There’s always room for dessert!
You sit down at your local trattoria to stay out of the lunchtime sun knowing exactly what you’re going to have for dessert – panna cotta. More grown up than ice-cream but just as cooling and light. You plan your antipasti and primo piatto with this in mind, making sure to just leave enough room for dolce. But sadly, on many occasion, when you order panna cotta the waiter gives the same answer, “Non abbiamo più a sinistra.” On their recommendation another dolce is ordered. And even though delicious, it wasn’t what you originally wanted.
So having been denied the chance to have this dessert in its country of origin, once back from holiday, I set out looking for ways to create this at home.
Of course, set desserts made from milk and cream are common to many cultures, and often separated by very minor differences:
Blancmange in its specifically British incarnation is typically made with milk and thickened with corn flour or more commonly a packet of strawberry jelly is dissolved in water and milk is stirred in to make it pink, and served in a rabbit mould and topped with spray-can cream!
While panna cotta, as the name suggests (cooked cream) is generally made from cream and set with gelatine. Much more elegant and sophisticated than blancmange, served in flea market tea-cups, dariole moulds or espresso cups and served with fresh fruit, spices or nuts. It is the perfect dinner party dessert as it can be made well in advance and always impresses.
There are several recipes to be found with varying ingredients: some use only double cream, others cream and milk, others buttermilk, some use single cream and milk.
Ultimately though, all a panna cotta really is, is a creamy dessert set with gelatine.
As David Lebovitz says, “Panna cotta is incredibly easy to make, and if it takes you more than five minutes to put it together, you’re doing something wrong.”
Below is my version/amalgamation of different recipes:
1st: In a saucepan pour a small tub (1/2 pint) of double cream and place on a gentle heat. Some tubs are 254ml whereas others are 300ml – don’t worry about this.
2nd: Add a tablespoon of sugar and stir to dissolve.
3rd: Add a splosh of vanilla extract or cut a vanilla pod in half lengthways, scrape the seeds out and add both the seeds and pod into the warm cream to infuse.
4th: Put 2 gelatine leaves in cold water until soft. When soft, squelch any excess water out and stir into the warm cream.
5th: Pour into lightly oiled moulds, and leave to cool. Once cool place in the fridge for 4 hours or overnight.
To serve: Place the moulds into hot water for 8 secs until the panna cotta comes away from the mould and turn out onto a plate (or serve in the espresso cup/tea cup). Serve with fruit of choice.
*Doubles easily, but only use 3 gelatine sheets not 4 as you want it to be luscious and not hard like a cheese!!
As you are setting the cream with gelatine and not an egg-custard you can pretty much go crazy with whatever flavours you want to go for – apparently the Nutella panna cotta with Frangelico cream is to die for! I’ll definitley be giving that one a go next.
Simple and decadent.