. If you are using molds, loosen the panna cotta by placing the molds in hot water for about a minute, then unmold onto plates, knocking on the tops in need be to detach the panna cotta from the mold. You may need to use a spatula if the panna cotta sticks stubbornly to the mold, as it has a tendency to do.
  4. Whether you presenting your panna cotta in bowls or unmolded on to plates, let it come to room temperature. Just before serving, pour your sauce or toppings over and/or around the panna cotta.
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Comments

  1. Such an elegant, classic dessert! We’re curious Frank and others about who mixes cream and milk, and who uses only cream. The version we recently blogged about calls for cream only and it was perfect, but just slightly too firm – it didn’t quite have that authentic “panna cotta jiggle.” Could that have been the result of the cooking process, or does cutting the cream with a bit milk render the panna cotta less firm?

    1. Author

      Personally, I like the richness of all cream. I doubt it affects firmness—I’d chalk that up to the amount of gelatin and/or how long the panna cotta has been setting. I find that the longer it goes, the firmer it gets. Sweet spot for me tends to be 4 hours so so. More than that and it does tend to toughen up. That’s my two cents’ worth anyway!

    2. I have a question. Why are egg whites no longer used and replaced with gelatin? Thank you!!

      I came across your blog looking for directions for making gnocchi. It captivates me as it reminds me of summers in Italy with my nonna and mother. Some of the recipes evoke the sweetest of memories of many trips to Rome with my mom who grew up there.

      Thank you so much!

  2. I was surprised the first time I made panna cotta too. I never thought it would be that easy. I got into a real phase after that, but haven’t made it since… thanks for reminding me that it is a great solution when you have guests.

  3. buona con accompagnamento di frutta o cioccolata, è un dessert sempre gradito e facile da fare ! Buona settimana Frank !

    1. Author

      Nope, always use gelatin since I have no compunctions about meat. But if you recommend it, I’ll definitely try carob seed powder and see how it goes—for the benefit of our vegetarian readers!

  4. one of the top Italian desserts. Oddly enough I really discovered what panna cotta is all about only here in UK, where excellent, creamy, cream coloured, super thick and flavoursome cream is available. In Italy most cream is pretty poor… bland and whiter than white. Hazan has a nice versione with powdered hazelnuts (in Marcella Cucina/the hazelnuts are ground and added to the cooked cream/her gelatin quantity seems way off though…far too much…I tried it.. rubbery panna cotta, I guess it is a typo). ciao, stefano

    1. Author

      Have to agree, Stefano, there’s nothing worse than rubbery panna cotta!

  5. I love panna cotta and have served it with berries and chocolate sauce, but never with caramel. I think I’ll try that next. Thanks for the idea.

  6. It was a staple for years. I love the prettiness with the berries. Thanks for the nudge to make it again.

  7. This is one of my favorite desserts to make. Everyone loves it and no one realizes just how easy it is. In spring I pair it with roasted rhubarb compote. I have a winter version on my blog that is spiced with star anise. So many possibilities. Thanks for sharing another wonderful classic, Frank!

    1. Author

      I really like the idea of star anise, one of my favorite flavors in this world. Will have to try it next time!

  8. Panna cotta is a wonderful dessert, perfect for dinner parties as it can be made the day before. I also make it with coconut milk, which I serve with fresh mango and lime syrup. I have also made it with match powder for a Japanese meal, and served with chocolate sauce. The amount of sugar is up to the cook, but I use less than 50gms and it does seem sweet enough.

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